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 07, 2009

…And an 18-Year-Old Shall Lead Them

5:05 PM: Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds should have no problem finding potential clients at next week's Fasig Tipton Sales, not after Dallas Stewart unleashed a very, very fast, very, very green juvenile filly in Encore Saritta, who ran a fast, experienced favorite, Flower Exchange, off her feet, came into the stretch with a clear lead and then appeared to want to jump the fence and on to the turf course. Ultimately, Robby Albarado straightened her and the wire came at the right time. She's a seriously fast filly.

The featured John's Call, led to the post by the 18-year-old John's Call, took the track and before the group turned around for the pre-race warmup, the old gelding breezed up the stretch--amazingly fast. He was remarkably fit. The race didn't turn out too well for John's Call's trainer, Tom Voss, who saddled race favorite Always First and never threatened. Solitaire made the last run, a winning one, down the center of the course, Leparoux's third of the day. Edgar Prado, having a terrific meet, was unseated from Rogue Victory, but was not seriously injured. He took off his final two mounts of the day.

4:09 PM: Never trust a man who wears a size 4 hat, that's what they say. I don't blame jockeys for my bad selections, but I do hold them accountable for not getting their minds right. I mean what was Prince Woodman doing battling for the lead between horses? He was supposed to be the trip sitter. Get beat that way? Fine. But don't get beat giving yourself up. Keying the Klesaris sprinter with I've Got Speed, Chitoz and Natural Speed. I've got myself to blame.

How many times have I said it's not about horse, it's about price. But you go in front of a camera, try to be smart, zero in on the most probable winner, then get locked in. The horse to key was Natural Speed, the lost of my four contenders at 13-1. He finished second to I've Got Speed, Ramon nailing yet another rival at the wire. Exacta payoff? $102. Net loss for the race? $50.

Be back later. Maybe. In case I meet an old friend at the Jim Dandy bar, the John's Call feature, as advertised in the FRA section, has Guadalcanal the potential value play. We shall see. Mission Approved is very well intended, if the recent workline is any measure, and the classy Always First, trained by Tom Voss, who trained John's John, deserves a serious look. Don't you think?

3:37 PM: Fourteen minutes to the sixth and perhaps an opportunity. Looking at, with current odds, I've Got Speed (5-1), Prince Woodman (9-2), Chitoz (9-2) and Natural Speed (10-1). The key for me likely will be Prince Woodman.

Wesley Ward had his first-timer Economic Tsunami ready and she beat all the one, Msjerseyroulette, who made a long, sustained rally, impressive for a debuting juvenile miss, to get up at the line under Julien, his second today. Good job of preparation by both outfits; Ward's and Phil and Lisa. It was Serpe's second of the meet. Lucy N Thunder finished with a florish, but the table was set for her and the final time (1:07.20) was a little hungry. They're on the track. We're back.

3:02 PM Calf killed the butcher. The butcher, in this case, was me. Loxy Lady, best bet material on this basically inscrutable card, was shuffled slightly into the lane inside, altered course outside, and finished strongly, too late! Somebody probably made up their minds; ne easy lead for Calvin at this meet. Anyway, Marai's Moon was pressured throughout, setting it up for a rally type. That turned out to be I'm Your Lady, trained by Cleveland Johnson.

Hey, wasn't he the guy..? Yes, the guy who stood in for Rick Dutrow during one of Dutrow's suspended periods--and won at a higher percentage than Dutrow did during that time. Meanwhile, I didn't even know he had stalls here. Found out the hard way.

Maiden claiming juveniles up next. Time for Hattie's Chicken, see'ya.

2:20 PM Now that was worth the wait, except for the closing prices, of course. Thought the crowd would stay with the Dutrow filly, but you can't keep Ken Ramsey away from those windows. Another skillful ride from Julien, and a very game effort from runnerup Dressmaker, Mike Luzzi allowing her to drop back before re-breaking at headstretch.

Can't carp too much about a $29.80 exacta payout...

Ah, the age old question: Is it value, or is it dead? That's what I'm thinking about Loxy Lady, who opened at 9-2. Would gladly take half that at post time; we'll check her out in the parade first. Suggest you do the same. THe other two of interest at the open are Deputy Empress (3-1) and Maria's Moon (9-2). Might be an opportunity here; check it out...

