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

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Doubling Your Pleasure at the Spa

Saratoga Springs, NY, August 16, 2008--Alabama Day dawned bright. That’s right, bright, and sunny. But chilly, which is OK. Anything but 17 of the first 21 days of the meet, or thereabouts. It’s been, like, forever.

And not one but, two, two, Grade 1s in one day. But I cannot tell a lie. I just can’t warm up to the Sword Dancer. To me it’s out there in no man’s land, somewhere between the Man o’ War and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.

The scheduling is perfect, really, for trainers of top class distance racers on grass who need a bridge to get neatly from one race to the other. My knock is that the Sword Dancer rarely comes up big. It attracts its compliment of grade one performers but seldom gets the star.

For years, the argument was it had no chance going up against the Arlington Million, which was true. So the NYRA rescheduled it for a week later, which sounded like a good idea. Trainers could take a look at the Million, decide if they want to duck some killer Euro, and run in Saratoga instead, even if it is for only half the money.
The way it shook out this year, the Million attracted only one killer, Archipenko, and he was beaten anyway. The Sword Dancer probably would have gotten the same horses last week it attracted today. But it was a good try.

This in no way disparages today’s runners. Half the field of eight were Grade 1 winners and a couple others came damn close. It turned out to be an excellent horse race. But I digress.

Music Note stayed in the Alabama, and so we’ll never know how good she could have been next week. But I suppose erring on the side of caution is never a bad idea. The size of the field and fast track were the deciding factors. Besides, this game might be one bad step and ensuing public relations disaster away from extinction.

Some ideas just turn out better on paper, and in the mind’s eye.

* * *

The Sword Dancer: At once, it was a good trip and bad trip for Sword Dancer defending champion Grand Couturier. Alan Garcia saved ground throughout, covered up, and timed the move perfectly. But there was a split second at headstretch when it appeared he could have tipped around the soft-pace setter, Presious Passion, but didn’t, and when he tried to slip through inside, he nearly got dropped. But all’s well that finishes well--a couple of ticks over :25 for the final quarter mile of a 12-furlong race--as he held old man, the wonderful nine-year-old Better Talk Now, safe. The clear disappointment was Manhattan winner and favorite, Dancing Forever, who appeared to big down in the good going. Props to trainer Bobby Ribaudo for having the rugged five-year-old set for best and a Sword Dancer repeat.

The Alabama: Well, the Godolphin people ran their filly in the right race. Had Music Note run the same race in the Travers--a good race but not her ‘A’ race--she might have been embarrassed. Her trip was soft. As her stablemate battled with her main rival, Kentucky Oaks heroine Proud Spell, Javier Castellano tipped out before entering the stretch, the momentum carrying Music Note a bit wide. But she rallied resolutely, passed Proud Spell, but failed the eyeball test as the Oaks winner battled back beneath a dogged underrated talent, Gabriel Saez. And the fillies gave the crowd its money’s worth, head to head from the sixteenth pole home. Proud Spell prevailing by a courageous nose. Great job all around. Now Music Note will be freshened until later this fall and her fans should take heart. Still lightly raced, this was an effort that can toughen her for the battles to come.

First Race: “Hey Sebastian, who do you think you are, Jerry Bailey?” Back in the day I would have been lining the apron to welcome the young man back when he weighed in. You just don’t get through on the entire field when you’ve got a sign on your back, i.e., you’re the favorite…Joppa Flat’s was coming off a monster effort over the track and the spot looked ripe for a repeat, bounce or no bounce. But the horse never had a chance and young apprentice Morales got through on half the group before the hole closed at headstretch, and stayed closed until the race was over. He finished well after the fact, third, and deserves another chance despite seconditis tendencies. The other logical horses, National Pride and Posse Cat, finished one-two.

Second Race: Light Green looked the best of those that have run, was overbet on the strength of that and the connections (Todd and Johnny) but was a good-trip no-excuses third behind debuting Abundantia and Obsequious, who ding-donged it much of the way around until the latter, racing outside, prevailed for Edgar Prado and Elizabeth Gray, a former Dale Romans assistant who was winning with only her second lifetime entrant. Congratulations to the connections. The time from end to end was fairly routine, a half mile of :46.45 en route to 5-½ furlongs in 1:05.78.

