Pricci's Saratoga Diary
For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at HorseRaceInsider.com.
 

Sunday, August 14, 2016


On the Road Again, Almost


LIC, NY, August 14, 2016—

Dear Diary,

It’s not Saratoga yet but we’re collecting out tack and will be on our way sometime in the next 48 hours.

On Saturday we kicked back some, made a few wagers and settle in to watch “Saratoga Live” for the first time. It’s unavailable in SoFla. We have FS1 in our area, not FS2.

But it almost didn’t matter, because it rained. And when summer storms appear in Saratoga, lots can happen, none of it very good.

But I, and the NYRA, got lucky. But the association deserves credit for creating a Grade 1 double wager featuring the newly upgraded Fourstardave—thank you Wise Dan—and the storied Arlington Million.

The Million was the first international seven-figure turf event in the U.S. and instant classic—thank you John Henry.

It would have been very successful, judging by the wide open nature of both races, but then storm clouds appeared on the horizon.

Because the storm figured to linger, racing was stopped at mid-card. Even the Fasig Tipton sales scheduled that night were canceled.

The lucky part was that “Saratoga Live,” looking to turn NYRA Bets into a true international ADW platform, dispatched Gabby Gaudet and along with Maggie Wolfendale and on-air handicapping talent had Arlington Park covered like a glove.

Just like Florent Geroux and Chad Brown, who, when racing ended Saturday, was five wins ahead of Todd Pletcher, 21-16, at Saratoga. But it was Geroux’s star that shined most brightly.

Interesting that it was Geroux, who, although “struggling at Saratoga,” would steal the show in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights.

Before Saratoga started, we guessed that in the end it would be Brown’s year to lead all Saratoga trainers—it’s not over by a longshot—but that “Flo” would make the jockey’s race interesting.

That hasn’t happened, through no fault of Geroux’s. Yes, the Saratoga jock room is as deep with talent as it has ever been, maybe the deepest ever, but Geroux is world class and neither he nor his agent have been able to breakthrough.

That’s because New York, like California was back in the day, apparently is now a closed shop. And maybe that has something to do with the fact that New York agents can represent two journeyman.

To me, there’s something wrong when four of five agents can tie up entire races.

Anyway, fields are larger in Saratoga than they are many times at Aqueduct or Belmont Park. How trainers do not have Doug Bredar near the top of their speed dial is unfathomable.

Just to be clear, I have no dogs in any fight but, hey, that’s racing, right?

And so by the end of a very different day of racing television, in which the production more than amply survived a God-made change in programming, all parties acquitted themselves well, especially Geroux.

Graded stakes victories, of which he has more than any other rider in the country this year, came back-to-back-to-back. Starting with the Grade 3 American St. Leger, then successive Grade 1s in the Secretariat and Beverly D.

Starting his day with a claiming victory, Geroux got his fifth in the finale, courtesy of the stewards and the stretch antics of Try Your Luck; half of the races on the 10-race card.

Two of the wins were aboard Mike Maker trainees, who deserves props for keeping The Big Hoss in career form virtually all year.

Geroux also won two for Brown with Beach Patrol, the trip horse of the Spa meet, and Sea Calisi, yet another top Europe-to-America purchase by owner Martin Schwartz.

The two Saratoga stakes, Adirondack Special and Fourstardave will be brought back next weekend. I hear Geroux has a few open calls.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, August 13, 2016


Terri’s Song


"And I knew just as surely, just as clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last…

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood, and runs over rocks from the basement of time.

"On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

“I am haunted by waters.” --Norman Maclean


LONG ISLAND CITY, NY, August 12, 2016—


Dear Diary,


I’ve been looking forward to flying into Albany International on Tuesday in advance of 15 glorious days in Saratoga Springs, a homecoming in more ways than one.

But home is where the heart is and this weekend, my heart, body and soul, and my immediate family's, are in New York City to attend funeral services for my beloved cousin, Theresa.

As the only child of John and Nancy, and for as long as my childhood memories can transport me back in time, I can say that Theresa, the only child of Frank and Isabel, was the sister I never had.

Though a few years younger, she always kept up, from the time we were kids playing together on holidays and Sunday visits to this past spring on Wood weekend.

Don't know how appropriate the term would be today but back in the day people would describe Terri as a tomboy. Always fun, she was tough and fluent in many sports, a joyful spirit with a heart the size of all five boroughs. Her generosity was boundless.

