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

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Formful Start to Hall of Fame Week

Between The Fences

4:54 p.m.: Finally, some open class maiden juveniles. Surprisingly, six horses?

The experienced Good to Be Seen looked home free until well meant Aspire, debuting for Eddie Kenneally, Julien Leparoux up, came along inside the furlong pole for a comprehensive win in the day‘s second race.

Tale of the Cat colt won with something left but wanted to lean on the pacesetter as he ran by, never changing over to his correct lead; should improve, actually. Follow progress…

Maiden 3-year-olds sprinting 5-½ on the grass. Dawn Chorus was a silly price, Mott/Desormeaux debuting on turf with good figures on the Poly. The one to watch was bold show finisher, Chick in Slacks, who came roaring home much too late; note…

Loved the novelty of a two mile marathon. Next time let’s try it with a classy group. Unfortunately, two of the nine entrants were scratched at the gate and two more were eased. Meanwhile, winning Lord Kipling looked like he could have gone around again!
Cabella Calloway On Hand to Present Trophy to Winning Connections of Uncle T Seven
Cabella Calloway On Hand to Present Trophy to Winning Connections of Uncle T Seven
Photo by: Toni Pricci

Opus A broke his maiden for Rick Violette at first asking. And why not? Rick has been profitable for years with debuting 2-year-olds and didn’t do a bad job with her daddy, a horse called Read the Footnotes. The filly won with something left.

Uncle T Seven, by Freud from the Lord At War mare, Holy Wish, found his niche perfectly in the Cab Calloway division of the New York Stallion Series for sophomore state-breds.

A mile and a sixteenth on grass was what was needed, that and Julien Leparoux’s patient handling. Julien took him back to last, went into the breach leaving the sixteenth pole as the field fanned out, and drew out quickly and with authority.

The disappointment was co-choice Scientist, who sat a perfect trip beneath Kent Desormeaux, made a winning move into the lane but could not sustain at all, lasting for third while in receipt of four pounds from the winner, including two of overweight.

Very Little Filler

12:15 A.M.: After missing last year with a couple of nicks and dings and with “mom’s” problems and all. Hall of Famer Thomas J. (Tommy) Kelly was back in his favorite Spa spot, in son Pat’s tack room.
Carrots Diced, T.J. Handicaps Spa Card
Carrots Diced, T.J. Handicaps Spa Card
Photo by: Toni Pricci

Somebody has to cut the carrots.

By the time I got to Barn 23 on the main track, all the carrots, roughly about an inch in length, filled the pail about a third of the way up. Feed time wouldn’t come for at least another two hours.

Like most lifetime racetrackers, this is Kelly’s favorite time of year, spending quality time with family and swapping stories with old friends.

Toni brought up the time when T.J. drove an hour and a half south from Miami Springs to Key Largo to make up a batch of his famous crab cakes--the Kelly’s are originally from Maryland, after all--for a couple of free loaders named Pricci and Durkin and our significant others.

He invited some of his Ocean Reef neighbors--they weren’t there but Lucien Laurin lived on one side and George (Maje) Odom on the other--to join the crab cake feast. T. J. didn’t sit down to eat. Got back in his car and drove the 90 minutes back to South Miami.

We asked about Lucille Stephens, Woody’s widower, who’s “doing good”--she has to be close to 90, T. J. will be 90 next month. “She’s got a couple of horses at Calder…had a winner about two weeks ago. It keeps her going.”
Jean-Luc Samyn Another Kelly Barn Visitor
Jean-Luc Samyn Another Kelly Barn Visitor
Photo by: Toni Pricci

Like the carrots.

“I remember a time when my mother was alive and Woody [Stephens] was going for his fifth Belmont. He stopped by the barn on his way to the races and a guy asked him if he was nervous about the Belmont.

“Woody said ‘I’m a cinch in the Belmont, just wanted to make sure Kelly saved me some crab cakes. Needed mom‘s help and everyone else’s. We made over 800 of them.”

Positive Buzz, Mixed Results at Sales

3:15: If sales averages are the measure, then it was another successful night as the Fasig-Tipton Select Yearling sales concluded Tuesday night with two-day average prices up 11 percent, median prices nearly 10 percent, and gross receipts over 45 percent.

Widely hailed as one of the strongest catalogues in years, there was indeed plenty of pedigree and handsome horse flesh on display, but there had to be some issues brewing beneath the surface. were .
Photo by: Toni Pricci

Of the 204 head offered, 44 went unsold, over 20 percent, including three million-dollar yearlings. That’s a high percentage of buy-backs for a select sale--buy-back another way of saying, in sales speak, reserve not attained.

