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

Sunday, August 11, 2013

HELP WANTED: Jockey with Common Sense

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 11, 2013—Folks that have been HRI regulars and Newsday readers before that know that I’m no jockey basher. But after today’s Adirondack Stakes, the following will be the exception to my personal rule.

Corey Lanerie was totally overmatched aboard odds on and formerly undefeated Fiftyshadesofgold in the storied Grade 2 at 6-1/2 furlongs. After the late scratch of Untapable, Bret Calhoun’s filly was relegated to a position closest to the rail in the field of six, an unlucky happenstance that contributed to the events.

Lanerie had the filly in a compromising position right from the start and despite at least two opportunities to alter the course of the big, scopey gray filly to the outside for clear running, he kept her down on the inside saving a little ground--as if the filly beneath him were 35-1 and not 35-Cents on the dollar.

You’d think that after the two fillies on her right flank veered in soon after the start and bumped her, he’d have eased his filly back, cover her up but keep her off the inside so that he could do the dictating and not be dictated to. But he stayed right where he was.

At headstretch, Lanier and Fiftyshadesofgold were still inside, had another opportunity to tip out for a clear run but didn’t. Instead, he elected to attempt getting through on the fence and got eliminated from winning contention when Who’s In Town beneath Joel Rosario bore in.

Was Fiftyshadesofgold interfered with? Absolutely. But the filly never should have been put in that situation in the first place. And that’s too bad for the filly, her trainer, and the Scharbauer family that owns her.

The owners were lucky once before when one of their runners nearly was knocked over in the stretch, but Alysheba and Chris McCarron recovered and went on to win the 1987 Kentucky Derby anyway. In this game, I guess no one’s entitled to that kind of good fortune more than once.


Total wagering on races at Saratoga Race Course increased from last year through the first 20 days of the 4-day meet according to New York Racing Association statistics. The increase reflects handle from all-sources and the half of one percent increase is testimony to the stretch of the Saratoga brand.

On-track handle, however, fell by nearly 3 percent year over year and attendance decreased by 2.2 percent. The association cited the extreme heat on opening day and poor weather for the track’s first giveaway day.

While this is true, the excuses are misleading. On balance, the weather thus far has been good, borne out by the fact that there have been 15 more turf races thus far than in 2012 and only eight races were lost compared to 21 last year.

The lack of support might reflect something else; that too much of a good thing is just too much, making a day at the Spa a little less special. Nine race programs are virtually a thing of the past.

And despite 13 more turf races this year--with their larger fields--still could not help the average field size to lower from 8.3 starters per race to 8.2. The math is simple: With the number of available running horses remaining virtually static, more races will deplete the possible number of starters.


Soon after Sweet Whiskey hit the finish line first in her debut, a colleague said: “the rich are getting richer.” Said another in reply: “That’s the way it works.” So what happened after that? Well, the rich got richer, and richer, and…

The debut winner, Sweet Whiskey, lived up to the hype, winning her debut in an extremely worthy 1:02.81. The chatter was that the Todd Pletcher trained filly had been outworking Our Amazing Rose, an uber impressive debut winner earlier at the meet.

“There were a couple of other fillies she’d been training with who had already started at the meet and ran well,” the trainer said post-race…She lived up to our expectations. I was impressed by the time; it was very fast.”

Also living up to expectations were We Miss Artie, Teen Pauline and Corfu, the game Saratoga Special winner who narrowly defeated the Sanford winning Wired Bryan on opening weekend.

That would give Pletcher four on the day, increasing his lead by 11 winners over Chad Brown, who has saddled a dozen winners in the first half of the Saratoga 150 meet.

Those four winners, plus She’s Stoned Sis, gave Johnny Velazquez five for the day, vaulting him to within five of meet leading Joel Rosario, who has a one-win lead on Javier Castellano.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Wise Dan Very Impressive But No Closer to Horse of the Year Repeat

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY August 10, 2013---The Horse of the Year runs today but somehow it’s tomorrow that holds a more interest for this race fan. Maybe it’s because going in Wise Dan has been there and has done this before, in last year’s Fourstardave in fact.

On Sunday, however, it’s all about the future, unknown challenges in store for young, inexperienced horses that are being asked to do things they’ve never done before; at distances, on surfaces, under conditions, and against competition that have the same profile—promising futures.

In the Adirondack Stakes, the puzzle is whether Fiftyshadesofgold is as good as her first two races say she is, especially her most recent start, Churchill’s Debutante, which she won as impressively and effortlessly as horses can. But this is Saratoga, where scores can really change.

