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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Clement’s Career Year Rolls On

SARATOGA SPRINGS, July 24, 2014—Guess we just might have to chalk it up to fate because right now, even with Todd Pletcher’s prolific winning and his strength in numbers, especially with babies, this just might be Chris Clement’s meet. We’ll know more at the week’s end.

Clement had horses for three races beginning today through Saturday; Pure Sensation, who was making his turf debut in the Quick Call Stakes, Life in Shambles in Friday’s Curlin and, of course, the big horse in Saturday’s Jim Dandy.

The latter is the quintessential prep for the Derby of Midsummer but the Grade 2 has no problem standing on its own as a prestigious event. Tonalist, the colt that spread the icing on the Frenchman’s petite duchesse, will head this one up as the early line choice.

But today it was a horse that was making its turf debut in an overnight stakes, a tough assignment for any runner, especially from the rail with its short run to the turn and, sure enough, Jose Lezcano was loaded but couldn’t find a way through.

“I was on the inside and had nowhere to go,” explained Lezcano. I didn't want to go outside too quick so I took it little by little. Once he got in the clear, he took off. It was close but I knew I had it."

Clement is going so well that Pure Sensation didn’t need turf experience to win the grassy 5-1/2 furlongs in a very snappy 1:01.82. Yes, the fast tempo set the table for a late run, but who thought the colt could win on a new surface with a change of style?

“We tried him once at Belmont on the turf and he trained very well,” said Clement. “You can see the way they move, they move really, really well. [Today] he was moving very well at the end. He's a nice horse. When they're good enough they can just get out of trouble.”

Not that there was much choice but to finish. The leaders were moving right along, a job made a little easier when formerly undefeated turf-sprint specialist Escapist missed the break entirely then, for good measure, checked out badly entering the far turn after showing high speed under restrain

They raced 2-1/16 miles in the Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes for limited winners in the opening steeplechase event yet only a nose separated the winning 35-1 Awesome Pearl from Kingdom, the unlucky runnerup who bobbled at the seventh fence.

Kingdom was saddled by Elizabeth Voss, daughter of the late, great Tom Voss, while Awesome Pearl gave rider Kieran Norris his first lifetime win at Saratoga…Meanwhile, Bluegrass Summer was rallying up the inside but checked out entering the final turn. He came on inside with a sneaky late move up the hedge; bet back…

Babies on display in the second with trainer Guadalupe Preciado stealing the show, finishing 1-3 with a stable coupling--ship-ins Villalobos, who finished very fast too late for third; bet back, and winning Zip’s Moondance, beating two heavy favorites, trained by Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher, respectively. Fourth finisher Lemon Royal finished well too late, widest of all; follow

Orient Harbor finished like a rocket in the 5th race as much the best, looking very much like a repeater. Miss Lech made a good return from a layup in that same event; will benefit. Braided acted like he wanted more distance. Sky Crew washed out badly pre-race; note.

Rosie had two more turf winners today, showing her usual patience and coming with successful late runs; she used the same tack successfully yesterday.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Daring Dancer: Poetry in Graham Motion

SARATOGA SPRINGS, July 23, 2014—Have to give a lot of credit to trainer Graham Motion and jockey Alan Garcia for turning around the fortunes of Daring Dancer in today’s Grade 2 Lake George.

Motion, winning the Grade 2 for 3-year-old fillies going a mile and a sixteenth on turf for the third time, didn’t let her completely flat performance downstate deter him from making another run in the Diana, but she rebounded in a manner that underscored her first two grass victories in which showed lots of promise.

With Garcia sitting ice cold saving ground throughout behind a moderate pace, he cut the corner beautifully with the filly, tipped her outside gradually, got her in high gear approaching the sixteenth pole and relentlessly bore down to catch A Little Bit Sassy, who had better position throughout and got the jump on the winner.

With Garcia switching to his left hand for the final hundred yards, the filly surged to win by a head, a surprising margin since no one was sure who even won the race until the judges posted it on the result board in a bang-bang photo finish.

“I honestly think it was the soft ground [when she finished fifth in the Wonder Again last time out],” said Motion post-race. “She was a different horse today. From the beginning she was right in the bridle. Alan gave her a beautiful ride.”

“Somebody had to win and I’m glad I won that race,” Garcia said. “I was looking for a hole but I decided to move outside. She [won] it spectacularly.”

That she did.

Bueno Senor Grandison: A nice promotion to start the day as Spanish language-radio race caller Luis Granderson got to call the second race in his native tongue live over the track’s closed-circuit system.

Fans appeared to enjoy the Spanish Heritage Day festivities as part of International Heritage series, listening to the race call in Spanish. Granderson is from Panama and has been calling races since 1978.

Horseplayers in South America are enjoying his race calls via local simulcast venues there.

