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 24, 2007

Travers 138: More Coronation Than Horse Race

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 24, 2007

Dear Diary,

The 138th renewal of the Travers Stakes is more coronation than horse race, no matter how its sliced.

But what does that matter? Its been 12 years since a Kentucky Derby winner showed up for the Midsummer Derby. And, in this game, nothing matters more than history.

Winning it twice would be a dream come true, said the man who will saddle the only multiple Grade 1 winner in the field, Street Sense. None of the others have won even one.

But like Carl Nafzger also says; if youre a horse trainer, you dont look for competition, competition finds you.

Late summer being the start of racings second season, racings championship season, youd expect to see some late developers. This Travers has nothing if not late developers.

C P West is one of these. He proved in the Preakness he could run with the divisions best. In the Belmont he proved that he shouldnt have run, that his trainers first inclination to pass was correct.

But his Travers prep was good. He set a pressured pace in the Jim Dandy and fought with Street Sense in the stretch until he had enough in the final hundred yards. Like Nafzger, Nick Zito did not have his three-year-old tightly wound.

C P West will very likely improve. Ten furlongs is another matter.

Grasshopper has a big win over the track, a huge Spa plus. Hes 2-for-2 rounding two turns and his last was a breakthrough effort. Hes in talented hands, Neil Howards, and stable rider Robbie Albarado, having no Curlin to partner tomorrow, is up from Kentucky for the ride.

Late developing three-year-olds are loaded guns this time of year in the right hands. Which brings us to Sightseeing, too.

Trainer Shug McGaughey knows how to win this race, having done it three times, and he began thinking Travers soon after his colt finished second in the Wood Memorial, knowing there would be no Derby run for this late developer.

I want to win the Derby as much as everyone else, McGaughey was saying the other day, but when youre wrong about that race you can be really wrong. I didnt want to go down there and be 30-1.

Hell be a lot shorter price tomorrow, somewhere in the vicinity of 4-1 second choice. Among the champions rivals, Sightseeing is the only Grade 2 winner in the group.

It was the Jim Dandy, in which Sightseeing was third, thats given McGaughey confidence that an upset is not out of the question. I like the way he finished up and he galloped out good.

In terms of mental development, the light bulb probably went off even before the colt shipped to Saratoga. We worked him at Belmont before we left and I finally saw something I liked. He was coming around.

McGaughey saw it again Aug. 19 when Sightseeing worked five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 over the slightly slower Oklahoma training track.

He pulled up in 1:13. And he really had to be pulled up. [The work] was nothing less than sensational.

McGaughey is not given to hyperbole. Further, his colt has the stoutest 10 furlong pedigree in the field.

Betting the Travers wont make you rich. An exacta box of Street Sense and Sightseeing, with extra tickets featuring Street Sense first, is the logical play.

There are 11 other races on the Travers undercard that are far more interesting as betting opportunities. But none more compelling than a Kentucky Derby winners continuing date with history.

* * *

First Race: Good horse race. Refined Royalty left like a rocket from his outside slip in the grassy two turner and open a long early lead. It was not insurmountable. On the far turn, Galaxy Express rallied into strong contention three wide. Meanwhile, Cornelio Velasquez was biding his time aboard Cardiff Road. Soon after straightening away, Velasquez altered course to the fence and that proved the difference. Galaxy Express, however, never stopped trying and placed gamely; bet back. Third finisher Sky Dragon made a sustained stretch run while wide, a good effort. Longshot Bulle Rock raced wide throughout, losing all chance.

Second Race: Velasquez completes the double in a different way. This time, in a dash for juvenile maiden fillies going 5- furlongs on the grass, Cornelio managed to save ground all the way to midstretch despite breaking from an outside slip, at which point he tipped Cato Major out into the four path, the filly taking it from there, racing past pace stalker Libor Rate in the final strides. Good effort by both fillies. Third finisher Equally had good energy crossing the line, which is more than can be said for heavy favorite Delta Weekend, who showed nothing in a dreadful performance.