There was a bizarre moment when an overly imbibed fan raised his arm and upped the bid on the horse in the ring to one million dollars.

But the Kingmambo filly was brought back into the ring shortly thereafter where the bidding commenced where it left off at $60,000. The official reason was that the individual “had not properly established credit” and had been “enjoying the surroundings of the sale.”

Two fascinating horses caught our eye. One was the sales topper, a $2.8 million colt bought by Sheikh Mohammed, who outbid a group represented by Wayne Lukas.

By the pensioned Storm Cat, from the Mr. Prospector mare, Onaga, he was built like a three-year-old and very composed for an offspring of Storm Cat. are very tough to handle.

The other was a great looking colt by Encosta de Lago, sold for $500,000. Who? That’s what I said.

It turns out ‘Encosta’ was the leading sire in Australia for 2008-2009, from an Irish mare, Nicole and Krista, whose family includes three Group 1 winners including Breeders’ Cup Classic upsetter Arcangues.

New York-breds go under the gavel this weekend.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sheikh Providing Stimulus for NYRA

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 9, 2009--

3:35 P.M. Now I know why we had to suffer through a few less-than-inspiring programs during the week, where many extra races for turf sprinters were carded and filled because P J Campo was saving the best stuff for this weekend.

It’s called the Fasig-Tipton Festival of Racing.

The Fasig-Tipton Sales Company, which holds its annual select yearlings sales Monday and Tuesday night at the recently reconstructed sales pavilion, the finishing touches to be completed at meeting’s end.

Fasig-Tipton was purchased this spring by the Dubai-based Synergy Investments Limited. If you guessed that synergy is somehow related to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, you would be correct. He owns a country, why not a sales company?

In addition to having a highly successful weekend on the racetrack--Godolphin Stables won a few races, including the Grade 1 Test Stakes with Flashing--the Sheikh’s operation also owns the old Greentree place on Nelson Avenue with its own synthetic track so as not to lose any training time.

It sometimes rains during the racing season here.

Signs that there indeed is a festival of some kind going on around here this weekend are everywhere. Huge placards depicting the Saratoga of old are being brought to you by Fasig-Tipton. Celebrity chef Bobby Flay is scheduled to call a race, the Finney Stakes, named for the sales company’s auctioneering family.

There’s the Fasig-Tipton Festival of Racing Jockey Contest, and Trainer Contest, to be equine charities. At the halfway mark, Cornelio Velasquez and Chad Brown are the leaders in the clubhouse. Auctioneer Terrence Collier was talking it up on Capital OTB’s television station.

Tents have been erected adjacent to the paddock to lend cover and comfort to deep pocketed European and Middle Eastern buyers of horseflesh. Track programs now identify horses sold at Fasig-Tipton auctions identified with logos [worth double contest points!], a la the Keeneland Sales company.

This, after all, is about three things: branding, marketing and selling. Especially the selling.

This sale, the first Saratoga Fasig-Tipton auction under the Sheikh’s flag, will not fail even if Middle Eastern interests have to buy yearlings back for not reaching their reserve. No one wants sales averages adversely effected by circumstance.

Collier was saying on TV that in the recessed world economy, veteran tried-and-true stallions are attracting the bulk of the action, noting there’s been a little drop-off in interest shown the newer, flavor of the month studs.

Aside from the sponsorship dollars the NYRA is accruing with their own synergy building partnership with Fasig-Tipton, racing fans and bettors this weekend have been the beneficiary.

It’s been said, and repeated often, that today’s card is the strongest non-Grade 1 card offered this year, here or anywhere.

Aside from loaded allowance races, such as the third with half the field having graded stakes experience, the Geyser Spring overnight stakes for some of the fastest three-year-old fillies that have never previously won a stakes race.

Honorable Miss Winner
Honorable Miss Winner Puts Her Game Face On
Photo by: Toni Pricci

Then, for added measure, a pair of Grade 2s, the Honorable Miss for older sprinting fillies, and the Alfred G. Vanderbilt, a Grade 1 masquerading as a Grade 2.

Anybody Have the Right Time?

Apparently everybody now. Saratoga’s timing mechanism has suffered two glitches at this meeting, the first on Amsterdam Stakes day, as everyone knows, and the second one yesterday, beginning with the early races.

The problem is that they system shorted out, and the balance of the races were hand-timed by Stephen Foster, NYRA’s official timer. The problem was resolved overnight and all races were electronically timed on today’s card.