Now, just like that, she's gone and I don’t understand it, even after having five days to process it. I’ve lost too many friends in recent years; contemporaries. Today I thank God that I have two healthy daughters.

Until last weekend, I was blessed never to have experienced anything like this kind of loss. Sadly, I can now empathize with anyone who has lost a younger loved one taken too soon. It’s just so profoundly sad.

I'm fully aware that the service this website hopes to provide is akin to walking into one of life’s candy stores, an escape from today’s often brutal reality. What could be better than complete immersion into horse racing and Thoroughbred handicapping, the mother of all brain teasers?

And so I thank God for horse racing, too, but I’m at a loss to understand His grand plan. Maybe this happened because my Aunt Isabel, Terri’s mom, died only months ago. Maybe because her dad, Frank, died 17 years ago, to the day.

My aunt and uncle, you see, was very active in the daily life of St. Rita's parish in Long Island City. If you were a fan of “The Sopranos,” you know this church. Filmed at Silvercup Studios in Queens, many of the series' church interiors were shot at St. Rita’s.

Maybe mother and daughter missed each other so much that He decided to reunite them sooner rather than later. I was raised Roman Catholic but I’m lapsed now, like many other Catholics these days.

Looking at the state of the world, can anyone be blamed for having just a little less faith in a loving God?

I'm sorry to rain on everyone’s Saratoga parade like this but I’m stunned stupid. I feel selfish and guilty about that, but I don’t suffer senselessness very well, not when a righteous person is taken from a world that needs more people like Terri, not less.

So, at this moment, I better understand what helplessness feels like: It’s about not having the type of energy that only anger seems to provide.

A brief horse racing aside: On balance, I have a pretty fair record when it comes to picking winners of the Kentucky Derby but have slumped the past three years.

Terri would call, as usual, asking me if I had “any Derby tips?”

On May's first Sunday, the morning after Mohaymen finished fourth in this year's Derby, Terri called to say “don't worry, one of these days you’re going to get it right.”

“Lose my number,” I told her, "you're bad luck to a good hunting dog," as the race-trackers like to say.

From early holiday afternoons spent in Rainey Park with other Pricci family cousins, Josef and Billy, we teased each other mercilessly. You can only do that in a loving, spiritual relationship.

Well, I love you, cuz, and I want everyone in my world to know this with today's Saratoga Diary entry.

Peace be with you, Theresa, strength to your loving Margaret, and tell Aunt Isabel and Uncle Frank I was asking for them. You will live forever in my heart.

Meanwhile, the candy store will reopen next week. I’ll be looking forward to seeing the mighty filly Songbird next weekend, her spirit soaring in the Alabama.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, August 07, 2016


Saratoga Diary: Whitney Weekend, Book Full


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., August, 7, 2016—

Dear Diary,


Can’t wait to change the dateline, hopefully to arrive in Saratoga a week from Tuesday for 15 glorious days—and nights.

Note to self: Bring money.

Truthfully, there have been only two days when I felt absent from the old Spa; opening day and yesterday. I fully partook of the great Whitney Day program in air-conditioned comfort 1.500 miles to the south and east, but it just wasn’t the same.

Seeing horses in the flesh makes all the difference, to me at least. Per usual, so much copy, so little time, which pretty much is the case every week. So, let’s catch up, shall we? 4

Kiaran McLaughlin sometimes gets a bit of a bad rap in that when he’s hot, he’s hot, but when he’s not, his horses get shy when the whole world's watching. Well, not so Frosted.

At 4, Frosted finally has made it to the next level, true elite status. Not only did he win his second straight, he did so in wow fashion. Again.

No, his Whitney score was not the kind of effort like the one he gave in the Met Mile downstate. This was more subtle but, in context, no less impressive.

Joel Rosario was not going to submit himself to being pressured by rival jockeys; the boxing in, the trapping, etc. He took the race to the competition right from the sharp break.

Rosario allowed the speedy Noble Bird to chew on him through fast fractions. The riders of Effinex and Comfort must have had piano-keyboard smiles on their faces when early splits of 23.11 and 46.42.

Not only did he bottom out his rivals from there but he opened the lead as Rosario sat quietly until inside the final eighth, where he started riding him a bit, reaching the line in an impressive 1:47.77.