Third Race: Both turf course rated “good.” Fanfire, stretching to a mile off a lone turf looked like a winner every step except for maybe the last 25 or so after shortening stride abruptly. Young Channing Hill, who continues to impress, was in the right place at the right time with Sweet Slam, getting the jump on Love for a Price, who finished strongly again but had too much to do beneath Javier Castellano, who rode his Backseat Rhythm race back only he wasn’t on the Lake Placid winner here. She showed improvement in her new blinkers and won’t be a maiden long; bet back under similar conditions.

Fourth Race: Situation normal; back at 5-½ furlongs for state-bred turf sprinters. Fiona Freud, the lone 4-year-old, powered passed the group, cranking up outside on the turn before mowing them down from the 6-path in the lane, overcoming perfect tripper, the newly blinkered Sweet Bama Breeze… Intoxicatingbeauty finished well too late from the center of the course; Milwaukee Brew filly keeps improving; note.

Fifth Race: Special-weight juveniles going seven furlongs on Alabama day means there’s probably some talented stock on display--and there was. Girolamo, by A.P. Indy, from the Mr. Prospector mare, Get Lucky, didn’t need luck, only a good trip, which he got from Alan Garcia. Heavily bet, he chased good-tripping Romp, a $700,000 Saratoga yearling purchase, ran by and drew off under intermittent urging. Girolamo appears to have a future and so, too, Romp; follow both. Running time was very solid: :23.06 and :46.61 en route to seven-eighths in 1:24.70. The winner was trained by Kiaran McLaughlin for Darley. The opener was won by Godolphin. Is there a theme at work here?

Sixth Race: The second race on July 28, an otherwise nondescript $35,000 maiden claimer for state-breds, has come up key, with the second winner of three subsequent starters to run back here. Arrrr took advantage of a too-hot early pace for this level--:21.89 and :45, virtually replicating his recent win over the track. But it helps when the race falls apart, after a six furlong split in 1:11.89, 6-½ furlongs in 1:18.97 was wanting. Meanwhile, ther other well bet $35,000 maiden claiming winner, Let’s Go Yankees, was awful. Its been that kind of year for the pinstripe brigade.

Seventh Race: Been in the game longer than I care to admit but the one thing that still makes me crazy is when overbet favorites with no particular edge of any kind wins. Enter Quick to Charm, a perfect-trip winner (and isn’t that always the case with winning overbet choices?) beneath Johnny V., that pair barely holding off big finish Hard to Explain… Third finisher Dos Hombres did the hard work, stalking the pace throughout, and still battling at the end over a course that didn’t play kindly to speed all afternoon; bet back.

Tenth Race: Hot connections in the finale as George Weaver and Ramon Dominguez hook up with Miss Challenge, he exploded in midstretch to take the lead, and was geared down by Dominguez while a light brigade was charging at the filly late to no avail. The look of a repeater; note.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Coming Up Big in More Ways Than One

Saratoga Springs, NY, August 15, 2008--It’s all starting to get very old at this meeting. Rain, rain; go, and stay away.

Wonder where I’d need to sign to give up all next week in favor of one gloriously fast Travers Saturday. If there were such a line, I’m sure NYRA management would cut it.

The Travers is coming up big. And not just because it’s a big field or a “good betting race,” a euphemism for equine stars need not apply.

But it could get the filly Music Note, making it even bigger, if she scratches from the Alabama, and Harlem Rocker could be any kind. He is, after all, undefeated on dirt. If he's the deal, then we could be talking huge.

Pyro might be ready to become the Pyro of winter and early spring. His Jim Dandy trip was a quintessential Travers prep, and the hard-hitting and consistent Macho Again, Jim Dandy winner and Preakness runnerup, can keep right on improving. Clearly, he enjoys being a race horse.

Everyone knows, too, that Mambo in Seattle and game runnerup You And I Forever earned better figures in the Henry Walton overnight than the Jim Dandy horses did 30 minutes later. Both are developing at the right time.
The Travers, if anyone needs reminding, is the final leg of an all-stakes Pick 4 featuring a million-dollar guaranteed pool. It begins with the listed Victory Ride, then the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch, G1 King’s Bishop and Travers.

