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 05, 2007

Is Curlin’s Loss Travers’ Gain?

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 5, 2007

Dear Diary,

Triple Crown three year-olds were in the news today. One didnt race. The others did, but not at Saratoga.

Must hurt if youre Monmouth Park and many fans refer to your million-dollar signature event as a prep for the Travers.


And wouldnt you know it? Given the results, the Haskell might be the best thing that could have happened to the Travers.

Were thinking that if Curlin had won instead of finishing third, he sits out the Midsummer Derby for sure. But now can he afford to spot Street Sense another prestigious victory?

Curlin looked a tad short of condition at the Shore and should move forward off the Haskell. The question for him now is will it be the Travers, or the million-dollar Super Derby? The Super Derby figures to be easier and would put him where he needs to be on Breeders Cup day.

This is getting good, right?

What does Haskell runnerup Hard Spun do now? Come back in the Grade 1 Kings Bishop at seven furlongs on the Travers undercard, or await the million-dollar Pennsylvania Derby against foes he can dominate?

As for Any Given Saturday, it sure looks like hes caught up to the heavy heads. There is no denying he rates with them off his Dwyer, and now his Haskell, tour de force.

But as for him coming back in three weeks against Street Sense? Sounds like that might be a little too quick for Todd.

Woodward, anyone?

Meanwhile, the Triple Crown horse that didnt run would be Belmont Stakes heroine, Rags to Riches.

Beneath Angel Cordero Jr., she worked a solid half-mile on the training track, :49.86. She was never asked for speed, was within herself, and galloped out strongly.

Not bad for a filly who most believed a week ago was going to be retired.

But before you start making your Alabama plans, put down the phone and listen. Todd Pletcher is making those spacing speeches. How starting her back in the Gazelle and then the Ruffian prior to the Breeders Cup makes sense.

The Gazelle gives Pletcher more time and, of course, is back at Belmont Park. Not that this filly needs to carry her racetrack around with her, but we know she likes Big Sandy, right?

Whatever Todd does will be geared toward getting the filly to the World Championships the best way he can. Thats the goal now. The Alabama is steeped in history.

But the Alabama doesnt play on the world stage the way the Breeders Cup does. Besides, Todds Mother Goose and Coaching Club Oaks winner, Octave, was pronounced a definite Alabama starter after her five furlong breeze in 1:03.53.

Wherever she runs, she will cause a stir. And not for her celebrity, which would be enough. But because now there may be a chink in her armor somewhere. But not according to Cordero.

She galloped and pulled up goodshe did it so light. She doesnt put any effort to go that fast.

But youve got to run against her to find out if shes the same filly that won the Belmont. Soon well learn whos game and whos not. If she does run in the Alabama, her next work might be with company, Pletcher said.

Well be watching those work tabs.

* * *

First Race: Smart Bunny got the smart money, and the lions share of the purse money, Shaun Bridgmohan getting a leg up from trainer Neil Howard. Maybe it was Bridgmohans money as he was seen in arm-pump celebration soon after the wire Lost Etiquette and Inside passage finished well enough for second and third, respectivelyMarias Kitty was awful in a dull performance. Bet back or not? We havent a clue.

Second Race: Rusty Arnold unleashed a good looking debuting juvenile filly in Morakami, who chased favorite first-timer Sunday Holiday and ran her down at sixteenth pole before drawing away. Bet the runnerup back; follow Morakami into stakes company next outStewards made inquiry into stretch run in which Morakami bumped lightly with Sunday Holiday; looked frivolous to us.

Third Race: Russian Gypsy was tipped as the training start thus far at the meet and ran to that billing, leading solid preliminary allowance field throughout. Track wasnt as speed conducive as yesterday, so she deserves extra points here. City Bird finished well late for place and will probably make amends next time out; note.

Fourth Race: Heres a new angle. Break your state-bred maiden on the inner track then put her away until Saratoga. Sounds silly, I know, but Good Card came roaring down the center of the track for Pat Kelly and Jose Bracetty and drew off sharply from favored Makin Me Famous, who was used hard chasing the speed into the stretch. If you liked her today, bet her back next time.