Third Race: Your attention please, ladies and gentleman, in the third race, an overnight stakes for fillies and mares at nine furlongs, your sponsor, Marriott Courtyard, has been scratched. The new sponsor is Heavenly Prize. What a coincidence? The man who trained that star filly, Shug McGaughey, also trained odds-on race winner, Altesse. Hey, if Lady Joanne can win the Banshee Breeze, why not Altesse in the Heavenly Prize. Sometimes this game is easy, but only sometimes.

Fourth Race: It was a two-speed number in a turf route until, that is, Alan Garcia shifted Absolute Heaven outside for the drive, where she nailed a very game Jocasse right on the line. Good thing Garcia waited to make the last run, the difference in the outcome, as pacesetting Cagey Girl weakened, third. Nice job. Michaelas Angel lot all chance when Dale Beckners saddle slipped.

Fifth Race: Mike Luzzi can draw a deep breath. Finally. With all the attention given Todd Pletchers 30-race losing skein, Luzzis streak was all but ignored. Winless in 54 rides. Almost unheard of, especially for a top journeyman. But Philharmonic, compromised by an awkward start in his special-weights debut, welcomed the drop into claimers and simply outran the entire field. We mentioned yesterday how the breaks are beginning to balance out for George Weaver and continue to do so. Glowing Image chased all the way, hard ridden for three-eighths of a mile, and just missed place in the final strides to Fufty, who sneaked up the fence and nailed him.

Sixth Race: On our way to a Travers day Pick Six carryover. Autumn of My Years was able to gain an easy loose lead going 5- furlongs on the turf and was only briefly threatened when Prime Obsession made a stiff challenge in midstretch, only to hang badly late. Skillful rating by Raul Rojas but bad race riding by the rest. Alys Tough, racing without a whip, was a good, willing third after rallying up four wide on the turn to challenge briefly.

Seventh Race: Zayat Stables, meets leading owner, continued its roll as Premium Wine took his second straight here and is now out of state-bred conditions. Now its Rick Schosbergs turn to get a little lucky. All his horses are running well, runnerup Run With the Lark the 14th horse to finish in the money from 17 starters, including three wins.

Eighth Race: Forgive the local clich, but Auto City ran huge. He set the pace from the middle of the course, under heavy pressure throughout, then found more when even-money R Loyal Man slipped through on the fence, looming a certain winner. But Chris Englehard-trained turf-sprint specialist held with bulldog determination to hold the favorite safe, Cornelios third of the day.

The Personal Ensign, Grade 1: There are no adjectives left to describe the remarkable Allen Jerkens. In his day he was the youngest trainer to be inducted into the Hall of Fame--the voters clearly knew what they were doing. Miss Shop came from last beneath Javier Castellano and ran down the very sharp Unbridled Belle who received a perfect trip and ride from Dominguez. Indian Vale ran an improved race, but lost too much ground in the 10-furlong fixture. (And I made it through that entire paragraph without mentioning the sobriquet Giant Killer. Not even once).

Tenth Race: When hot-pace setter Go On the Go bore out and stopped soon after entering the stretch, Champchu inherited a wide opening on the rail, and the lead, to steal the nightcap, the fourth of the day for Cornelio. With little more than a week remaining in Spa 2007, the jockey race figures to get even hotter. Stay tuned.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hard Spun A Grade 1 Racehorse

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 23, 2007

Dear Diary,

Even though he will not two-step into the big dance, theres a certain symmetry to the presence of Hard Spun in a seven furlong Grade 1 race at Saratoga Race Course on Travers Day.

And if any colt is deserving of a Grade 1 title, its the Larry Jones trained son of Danzig, from the Turkoman mare, Turkish Tryst.

Interesting that Danzig and Turkoman have a deserved reputation as stamina influences. But you should have seen them sprint.

If you blinked, you missed Danzig. He ran only three times, twice at Belmont, once at Monmouth Park. He was a blur.

