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 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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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

As Travers Approaches, Nafzger Ponders His Future

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 21, 2007

Dear Diary,

Carl Nafzger was reflecting on the kind of meet, the kind of year, its been. He talked about his career as a world class bull rider and his career as a two-time Kentucky Derby-winning horse trainer.

And if he should be fortunate enough to win a second Travers he said he could start thinking about a third.

As I listened to Nafzger during the informal press conference behind the jockeys room at Saratoga Race Course Monday, Im thinking: Ive got it; professional poker player.

I know he wont spend his time fishing. He doesnt take bait well. He wouldnt comment as to whether he believes, before Saturdays Travers, Street Sense is the top ranked three-year-old in the country.

Maybe on consistency, he allowed. But Ill let the press decide.

And as to where the colt would rank historically, having become the first Breeders Cup winner to win the Kentucky Derby and possibly the first Derby horse since Thunder Gulch in 1995 to win the Midsummer Derby, too, he answered: Lets win the Travers first.

Its not like he doesnt have a sense of history. Carl Nafzger has great respect for thoroughbred racings traditional fixtures. Historically, Ive always coveted the Travers. In my mind, its equal to the Derby.

And on what it would mean to win the Alabama and Travers in the same year?

We were fortunate enough to win with Banshee Breeze, now Lady Joanne. The Alabama is like the Kentucky Oaks. Its always been an esteemed race.

This Alabama turned out to be a hard fought victory over a deep and talented group of three-year-olds, taking all of his fillys talent and a brilliantly executed race-ride from Calvin Borel, who scratched from the press conference with laryngitis.

But with Curlin, Rags to Riches and Hard Spun among the missing for Saturdays event, is Nafzger disappointed it wont be a special Travers, one for the ages?

I wouldve taken a walkover, said future legend and present pragmatist. You never look for competition, competition finds you.

Borel took off his mounts Monday but will be ready for Saturday, seeking a third Grade 1 of the meet to add to his Travers prep victory in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy.

Why Borel, anyway?

Three reasons, Nafzger said. We wanted a real good horseman. We thought we had a good horse and wanted someone to work with him. Loyalty, someone who would stay on the horse. And we wanted a patient rider, someone who could read the pace real good.

Of course, Borel is all that. You dont win over 4,000 races--racings equivalent to 500 home runs--without some basic understanding of what it takes. And he fits Street Sense particularly well. Their styles mesh. As racetrackers say, the colt runs for him.

The book says Street Sense should be better in the Travers than he was in the Jim Dandy. He was fresh, closer to the pace than is best for his game, trapped for a time, in close while rallying, never totally comfortable, really. But he won. Like usual.

But Jim Dandy third Sightseeing will be better, too. Always threatening to break through, this will finally be his time to shine. The distance and number of turns, two, is just right. And, as Nafzger says, Shug [McGaughey] targets a race good.

And others will improve, too. Of those, C P West, the Jim Dandy runnerup, has shown to be truly competitive with the upper stratum of the division, even if Saturdays order is tall. Like Nafzger says, competition finds you.

This years Travers as spectacle lacks sizzle. Too bad John Sherriffs chose this time to suffer from brain lock, failing to nominate Tiago, scratched from Sundays Pacific Classic because Sherriffs feels the same way about Polytrack Bob Baffert does.

Even if you had no intention of meeting Street Sense, or the other heavy heads, until fall, when its all on the line at Monmouth Park, never fail to nominate. Like Todd Pletcher said about not completely ruling out a Travers run for the filly, something could happen.

Right now, Nafzger is enjoying the view from the catbird seat. He trains the most popular three-year-old not named Rags to Riches. He might even be more popular with fans than the filly.

And, like Baffert says, youve got some serious fans in Saratoga.

Popularity notwithstanding, there is the consistency Nafzger speaks about and the notion that a Travers win might open an insurmountable divisional lead, no matter what happens at the Shore.

But who knows? Maybe when Eclipse ballots are cast in December, voters might be inclined to show the same kind of respect for the sports traditional fixtures that horsemen like Nafzger have.

Ducking and dodging competition might make good business sense, but you shouldnt necessarily get rewarded for it. Horsemen can ponder that while Nafzger decides what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

Written by John Pricci

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