1:58 PM Now wasn't that well worth the wait. Yikes. Half that field couldn't trot, pace or gallop. So, experience won, and nothing to watch out of there...Two horses of interest in today's third and right now both are a square price: Miss Fleetfoot (4-1) and Dressmaker (5-1). Opening flashing favoritism went to Monmouth shipper Boogeewoogeemalia, the rmeaining half of the Dutrow entry. He had a sharp blowout at the Shore before leaving Oceanport and drops a notch after winning its last start. Did you know tricky Rick is 47 percent effective with recent starters in that scenario? Well, you do now. Later...

1:16 PM That's always the way, right/ The more wide open the race, the shorter the price. The smart money was right in the opening exacta, Edgar Prado continues riding as if possossed, and the two value horses ran third and fourth, the resulting superfecta returning $560. So far, things are making sense...
Live horses in the double, with a gate-load of mostly debuting juveniles are: Trickle Trickle, now 6-5, who has experience and drops into claimer for the first time; the debuting Pleasant Prince (5-1), because Wesley Ward two-year-olds always attract play--because he wins so many. And, finally, Tiger Boy, making his career debut for John Parisella, and attracting Ramon Dominguez. No real opinion here. We're back...

12:43 P.M.: Sometimes what's very right about Saratoga amounts to tough love for handicappers. Take today's opener, a starter allowances, field of 9 fillies and mares going a mile and a sixteenth on firm inner turf. How many of the 9 look live? Try five, and I'm probably cheating someone. As of now, they are Bella Attrice (3-1), Meander (10-1), Mindbender (7-1), Bobs Pinup Girl 7-2) and Crazy Catlady (2-1). Given those live odds, Meander and Mindbender are overlays. Bella Attrice and Crazy Cat Lady are overbet, especially the latter, and Bobs Pinup Girl is a fair price. But early money's been pretty smart at this meet. You've been warned. Happy Hunting!

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

More Goodies

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 6, 2009-

5:40 P.M.Another turf event for juveniles, this one going a mile and a sixteenth on the Mellon Course. Julien Leparoux continues to demonstrate why he’s an elite race rider, especially on grass.

In today’s seventh he got Scottkeith’skitten into perfect position entering the backstretch from post 10, just as smoothly as it can be done.

From there, he waited until mid-far turn when he sidled up along an inside stalker, tipped four wide entering the lane, then left-handed his way to the wire. The rider made all the difference in this spot.

Meanwhile, a couple of more for the list. Favored Zapster was forced to chase every step of the way and was beaten narrowly. Ran too good to lose; bet back.

Straight Talk, making his third start and first going long, was highly energetic through the lane. Strong, long striding juvenile will improve with experience and more distance.

And, finally, Charter Flight, who raced wide throughout and showed determination right through the finish line while still wide, simply impossible position; follow.

Law Enforcement won the John Morrissey under a well timed ride from Kent Desormeaux, his second of the day. But the story were the fractions in the 6-½ furlongs sprint that went in 1:14.76.

Dr. W tried to set it up for late running mate, Premium Wine. He softened up the 2-5 favorite, Driven By Success, by forcing him to lay down splits of :21.65 and :43.87. Right church, wrong pew.

It was a remarkably game performance by the runnerup, as the Bruce Levine protracted slump continues.

Julien might have been the difference in the 9th, too. In defeat. He made too much use of Lyke A Hurricane early and wilted.

Edgar Prado waited, and got the money for the third time today. He’s been the Prado of old. Perhaps his protracted slump is over.

4:13 P.M.Thus far, on balance, the programs have been top class. But today’s was a little lacking, in terms of interest and handicapping viability. Sometimes, too much of a good thing--turf racing--can be too much.

And I was especially thinking do we really need a 5-½ furlong turf sprint for two-year-olds? I know, I know: They fill. But that doesn’t mean they are going to be popular with bettors.

So, I was a bit surprised when today’s fifth race turned out to be as interesting as it was. First, the winner, Jung Man Scott, can flat-out fly. Cruising virtually all the way and winning under no pressure from Ramon Dominguez, his second of the day, and now leading rider in Saratoga.

Then, how good is General Maximus, the colt he chased in his debut and left the 'Jung Man' gasping, 8-½ lengths on arrears? Don’t know, but both probably have a future, at least sprinting.

But the second, third and fourth horses also ran well. Wana Play finished with very good energy along the fence for place; certain to benefit.

Third finisher Thundering Roar was completely obstreperous in the paddock but finished very well out in the course. He was an announced gelding. Judging by his behavior, it was an unkind cut.