Hall of Famer Woody Stephens had him ready for debut. Won by a short pole, too, beneath one of Woodys exercise riders, Joe Brocklebank, the 10-pound bug, now the bloodstock agent.

Did I mention he was a blur? Well, that blur, undefeated in a three-race career until suffering a knee injury, also sired nearly 200 stakes winners, including 10 champions.

During a championship campaign as a four-year-old, Turkoman made a stopover that winter at Hialeah. After first intimidating the field in the paddock, he then came from Broward County to win the seven furlong sprint with a remarkable and wide late turn of foot.

Think Forego at Belmont Park.

Not as prolific as three-time champion sire Danzig, Turkoman the stud had his share of champions, especially as a broodmare sire. Travers and Horse of the Year champion Point Given comes to mind.

Their son/grandson, Hard Spun, can really run, too. He galloped in the LeComte and Lanes End in early spring, and the divisions leaders know all about him from the Derby and Preakness.

The Belmont? Well, he never was given a chance to show what he could do. If that wasnt the worst stakes ride in the career of the brilliant Garrett Gomez, its in the conversation.

After regrouping for two months, Hard Spun returned with a game, pace-pressing second in Any Given Saturdays Haskell. Trainer Larry Jones opened his lungs with a bullet half-mile in :47, termed breezing, then shipped him here, where hes galloped to Jones satisfaction.

Hard Spun deserves his first Grade 1, and should get it.

E Z Warrior, having drawn the pole, will be under the gun and figures to rush up for the lead, shadowed closely by Spin Master, King of the Roxy, First Defence and Hard Spun. Teuflesberg will be enjoying the view from mid-pack.

Unless I missed my guess, Mario Pino will challenge for the lead midway of the turn and will gain the advantage into the stretch. At that point, hell brace for the stretch challenge of Teuflesberg, the divisions iron horse.

Jamie Sanders colt will make the Kings Bishop exciting in deep stretch. But Hard Spun will have his Grade 1 title.

* * *

The Mickey G. Walsh: Planets Aligned, after a race over the course and benefiting from added ground, remembered that he loves Saratoga turf. Creeping up behind leaders on the final turn beneath Chip Miller, now 2-for-2 aboard the six-year-old chaser, he remained covered up until after reaching the final obstacle and out-sprinted Rum Squall, a winner here Aug. 2, to the pole. The jump-up sport has been good this season with this $70,000 overnight novice stakes no exception. Next year, well be looking for Planets Aligned in the Smithwick Memorial, prepping for the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers for the redoubtable Tommy Voss. Props to Chip Miller on his 200th career steeplechase victory, the eighth rider to join the 800 club. He needs two more wins to tie his sister Blythe for seventh at 202.

Second Race: To this point Barclay Tagg was having a quietly good meet. No more qualifiers. Good has become great, and theres no longer anything quiet about it. Certainly no one spoke of debuting New York-bred Big Truck in hushed tones: Secrets dont pay $3.30 to win. After surviving a pace scramble of :22.26 and :45.74, Big Truck took command entering the far turn, drew away coming out of it, and never was seriously threatened. He stopped the timer at 1:17.65 for 6- furlongs and has a future, obviously. Tagg has a history of doing pretty well with young state-breds that can run. As usual second-time Kiaran McLaughlin maiden, Post Exchange, improved on his debut, a good placing, and show finisher Cape of Storms made a sustained late run down the center of the track. These two should not be maidens for long; follow.

Third Race: George Weaver has suffered his share of tough beats at this meeting but finally got a break due thanks to the resurgent Ya Think and crafty handling from Gomez. Ya Think shook clear early, was headed in midstretch when Bill Motts At Attention put his head in front, but the Broken Vow colt came again from along the fence to re-take the lead for good. At Attention shortened stride perceptibly late and might benefit from more patient handling next time around. Newcomer Veiled Prophet made a sustained, wide run for third. Will benefit from the experience and likely wants more ground, too; follow progress.

