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

Friday, August 01, 2014

Horsemen Support, er, Don’t Support, Lasix Ban--What’s Happening Here?

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 1, 2014—And I thought the big news this weekend was going to be the Grade 1 Whitney, with the Alfred G. Vanderbilt and Test Stakes in support. And what a great card it will be for fans and bettors alike tomorrow at the Spa.

Instead, it was announced in a statement received by Daily Racing Form that, with the support of trainers Wayne Lukas, Todd Pletcher, Bill Mott, Shug McGaughey, Christophe Clement, Graham Motion, Richard Mandella, Kiaran McLaughlin, Neil Drysdale and 16 others, horsemen would support the gradual phase-out of Lasix use on raceday.

The statement indicated that many of the game’s most influential horsemen, who manage the careers of horses belonging to many of the sport’s most prominent owners, would support the gradual phase out of the diuretic starting with next year’s juveniles, with a complete ban by 2016.

However, at the same time Daily Racing Form was carrying this version of the story, it was reported in the Daily News that Pletcher is, in his own words, “pro Lasix,” and that “nothing has changed for me,” he told Jerry Bossert. Mott was also quoted by the News to say “they are taking something away that is available to horses and horsemen for their benefit.”

What’s going on here? The DRF indicates one thing; the Daily News the other. Where is this statement? It wasn’t in my inbox. And was it really necessary for this story to break like bad political news does, late on a Friday afternoon?

The banning of Lasix for juveniles started with the 2012 Breeders’ Cup and lasted for two years, with a complete ban scheduled for the year after that.

But when horsemen balked, most prominently Gary West who threatened to sue Breeders’ Cup if they went through with a total ban, the Breeders’ Cup caved in to the pressure. Now it appears to be the American Graded Stakes Committee that's taking up the gauntlet.

This time, if the DRF is accurate, might be different. August is when the Jockey Club convenes its annual meeting on “matters pertaining to racing” and Chairman Ogden Mills Phipps has been vocal about his organization’s support of the ban, even while his horses continue to race on the diuretic.

But there has been other pressure applied recently that might have had a greater impact, a consortium of the most influential and prominent breeders and owners who have formed an organization known as WHOA, the Water, Hay and Oats Alliance.

On Monday, August 11 at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, WHOA will host a “Conversation with Travis Tygart,” the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) which was instrumental in exposing cyclist Lance Armstrong’s use of banned substances.

Up for discussion a week from Monday will be the creation of national uniform rules to protect the integrity of competition via an independent anti-doping program.

Make no mistake. WHOA members live in the real world, too, and are duly and rightfully concerned about the effects that two decades of legal raceday medication has had on the gene pool, and the public perception that Thoroughbred racing is a drug-riddled sport. In the world of gambling, perception is reality.

There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that Thoroughbreds are more fragile than they used to be. What is known is that today’s Thoroughbreds race far less often. Raceday Lasix was not permitted in the 1970s, a decade when three Thoroughbreds withstood the rigors of the Triple Crown and a typical racing career averaged 34 starts. Today that number is less than 13.

“We believe it’s time to take a proactive position regarding the administration of race-day medication,” Lukas told Daily Racing Form. “American racing has always been a global leader and it’s time to restore confidence in our game and in our international standing.”

In addition to the business considerations above and the depressed sales prices of the American bloodstock market, there is the risk that raceday medication unnecessarily makes a dangerous game a serious threat to the health and well-being of both the human and equine athletes.

There will be pushback, of course. Apparently it already has started. Either way, this won’t be a done deal anytime soon. Let the debating begin anew; the more vigorous, the better.

In any event, the momentum may have shifted over to the side of the game’s movers and shakers who appear ready to start repairing the sport’s tattered image and perhaps even save it from itself. Much harm has been done by the inertia but nothing is irreparable.

The executive staff of HorseRaceInsider has tried to reconcile the sport’s differences and sometimes its positions have been misinterpreted. This website’s constituents are horseplayers and fans, many of whom are truly concerned with the long term health of the animals, the athletes, and the game.