Fourth finisher All Zipped Up finished very strongly too late while only ridden out; note.

Want another? Check out Blue Horseshoe, Wall Street fans. After breaking three lengths behind the field, he made a solid move four wide at headstretch on his own, raced greenly in spots through the stretch, but still finished with interest. More ground, please.

1:05 P.M.Well, that didn’t take long, did it? The A.P. Paddy Smithwick Memorial, now $100,000 added and now a Grade 1, was taken by Hodsdon and Sheppard again with 10-year-old Mixed Up, nailing pacesetter Preemptive Strike, the leader throughout, in the final strides.

The race was somewhat marred when Rare Bush unseated Xavier Aizpuru after clearing the seventh of nine fences. Thankfully, neither horse nor rider suffered serious injury.

The Smithwick, which has a rich history despite only 14 years in existence, is the first of two Grade 1s for chasers at this meet. Formerly a Grade 2 with a smaller purse, it was a tradition prep for the G1 later in the meet. Now it stands on its own.

But it’s not that some horses won’t move forward into the Turf Writers. Dark Equation, who won the Turf Writers last year, didn’t fence particularly well yesterday. And Planets Aligned probably could have been a little tighter. Meanwhile, Mixed Up is there right now and will return in the Turf Writers, said Diana winning Sheppard. It was his second Grade 1 of the meet.

He had a good, ground saving trip throughout but had no stretch punch. Maybe it was the two pounds of overweight.

Yes, tubby little Bruce Miller Jr. [I have no right to talk, of course] weighed out at 152 pounds. And as we know, two pounds at 2-1/16th miles over nine fences is the equivalent of 72 lengths...

The great Ramon Dominguez tied Alan Garcia for the meet lead with his ninth victory aboard maiden juvenile Raffie’s Rose, a first timer of sorts.

The filly did have an open run in a Monmouth Park special-weights before meeting state-breds here, and beating them convincingly for Jimmy Ryerson. Bet down to 7-2 into the teeth of a Chester Broman odds- on entry, one of which, the debuting Under the Rainbow, finished second. That Friends Lake filly should benefit from the outing; note.

3:31 p.m. [yesterday]: Totally blew it, but as I usually say when I find myself in front of the traffic court magistrate: Guilty with an explanation.

You see, I spent the early part of the day on the backside, betting at the wickets back there, visiting with backstretch types, trainers and the like. I left following the third race and by the time I got tied on at home it was nearly post time for the fifth.

The fourth, you say? I don’t need no stinkin’ fourth race, and with that blew one of the better stories at the meet.

Danielle Hodsdon, exercise rider of champion turf mare Forever Together, took the mount in a flat race aboard, Sermon For Love.

Got to love that symmetry, right?

Anyway, her boss, Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard, entered the horse in a 12-furlong flat event, an intended prep for a future jump-up affair later in the meet.

Well, wouldn’t you know, the Sheppard team jumped up and won the damn thing!

Could have collected 5-1 on a horse dropping about 400 pounds from his last race over hurdles, and going a mile and a half--a sprint by steeplechase standards.

Anyway, good for Danielle, who pestered her boss for about a week for the mount and, obviously, he was pleased with the result. He realy didn’t believe his horse could win.

Hopefully, we’ll get to see if Hodsdon can ride the same horse to victories in separate games at the same meet. Very cool.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Cocoa Beach Is Back--Maybe

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 5, 2009--

5:12 P.M.: After a lengthy investigation into the objection, the victory of Cocoa Beach was allowed to stand in the day’s featured De La Rose Stakes.

At first blush, it appeared that the odds-on favorite was at fault but later determined that the problem was caused when the pressure came from the inside out, causing a chain reaction in which Grande Annee--whose rider Jose Lezcano claimed foul against the first two finishers--took the worst of it.

There was some question as to whether Cocoa Beach was the same filly at 5 as the one who won the G1 Matriarch at Hollywood Park last year after finishing second to Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic.

Well, she improved on her terrible season’s debut in the slop at Belmont Park but the question remains valid: She was life and death to beat moderate class stakes rivals after getting a perfect trip beneath Ramon Dominguez….

Saturday’s storied Whitney has drawn a field of seven with the venerable 8-year-old gelding Commentator drawing the outside post and was made the 8-5 early line favorite.

