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

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Conjuring Horse of the Year Thoughts at the Spa

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 9, 2007

Dear Diary,

Ive got this hypothetical Im mulling over. All the possible scenarios leading up to the Breeders Cup Classic which--and Ill take a winter book price right now--in my view will be won by a three-year-old.

I know, youre thinking thats big limb youre stepping out on. Well, there is a four-year-old named Lawyer Ron whos going to be formidable, yes? Especially if he underscores his record breaking Whitney with a score in the Woodward closing weekend here.

Although the division this week lost Stephen Foster winner Flashy Bull to retirement via a cracked sesamoid, Corinthians gotta run in the Woodward, or so Jimmy Jerkens was saying the other morning over at Oklahoma. And hes no empty stall.

Forget Curlin and Rags to Riches for a moment and riddle this:

Lets say Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense wins the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but loses the Classic. Now lets say that Haskell winner Any Given Saturday wins the Brooklyn Handicap and the Breeders Cup Classic.

Whos Horse of the Year?

Before you answer, recall that Street Sense beat him a nose in Tampa and finished well ahead of him in Louisville. Think about it. Its a tough call.

The Curlin camp has been quiet since the colt finished third in the Haskell, in what can only be described as a disappointing effort. Not for the win, necessarily. The winner was certainly sharper and with a conditioning edge. But he should have won this place photo.

In any event, well see where he goes. Would be surprised if the leading three-year-olds dont meet again until the final weekend of October at Monmouth Park.

In what was his first of three workouts for the Travers, Street Sense worked a half mile in the mud yesterday morning in :49 3/5, a work truncated from five furlongs because of the wet track. In typical SS fashion, his final quarter was a zippy :23 2/5. Expect something faster next time.

He showed that he handled the mud OK, said trainer Carl Nafzger.

Soon after he worked, Lady Joanne, pronounced Joan-ie--dont ask, its a Kentucky thing--went the same distance in :49 2/5. The three-year-old filly won her Alabama prep here like breaking so many sticks and we havent seen the best of her yet, Nafzger said, a pretty scary thought.

Were not expecting that shell meet Rags to Riches in the Alabama unless that filly does something extraordinary in the mornings leading up. The likely targets for the Belmont heroine are the Gazelle or Ruffian. The latter is against elders, of course.

Meanwhile, Todd Pletcher has decided on the Brooklyn Handicap vs. older on Sept. 22, also at Belmont Park. You just knew it would be all about the spacing, and there are five weeks from Brooklyn to Classic.

Were not even half way done here and already the fall prep season is looming.

P.S., diary, think Id vote for Street Sense given the scenario above. But I wouldnt feel comfortable about it.

* * *

The G2 A.P. Smithwick Memorial: The traditional prep for the Grade 1New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap was a hell of a horse race. With Preemptive Strike setting a controlled pace, favorite Mixed Up would have his stretch work cut out for him. But he sprinted home strongly beneath fist-pumping Danielle Hodsdon to win by a half length, giving Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard his third win in 12 runnings of the Smithwick. Mixed Up (158) spotted eight pounds to the runnerup and 12 to the four remaining rivals. Hell be a tough out un the Turf Writers but might have to spot them even a few more pounds. Sheppard also will be looking for an unprecedented 13th victory in that race. Good show.

Second Race: Experience the difference in state-bred juvenile sprint. Myakka got all the late money, and the purse money, sprinting away from the group at the three-eighths pole to win by daylight. Newcomer runnerup was maneuvered off the rail by Ramon Dominguez but remained inside through the running. The filly was tipped outside inside the eighth pole and finished very nicely for the place; she wont be a New York bred maiden for long.

Third Race: This non-winners of three other/than at 1-1/16th miles over good turf would have passed for a stakes anywhere else. In fact, winning Criminologist was entered in one on the Haskell undercard but scratched awaiting this. While everyone saw the flying finish of Sky High Flyer--a horse to watch next time--Criminologist was clearly best. She saved ground at no time, was forced to move probably sooner than Edgar Prado wanted, put the leader away and withstood everyone else, including Sky High, getting Shug McGaughey off the duck. Another terrific finish at the worlds best race meet.

Fourth Race: Rick Dutrow had My Fair El all wound up and she beat maiden claimers like a poor stepchild. Her speed was dominating throughout, then she drew off. Ivory Star was well meant on the tote and completed the exacta. First-timer Foxy Patty finished well too late in a useful debut; follow.