Today’s action by the horsemen was on one hand a big win for racing and a needed step in the right direction. Actually, we are taking a moderating position that a complete ban by 2016 should not be a deal breaker. Start with the 2015 two year olds, as advertised.

But three year olds and older in 2015 that have been racing regularly on the medication should continue to be allowed to do so in the interests of the betting public; medication withdrawal uncertainty could have a negative impact on wagering.

That’s a real world issue that must be considered. If bettors lose confidence that current form would not/can not be be maintained by a mandate requiring that older Lasix users go cold turkey, after all this time racing could be undone by too much of a good thing.

But that’s if any of these conflicting accounts represent the truth, which probably lays somewhere in the middle. So, who said what to whom, and when did they say it? Are we dealing with misinformation or disinformation? Stay tuned.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fillies Make News at the Spa; Two Good, One Not

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 31, 2014—When women do well in this game, it no longer comes as a surprise--but it is unusual to see two Saratoga stakes swept by the female persuasion, albeit one doing the saddling, and the other doing the riding.

In the case of the former, Tom Voss is somewhere smiling, that’s because Elizabeth, the daughter of the late, great steeplechase horseman—who did some pretty good work on the Spa flat, too--saddled her first graded stakes ever this afternoon.

And she did it while the racing world was watching, saddling Makarri to win the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick Memorial,although she was quick to deflect any compliments. “We can’t take a lot of credit for this horse, we’ve only had him two weeks,” Voss said after the race.

“My husband picked him out for his owners. [Makari] got off the plane and he seemed pretty straightforward. We took a chance and it worked out.”

Makari gamely survived a head-to-head late-stretch battle with runner-up Demonstrative, the two ding-donging in the straight after both cleared the final fence nicely.

It was a question of a head up or a head down. Demonstrative appeared to hit the finish post first but lost it on the re-bob when his head came up while the winner’s stayed down.

“The last jump always makes me nervous," said Voss. "I thought we got the bob last week and that we missed it this week,” she said. Either way, she’s happy to take this one.

“This is my first graded win and it’s exciting to have it be in Saratoga, a place we love so much.”

“He traveled like a dream the whole way, never missed a beat,” said jockey Jack Doyle, winning not only his first Grade 1 but his first victory in this country.

“I’ve had a couple of good winners at home [Ireland]," said Doyle, but never a Grade 1. It was brilliant to get that.”

Both will have a chance, if all goes well, to win another Grade 1 at the meet. The Smithwick, even at the highest grade, is still regarded as a New York Turf Writers prep, a longer event later this meeting.

In the flat feature, it was Rosie Napravnik doing what she does best, showing patience and timing a late run to be up in time, this time with Sinistra, the 27-1 upsetter of the Evan Shipman for New York breds going nine furlongs.

All Napravnik did was sit third, perched three wide throughout, put pressure on the leaders on the final turn, took a run at them, the bid stalling a bit, but later resurgent and the team wore down dueling leaders, Escapefromreality and Big Business, just before the line.

Alas, it wasn’t all good news on the distaff side. Lavender Road, scratched prior to the running of Wednesday's seventh race at Saratoga Race Course on the advice on the track veterinarian, but unable to get up after falling and delaying the start of the eighth race for a little more than an hour, was euthanized today after it was discovered she suffered a neck fracture.

On site observers yesterday reported that the filly tried to get up repeatedly, did so, but was unable to stay on her feet. Eventually, she was placed on a gurney inside an equine ambulance that carried her to Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital for observation where apparently the fracture was discovered.

This sad story just got curiouser and curiouser as yesterday wore on. It was feared at first that she suffered a cranial fracture when she struck her head on the outside rail when she collapsed to the track.

Yesterday, the media were informed about the possibility of head trauma and that the filly was being treated for heat exhaustion because her internal temperature was abnormally high. Wednesday’s outside temperatures were warm but far from being regarded as oppressive.