Commentator Retired

The die was cast even before yesterday’s Whitney, in which the two-time race winner, the gelded eight-year-old Commentator, finished third. When asked before the race, owner Tracy Farmer was asked if the Whitney would be his last time. The owner left the decision up to his trainer, Nick Zito.

“That would be my wish,” said Zito, Farmer later saying it was fine with him. Starting his career at age three, Commentator won 14 or 24 career starts, with five other in-the-money finishes and earnings of $2,049,845.

“He’s a real treasure,” said Zito this morning. No one disagreed.

More Undercard Stars

While awaiting the two features of the day, the overnight Geyser Spring, Finney Stakes and a money allowances were as entertaining as any races were at the meet. Elusive Heat, a daughter of Eclipse champion sprinter Xtra Heat, emulated mommy with a front running score, widening her advantage in a thoroughly comprehensive victory. Can Grade 1s be far behind?

He Don't Need No Stinking Dirt!

Bribon made his bones as a top class miler winning this year’s Metropolitan Handicap, a.k.a. the Met Mile, under terrific management from trainer Bobby Ribaudo. Ribaudo was looking for options with his French-bred 6-year-old gelding, and now he’s got one: turf.

Making his first start since the Memorial day fixture, Bribon finished explosively through deep stretch to win the one-mile money allowances on turf in a fashion suggesting he may have no limitations regarding surface. No one was sure since Bribon's last turf win came in October, 2005 in his native country. The connections thought the G1 Woodbine Mile might be a good fit. So, now they know, G1 turf competition notwithstanding.

In Turf Sprints, Linda Rice Is Nice

So is Johnny Velazquez, who rode Ahvee’s Destiny with confidence despite the hotly pressured pace, leaving something in the tank before re-breaking with the Spa lover after straightening away into the stretch. Those reserves got her to the wire just before the rapidly accelerating favorite, Smart And Fancy, in the Finney Stakes.

Bobby Flay was a late scratch--or more properly was given a reprieve from calling the rapidly run 5-½ furlongs on turf with a bunched up full field. Instead, Flay called the eighth race, like the Finney, also for state-breds. But this race was nine furlongs on dirt for optional claimers going nine furlongs. Slowly.

A Dozen Stakes Wins Would Be Fabulous
A Dozen Stakes Wins Would Be Fabulous
Photo by: Toni Pricci

There’s no way I’m going to knock Flay’s effort. I think I can do enough things related to racing reasonable well. I would not even ATTEMPT to call a race. The route was won by Freddy The Cap, who survived getting hit in the head by a bird coming out of the first turn. Really. Watch the replay.

Starting to rain more heavily now. We’re hitting the bricks, and we’ll catch up with the two graded stakes on Wednesday. Hey, my space, my rules.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Longshot’s Paradise

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 8, 2009--Bill Johnson, who would have been 77 later this month, closed his eyes for the last time last night, Whitney eve. He was a lifelong racetracker and whenever one of his friends passed he would talk about their going to Paradise where they cashed all their bets. And all the winners were longshots.

Johnson was a native of Saratoga, a former New York Racing Association executive in the early days of television--when racing embraced television, and vice versa--and was the founder and publisher of “Saratoga Summer” magazine, which celebrated its 19th birthday this season.

If you were a racetracker, you ran into him somewhere, at the track when the races were live, or the simulcasts when they weren’t. Sometimes you might even have seen him cash a ticket or two. That’s when he wasn’t talking about his alma mater’s hoops five, the beloved Siena Saints.

His passing marked the end of a personal era for me, when I worked in the racing secretary’s office for the NYRA press department, calling the entries upstairs to the press box through some sort of closed-circuit phone apparatus.

On the other end of the phone thingamajig, erudite racing historian and curmudgeon Arthur Kennedy, or the irascible, and sometimes just plain grumpy Tom Lella, would type the conditions of the race on the top line of an 8-1/2x11 lined sheet of paper, followed by the entries in post position order, with jockeys, weights and equipment changes. When they weren't there, "B.J". filled in. To my chagrin.

When the first of nine races was complete, Jimmy Weininger, a.k.a. The Squirrel, would pull 3x5 index cards on which were stamped the race each horse came from. The first race on January 1 was race #1, the ninth race that day was race #9, and so forth.

Entries were drawn on a 24-hour schedule then, not the 72 hours of today. There were no DRF past performances in advance, no Brisnet, no Internet, just the Morning Telegraph, the East coast version of the Racing Form sold out West. “The Tele,” as it was called, was a broadsheet; the Racing Form, which we never saw here, a tabloid.