Fifth Race: Good races put in by all the money finishers. Winning Moon Ala Mode stretched her undefeated turf record at one mile to 3-for-3 with a strong finish up the fence for the Mike Hushion/Channing Hill team. Party Jones saved ground throughout despite an outside post but shook loose too late; she finished faster than the winner to no avail. Meanwhile, pacesetting Quick Comeback was pressed on the lead through and held on tenaciously; bet the second and third finishers back next out.

The Lady DAccord: Overnight stakes for three-year-old state-bred fillies was a good one between the first two finishers. Cammys Choice, making first start for Kiaran McLaughlin, outbroke the field but was quickly joined on her inside by Talking Treasure. The fillies raced on even terms for the final half-mile before the inside filly gamely prevailed. Not sure theres anyone better than JV when involved in speed duels. He doesnt rattle, and always seems to assert himself at just the right moment.

Seventh Race: Two winners from his last two starters for Mrs. Gerry, Angle Penna Jr.-trained English Colony took the lead midstretch but was driving hard to last over fast finishing Ever a Friend. Darley/Godolphin second-choice entry both have every chance in the lane and each hung, no excuses.

The Statue of Liberty: Yet another gate incident as two fillies broke through, with Twistaway running off necessitating a stewards scratch. Meanwhile, favorite Laurentide Ice raced terribly thereafter. She probably should have been excused from the race as well. In the running, Tishmeister was cleverly rated off the pace of longshot leader City in the Clouds, middle-moved and withstood the rally of second choice Dont Mind Me.

Ninth Race: Last week, Lhotse Quality drifted the length of the stretch, her poor action blowing a big lead. Not today. Straight as a string through the lane for Rick Dutrow and was never in danger of being caught by Jets Only, the strong choice until she met the Dutrow filly. Whatever the circuit, Dutrow doesnt miss a beat. Third finisher Prime Obsession showed marked improvement with addition of blinkers; note.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Note For Governor Eliot Spitzer As Franchise Decision Nears

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 8, 2007

Dear Eliot,

Its been a while since Ive written but Im sure you probably havent had time to notice. Sorry this cant be another full fledged letter, like the other two, but I've have been a little busy myself.

I read where youre still intending to make your franchise decision the day after the meet closes, Sept. 4. But even if the industrys been waiting five and a half years for a resolution, Im thinking: Whats the rush?

Your man Richard Rifkin said Tuesday that everybodys in agreement that the Saratoga meet still works.

Im sure that came as a relief to everyone in the room.

So the final, final, final bids were submitted yesterday. Rifkin also said that you werent wedded to any plan, that the debate continues to take place.

And Im wondering with whom you are debating? Yourself? I know the final say is yours, otherwise you would have taken the recommendation of the Ad Hoc Committee. I know, I know, didn't happen on your watch.

Like you, I realize youll need the approval of--and I dont want to get you upset here--a man well simply refer to as Mr. B. Youll need the other guys in that building to agree, too.

That wont be easy for you now. The winds are blowing in the other direction. And you have no one to blame but yourself for making Mr. B. a sympathetic figure.

Wish I could have gotten down on that prop in the Albany Winter Book.

You promised your decision will be made without delay. But whats another few weeks, or months, for that matter?

Please dont keep this self imposed deadline unless youre sure youre doing the right thing. Twenty years is a lifetime.

In case this needs stating, let me say that neither myself nor Michael Vick have a dog in this fight. But I was looking at what the possible franchisees had to say, or were not saying, the other day regarding their new proposals.

Capital Play is going to build a training facility with 500 new stalls somewhere in Saratoga County with Polytrack, and got hitched with Victoria Racing Club, the Melbourne Cup folks.

Well, those bet shop boys are in need of some racetrack guidance, right?

You realize weve already got a training facility, its called Oklahoma, with plenty of room in the back for more barns and stalls. And you cant train here in December, January and February even if you hired Al Gore to replace Bob Kovachick.

Excelsior, as usual, kept its low profile. They added a new developer, probably in the cards soon after the Steinbrenner people were forced to drop out.

The NYRA is playing their cards closely to the vest saying they dont yet have a replacement for MGM. Thats probably true: Who would touch them until the coast clears?

Got to say the Empire people never fail to make me smile. Their proposal is to include, in their words, representatives of government, the horsemen community, OTB corporations and other community stakeholders.

What? No partridge? No pear tree?

Because winner-take-all doesnt work in Albany, and because Mr. B specifically said hed like to see the best of all proposals combined somehow.

It might be good for some people to grovel, but not the states first citizen.

Whatever you choose, be decisive, and take the heat for doing the right thing if necessary. You were elected to serve the people of New York, not to eventually run for higher office.