Today we were to learn more about the possible cranial fracture. Instead, the news was that she was euthanized because she suffered a neck fracture. Just before the stewards ordered her scratched, jockey Junior Alvarado made the suggestion to the track veterinarian that the filly be scratched because she was making noises in the pre-race warmup.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

They Said It All at Whitney Draw

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 30, 2014—It’s not often when two Travers winners and a Belmont winner meet after their three-year-old year and they will on Saturday.

And one of them, last year’s Belmont Stakes and this year’s Met Mile winner, Palace Malice, the top ranked horse in the country according to the latest NTRA poll, will try to put some separation between himself, Saturday’s eight rivals, and the glamorous three-year-old class with designs on a Horse of the Year championship.

He’s even money on Saturday and a little higher than that in the Horse of the Year future book; 5-2 co-favorite with dual classics winner California Chrome. If you like those odds—too short for me—get down now, not Saturday evening.

There were some interesting and fun quotes from the post draw, starting with Darrell Wayne Lukas, on Will Take Charge drawing the Whitney rail: “I hate to have an upset stomach this early in the morning. Not good. I never really have much luck on the rail in any big race.”

From Eric Guillot and his strategy with Moreno: “I’m going to tell you now: If you’re in front of me, you went too fast.”

Ken McPeek, on the $1.5 million purse: “The purse right now, it’s hard to turn your nose up at it. Even if you run third or fourth, it’s not a bad day at the office.”

Al Stall Jr., on the comparison between Blame and Departing: I say there is no comparison. There is only one Blame…If he doesn’t fare well [here], he’s going on the low road again.”

Dale Romans on running in big races: “I think this is the 10-year anniversary of Roses in May winning the Whitney, which was my first Grade 1. We’re creeping up on 30, but I’m not sure exactly—about as many as Wayne has won in one year.”

Todd Pletcher, on what’s made Palace Malice such a good four year old: “He really is an iron horse. He’s an uncomplicated horse. He’s hearty, he stays in the feed tub, you can train him however you want.

“[In the New Orleans Handicap] it was back in three weeks and we were concerned about that and he actually ran enormous that day. I think he likes the action.”

As do we all. The good news is that we’ve got three days to find an alternative to the even money favorite. The bad news is that may not be possible.

A turf sprint star was born in the Coronation Cup for three year old filly turf sprinters. The imported Stars Above Me was slammed so hard at the start that she had every right to not bother at all.

Instead, she dragged a confident and talented Irad to the lead between horses, she waited behind dueling leaders while saving ground at the turn, waited again for a seem to open on the inside, bursting through and drawing off. This is a filly with a future within the division; follow…

Brandini was much the best winning the second race, a state-bred maiden claimer, rallying wide on the turn then drawing off through the lane, looking very much like a repeater if spotted properly by 007 H. James Bond next time out.

That’s easier done than said because Bond is pushing all the right buttons this meet; 3-for-5 before having a 25-1 chance run third later on in the program; note...

Willet is simply, in racetrack vernacular, a sweetheart. The six year old mare obviously has her issues, making only her 17th start in the day’s third event. Winning as much the best, the New York bred mare improved her career slate to 8-6-1. Amazing job by part-owner, trainer Jimmy Iselin.

Meanwhile, Here’s Zealicious jumped up in the start just as her gate opened and was totally eliminated. Will be very tough vs. weaker set next out.

Rock Me Mama was much the best at 7 furlongs in the fourth, launching a strong, wide rally mid-turn before drawing off. It was her first start at a reduced level since claimed as a December two year old and should repeat if not pitched too high. Alaskan Bird was carried wide in the final furlong by a drifting Da Wildcat Girl and kept grinding; bet back in similar spot.

Myfourchix, bet early and often, did all the hard work in a state-bred special weight for juvenile fillies but succumbed late to the fast working Nonna Jo, racing well despite being washed in the the paddock and post parade. Perfect Freud finished well late when fourth in a useful effort; note.

First-timer Throckmorton, a gelded three year old making debut going a mile on turf in the finale, was loaded approaching the eighth pole but was completely trapped inside and never had a chance; bet back.

Written by John Pricci

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