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

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Dream Team’s Dream Season Rolls On

Saratoga Springs, NY--August, 25, 2007

Dear Dairy,

The fans moved slowly in the sweltering heat, marking time in the August sun just to get a glimpse of a Kentucky Derby hero and the handlers that guide his every stride, trainer Carl Nafzger and jockey Calvin Borel, a dream team in the midst of a dream season.

And they cheered when Tom Durkin called his name in the post parade while around the country fans were showing their appreciation with dollars, over 800,000 greenbacks on Street Sense to win, over a million more to show.

Street Sense didnt let them down but, like his Derby rival 30 minutes earlier, it wasnt easy.

As usual, Carl Nafzger was right. Competition finds you.

And when the pace is as slow as it was in Travers 138, Calvin had to adjust, and he did. He put his big horse right up on the pace, just off the right hip of C P West, who was shadowing Grasshopper, the pressured but controlled pacesetter.

Thats one of Calvins fortes, said the trainer, how to read a pace.

After they 12-clipped into the final turn--these horses train faster than that--Loose Leaf ranged up and now there were four across the track.

At headstretch, Robbie Albarado tried to pull the rug out from under his rivals, but the Derby winner stayed with him. And they were, only this time, Albarado was on the inside, Borel on the outside. Not quite Preakness redux, but it would do.

Thankfully, Street Sense is a stick horse. Calvin went to a furious right hand and, after switching to his left past the sixteenth pole, the Derby winner gained an advantage he wouldnt relinquish.

Pulling up, Albarado and Borel touched knuckles, even if, this time, the photo was on the other frame.

History will record that Street Sense won the Travers by a half length over Grasshopper in 2:02.69. It will also note that Street Sense is the first juvenile champion in the modern era to win the Derby and Travers the following season.

And so the dream season continues for Nafzger and Borel. The ultimate dream would be to ride the colt all the way to the Jersey Shore.

* * *

First Race: Didnt take long for the meets leading trainer to make his presence felt, thanks to some deft riding from first-call jock Kent Desormeaux. Kent saved all the ground from fifth, rallied into the stretch, taking control as pacesetting Mathematician faded. (Need to ask Garrett Gomez what he was doing on the pace. Very curious). Anyway, Broadway Producer made his customary late run which, customarily came up short. Same can be said for Tiverton, a wide third. Probably no catching Got the Last Laugh, anyway.

Second Race: Loaded baby race apparently not as loaded as advertised. Wise guys bet the two horses that had already started, and Mythical Pegasus and Grand Minstrel finished 1-2, the former running down the latter late, Cornelio Velasquez opening his lead out to four again over Desormeaux for the Spa title. But the story was horse to watch, debuting Hes Solid Gold. Hard to believe any one horse can find so much trouble in such little time. Checked between horses while in close quarters entering the stretch, he angled out to find more trouble between horses, angled inside for room, angled outside again, and missed a show finish by a half-length, ridden out. No kidding!

Third Race: Fast Thought, running for purse money only, impressed to win his debut wire to wire, with Peace Mon a game second but the winner ($8.60) for wagering purposes. Virginia Minstrel, second, had a circuitous trip beneath Eibar Coa; bet back. On Fire finished well too late, third. Looks like the new blinkers helped.

Fourth Race: Best finish of the day as Ramon Dominguez timed Royal Guards late run perfectly, nailing Taming the Tiger right on the line after that one appeared an almost certain winner leaving the furlong grounds. Westmoreland, a winner at this level here opening day, looked a threat with a sixteenth remaining but didnt sustain his run.

Fifth Race: What? Thought wed go a day without a 5- furlong sprint on the turf? Cmon! At least the portable rail was down on the Mellon Course today; lets see if form can hold. Ah, no. Well, that might not be fair. The winner was off at 21-1 but her form wasnt bad. After breaking her maiden on a sealed sloppy track, she was third at 3-5 in her turf debut at Monmouth Park, closing with a small flurry. Not today. Here she was on the engine from post 13 and led them all a merry chase. Christophe Clement continues to excel at this meet. Meanwhile, Sophies Salad was a game second and favored La Presse, finished well much too late, from much too far back; give another chance, obviously.

Sixth Race: Maidens, three-year-olds and up, and an eclectic group. Fast working newcomers, imports, second-starters, the works. Now a Victor, a newcomer, at 15-1 on the morning line, was bet to 5-2 and ran as professionally as a maiden can. Not surprising, considering trainer Michael Trombetta is a profitable 31 percent efficient with his special-weight maidens. There was a stewards inquiry for some stretch bumping between the winner and eventual second finisher, Noble Truth. Both looked guilty at times, Noble Truth initiating the incident coming in from the outside on the winner. Stewards let the result stand, a good call.