Keep your eye on the prize. VLTs are a means, not an end. They improve the quality of no ones life. They preserve nothing. The ability to push a button does not yet qualify as an Olympic sport.

* * *

First Race: Trainer Billy Badgett making the most of limited opportunities, this time with new acquisition Janie B. who took advantage of the wet surface created by the overnight rains. He showed speed throughout and benefited from his wide draw, which would seem like the better going all day.

Second Race: Debuting Maimonides looked like a million bucks--check that--four and three-quarter million bucks, breaking his maiden on the lead, improving his position throughout. His splits were quick: :22.04 and :45.37 en route to 5- furlongs in 1:04.41. Now this is racing, said Bob Baffert, in a statement you wouldnt classify as a veiled reference. Baffert is in from Del Mar, obviously not letting this horse or owner, Ahmed Zayat, get too far away from his sights Zayat is a very wealthy Egyptian businessman who named this runner after the famed Jewish Rabbi, philosopher and physician who lived in Egypt and Spain during the Middle Ages. Now thats very cool... Second-time starter Ecton was virtually eliminated on the backstretch, then angled out wide into the stretch and finished willingly; deserves another chance, obviously.

Third Race: Neil Howards horses are running very well, and Crossword would not be denied with a game, re-rally victory. Third finisher Memphis Mon was checked on the first turn, raced wide on the second, then finished evenly; should benefit, follow.

Fourth Race: Canadian Ballet wired the group as a good-thing debut winner for trainer Linda Rice, her first of the meet First-timer Farri H. didnt have much of a chance. Checked following the start, he was steadied again on the turn; thats pretty discouraging, especially for a debut typeFirster Beam Of Love finished well too late after trailing early and entering the stretch very wide; bet back.

Fifth Race: Pennyrile, in race drastically reduced by late scratches after race was re-scheduled to main track, was simply too good with a strong rail rally beneath Ramon Dominguez, fourth winner of the meet for trainer Tony Dutrow. Winner was claimed by Rick Schosberg for $50,000.

Sixth Race: Zayats second winner of the day with debuting Z Humor, this one for Bill Mott, the ninth win of the meet for Saratogas leading trainer Its not so much that runnerup Readys Echo is a horse to watch, which he is. But dont believe Ive ever seen anything like this. He was beaten by daylight but was about 20 lengths back at the top of the stretch. Really. If you get a chance to view the replay, do so. Its a real treat--unless you bet the Todd Pletcher newcomer.

Seventh Race: Harvest Lisa was driving hard to win her third straight, up the ladder again for trainer Guadalupe Preciado, yet another for Dominguez.

The Cab Calloway: Favorite Thunderestimate won his fourth straight turf race this year for trainer Carlos Martin, taking command into the stretch but driving hard to repulse a relentless stretch bid from runnerup Logic Way.

Ninth Race: Facile training job by Dale Romans with debuting Sort of Tricky, an open lengths tour de force after setting a hot pace throughout. Crowd went for lengthy returnee Lady Rizzi, bidding to give Rice her second on the day, but four-year-old filly settled for second best.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hall of Fame All In The Family

Saratoga Springs, NY--August, 6, 2007

Dear Diary,

On the Saratoga backstretch Saturday morning, Hall of Fame trainer Tommy Kelly was saying, as he recalled friendships past, how every day in Saratogas a good day.

Thats before he needled the only thing [Johnny] Sellers ever did for me was get me beat a neck in the Preakness.

Kelly didnt mention that he would be the one welcoming Sellers to the ranks of racing immortals at the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

When Kelly stepped up to the podium, there was no irreverent jocularity this time, only praise for Sellers talent and class.

I was going over to congratulate him for winning the Preakness when he congratulated me on how good Globemaster ran, how [Carry Back] had to run hard to beat him.

Imagine him congratulating me for running second?

Sellers stepped into his Hall of Fame jacket and thought it was pretty good that a country boy from Oklahoma could get one of these.

[When I went East to ride], I was told I would be acquiring a new family. Its incredible how close we all are, Sellers told the audience.

Anywhere I went in the world, and I rode in England, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Japan, they knew me as being part of the industry. Were all one.

Well Im in a new family now, the Hall of Fame.

I once was told that youll make a lot of acquaintances in the business but the number of real friends you can count on one hand. But when the announcement was made, I got so many calls from so many people.

Ive got to say I dont have enough hands to count my friends.

And then, choking with emotion, Sellers told the crowd I love you all.

Sellers is right about the one big family thing about racing.

That feeling was palpable in the pavilion where, in a few more hours, yearlings would be led into a sales ring and purchased by buyers hoping to return someday for ceremonies just like this one.