On good nights, the Tele, printed in midtown Manhattan, was loaded onto trucks about 8 p.m. and if horseplayers were lucky, the roads weren’t icy, the trucks didn’t break down, the Queensboro Bridge wasn’t bumper-to-bumper, and the papers arrived at the neighborhood candy store about 9 p.m., where two or three horseplayers were certain to be awaiting anxiously.

Andy Beyer had it right about this phenomenon when he said there was nothing better than a brand new set of past performances waiting to be scribbled on, vital information circled. “A brand new Form holds so much promise,” were Beyer’s words.

And you had to be careful how you folded the broadsheet, too, informed the learned “Joe Harvard,” who had a college education but at the time was setting pins in Jimmy Lisa’s bowling alley and pool room. Lisa’s only had six lanes, so the game was barrel pins, where if you broke 100 you had a helluva game.

“You have to fold the Tele very carefully, an important fact might be hidden in one of the creases,” was Joe Harvard’s advice to aspiring horseplayers. There was more ink on Joe Harvard’s Tele than on any form I’ve seen before or since.

When the race numbers were written on the index cards, the typed 8½x11 pages were handed to NYRA linemaker Mike Casale, one of the most accurate I’ve ever seen. He made the line by consulting Racing Form charts that would be clipped and saved into a huge accounting ledger: the first race #1, the ninth #9, etc.

While Casale was finished with the lines, he would hand them over to the Squirrel who would call all the New York newspapers, maybe a dozen back then, that’s if the Squirrel and Lella weren’t having a liquid lunch at the second floor clubhouse bar.

There was no OTB back in that day, so 20,000 horseplayers would show up at the Big A at any time, 40,000 on Saturdays. There was no Sunday racing, because on the seventh day even horseplayers needed to rest. And Mondays were always big--bartenders and waiters galore, or so was the common wisdom of the day.

All this started to come back on the drive over to the track this morning. They’re all gone now. Everyone in this piece, and Pat Lynch, too. Lynch, former handicapper and columnist for the Journal American, was our boss. Ties to my early racetrack roots. They’re missed, all of them, and now BJ, but I assume all are doing OK. They’re cashing longshots. Me, I’m still trying.

* * *

Saratoga 141, Day 10: But doesn't anything work here like it used to. Several of the races at mid-card were hand-timed due to a timer malfunction. This on the heels of the disputed track record set by Quality Road while winning the Amsterdam on Monday. After several revisions, the time of 1:13.74 was settled upon as the 6-1/2 furlong standard.

And, in the meantime, what ever happened to the storied original winner's circle? Indeed, paradise was paved over several years ago--Kenny Noe Jr. paved everything in sight--and the circle was moved just outside the enclosure where the chalk outline stood as a tribute to this track's historic past. Somewhere, the ghosts of Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell are drowning their sorrows.

And don't you know it? Two hours later, the tradition was back, the half circle a symbolic salute to the past. Good job.

* * *

Richard Migliore
Richard Migliore Passes Grade I Test Aboard Flashing
Photo by: Toni Pricci

The man on horseback flashing that big smile coming into the winner's circle upon conclusion of the Grade 1 Test Stakes was Richard Migliore, who took full advantage of a pace melt-down, running passed pacesetting Heart Ashley and holding the rest of the late runners safe. Probably not smiling was agent Roger Sutton, who secured the mount on Godolphin Stable's Flashing for Migliore but was replaced two days ago by Rob Whitlock. And I thought I was having a rough week.

* * *

Graham Motion
Graham Motion Hits Bullseye with Bullsbay
Photo by: Toni Pricci

Maram is just a wonderful little filly. Making her long delayed season's debut, she held off all challengers after taking command soon after entering the straight to win the overnight John Hettinger Stakes, named for the recently deceased horseman who worked tirelessly for the abolishment of horse slaughter. It was Maram's fourth victory without defeat. The classy sophomore returned a generous 5-2.

Marylou Whitnet Presents
Marylou Whitney Presents Whitney Trophy to Bullsbay's Connections
Photo by: Toni Pricci

Well, the old boy couldn't do it. Commentator ran well, set solid fractions while pressed from close range throughout, but offered little when Bullsbay, the longest price on the board, roared up the inside on the final turn, tipped around the leader at headstretch and held his advantage without a dangerous stretch challenge.

A Happy Jeremy Rose
A Happy Jeremy Rose Brings Bullsbay Back to the Whitney Winner's Circle
Photo by: Toni Pricci

Jeremy Rose rode the 18-1 winner for trainer Graham Motion, who was timed in 1:48.12 for nine furlongs. Macho Again finished gamely for place while Commentator, seeking to become the third horse in history to win the Whitney thrice, settled for third.

Written by John Pricci

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