If he’s not the highest rated handicap horse in the country not named California Chrome when the NTRA Poll is released late Monday, then the poll is, in the vitriol of the moment, “rigged.”

The Test Stakes has been one of my favorite Saratoga races for some time but, given field size and overall depth of quality, this year's was lacking compared to renewals of the past.

No knocks on Paola Queen, who looked like she would appreciate a turn-back but not her G1 rivals. And after Johnny Velazquez pressed main rival Kareena with Off The Tracks through splits of 21.74 and a crazy half-mile in 43.50, the table was set for a late rally type.

Enter Paola Queen and Lightstream, in that order. At first I was disappointed with Kareena’s effort, then I saw the splits. Resultantly, she deserves a pace mulligan—and maybe an outside post next time, too.

Of course, horses can’t run fast late if they’ve run fast early--the reason it took 13.73 seconds for the Florida-based connections to get the money with their bay daughter of Flatter.

Shining Copper benefited from perfect-trip handling under Jose Ortiz to take Lure Stakes narrowly; Guapaza won an exciting, though not particularly memorable, renewal of the Waya and Lady Lara, dropping out of graded company, won a hard fought De La Rose under pluperfect handling from Jose Lezcano.

A potential star was on display in a preliminary allowances for three-year-olds earlier on the card.

Summer Revolution earned a Thoro-Graph stakes-sprint figure in his maiden debut and a high Pricci Energy Rating as well. The T-G figure was so fast, in fact, as to be too fast, an effort that often leaves nothing to build on next out.

Loaded right from the jump, he showed restrained speed beneath Irad Ortiz Jr., went after the seasoned Juan and Bina on the turn, took command under a hold, then was ridden out to win by daylight in 1:21.03.

Recall that the Grade 1 Test for fillies went in 1:22.32--and it’s not like the colts were walking up front, given an opening half-mile of 44-and-change. The chestnut colt is by Summer Bird, from the Boston Harbor mare Revolutionary Act. King's Bishop, diary?

Broadway Bobby raced more like Bowery Bobby in Saturday’s opener. Heavily bet on the strength of a company workout in which he finished ahead of G1-winning Grand Arch. The bettors got nothing but the colt got a great education.

After a tangled beginning, he was steadied before reaching the first turn, entered the backstretch 3-wide, then 4-wide while making a brief backstretch move, was pushed forward on the final turn which carried him 7-wide into the lane.

Broadway Bobby, a tad soft-looking in the paddock, wound up beating half the field and finished third best on the gallop-out. No excuses next time, diary.

All of this added up to good business, as 39,405 fans/bettors showed up, contributing to all-sources handle that reached a bit over $29.3 million.

The Florida Sires Stakes Series, which had its 2016 debut leg on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, showcased a pair of promising babies. We know this because the next time Three Rules and Cajun Delta Dawn are defeated will be their first loss after having made a combined six starts.

Speaking with Florida Equine Publications editor-in-chief Brock Sheridan in the press box before the races, he said “we’re about due to have a major horse come out of Florida again.”

A litany of past Florida-breds talent certainly is there, with major horses like Smile, Holy Bull and Unbridled, to drop three names. And there also was a recent filly graduate named Ivanavinalot, dam of the mighty Songbird, so the tradition is rich in high class runners.

Of course, we won’t know how good juvenile colt Three Rules and filly Cajun Delta Dawn will be until a second turn is introduced. Thus far, they’ve been perfect.

Three Rules walked away from his Dr. Fager rivals, almost quite literally, with six furlongs in 1.09.49 by seven geared-down-late lengths. Cajun Delta Dawn wore down a stubborn Lu Lu Laura in the Desert Vixen after chasing her throughout from close range throughout in splits of 21.62 and 44.82.

‘Dawn’ made a scopey appearance in the ring, indicating she should be able to improve as the distances increase. She owns enough tactical speed to put her in any game she decides to play.

By Gone Astray, Three Rules also should handle two turns, albeit perhaps classics-challenged. Thus far, however, there’s no telling how good until some rival steps up and forces him to take a few deep breaths.

A former Calder series, it appears the series has taken hold at Gulfstream Park. An impressive $2.9 million was bet on track with all-sources handle reaching $7.768 million, up a tad over 24%, year over year.

Written by John Pricci

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