After a welcome from President Stella Thayer and Nominating Committee Chairman Edward Bowen, keynote speaker Rick Pitino was talking about the difference between racing and basketball. If you win at thirty percent in basketball youll lose your job. In racing at thirty percent youre doing great.

[Success is built] on dedication and work ethic. You have it. We get days off. You dont. Im in awe [of what you do]. Then, addressing the front run of inductees, the coach said youre all a part of history now. Your work will always be treasured.

Author Bill Nack welcomed the late Frank McCabe into the Hall, telling all about how McCabe seized the moment and trained the greatest female racehorse of the 19th century, Miss Woodford.

Then he told them about McCabes three straight Belmonts and how he would later train the juveniles Hanover and Tremont; getting the former to win 17 straight races, and the latter to race nine times in one month.

He should be in the Hall of Fame just for keeping Tremonts head in the feed-tub for a month. His moment is long overdue.

And there was Ed Gray, former racing writer of the Boston Herald, saying it was an honor and a privilege worthy of the respect and affection I have for Moms Commands connections, Peter Fuller, the fillys owner and breeder, and of the girl, now the woman, who rode her, Fullers daughter Abigail Fuller-Catalano.

I saw my first race when I was nine years old watching [her fathers] Dancers Image win the Kentucky Derby. [Jockey] Bob Ussery was my hero, and thats all I ever wanted to do from that moment on.

And, so, Abigail eventually would ride the filly that broke its maiden in a stakes race at Rockingham Park at 55-1 with another rider, entered in that race because Fuller had her brother in a sale two weeks hence and hoped to put some black type in the yearling catalogue.

Fullers victories aboard Moms Command came in, among other races, New Yorks Filly Triple Crown series, and her career ending victory in Saratogas storied Alabama.

Its a short jog across Union Avenue from the racetrack to the Hall of Fame, said Gray, and as fast as Moms Command was, it took her 22 years to get here.

Jose Santos added his brand of warmth and class to the proceedings, thanking trainer Phil Sims for giving him my push, to Leroy Jolley, who put Santos on the best horse I ever rode, Manila, to Scotty Schulhofer and [his son] Randy, who I love with all my heart, to The Chief, Allen Jerkens, who was always there for me when things got tough, and Barclay [Tagg], who put me on my first Derby winner.

Santos wasnt done.

I want to thank all my agents. I went through a lot of them, this business is tough business, up and down..

I came to America [from Chile] to chase a dream. My daddy taught me everything I know and I dedicate this to him.

Henry Forrest entered the Hall on the backs of two Kentucky Derby winners, Kauai King and Forward Pass (via disqualification) and who, until his death, held the record for most victories at Churchill Downs and Keeneland as trainer for the Calumet and Claiborne nurseries.

And the induction of two more Hall of Fame runners, Silver Charm and old-timer Swoons Son. The contemporary horse was a Double Crown winner, of course, parlayed the Strub into the Dubai World Cup at 4 and won his 11th stakes before his retirement at age 5.

The one thing this horse taught me was patience, said his Hall of Fame rider, Gary Stevens, who presented the Hall of Fame plaque to owner Beverly Lewis and her late husband, Bob. Hed rather wait until the last minute and stick his nose out and win at the wire, said the co-owner.

But fans have to love Swoons Son, a 30-time winner in 51 career starts, 22 of them stakes, often carrying the grandstand, as old school racetrackers would say. While he never won a Triple Crown race, he beat the Derby and Preakness winner and, at 5, beat Horse of the Year Round Table.

And it was a different time then, as regular rider Dave Erb reminded the attendees, saying how Swoons Son was awarded 129 pounds for the Equipoise Mile.

It was a reminder of a time back in the day when no one ducked another mans horse or a conscientious racing secretary. High weights werent a punishment; they were an honor.

Finally, John Veitch, celebrated trainer of Alydar, who would tell you in hushed tones that the great filly Davona Dale was the best horse he ever trained, reminded all about their great responsibility to the thoroughbred.

We have a duty, said Veitch. There are some individuals in our sport who will put self before the horse. But for every one of them there are tens, no, hundreds, who will do their duty.

Veitch was the first horseman I can remember that warned everyone about the dangers of breeding for the sales ring instead of the racetrack.

Finally, Thayer ended the ceremonies by presenting Martha Gerry, owner of Hall of Famer Forego, with the Exemplar of Racing award, who said, It has been my pleasure and honor to work with racing in any way, because I love it.

And isnt that what families are supposed to be about?

Written by John Pricci

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