Fifth Race: Funny race. Cant understand how nine other jockey could allow Alan Garcia to gallop out to the lead from the 9 post going two turns then continue to sit as they let him set a slow, controlled pace. Of course, she had plenty left for the drive. Dose of Reality stalked the slow pace but could hold second; Donk entry of Stormy Catch and Queen of Protocol did their best running much too late, the latter losing ground throughout. Follow both.

Sixth Race: Cagey Girl set a strong pace, open the lead further into the stretch, but just failed to last and Kats Golden Ways made a well timed run beneath Javier Castellano. Miss Blarney Stone saved ground to no avail; no pop when the real running started and settled for third.

Seventh Race: Getting off the double duck! Duchess of Rokeby finished explosively in deep stretch beneath Jorge Chavez--back from California for good this time--and gave Allen Jerkens his first winner of the meet It looked like the speedy Longingfortheone was home free until those two final strides, Kent Desormeaux looking around for competition. And he found it. Third finisher Sultry Sue, meanwhile, drifted at the sixteenth pole and continued to bear out impeding both Too Much Zip and Outofthewest. Stewards should have taken a look, regardless of their eventual findings The debuting Outofthewest virtually eliminated himself before the incident, angling out into the 7 or 8 path at headstretch. If you have a horses to watch list, put him on it, then follow his progress. Might pay handsomely to do so.

The Lemon Drop Kid: Overnight stakes for three-year-olds goes to Loose Leaf, Desormeaux shooting the fence in deep stretch and drawing off through a final sixteenth in :12 2/5. After finishing fourth to Chelokee at Churchill, Notebook colt made strong mid-race move in Iowa Derby before tiring. Today, he saved his best for last. Might be ready for prime time one day; note.

The G2 Fourstardave: Cant beat Bill Mott; cant even hope to contain him. Seven-year-old Silver Tree showing no signs of age, emerged from behind a slow pace and sprinted away in the final sixteenth, giving Desormeaux a sweep of the days stakes. Drum Major found his best form to wrest place, the slow pace hindering both the runnerup and show finisher Host. No excuses for favorite Brilliant, on the lead from the inside entering the stretch but unable to match strides late. Mott simply continuing to do extraordinary work here.

Tenth Race: Storm Boot Gold took the lead over the very firm course in :23.32 going 5- furlongs and that was all she wrote.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Hall of Fame Visit On Saratoga Backstretch

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 4, 2007

Dear Diary,

Looks like the gates all finished for the morning, said clocker Cole Rosen from his post, the five-eighths pole on the main track. Havent been doing too much gambling. Aint [Bill] Mott havin a hell of a meet?


The Chief sashayed over on his stable pony, caught the end of the conversation and just started talking. Thats the way it is with racetrackers: Seen you yesterday. Know you a long time. Why waste words?

Had this horse we claimed one time and couldnt do any good. Right here at Saratoga. So I told [exercise rider] Jay to break him off right here, go an eighth of a mile as fast as you can, then pull him right up.

Did it three mornings in a row. He won by a desperate head, said Allen Jerkens, the youngest man voted into the Hall of Fame until Bill Mott was the youngest man voted into the Hall of Fame.

As quickly and quietly as the Chief left, a golf cart full of Kellys rolled up. Pat was driving. T.J., Hall of Famer since 93, was riding shotgun. Again, no greeting, just a smile. Some guy was telling me about a speech hes making for Johnny Sellers at the Hall of Fame Monday, T. J. said.

Told him the only thing Sellers ever did for me was beat me a head in the Preakness, extending his hands two feet apart to indicate the losing margin. They called it a neck. I think it was more like a head. Probably the best race Globemaster ever ran. But that was a good horse Jack Price had.

Didnt think Carry Back could win the Derby from so far back. But Johnny Longden had that Four and Twenty colt from California and he and Globey went a half in forty-four and one. At the eighth pole they both got rubber legged.