The Bernard Baruch, G2: It takes a strong pace and firm footing to set a course record on turf and thats just what Shakis got. Ballast went to the front from his outside slip and took on all challengers, notably favorite Cosmonaut. Ballast shook off the favorite, opened ground on the field, but couldnt withstand the winner, perfectly handled by Alan Garcia, whos made the most of his rides since Kiaran McLaughlin has given him the opportunities. Shakis made the most of it, too, kicking past the leader inside the sixteenth pole and reached the line in 1:45.33 for the nine furlongs. It was a pretty good record he broke, incidentally. The old mark of 1:45.40 was shared by Tentam in 1973, for Cragwood Stables and MacKenzie Miller, and Waya, the champion race mare trained by Angel Penna Sr., that mark set five years later. Good job all around.

The Kings Bishop, G1: Hard Spun finally got his Grade 1 but it wasnt supposed to be this difficult. Turning back to seven furlongs after meeting the divisions best at classic distance under scaleweights, it was supposed to be easy. But a little rocket ship named Spin Master took it to him early and the promising Fast Defence took it to him late. But it went like you plan it on paper when mating a stallion to a mare. Breed the best to the best and hope for the best, the saying goes. In this case, they got the classy Hard Spun. He was beaten in midstretch. He had just raced Spin Master into defeat in :21.94 and :44.20 and this track doesnt hold speed like it used to. But after six furlongs in 1:08.71, Hard Spun dug down and won it on class with gutty determination. A final furlong in :13.63 is no disgrace, not off those fractions. First Defence proved that he rates with these three-year-olds at the moment, at least sprinting. Its not so much that he failed the eyeball test. Its that Hard Spun passed his. Horse, trainer Larry Jones and jockey Mario Pino were deserving. Good show. The bad news is that it was a much tougher effort than his trainer wanted, as the group heads toward the Breeders Cup Classic. While Jones ponders that, his colt is sure to get a good nights sleep.

The Victory Ride, G3: A star is born. No telling how good La Traviata is or can be. She toyed with nine rivals, posting fractions of :22.13 and :45.20 en route to six furlongs in 1:09.78. She won with plenty in reserve, winning in full long stride as Julien Leparoux sat motionless. She looked like a million bucks, not quite her selling price of $1.1 million, to Michael Tabor, John Magnier and Derrick Smith. Right now, shes worth a lot more. Dream Rush, anyone?

Eleventh Race: We had a five minute sprinkle, so track superintendent John Passero thought it prudent to seal the racetrack. Whats that? You were part of the crowd that made up about a half million dollars in Pick Six wagers? Sorry, here comes Starforaday, Albarado up, at $47.20, running down 22-1 Executive Search.

Twelfth Race: Yesterday, it was Mike Luzzi. Today it's trainer Jim Bond with his first win of the meet, Flipperoo, who dominated the finale from end to end, a formful conclusion to a spectacular afternoon.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Travers 138: More Coronation Than Horse Race

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 24, 2007

Dear Diary,

The 138th renewal of the Travers Stakes is more coronation than horse race, no matter how its sliced.

But what does that matter? Its been 12 years since a Kentucky Derby winner showed up for the Midsummer Derby. And, in this game, nothing matters more than history.

Winning it twice would be a dream come true, said the man who will saddle the only multiple Grade 1 winner in the field, Street Sense. None of the others have won even one.

But like Carl Nafzger also says; if youre a horse trainer, you dont look for competition, competition finds you.

Late summer being the start of racings second season, racings championship season, youd expect to see some late developers. This Travers has nothing if not late developers.

C P West is one of these. He proved in the Preakness he could run with the divisions best. In the Belmont he proved that he shouldnt have run, that his trainers first inclination to pass was correct.

But his Travers prep was good. He set a pressured pace in the Jim Dandy and fought with Street Sense in the stretch until he had enough in the final hundred yards. Like Nafzger, Nick Zito did not have his three-year-old tightly wound.

C P West will very likely improve. Ten furlongs is another matter.

Grasshopper has a big win over the track, a huge Spa plus. Hes 2-for-2 rounding two turns and his last was a breakthrough effort. Hes in talented hands, Neil Howards, and stable rider Robbie Albarado, having no Curlin to partner tomorrow, is up from Kentucky for the ride.

Late developing three-year-olds are loaded guns this time of year in the right hands. Which brings us to Sightseeing, too.

Trainer Shug McGaughey knows how to win this race, having done it three times, and he began thinking Travers soon after his colt finished second in the Wood Memorial, knowing there would be no Derby run for this late developer.

I want to win the Derby as much as everyone else, McGaughey was saying the other day, but when youre wrong about that race you can be really wrong. I didnt want to go down there and be 30-1.

Hell be a lot shorter price tomorrow, somewhere in the vicinity of 4-1 second choice. Among the champions rivals, Sightseeing is the only Grade 2 winner in the group.

It was the Jim Dandy, in which Sightseeing was third, thats given McGaughey confidence that an upset is not out of the question. I like the way he finished up and he galloped out good.

In terms of mental development, the light bulb probably went off even before the colt shipped to Saratoga. We worked him at Belmont before we left and I finally saw something I liked. He was coming around.