He will be seeking his third victory in this Saratoga fixture and, if successful, would join to other racing legends, Discovery and Kelso. Discovery won three straight, from 1934-36 while Kelso won it every other year, 1961, 1963 and 1965.

Commentator with Johnny Velazquez will share the 121-pound highweight assignment with Asiatic Boy (6-1), runnerup in the 2008 Dubai World Cup, repeating that result in this year‘s Stephen Foster and Suburban.

Other major challengers are Stephen Foster winner Macho Again (7-2), winner of the Jim Dandy on this track, at the Whitney distance, last year and Smooth Air (4-1), winner of the Gulfstream Park Handicap and second in the Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park prepping for this last month.

This race always requires an extraordinary performance from the eventual winner. This renewal will require no less.

4:24 P.M: Once upon a time, the A.P. (Paddy) Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase Stakes was the ultimate prep for the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers’ Steeplechase at meet’s end, but that’s no longer the case.

The Smithwick, Thursday’s opener and feature race, is now a Grade 1 with an increased purse of $100,000. Horsemen are not looking for an easy bridge race this time. Rather, it's an opportunity for any repeat winner to get a major leg up on this year's Eclipse championship.

The early line favorite, Slip Away (5-2), is seeking his seventh straight victory but if he’s to accomplish that it will need to be done vs. the toughest competition he has ever seen. He’s worth trying to beat.

Two horses, last year’s Turf Writers’ champion Dark Equation (3-1), and Planets Aligned, an uncoupled mate of Slip Away and also trained by Tommy Voss (7-2), are both coming off excellent training races over the course on open house Sunday here, July 26.

These non-betting events have proven to be a harbinger of good form at the meeting and today’s 2-1/16 miles should prove no exception to that rule. Course lover Planets Aligned comes from a G3 score prior to the training race and seeks his fourth win over the course.

But the champion looks all dressed up for this. In his only recognized start this year he was a fast closing second in the 2-½ mile G3 over soft ground, not easy given those conditions. With that effort under his belt, plus the good training race here 13 days ago, should enable him to make amends for his second-place Smithwick finish last year….

Easy Ashley sped away from the field to take a starter allowances for state-breds on the turf, but it was the late finishing Precision Farming on which you’ll want your money on next time. Linda Rice trainee would be aided by a drop into “non-winners of 2 lifetime;” note.

2:35 PM: The mutuel machines on the backside for the first and second races were humming. Owner trainer Roy Lerman won the second race with Essex Ferry at 17-1, getting Eibar Coa off the duck.

But judging by the amount of people watching the closed circuit feed on the monitors over the mutuel bay, you would have thought the maiden filly was 4-5. High fives ensued, some dancing, too….

Meanwhile, the news disseminated by the NTRA on the leading economic indicators [read handle] was not good. With each passing month, wagering on U.S. races declined once again.

A percentage change of -13.40 percent was the biggest monthly decrease recorded this year, resulting in purse cuts of 7.35 percent. While the number of race days has declined by 1.92% this year, handle losses have mounted to 10.90 percent, resulting in 7.35 percent less money available for horsemen…..

Last year, the IEAH Stable, headed by dual classics winner Big Brown, was riding high. This year, not so much. After investing seven figures for a half interest in I Want Revenge, they watched him win the Wood Memorial impressively despite a very troubled trip. Easy game.

Then everything started to unravel. Stardom Bound, last year’s juvenile filly champion, failed to make a transition at three, then was forced to scratch the early line Kentucky Derby favorite after he came up with an ankle the morning of the race. Subsequently, their relationship with David Lanzman, who retained a half interest in the colt, began to unravel.

Now, I Want Revenge’s trainer Jeff Mullins has asked New York’s Racing and Wagering Board to help him recover more than $31,000 from his share of the $750,000 Wood purse, plus expenses. It is also alleged that IEAH owes jockey Joe Talamo expenses of over $3,300. Stay tuned….

Paracaidas was a game maiden breaker in the third race but I can’t help shake the feeling that this crew was not all that. Favorite Film Charm was a good second but without an excuse; note.

Dean’s Kitten made a winning two turn debut after repulsing pace pressure throughout but it was Paddy O’Prado who made the most favorable impression. Long-striding Dale Romans trainee--his horses are running well--finished boldly and nearly won the two-turn turf test for juvenile maidens beneath hard riding Miguel Mena. Won’t be a maiden long; bet back.

Written by John Pricci

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