All three graded stakes will be telecast live on ESPN beginning at 4:30 p.m. Scheduled post time for Travers 139 is 5:45 p.m.

* * *

First Race: The wise guys were looking to beat early favorite Casual in the opener because when Scott Lake ships into town he seldom brings the ’A’ game routinely on display in Delaware or Pennsylvania or anywhere else, for the matter. But Casual’s company lines and performance figures were superior to the group, and damn it if the best horse doesn’t win sometimes…! Unbridled Danger tried a speed gambit and it worked for a while until Cielo Song and the winner mounted a two-pronged turn challenge. Cielo Song was game, but Casual was too good.

Second Race: In recent years, Bill Badgett’s been making the most of limited Spa opportunities and he’s doing that again. After posting a win on Thursday, he completes the early double here with Api Mokhat, rated brilliantly on the lead by the suddenly en fuego Ramon Dominguez. He turned a two-horse race on paper (Charging Hero) into a runaway, the other horse making a resolute finish for a clear cut placing.

Third Race: In yet another two-horse handicapping affair, Oniyome was made favorite because of a highly adventurous trip in last. It was starting to develop into another nightmare until underrated talent Channing Hill extricated his filly from close quarters along the fence, got her to settle, tipped four wide to attack loose leader Gattinara and those two put on a terrific stretch show, each resurging to take the lead inside the final furlong until Oniyome proved strongest.

Fourth Race: Like everyone else, Linda Rice has not made her usual number of turf sprint entrants this wet Spa season but is hasn’t slowed her down much. Rice saddled her fifth winner of the meet here, well meant newcomer Saturdaynitesandy, a daughter of legendary state-bred sprinter Say Florida Sandy. In training at Saratoga since May, she showed her early speed here, racing dropdown and favorite Red Seven into defeat, drawing off in midstretch to finish well clear of debuting Pals First Lady, who was game and somewhat green. She won‘t remain a maiden long; bet back… Elegant Bess finished willingly for third to complete an all first-timer trifecta.

Fifth Race: The lightly raced Rollers obviously has some issues and just as obviously, he can run. He raced Thunder Buddy into defeat after never letting him out of his sights, and won geared down as Rick Dutrow quick-turnaround secured the place. Timed in 1:03.22 for the 5-½ furlongs, look for Barclay Tagg to get a little more aggressive with the state-bred son of Stormy Atlantic, a half-million dollar two-year-old purchase in 2007 by Barbaro’s people, the Lael Stables. Two on the day for Dominguez.

Sixth Race: After a slow start to the meet, the Tom Bush shed has started to heat up and it appeared Fiddlers Afleet would add another victory as the third-time starter sped around the turn shadowed closely by debuting Trinity Magic from Team Asmussen/Bridgmohan. These two battled down to the wire with the newcomer prevailing in deep stretch, lugging in greenly but well handled by Bridgmohan for the score in a quick 1:03.98... First-timer Brazen Action got away slowly from the extreme outside post, Edgar Prado steadying his mount after the clumsy start, but finished willingly, fourth, without threatening the top pair; valid excuses, follow.

Seventh Race: OK, this card has officially turned monotonous. Fancy Diamond and Lovely Vindication, the two favorites, in order, raced one-two all the way around the park, the favorite prevailing despite drifting out in the final furlong and winning in full stride while being geared down by Cornelio Velasquez. Simply Divine sat a perfect stalking trip to no avail; Stealin’ Kisses never had a chance following a slow beginning; note.

The Lake Placid: This Grade 2 for three-year-old fillies was the only turf race not rescheduled to the main track and the course played honestly, leaving hope there will be grass racing Saturday beyond the G1 Sword Dancer… Despite the moderating pace, Backseat Rhythm, last and widest into the stretch, roared down the center of the Mellon course for an impressive score. Lightly regarded European took the shortest way home for second, over a cleverly handled Raw Silk, who stalked, took the lead, but didn’t stay the trip. Favorite I Lost My Choo appeared to dislike the footing and second choice Much Obliged was curiously handled by Bridgmohan. The late running filly chased the pace early from third, was wrangled back, moved up four wide prematurely on the turn, then floundered. She wants to make one run; clearly deserves another chance… Backseat Rhythm showed so much promise at 2 that after breaking her maiden on grass, she tried the dirt and finished second in the G1 Frizette and third in the Juvenile Fillies. She finally got back on the grass, and the winning track, at Belmont Park before shipping to Hollywood for the always loaded American Oaks where she was beaten five lengths by the prolific Pure Clan in a better-than-looked effort. After yesterday, don’t think Paul Pompa and trainer Pat Reynolds will enter her back on dirt anytime soon.