Thirty minutes later, it will be young boys out to prove which has the most upside--not only in the day’s Saratoga Special but beyond. Wired Bryan sure looked like the goods winning the Sanford here opening weekend; two wins from two starts by an aggregate 12-½ lengths.

And what about Corfu, who put away multiple challenges and held doggedly to break maiden in his debut? Or Candy Dandy, much the best in his maiden breaker at Churchill, or Danza, who proved to Permanent Campaign and observers he just wants to beat you. Check the videos.

While you still have hold of the mouse, check out Lunarwarfare winning his debut at Gulfstream. Of course a facile win at 4-1/2 furlongs is meaningless, especially when shipping up, moving up, and stretching out to meet the challenge of your young life.

Whatever the dynamic, it was an amazing performance by a previously unraced youngster. Maybe he is as good as the performance indicates; maybe he isn’t and owner-trainer Michael Yates is only here to test the private-purchase market.

Whatever happens tomorrow, it will be more intriguing than seeing something a Horse of the Year has done before, seven out of eight times. Make it eight out nine now, and kudos to the defending champion to accomplish it in the manner seen over a course made good by Friday’s heavy rains.

The sad part, though, is that it’s unlikely Wise Dan will ever be as popular as Fourstardave, a New York bred who never was Horse of the Year or anything close, but who accepted every challenge owner Richard Bomze and trainer Leo O’Brien demanded of him.

Fourstardave made over a million the old fashioned way; beating up on his ilk. But it was his exploits at the old Spa that made him the people’s horse, one they would name a street after--Fourstardave Way—just outside the clubhouse gates.

Fourstardave had a remarkable 100-race career, winning 21 and finishing in-the-money on 55 occasions. As a 9-year-old, he won a race at Saratoga for eight consecutive years, one for every win that Wise Dan has going a mile on grass.

Like Woody’s five Belmonts, or Jonathan Sheppard’s 45-year win streak at Saratoga, don’t look for that standard to fall anytime soon. But say this about Wise Dan in today’s featured Grade 2: It’s a race that won’t be forgotten by anyone that saw it.

The numbers are as follows: After tracking an ever improving and speedy King Kreesa in the pocket through moderate fractions of :24.24 and :47.48, he was tipped off the fence by Johnny Velasquez reached three-quarters on even terms with the leader, six furlongs in 1:10.59.

And the tempo increased once again as the defending champion responded to stout hand drive, coming his final quarter-mile in :23.01, making that last half in a stout 46.12 seconds and stopping the timer at 1:34 for the mile.

And so Wise Dan added 60 percent of a half-million dollars to the purse account of owner Morton Fink and trainer Charlie Lopresti but did little to insure that he will defend his Horse of the Year title even if he runs the one-mile-on turf, weight-for-age table.

In 2012, everything broke perfectly for him to snatch the Horse of the Year title. This year, the handicap dirt division is salty and deeper than it was last year. Further, there is the possibility that one of two Todd Pletcher-trained 3year-olds; Belmont-Jim Dandy winner Palace Malice, or Wood Memorial-Haskell winner Verrazano, will defeat their elders this fall.

But for Saturday, August 10, the day belonged to impressive Horse of the Year Wise Dan, who ran down New York-bred miler King Kreesa in the shadow of the Spa wire.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, August 09, 2013

2013 Hall of Fame Inductions: A Rich Tradition Continues

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 9, 2013—Calvin Borel’s Hall of Fame achievement truly began in the Churchill Downs paddock prior to the 2007 Kentucky Derby. The instructions from the trainer went something like this:

Carl Nafzger asked: “Calvin, do you like to ride races?” “Yes, you know I do,” answered Borel.

“Calvin, do you have fun riding races?” "Yes, boss, of course I do,” said the jock who never had ridden a Kentucky Derby winner.

“Then go out there, ride a race, have some fun, and win a race,” said Nafzger before giving Borel a leg up on Street Sense.

For Calvin Borel, who would become the only jockey to win not only that Derby, but two more in a span of three more years before, underscoring his Hall of Fame legacy aboard the great filly Rachel Alexandra, who vanquished male contemporaries in the Preakness and Haskell, and again beat males on a memorable Woodward afternoon at Saratoga Race Course, today was the culmination of a career the rider wished his late father and mother were around to see.

Along with equine greats Housebuster, Invasor and Lure, now Hall of Fame steeplechasers McDynamo and the legendary Tuscalee, and Pillars of the Turf August Belmont II and Paul Mellon, it was a fitting, emotional conclusion to the rich Racing Hall of Fame tradition.