Fourth Race: Chalk-eaters find something good to eat. Or thatsa nicea piz-za, intoned Durkin, whose second choice was Pizza delivers. Thats enough groaners for one race, ya think? Sorry, third race Anyway, Pizza, first-time tag, stalked, mid-moved, and prevailed. But not before Cant Bluff Mulvey gave chalk eaters agita at the eighth pole with a bold rail run, settling for place. Pass the crushed red, please.

Fifth Race: For a change, how about state-bred maidens going 5- furlongs on the grass? Longingfortheone controlled tempo from the start, repulsed Sultry Sues mid-race bid, the latter all out to hold the place from the too-late running Miss Annie M.; note.

Sixth Race: Just when it appeared Three In The Bag had stolen it, the frontrunner opening the lead out into the stretch under Johnny Vs urging, the would-be Spa repeater stopped. In midstretch, Extreme Supreme inherited the lead, Cornelio Velasquez urging him forward for John Ward and withstanding the sustained late run of Deputy Indy. The winner had winning position; the runnerup making the greater effort to no avail.

Seventh Race: How about five and a half on the grass, for the third time today. I know these races fill, but arent we overdoing it just a tad? Meanwhile, the ride of the day was put up by Rafael Bejarano who sque-e-e-e-z-e-d through a sliver of an opening on the fence and just nailed Citifest under Jesus Ponce, who did everything right but win, cutting the corner deftly into the stretch. It had looked as if Storm N Lightning had it won at headstretch, but he couldnt sustain his rally through the lane.

The Ballston Spa: The Grade 2 for fillies and mares on turf attracted a Grade 1 field. If ever a filly touted herself before the race it was Wait A While, bursting with controlled energy, on her toes in the paddock, but not too high, either. After sitting behind the pacesetters, she swept up five wide into the lane and finished strongly to win going away in a sparkling 1:40, ending a long losing strong for the Pletcher shed, Gomez in the boot. Vacare sat a perfect rail trip beneath Edgar Prado and was clearly second best. Stablemate Maribel was a too late third, per usual. My Typhoon, winner of the Grade 1 Diana over the course, raced dully throughout.

Ninth Race: The finale, what else, 5- furlongs on turf, went to Judges Pride who speed-popped from his outside slip and kept going, taking her turf debut at 32-1 under apprentice Jose Bracetty. Favorite Too Much Zip chased throughout and lasted for second over Mia, who closed well late from the middle of the course.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nafzger and McGaughey and Travers History

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 22, 2007

Dear Diary,

The billboard says it all: Travers 138.

Its all about history. Past and present both.

A comprehensive victory by the Kentucky Derby winner could lock up a championship, no matter what happens in October at the Jersey Shore.

Its not the fault of Street Sense that Curlin and Any Given Saturday and Rags to Riches couldnt be here, wouldnt be here.

Six were entered to beat Street Sense this morning at the Travers post position draw, the two that couldnt beat him but came closest in the Jim Dandy, and four others, promising runners to varying degrees.

The biggest obstacle for Street Sense could be history itself. Its been 12 years since a Kentucky Derby winner even ran in the Midsummer Derby, much less won it; 17 years since a two-year-old champion, Fly So Free, did this.

How about the Alabama factor? Only five trainers have hit this double since the turn of the last century at this storied course, 1901. None since Hall of Famer Leroy Jolley did it with Optimistic Gal and Honest Pleasure 31 years ago.

The Travers has been on Carl Nafzgers dance card since Street Sense lost the Preakness photo. Its been longer than that for Shug McGaughey, soon after Sightseeing finished second in the Wood Memorial.

Shug targets a race good, Nafzger was saying the other day. Especially this one. He goes for his fourth on Saturday.

Street Sense is the 3-5 early line choice to give Nafzger his first winner since Unshaded in 2000. Shugs got three. Id like to get two.

So would Nick Zito, wholl start two to get his second. Remember Birdstone? The best of his two is C P West, the Jim Dandy runnerup. Speedy, he drew an inside post, which helps.