How old are you? Tommy Kelly asked Cole, now stepping off the stand. Seventy-nine. If I make it to my next birthday Ill be eighty-eight. Old Doc checked out my pacemaker Wednesday. Said itll last another seven years. Im good to ninety-five anyway.

The Chief and the pony were back. Hey Al, that problem you had in the hospital in Florida that time, that all fixed?

Know what I think it was? said the Chief. Celebrex. Everybody said it was the greatest thing

Then the Chief was gone. Again. Kelly continued I remember when I bought Globemaster. He was out of a good mare. Mr. Sasso gave me fifty thousand to buy five horses. Bought one for eighty instead. I was up half the night trying to explain how we bought a good horse.

The Chief was back. Again. Globemasters fourth dam, who she was by? Kelly asked Jerkens.

By Piano, out of Tune, the Chief said.

Everybody smiled.

Clearly overmatched, thought Id add something to the conversation. Sure is a nice morning.

Every morning in Saratogas a nice morning, T.J. said.

Now it was time for the Kellys to go. Ever the gentleman, I told TJ give my regards to Mary.

Mary? You mean Fran. Goodnight, said T.J., rolling his eyes, the golf cart on its way back to barn 23.

* * *

First Race: How to snatch defeat from victorys jaws? Take a widening two lengths lead passed the eighth pole, stop trying, then watch as Brooker D and Kent Desormeaux charge up the fence, Desormeaux celebrating with right-handed arm-pumps. And that was a two-lifers $25K claimer; what if he wins something really big? Sunny Boy n Ben E follows winner up the rail for third. That might be the place.

Second Race: Mott, Mott, Mott! This win with a first-timer. And thats anti-profile. But there was his horse, an A.P. Indy colt out of stakes-winning Dream Supreme, which Mott trained. Majestic Warrior did not break sharply from the rail post, but Johnny V. rode with extreme confidence, tipping wide in mid-stretch before rolling home. Mott sent first-timer out without a stable pony. Good to know some guys still know how to do it old school. Colt has a future; follow progress. The victory came moments after A Rods 500th home run. That wouldnt matter except that George Steinbrenner owns both the colt and the player, for the rest of the year, anyway Newcomer Ready Set, an $ 800,000 purchase by Lael Stable/Michael Matz was going well late for third and should benefit; note. Well bet Nick Zito newcomer Web Gem battled on hot pace throughout and tired perceptibly.

Third Race: Teuflesberg is pretty amazing, a throw-back racehorse that old-timers would say could run over broken glass. But he settled for a game second in his turf debut while the pace was heating up; the race should serve as a prep for the Grade 1 Kings Bishop back on dirt Travers Day. Meantime, the score went to strong finishing Pays To Dream for David Donk and Javier Castellano. Three-year-old takes the Glow overnight stakes for owner December Hill Farm, nom de course of the late NYRA Board Chairman, Allen Dragone.

Fourth Race: Perhaps the most contentious race on a contentious card. Cornelio Velasquez allowed contenders Ministers Appeal ad Elusive Value to fire their best early on, waiting until the eighth pole to get busy in earnest aboard Silver Source, drawing away late from a stubborn Temecula Creek. Third finisher Shone might have been closer except for lugging in at that point.

Fifth Race: Lhotse Quality appeared to make a winning move into the land but drifted and continued to drift while tiring. Meanwhile, Kid Doc and Cant Refuse began their rallies and just as it appeared Kid Doc would get there, the late surge of Cant Refuse got the job done under a well timed late move from Jean Luc Samyn. Samyn on the green still works.

Sixth Race: It took a while to make official but Texas Elegance got it done, lugging in, then drifting out through the final sixteenth, the stewards apparent deciding that the winner wasnt the only culprit doing the stretch bob and weave. Back To Mandalay finished well late and was clearly best of the remainder; bet back with similar group.