A formful beginning for the up-and-over set as Rudyard K and Selection Sunday finished 1-2 as the favorites in today’s opening steeplechase event at 2-1/16 miles.

There will be ‘chasing every Wednesday and Thursday with first post set at 12:25 p.m. Flat racing begins with the second race each day at 1 p.m.

Juvenile maiden fillies completed the early double with Expressive Rumor, blocky-sprint-meant body and all, came on with perfect-trip handling beneath Rosie Napravnik, her first Spa winner, to nail the overbet Overspending, who held well for place. The runnerup was very quick early and won’t be a maiden long; note.

Napravnik will ride likely Haskell favorite, 3-year-old filly Untapable, in Sunday’s $1 million Haskell at the Jersey Shore. Steve Asmussen trained today’s second-race winner and will tighten the girth at Monmouth Park, in a deep and contentious renewal of the Grade 1 event.

Got Lucky got a great ride from Johnny, looking very much like his mentor, Pa Pa Cordero, as he brought his filly inside to eyeball rallying Madaket Millie then back out to see late finishing Unbridledexplosion, who hung late from her 6-path rally but definitely should benefit from the effort; bet back in the right spot.

Girlaboutown was much the best in the fifth, looking very much like a future repeater and Quit Smokin was going well on the outside in late stretch in a useful effort; note.

Artemis Argotera needed a confidence builder following a disappointing try in her season’s debut and got one. With a devastating two-move-on-the-lead 10-1/4 length win after being shadowed down the backstretch early, winning eased up by Jose Ortiz in the final strides.

She made all the running in 1:22.20, after posting splits of 22.78, 45.22 and 109.11 for the 7 furlongs. She’s ready for bigger game.

Through a Diary Notebook: The meet got off to a fast start over the opening four-day weekend and one surprise was the unexpectedly good per capita from Sunday’s baseball cap giveaway crowd as 26,000 fans bet $3.8 million on-track.

The crowd probably was not that large due to the spinner phenomenon which occurs when fans pay multiple admissions. The NYRA said spinners would not be counted more than once but I don’t know how they can stop fans from entering the grounds more than once…

Opening Saturday Sanford-winning Big Trouble showed a big kick late. He has plenty of scope for development and trainer Tony Dutrow promises that he will take his time with this one who will not be Breeders’ Cup bound…The runners-up, Mr. Z and Cinco Charlie were very good in defeat…

Somali Lemonade certainly is a new filly at 5 after adding blinkers and given her head early in her races, benefiting from a perfect trip, but it was Stephanie’s Kitten who might have been best with a wide, flying finish off extremely slow fractions…

Stopchargingmaria is a Grade 1 winner now and with time between races she has become an absolute tigress. She might not want any part of Untapable but then one never knows. That‘s the fun part of watching young horses develop….

Frankie Dettori certainly brought a special brand of excitement to the Spa opening weekend, proving popular with the crowd, trainers not named Wesley Ward--his sponsor for the weekend with a glut of live mounts—and his brilliant race riding that was surprisingly, refreshingly aggressive. There are reports that he might come back later in the meet…maybe the airlines won’t lose his luggage and tack this time.

Trainer David Cannizzo completed the rarest of racetrack triples over the weekend, saddling two winners on Saturday and getting married on Sunday. But no honeymoon yet, not with races to be won at Saratoga…

Insiders are whispering that full knee replacement likely will force Gary Stevens back into the TV analyst chair. I’ll invoke the Frank Whiteley rule on that one: Whiteley, when asked about a horse that was coming to the end of his career, he said “don’t count a horse out until it’s dead at least 24 hours.”

Just shocking and sad news, the sudden death of horse owner Dan Borislow who suffered a heart attack while playing in a pickup soccer game. Borislow, who campaigned the good horse Toccet, was the wily bettor who jumped into the Rainbow Pick 6 pool on the Sunday before a mandatory giveaway and walked off with $6.6 million. Easily the worst example of good news-bad news ever…

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Dream Weavers

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 19, 2014—It is not so much that I’m conflicted as much as I’m a little distracted.

Here I am, with a front row seat to the best thoroughbred meet on the planet, and I’ve got harness horses on the brain, actually one juvenile trotter in particular.

Charles ‘Chip’ Foster lives in the condo next door, approximately 12 feet from my door.

About two months ago as I was preparing to leave for some big race on Long Island, Foster told me he had a nice trotting prospect who was a lot more advanced than others if his ilk at the harness track a quarter mile down the road from both of us.

I told Chip that once I get back from Long Island, I’ll come over to the qualifiers on Friday mornings and check him out. From that first Friday, I have yet to see him get beat.

On the Friday after the Belmont, Royal Deceptor, by RC Royalty from the Malabar Man mare, Art of Deception, took his qualifier under wraps in 2:06. The time wasn’t fast but his professionalism and his manners were.

