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 HorseRaceInsider.com.
 

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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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.

Ouch!

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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