Seventh Race: The entire group got a riding lesson from Ramon Dominguez here. A quality field going two turns, Dominguez put them all to sleep, pulled the rug out from under the field approaching the quarter pole and stole this with Three In The Bag despite a final sixteenth of over 14 seconds. The Hambo horses probably came home faster It was a very good effort from Dr. Pleasure returning from a one-year layup, making a run at the leader through the stretch but tiring late. Hell be much tougher next time out but probably will need another before hell be ready for Prime Time competition.

Eighth Race: Tom Bush doing it again at Saratoga. Again with longshots. This time, Sensational Humor snuck up inside War Monger in deep stretch, gained the advantage, and held gamely late. Course lover Oedipus ONeal stalked comfortable fractions from close range and retreated. Very disappointing effort, that.

The Darley Test: On paper, there was loads of speed in this storied seven furlong sprint for three-year-old fillies. But on the racetrack, it was Dream Rush, alone on a clear lead, 22-and 44ing-it midway to the turn, tripped the timer in 1:08.94 for three-quarters, and remained clear to the wire in 1:22.42. Boca Grande finished like a rocket down the center of the course to nail Baroness Thatcher at the wire for the place. It was the second straight Grade 1 win for Dream Rush, who sits atop the filly sprint division all by her lonesome. Thats just the way she likes her races, too Second choice Cotton Blossom never picked up her feet at any time in a dismal performance.

Tenth Race: Todd Pletcher favorite Sweet Brush life and death to get home first in the finale, then life and death to withstand a claim of foul. Now I had a small late-double ticket live to the favorite. And I would have had to take her number down. She bore in inside the sixteenth pole and knocked the game Speaking Out off stride. There was no change in the order of finish. Second and third fillies, Into The Wind and Skip Dattt, both finished boldly. The latter gets extra credit for finishing well between horses; follow both.

Bias Report: Track fast, favored no discernable style. Turf firm, closers advantage.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Demon Speed On Display All Weekend

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 3, 2007

Dear Diary,

Handicappers headed to the East Coasts destination tracks this weekend will find one thing in common: Demon Speed.

Tomorrows Grade 1 Darley Test Stakes at Saratoga for three-year-old fillies has attracted a dozen fast fillies and six of the them would rather be on the lead than be President.

The best of these, of course, is Dream Rush, a filly that has already earned her Grade 1 title by virtue of a comprehensive victory in the Prioress at Belmont Park, July 7.

She probably wouldnt have run in it if it werent a grade one, said her trainer, Rick Violette, earlier this week. But this is the one we want, its an important race, said the horseman having a career year.

Such is the esteem in which the Test is held. In all, seven of the fillies are graded stakes winners and two are graded stakes placed. Of the remaining two, one is undefeated, the other has earned the best performance figure in the field. A true Grade 1, surely.

But the marquee race of the weekend will not be run in the mountains. It will be run at the shore.

Sundays $1 million Grade 1 Haskell at nine furlongs drew a field of eight, including three confirmed speedsters, three pace pressers and two late-rally types, the dynamics almost guaranteeing one hell of a horse race. Not to mention the horses, of course.

Curlin, who many believe is the best three-year-old in America, drew post six and was installed the even-money favorite. Obviously, his record has earned him that role. The race shape will make him a tough out.

Triple Crown rival Hard Spun drew right next to him in the gate at position seven while the very speedy Preakness pace horse, Xchanger, drew the extreme outside that will necessitate a fast start from the barrier.

Hard Spun blew out in a sharp :34 and reunites with Mario Pino, who we believe was somewhat unjustly criticized for his Preakness ride. I didnt see much improvement in the Belmont, dead-panned trainer Larry Jones regarding the woeful rating displayed by Garrett Gomez.

Gomez will ride impressive Dwyer winner Any Given Saturday for Todd Pletcher from post one. Pletcher termed the Dwyer effort a breakthrough performance and seeing certainly was believing. A tactical speedster with kick, he figures to sit a perfect trip saving ground in behind the speed.

The wild card is the undefeated local hero, the 3-for-3 Cable Boy. He will be tested for class with this bunch, obviously, but any horse that can run a mile-and-70-yards in 1:38 3/5 then prep in :57 1/5 for the Haskell should not be dismissed out of hand.

