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

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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Saturday, August 03, 2013


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 3, 2013—It was the Sunday morning after the 2002 Breeders’ Cup. I was in the Arlington Park press box fielding phone calls about the unusual Pick Six payoff, completed by Classic upsetter Volponi just 15 hours earlier.

At that point I had been recently converted to performance-figure handicapping and was able to divine the Classic winner. That Breeders’ Cup yielded my first five-figure winning day.

Bobby P, who was working for NYC-OTB at the time, cornered me and wouldn’t let me go, telling me about the great figures produced by a professional horseplayer from Queens. “Bobby, I’ve got something that isn’t broke; why should I fix it?”

But he wouldn’t let me go. Desperately, I said “OK, send me a copy of the guy’s book and I promise I’ll read it.”

“Blinkers Off” arrived a few weeks later with a warm inscription from the author who was familiar with my work at Newsday. It was the first time I saw the name Cary Fotias in print.

One evening I sat down with his book in front of the TV with a yellow Hi-Liter, figuring I would outline the sections that interested me, promising myself to investigate any new handicapping principles to be found therein.

I wound up highlighting entire sections on virtually every page. It was clear that this was my introduction to an entirely different animal from the traditional Sheets format. Fotias included half-mile figures and, in sprints, two-furlong figures, as well.

Cary’s Equiform figures spoke to my trip-handicapping roots--adding science to an art form that effectively quantified visual perceptions. It wasn’t long before I realized that I had developed a keener insight into condition and development than horsemen did.

Don’t take my word on that. Here’s a third party opinion from a post that appeared at the day after Cary died: “Cary stood on the shoulders of giants but he was also a genius. He was influenced by Ragozin and Sartin, but expanded their ideas.

“Like Ragozin, Cary made figures, but like Sartin, he added velocity to the mix. Cary's creation was velocity-based pace figures that were used to identify not only the fastest horses but also horses coming into or falling out of peak condition…

“I doubt anyone has ever used such high level math and extensive research to design a system to make figures… I have never known of any other figures that were made at the high level of Cary's numbers. His methods were revolutionary.

“Huey Mahl was a rocket scientist who liked to predict the trajectory of horses running around a track. Cary Fotias was a professional horseplayer who could have calculated the trajectory needed by a rocket to land on the moon.

“He came up with so many new concepts that he had to devise names for them -- Reversal, New Pace Top, Cyclical Pace Top, Plunge Line, and my personal favorite -- Turf Decline Line, etc. I don't know of any other handicapping author who presented so many unique, even revolutionary, ideas in one book.”

And this from Ph.D James Quinn’s review of "Blinkers Off": “A new voice for the new millennium belongs to Cary Fotias and he comes in loud and clear. His contribution is both contemporary, one might even say postmodern, and significant.

“He uses velocity-based pace numbers and energy distribution concepts to identify horses coming to peak condition. The horses can be expected to deliver their best efforts next time, and many do.

“A number and variety of figure analysts have depended upon numerical patterns to infer improving form, even peaking form, but none has succeeded with a high degree of reliability, until now.

“A new and important author and book that can enhance handicapping proficiency is always cause for celebration. This one is cause for jubilation.”

Soon after finishing the book, I called Cary to say how much I enjoyed it, learned from it and that perhaps we might have lunch the next time I came to town.

And so I arrived one day about 10:30 a.m. We talked incessantly—well, Cary talked incessantly, stopping only to interrupt himself. At times, the conversation was of a philosophical nature; life, family, the game. We didn’t have lunch until about 3 p.m. and I didn’t leave his office until 10 that night. It was as if we had known each other our whole lives.

At Cary’s memorial service I learned that I wasn’t unique in feeling like a special friend; far from it in fact. Wednesday began sadly, slowly became a mini laugh-fest and, inevitably, a love-fest. “I never saw so many grown men cry,” said his mother, Anne.

Again, don’t take this on faith: “Cary Fotias was a wonderful man. He was never out to hurt anyone or put anyone down. He was as honest and trustworthy as anyone I have ever met…

“It is hard to describe Cary. He was complicated and stood steadfast to any position he held… He enjoyed nothing more than a great story with his friends… I don't know if we will see another Triple Crown. But if it happens I will be there with thoughts of Cary and my father. All my love, J.D.”

“He was the best friend possible,” said Peter Arnold, a graduate school classmate at Indiana University, informing us that “Cary got his M.B.A. with distinction. He loved games of all kinds, was a true renaissance man. He even wrote poetry.”

From HRI “Players Up” contributor Indulto: “I just read about the passing of Cary Fotias. It's strange but I feel very sad in the way I did when John Lennon died--someone I had never met somehow had a tremendous positive impact on my life… He seemed to be the Benjamin Franklin of Horseplaying--a technological and philosophical innovator, as well as a personal liberty advocate.

Wrote Joel Cohodes: “I was a high school buddy and poker player… We went to Vegas three times before we were 18. He was incredible at card counting back then.

“We went to our 40th reunion... ‘Greek’ asked for the microphone and read a poem that he wrote. Not sure what the hell the poem was about, but it made sense to Cary. That was the kind of guy he was… you never knew what was coming. I will miss my one of a kind, broke-the-mold friend.”

From Bill Feingold: “The network of friends centered around him will only get closer. One of a kind indeed. The sadness right now is almost unbearable but I know over time it will be replaced by a stream of happy shared memories and the ongoing preservation of how Cary thought, shared and lived.”

Said Dale Miller: “One of the most unique and nicest people I've ever known. The first Saturday in May will never be the same.”

From Steve Walters, on Cary's way of interrupting himself: “Often, in the onrush of his thoughts and memory… everything he remembered had such immediacy for him, [that it] was still somehow unfolding, allowing the wildest connections to declare themselves. [This] goes to the special quality of his energy and intensity… it had a lot to do with his being startled, stopped by his own astonished sense of things…

“In my copy of “Blinkers Off,” his inscription speaks to this… ‘life is not a riddle to be solved but a mystery to be experienced’… Here are a couple short segments of a letter he sent me back in 1979 that might stand on their own and help to fill out his portrait:

" ‘Someone once said that intelligence is the ability to accept two paradoxical thoughts or ideas simultaneously--I hope that's true. I wish I could be with everybody I love at the same time--physically, I mean-- but I guess that's impossible, so I try to do it spiritually."

Cary’s kindergarten buddy, Bruce Kittles, agreed with Feingold that the best description of Cary may have come from the noted European handicapper, Nick Mordin, who said it for anyone lucky enough to meet Mary’s beloved husband: "Cary was the loudest, funniest, smartest and nicest man I've ever known."

Written by John Pricci

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