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 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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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Gold and Roses, Shakespeare’s Return, Highlights Spa Program

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 2, 2007

Dear Diary,

In terms of the way news eventually reaches our desk, today New York State settled all family business.

First, Gov. Eliot Spitzer vetoed legislation that would have made it easier for racetracks and OTBs to allow rebates, citing that the bill was poorly drafted and confusing, making implementation difficult.

Ever see an IRS form?

Spitzer is somewhat correct in that even the bills sponsors say there is no clear standard. Apparently, setting one is out of the question.

The governor thinks the bill unnecessary because the State Racing and Wagering Board already had given permission to NYRA and NYCOTB to conduct rewards programs. But it goes beyond just the rewards programs.

Rewards can take many shapes and sizes. You can reward customers with a bonus on their winnings, provide services and merchandise, or lower takeout. Politically, that last idea wouldnt sit well with the OTBs and the counties. And the governor has an approval rating that now might be even lower than Mr. Bushs.

Mr. Spitzer said hed like to help the tracks compete with other betting platforms, but that such needs should be tempered with a need to enact necessary laws that can be understood.

Clearly, this was no time to be proactive.

The governor did, however, sign the measure that provides the New York Thoroughbred Horsemens Association with an increased share of the purse fund, from 1% to 2%. Good news for the benevolent work horsemen provide their backstretch workers.

* * *

At last, relief is the on the way for horseplayers!

TrackNet Media Group, the new strategic alliance formed by Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment will now offer rebates to bettors currently doing business with two betting companies; Elite Turf Club and Racing and Gaming Services.

Theres a small catch, however: Your personal handle for the year must be one million dollars!

You read that correctly.

Of the announcement, an RGS spokesman said he was happy his company would do whatever it could to help the tracks. What he really meant was were happy that our clients will still be able to bet on races from Churchill Downs, Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Fair Grounds and Pimlico.

* * *

The SRWB also approved a measure that would make pre-and post-race blood samples permanent as well as approving new tests to detect total carbon dioxide levels. Both measures are meant to deter milkshaking, a process that helps rid the body of CO2.

Also, it no longer will be possible to use more than one medication in the same syringe, a measure the SRWB hopes will avoid contaminated samples. Suspensions will also be accompanied by fines of $2,500 per day for the duration of the suspension.

Finally, authorities appear to be getting serious. Heres hoping.

In an unrelated ruling, mutuel clerks will no longer be able to bet while on the job, either on the live or simulcast product.

Appearances do matter.

* * *

Trainer Roy Sedlacek received a 15-day suspension and $1,000 fine when his horse, The Village Vicar, tested positive for Acepromazine, a depressant. The Village Vicar finished second in the fourth race at Belmont Park, June 8th.

According to a poll presently being conducted on the Thoroughbred Times website, horseplayers, responding to the effective lowering of takeout to 11.4% at the upcoming Laurel meet, said they would be inclined to wager on those races, 53% to 46%.

Youll have to do better than that, people.

First Race: Rum Squall received a well timed move from Xavier Aizpuru to take the opener, the Jonathan Kiser Novice, an overnight stakes for the up-and-over set.

Second Race: Two special-weight juveniles making their debuts received strong betting support and one of them won it. Irish Smoke, bet early and late, stormed down the three path to take the lead from longshot first-timer Syrianas Cat inside the sixteenth pole and drew off like a nice filly; follow her progress. Runnerup, meanwhile, hails from a good second-out barn; note. Constance, heavily bet but a gate scratch at Belmont Park, was the favorite again but was used hard chasing the pace while wide throughout. She should benefit from the race.

The John Morrissey: Gold and Roses is just a damn good state-bred sprinter, taking this overnight stakes in 1:16.01, drawing off beneath a confident Garrett Gomez. Field tried to pin Tom Bush trainee to the fence but GG bulled his way up to battle for the lead on the backside. That was the dance. Bush said the next start is likely the General Douglas MacArthur when racing returns downstate, September 7th. While not quite as big as the negative pool created by Street Sense, Gold and Roses attracted $186K out of $209K in show wagers.

Fourth Race: Doesnt Bill Mott get beat anymore? After his big day Wednesday, he wins with Queen Joanne making her three-year-old debut; another winner for owner Ahmed Zayat whos having a big meet himself. She looked good sprinting home late and likely will handle preliminary allowance types next out. Impressionism finished well late and wont be a maiden long; bet back. Co-favorite A. P. Test has hindered by her outside draw under these conditions; follow.

Fifth Race: Sugarless and Square Dancing were battling it out in midstretch until the latter began to dominate. Emphatically.

Sixth Race: Raceland did all the work but Irish Majesty got the money. Raceland raced Little Cliff into defeat in a torrid duel then battled the winner only to succumb well inside the final sixteenth; bet back, with sufficient recovery time. Hes a Pioneer had a good trip until stacked up four across the track in mid-far turn; note.

Seventh Race: Not often you see a two-speed number in a two-turn turf race. But Tiverton went to the front, setting a controlled pace throughout. Stalked all the way by Loconia, the latter outgamed the leader in deep stretch for Team Motion/Dominguez. Santas Gold finished well late with a wide rally, but had little chance to make an impression when the leaders were finally set down.

Eighth Race: Shakespeares simply a pretty amazing racehorse. He showed no rust despite returning from an October, 2005 layoff for new trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, outkicking a sharp and talented Art Master in deep stretch, missing the inner turf track record for a mile by 3/5s of a second. Dont mean to be skeptical but will await his next start, presumably vs. better, which will be a true indication of where he currently stands physically. Today certainly was a remarkable first step.

Ninth Race: Southern Prince simply bottomed out the field, harness style; :22.75 and :44.42, racing 5- furlongs on very firm turf in 1:01.60, running to his works. The second speed, Storm N Lightning, finished second for the live Schosberg barn as favorite Metro Meteor finished a willing third.

Bias Report: Track fast, no discernable bias. Turf firm, played honestly.

Written by John Pricci

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