Ninth Race: Finally, an open class maiden event at seven furlongs, originally carded as a turf two-turner. Second-time starter Tar Beach, loaded with run while behind horses into stretch, found a seam, tipped outside, and ran down second-timer Take the Points, a good effort by both colts. The latter won’t be a maiden long; bet back… Insider raced head to head throughout and held gamely for fourth; follow.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Putting the Filly Where the Mission Statement Is

Saratoga Springs, NY, August 14, 2008--The preliminary Equiform performance figures are in. Missing from the data, at the moment, are figures from the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park and the Prince of Wales from Fort Erie.

And, of course, that would tell us much more about the Travers prospects of both Haskell third Cool Coal Man and Fort Erie hero Harlem Rocker, whose Prince of Wales victory stretched his undefeated record on dirt to four.

Neither effort, however, figures to land them at the top of the performance figure heap.

And, so, who is the fleetest of them all?

Here’s a hint: Who’s the fairest of them all?

That‘s right, it’s the filly, Music Note, who's the fastest possible entrant and at the moment is sitting squarely atop the Alabama/Travers fence.

Which brings us to another very good filly named Little Belle, also entered in tomorrow's Alabama and Music Note's stablemate.

Interesting that the barn was saying the other day wouldn’t it be something if they could finish one-two in a race as prestigious as the Alabama?

Indeed, it would, especially pitted up against nominees such as Black-Eyed Susan heroine Sweet Vendetta and Proud Spell, winner of this year's Fair Grounds, Delaware and Kentucky Oaks.

A Music Note victory would prove that she is the unquestioned leader among the 2008 sophomore distaff class but nothing more. Most observers already believe that. But a Travers victory could stamp her--at the moment--the most talented three-year-old in America of either sex.

With challenges all the fashion in recent days, I’ve got one for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum: Run your filly in the Travers.

If performance figures mean anything--and they do--then Music Note is the "fastest horse" in the race. Unlike the boys, her best race came at the Travers distance of 10 furlongs.

These are the first two paragraphs from the website: "What To Do in Dubai City, your online guide:"

“Godolphin has become synonymous with international competition, targeting races at all points on the compass. To achieve that, it has developed a unique approach to training horses. One that is designed to advance Godolphin's achievements around the world.

“Godolphin has come a long way in a short time winning 124 Group One races in 11 countries (Canada, Dubai, England, Ireland, France, Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and America). What started ten years ago with a handful of horses, has evolved into a complex operation. Its headquarters is Al Quoz, where strategies are forged and ambitious new targets formulated….”

OK, so the Sheikh hasn't won the Kentucky Derby, an ambitious, formidable, and illusive target. So then why not a Mid-Summer Derby?

Before the sheikh can say he’ll do what’s best for the horse, where’s the harm in running? It’s not like she isn’t built like a boy. It's not like asking her to do something she’s never done. This is 10 furlongs in August, not the first Saturday in May. Neither is it 12 furlongs on the first Saturday in June.

Here's more: In five career starts, Music Note never has bounced off a previous lifetime top. And since her debut, all her figures have been lifetime tops.

The owner retire the filly whenever he wants. No one can tempt him with enough money to make a difference in his life. He doesn't need the money. So why not target the Travers? You’ve come a long way in such a short time; come a little farther.

Point your compass north about 300 yards from the old Greentree place, where the filly is stabled, and run her a week from Saturday. She’s entered tomorrow, with mate Little Belle, in the Alabama. They own a third of the six-horse field. Let Little Belle run. Scratch the big mare.

One more thing. Mrs. Payson would never duck a challenge like this. Consider that. Or, like everyone else, it's really all about the benjamins.