Borel’s future still has a way to go—“I don’t know how long I’m going to keep on riding, I just love the game so much”—but it is on this day that all the Hall of Famers in the audience, as well as the vast gathering of fans, have a chance to fondly celebrate Thoroughbred Racing achievement. The traditional roll call of Hall of Famers featuring just a few of their career highlights is my favorite part each year:

First up there was, Chris McCarron, winner of 7,140 races, two Triple Crown races each, nine Breeders’ Cups, and as mentor of his Lexington-based riders’ school, teacher of graduates that have surpassed the 2,000 win mark.

And the rest of those that followed Nominating Committee Chairman Ed Bowen’s introductions in order:

Shug McGaughey, 1,774 winners and counting, four champions and training titles made.

Eddie Maple, with his back-to-back Travers victories, three upsets of Hall of Famer Forego with three different horses, among 4,398 career wins.

Johnny Velazquez, Saratoga’s all-time leading rider, third in purse earnings all-time and 11 Breeders’ Cups.

Wayne Lukas, innovator, trainer of trainers, winner of 4,677 races, 14 Triple Crown events, a record, 19 Breeders’ Cups, a record, 16 training titles and developer of 24 champions: Mind-boggling.

Jerry Bailey, Eclipse Award jockey all-time leader with seven, six Triple Crown race wins, 15 Breeders’ Cup, surpassed by Velazquez this year as Saratoga’s all-time leader.

Nafzger, the first and only trainer to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby with the same horse, Street Sense.

Nick Zito, with his five Triple Crown race wins, two Derbies, and the developer of three champions.

Manuel Ycaza, four-time leading rider at Saratoga and partner of Filly Triple Crown winner Dark Mirage.

Jack Van Berg, who won the Preakness twice, the Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic among 6,417 winners, sixth all-time, the first to reach the 5,000 win plateau.

Bill Boland, who won the Kentucky Derby and Oaks in the same year and, as a 16-year-old apprentice, was the youngest jockey to win the Derby.

Jonathan Sheppard, one of two trainers to saddle champions over jumps and on the flat, 27 times leading money-earning steeplechase trainer and who has won a race at Saratoga for 45 consecutive years: Only needs 11 to catch DiMaggio.

Jose Santos, winner of seven Breeders’ Cups, each Triple Crown event, broke Angel Cordero’s Saratoga riding title streak at 11, and a laudable 15.7% career win rate for his 4,083 career victories.

Edgar Prado, 10 New York riding titles, three at Saratoga, partner of Derby winning Barbaro among 6,667 career wins, ninth all-time.

Bill Mott, developer of six champions, winner of 16 straight races with Cigar, 19 New York training titles, nine at Saratoga, saddled Classic and Ladies Classic winners in the same year and currently fourth in career earnings all-time.

Randy Romero, a winner of riding titles at 10 different tracks, the partner of Go for Wand, and engineered Personal Ensign’s undefeated career. Will anyone ever forget the 1988 Distaff?

Janet Elliott, second woman to be inducted into Hall of Fame (Julie Krone), the first trainer, third in all-time steeplechase earnings and winner of the prestigious Colonial Cup five times.

And then there was a special video presentation by Breeders’ Cup co-author John Nerud, who celebrated his 100th birthday this year.

The only thing missing were acknowledgments to “the Chief,” Allen Jerkens, who could not attend, and Thomas (T.J.) Kelly, who passed away this year.

Today at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion, Borel, along with sprinting win machine Housebuster, dual Breeders’ Cup winning turf speedster Lure, 2006 Horse of the Year and 2005 Uruguayan Triple Crown winner Invasor.

Two ‘chasers were inducted; McDynamo and Tuscalee, and was very happy to be reminded of the achievements of the latter.

Tuscalee won 39 of 89 career starts, his final victory at age 12, won a record 10 races in a single season and carried a staggering 167 pounds to victory. But his best stat is never to have fallen in all 89 trips to the post.

Two Pillars of the Turf, a new and long overdue honor, was awarded August Belmont II who opened Belmont Park, co-founded the Jockey Club and bred the storied Man o’ War among other laudable achievements.

Paul Mellon, philanthropist extraordinaire, was represented by over 1,000 stakes winners as the master of Rokeby Stable and the only person to campaign winners of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Epsom Derby and Kentucky Derby.

Exemplary achievement, the best of the best, each and every one.

Written by John Pricci

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