C P West will be in front for as long as he can stay there, maybe all the way if he can get away soft and easy. The linemaker thinks hell be second choice. But hell be third choice, behind Sightseeing.

At the end of the day, which begins at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday, Street Sense and Calvin Borel will be all the sizzle this race needs. History takes care of itself.

* * *

First Race: Can you say quick dividends? Bobby Barbara can. He sat on Half a Note for 18 days after claiming him from David Jacobson, then had Alan Garcia cut him loose from the far outside at the sixteenth pole and, as Durkin says, rolled right on by. Eddie C., making his first start off a very lengthy layoff, did well to win a place photo after a protracted battle. Yet another second place finish for the Weaver shed; this one should make amends next out, note.

Second Race: Experience often counts, especially in baby races. Syrianas Song ran very well when second in her debut. She went to the front again today, but this time improved her position, never threatened beneath Borel. Runnerup Tazarine debuted in same race as choice but finished evenly in mid-pack. But D. Wayne pulled the string today and she was much better, the only possible threat to the winner at any stage. Debuting Armonk finished well after the fact; third while ridden out late, bet back. Not a very good race for celebrity owners; Bobby Flays Smokin A Stephanie beat one horse, Little Miss Julien, owned in part by Joe Pesci.

Third Race: Tejida was Michael Matzs third win from nine starters at the meet and it was easy after Carlos Marquez Jr. set a controlled pace, the Rahy fillys third consecutive victory. Speaking of streaks, this was the 26th consecutive Todd Pletcher entrant that failed to win, as odds on Wingspan sat covered up the whole trip but remained one-paced when the real running began.

Fourth Race: Number 27 for Todd as Desifinado never got out of a gallop; victory number 10 for Gary Contessa, whose Beam Of Love drew off sharply soon after entering the stretch, Eibar Coa in the boot. Gullible Gal, a beaten favorite at 13-10 in her debut, failed to give a good account of herself again. Her running action isnt the best weve ever seen. I wouldnt be looking to get even on her, not necessarily.

Fifth Race: Love Cove re-rallied, coming again gamely to out-photo Follow My Dream, who was seeking a repeat win. Admittedly, the winner was a bit tough to come up with but, at 14-1, was a silly price by any measure. Hope you thought so and bet out.

Sixth Race: Most often two is better than one. The crowd probably was betting on Cherokee Time, but Wild Logic saved the favorite players. The former engaged in some late stretch bumping with Reatas Rose and, to her credit, won the show photo. Debuting Vesper and second-starter Panthera Tigre were virtually eliminated at the start, as the inside and outside fillies came out, and in, respectively, making them a not-so-nice sandwich.

The Capades: Overnight stakes at 5- furlongs for fillies and mares, three-year-olds & up, named for the late Richie OConnells ultra fast and consistent turf mare of two decades ago, went to Jazzy, a second-time starter in the U.S., who went flying past the streaking Smart and Fancy and Stormy Kiss, who stalked the early pace, led, but was nailed by the last-run winner. The South African five-year-old was winning her fourth race from only nine lifetime starts. Might be another useful acquisition for Team Valor Stables, et al.

The Albany: State-bred three-year-olds going nine furlongs and third leg of the Big Apple Triple, a bonus series for New York breds comprised of the Mike Lee at Belmont, the N Y Derby at Finger Lakes, and this race. No one has ever swept this series. At this rate, no one ever will. The question prior to the Albany was whether the fastest horse, favorite Chiefs Lake, could get the nine furlong distance. Well, he didnt, and didnt look like he would at any time. Contessas Stunt Man looked like he could, and did, his second of the day for the barn. Ramon Dominguez blew it open approaching the quarter pole, winning it with stick turned down. Dr. Vs Magic put in a good run after removing blinkers, a non-threatening second. Ghouls in the crowd please note: number 28 for Pletcher.

Ninth Race: One In A Romp won. Barely. She was a last jump winner for Allen Jerkens and Javier Castellano as the favorite. Todds 2-1 second choice, The Ag, was number 29.

Written by John Pricci

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