And right in behind the speed and the stalkers will come Curlin, whose stated purpose in addition to the purse is getting a race over the track in preparation for the Breeders Cup Classic in late October. Then will come ralliers Imawildandcrazyguy, fourth in the Kentucky Derby, and local runner Reatas Shadow.

One interested observer will be Carl Nafzger, trainer of Street Sense. When queried about Curlin, Nafzger said hes a formidable foe. Nafzger has that on good authority.

* * *

Fifth Race: Unlike the Rumspringa situation earlier in the meet, when refunds were issued after it was determined that horse was in the grasp of an assistant starter, no refunds were ordered when it appeared the same fate had befallen Tobruk. Jockey Johnny Velazquez told the stewards he wasnt sure if he was compromised at the start, yet Tobruk broke with his head cocked left while apparently in the grasp, spotting the field many lengths, his chances virtually eliminated. The Rumspringa scenario has led to a lawsuit involving the principal owner and the NYRA, Steve Sigler alleging that since the assistant starter admitted culpability, via a public apology, the claim of Rumspringa should not have been voided since it was an NYRA employee that was the cause of the horses non-starter status.

The NYRA is classy enough to offer refunds to bettors when incidents like this occur. That is not standard procedure at all racing venues. Apparently the popular clich, in regards to the Rumspringa scenario, is true: No good deed goes unpunished Meanwhile, Kick Up Your Heels won the race at inflated odds beneath a deft Edgar Prado. Eibar Coa tried to drive favorite Tsunamic through a non-existent opening on the fence. Thus far, no suits have been brought against Coa.

First Race: In the end it came down to Tahoe Warrior, who took command soon after entering the straight, and Great Point, who slipped through along the fence in midstretch. That deft move by Julien Leparoux won it for Great Point and trainer Nick Zito.

Second Race: After his antics at headstretch, no question Rebounded was much the best, reaching even terms with another well meant newcomer, Caravel, in mid-stretch before drawing clear. Strike It Ritz finished up nicely for third completing all first-timer trifecta. Not unusual in that its Saratoga; a little strange since it was at a mile and a sixteenth on the turf. The other, experienced half of the Pletcher entry (Strike It Ritz) was dismal. But figure Caravel wont be a maiden for long; bet back under similar conditions.

Third Race: Good training job by Steve Asmussen, having Royal Moment ready off a one-year-old absence. And expected, he was, as the 2-1 choice, holding off Bold Mon from the continued live Schosberg shed. It was the winners third victory in four Spa starts.

Fourth Race: Rick Dutrow strikes off the claim with Predate, winning on the raise following a $50,000 claim at Churchill Downs. Predate was so fast leaving there he made the start look bad and he took control throughout. Class drop and experience probably helped Ellies Buddha, a good, albeit non-threatening, runnerup.

Sixth Race: Pletcher finally gets his first juvenile debut winner with Il Girasole, who withstood several stretch challenges in game fashion. Wonder what the winter book odds would have been that the score would come in a turf route? Could have gotten out for the meet on that one.

Seventh Race: Velazquez was unseated at the start aboard Gaelic Storm but was unhurt. No truth that he told the stewards he was unsure that he had fallen More tough luck for a turf favorite as Leo got bottled up and shook clear much too late. Kiaran McLauglins barn continues to go well as National Captain was unaffected racing in two aluminum pads.

The Honorable Miss: Burmilla got a gift. For a Grade 2, six furlong stakes to go in :23.03 and :45.90 early is a joke, but apparently Rafael Bejarano is the only jock smart enough to be laughing. The filly came home in a worthy :23.61, but she should have under the circumstances. Favorite Miss Macy Sue was in a jackpot throughout, to put it kindly, not a good job by Edgar.

Ninth Race: Gilded Thread, first-time Tom Bush, took the finale, paying $37.20 and keying a $26,415 superfecta and, of course, the Pick Six was hit, returning $79,957. There will be a quiz on Monday. Goodnight.

Written by John Pricci

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