The following week, the $11,000 Morrisville yearling purchase gave a virtual repeat performance, going a little faster, 2:05 3/5, before just ambling back to the barn like some old gelding that had just finished jogging.

Finally, with debut rapidly approaching, it was time to get a little more serious and the colt obliged, showing a speed dimension for the first time, taking the lead with a quarter-move and kept right on going like some energizer bunny of a trotting horse.

Stopping the timer in 2:03 flat, he took the lead and improved his position, as racetrackers say, winning by a ridiculous 22-length margin and coming his final half-mile in 59 2/5.

Finally, he was ready to race but no one, including his trainers, the husband and wife team of Cheryl and Mickey McGivern, who also drives him, knew exactly what to expect. All McGivern knew was that his colt “never gets tired.”

His parimutuel debut was at Buffalo Raceway, a half-miler but looking more like a track at some county fair, despite all that VLT money that was being made right next door.

Buffalo’s first turn is quirky, which is a kind way of saying it has very little banking. Consequently, many young horses keep going straight instead of turning left as they should.

With McGivern taking no chances, Royal Deceptor raced to the lead and once again improved his position. By the time it was over, he was 3-1/4 lengths clear and stopped the timer in 1:59 3/5, the fastest clocking for a juvenile trotter on a half mile track this year. Not a bad debut.

“I think that’s the last time I’ll see 5-2,” I said to Chip.

Friday, the New York Sires Stakes series moved to Tioga. At odds of 35 cents on the dollar and again leaving from the rail, this time McGivern appeared bent on teaching him something, settling the colt down in third down the backstretch run.

Making a quarter-move once again, his lower-first-turn brush was the trotting equivalent of Secretariat’s move in the Preakness. And the fact that he would go on to win by 7-3/4 lengths under no pressure in 1:58 2/5 was almost beside the point.

When this young trotter gets into high gear, he has the look of a Currier & Ives print come to life; flawless and powerful, churning and churning and, like the man said, he doesn’t get tired.

In a year when the Meadowlands Pace was won by a $3,000 yearling, and the Kentucky Derby by an $8,000 home bred, just maybe lightning will strike thrice.

In any case, the owners; Foster, Mike Sentiwany, who works in the mutuels department at Saratoga Harness, and Mike James, the IT person there, are living the dream. Who can blame them?

Meanwhile, at the flat track…

The Grade 2 Sanford for juvenile colts was a rough house of an event through the stretch, so much so that the stewards lodged an inquiry.

What they saw was the runnerup up who made the most trouble, not the winner.

After Chocolate Wildcat and Cinco Charlie set up things nicely for a late runner with a cutthroat duel of 21.65 and 45.17 to the top of the lane.

At that point, it appeared that the victor would be either Big Trouble, who rallied into contention three wide on the turn, leaned in briefly to tighten things up on the other likely winner, Mr. Z, or the latter who was reserved neatly behind the hot pace.

But soon after straightening away, Corey Lanerie bulled his way out of the box, pushing Big Trouble out of the way but in the end, the scopey Tiz Wonderful bay found another gear with a winning late surge to win by a neck in the shadow of the wire.

A very game Cinco Charlie was 1-1/2 lengths farther back in third. The winner, trained by Tony Dutrow and timed in 1:10.64, will be nominated to the Hopeful or might await the Belmont Fall meet.

The Grade 1 Diana was ultra-competitive going in and it turned out that way on the turf course, too, with the first three finishers; Somali Lemonade, Stephanie’s Kitten and Discreet Marq, separated by two necks.

The strange thing about the event was the number of rank horses racing into the clubhouse turn. But that’s what happens when a talented field of headstrong fillies are, to recall an oldie but goodie Durkin-ism, “muzzled and suppressed” in the early going.

Over a firm turf course, Grade 1 fractions of 24.37, 49.84 and 1:13.96 were, recalling a revered Hatton-ism, desultory.

The pace played to the winner’s strength as her tactical speed enabled Luis Saez to maintain a covered-up, tracking position while saving ground, Saez seizing the day:

“When we came to the three-eighths [pole],” said Saez, “I had so much horse that when I got clear, she responded and won.” It was as simple as that but not so for runnerup Stephanie’s Kitten who came with a flying late finish.

“There wasn’t much pace,” said Frankie Dettori. “It was draw 9, that was the trouble. Unfortunately I had to lose ground the whole time. They got three lengths on me and I ran out of stretch.”

Since giving Somali Lemonade her head after blinkers were added, she’s become a better filly and now is a Grade 1 winner at Saratoga.

“I don’t know if it was the blinkers, I don’t know if it was the maturity. I don’t know what else to say about her. She’s better now at 5 than she was her whole life.”

Written by John Pricci

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