McGaughey saw it again Aug. 19 when Sightseeing worked five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 over the slightly slower Oklahoma training track.

He pulled up in 1:13. And he really had to be pulled up. [The work] was nothing less than sensational.

McGaughey is not given to hyperbole. Further, his colt has the stoutest 10 furlong pedigree in the field.

Betting the Travers wont make you rich. An exacta box of Street Sense and Sightseeing, with extra tickets featuring Street Sense first, is the logical play.

There are 11 other races on the Travers undercard that are far more interesting as betting opportunities. But none more compelling than a Kentucky Derby winners continuing date with history.

* * *

First Race: Good horse race. Refined Royalty left like a rocket from his outside slip in the grassy two turner and open a long early lead. It was not insurmountable. On the far turn, Galaxy Express rallied into strong contention three wide. Meanwhile, Cornelio Velasquez was biding his time aboard Cardiff Road. Soon after straightening away, Velasquez altered course to the fence and that proved the difference. Galaxy Express, however, never stopped trying and placed gamely; bet back. Third finisher Sky Dragon made a sustained stretch run while wide, a good effort. Longshot Bulle Rock raced wide throughout, losing all chance.

Second Race: Velasquez completes the double in a different way. This time, in a dash for juvenile maiden fillies going 5- furlongs on the grass, Cornelio managed to save ground all the way to midstretch despite breaking from an outside slip, at which point he tipped Cato Major out into the four path, the filly taking it from there, racing past pace stalker Libor Rate in the final strides. Good effort by both fillies. Third finisher Equally had good energy crossing the line, which is more than can be said for heavy favorite Delta Weekend, who showed nothing in a dreadful performance.

Third Race: Your attention please, ladies and gentleman, in the third race, an overnight stakes for fillies and mares at nine furlongs, your sponsor, Marriott Courtyard, has been scratched. The new sponsor is Heavenly Prize. What a coincidence? The man who trained that star filly, Shug McGaughey, also trained odds-on race winner, Altesse. Hey, if Lady Joanne can win the Banshee Breeze, why not Altesse in the Heavenly Prize. Sometimes this game is easy, but only sometimes.

Fourth Race: It was a two-speed number in a turf route until, that is, Alan Garcia shifted Absolute Heaven outside for the drive, where she nailed a very game Jocasse right on the line. Good thing Garcia waited to make the last run, the difference in the outcome, as pacesetting Cagey Girl weakened, third. Nice job. Michaelas Angel lot all chance when Dale Beckners saddle slipped.

Fifth Race: Mike Luzzi can draw a deep breath. Finally. With all the attention given Todd Pletchers 30-race losing skein, Luzzis streak was all but ignored. Winless in 54 rides. Almost unheard of, especially for a top journeyman. But Philharmonic, compromised by an awkward start in his special-weights debut, welcomed the drop into claimers and simply outran the entire field. We mentioned yesterday how the breaks are beginning to balance out for George Weaver and continue to do so. Glowing Image chased all the way, hard ridden for three-eighths of a mile, and just missed place in the final strides to Fufty, who sneaked up the fence and nailed him.

Sixth Race: On our way to a Travers day Pick Six carryover. Autumn of My Years was able to gain an easy loose lead going 5- furlongs on the turf and was only briefly threatened when Prime Obsession made a stiff challenge in midstretch, only to hang badly late. Skillful rating by Raul Rojas but bad race riding by the rest. Alys Tough, racing without a whip, was a good, willing third after rallying up four wide on the turn to challenge briefly.

Seventh Race: Zayat Stables, meets leading owner, continued its roll as Premium Wine took his second straight here and is now out of state-bred conditions. Now its Rick Schosbergs turn to get a little lucky. All his horses are running well, runnerup Run With the Lark the 14th horse to finish in the money from 17 starters, including three wins.

Eighth Race: Forgive the local clich, but Auto City ran huge. He set the pace from the middle of the course, under heavy pressure throughout, then found more when even-money R Loyal Man slipped through on the fence, looming a certain winner. But Chris Englehard-trained turf-sprint specialist held with bulldog determination to hold the favorite safe, Cornelios third of the day.

The Personal Ensign, Grade 1: There are no adjectives left to describe the remarkable Allen Jerkens. In his day he was the youngest trainer to be inducted into the Hall of Fame--the voters clearly knew what they were doing. Miss Shop came from last beneath Javier Castellano and ran down the very sharp Unbridled Belle who received a perfect trip and ride from Dominguez. Indian Vale ran an improved race, but lost too much ground in the 10-furlong fixture. (And I made it through that entire paragraph without mentioning the sobriquet Giant Killer. Not even once).

Tenth Race: When hot-pace setter Go On the Go bore out and stopped soon after entering the stretch, Champchu inherited a wide opening on the rail, and the lead, to steal the nightcap, the fourth of the day for Cornelio. With little more than a week remaining in Spa 2007, the jockey race figures to get even hotter. Stay tuned.

Written by John Pricci

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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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