* * *

First Race: Fans really got their money’s worth in only grass event of the day, a jump event over 19 furlongs, three times around the park. In addition, the running time of 4:47.93 over the soft ground was a mere :35.89 full seconds slower than Hokan’s course record 4:12.04. Two of the three uncoupled Sheppard’s finished 1-3, split by one of the uncoupled Fisher’s. Neither Fogarty stable coupling hit the board. Seriously, it was an exciting duel coming over the final fence with three having a chance to win it but it was leader Look At Him, Robert Walsh up, who prevailed.

Second Race: This will probably be a juvenile event that keeps on giving, a key race in training despite the short field. Selective placed gamely after pace dueling inside of Argyle Pink, these two battling to the wire until Eddie Kenneally’s filly prevailed. Luster was going well at the finish, third; follow. This was a quick heat, fractions of :22.13 and :45.62, en route to 5-½ furlongs in 1:04.01.

Third Race: A two-horse race on paper and we tested those two to the wire. But you could have filled out the check after Edgar Prado nursed splits of :23.64 and :46.91 en route to seven-eighths in 1:22.28 with Megapixel, who held relentless Law Enforcement safe, a final furlong in a worthy :12.10. Meanwhile, let’s hear it for plucky Be Bullish, who always tries hard. Though his best game has been six furlongs, he kept chugging along the fence in those fast closing fractions, finishing in a blanket with the two favorites; bet back, especially if turning back to three-quarters.

Fourth Race: Chauette never had run well on dirt…until yesterday. Laca, first-time Bruce Levine, had it won every stretch step until the final lunge, when Penna Jr. trainee grabbed her. Not many horses that finish a fairly well beaten fourth were probably best, but you might want to make an exception in the case of Kewland, who had a tangled beginning, spotted the field double-digit lengths, and made a huge mid-race run to loom a brief threat; bet back.

Fifth Race: Another two-horse event on paper posted similar results with Vinnies Wild Tale returning a square-priced 5-2 following a stretch battle in which he drew away late in a final quarter mile in under :25 seconds. Dropdown African Storm placed gamely, splitting the two favorites.

Sixth Race: You can’t win every race you enter, but you can try to make sure that whatever you enter runs well. That’s been the case with the George Weaver barn this meet. In here, New Member got loose in quick fractions beneath Javier Castellano, :22.81 and :45.77, then finished up strongly in :24.20. Coach Butts came down the center of the track with a strong late rally for place. War Ruler had every chance but finished evenly, fourth, no excuses.

Seventh Race: It’s not often you’ll see Graham Motion enter for main-track-only, so when he does, handicappers ought to take notice. Enter Easy To Say No under suddenly hot Ramon Dominguez, who proved clearly best in the rescheduled 7 furlongs on dirt…$800,000 2007 two-year-old sales graduate Rocky Engagement, made only tepid run as announced first-time gelding newcomer; Darley having a rough meet thus far.

Eighth Race: Every once in a while we are reminded of Jorge Chavez’s talent on wet tracks. Here, he sliced and diced his way through rivals to give trainer Wesley Ward his fifth win of the meet with Fiumes… Cleverly bet Phobia moved prematurely beneath Javier Castellano and tired deep stretch; bet back under similar conditions.

The Saratoga Special: Run Away And Hide might be just that, special. He stretched his undefeated career to three victories, his second in stakes, and props to Ronny Werner for having him at tops off a May 1 layup and Robby Albarado for his clever handling. Compliments were mutual all around. “Ronny has done a remarkable job with him coming off that kind of layoff in such a talented field.” Replied Werner: “Robby did an excellent job; he set him up just right. He gave us a little spot on the rail and it worked out great.” The tactic worked, indeed, especially after splits of :21.66 and :44.80, the winner getting the distance in a rapid 1:15.67. This was a quality group, producing a quality race. Break Water Edison battled gamely for place in only his second lifetime start. Thus far, the Lemon Drop Kid’s we’ve seen can really run. Third finisher Reynaldothewizard also impressed in his second start after a visually impressive maiden run at Churchill Downs.

Tenth Race: Weaver doubles with second-time starter, MTO Chicks Are Better, who made a strong albeit belated three-year-old debut. He stalked, pounced and drew off, never threatened… Vladimira finished well too late for third; note.

Written by John Pricci

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