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 26, 2007

Spa Calm After Travers Storm

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 26, 2007

Dear Diary,

There might be one more big weekend, the Win and Youre In Woodward program over Labor Day, but the air has been let out of the balloon here.

Happens every year, right after the Travers.

Maybe thats the way its supposed to be. One orgiastic day of racing, during which the wickets opened 12 times to feed the associations and states unquenchable thirst for liquidity.

Goodbye everyone. Drive safely. See you next year.

Well, meets over, said a colleague moments after filing his Travers day story. But its as if this year, that feeling spread outside the press box, too.

The backside was unusually quiet this morning, possibly due to a fairly violent thunderstorm--albeit tame by Saratoga standards--had rendered this mornings track too wet for some trainers.

Maybe it was the Travers day weather. Cant remember when, on balance, this meet has enjoyed better. And Ive been coming here every summer since 1976.

But the humidity that had the Heat Index reach triple digits was so oppressive it made breathing somewhat difficult. More prudent fans watched the big races on television. Attendance failed to reach the 40,000 mark for the first time since 1984, and was the lowest in 26 years.

Or maybe it was because the Wizard was on TV. Cant tell.

Fans were walking around the building so slowly in late morning that the next speed on their pedometer would read stop.

Then again, this was a premium giveaway-less Sunday, the first of the meet. And theres just no measuring the excitement level that The Spinner brings to the old Spa.

Travers gave us a great day of racing, the degree of difficulty so high that some handicappers were comparing it to a Breeders Cup day program, a half dozen palatably live horses in every race.

The program was so difficult that I went on Capital OTBs Handicappers Report that morning, picked eight winners from 12 races, and won $30.

Dont ask, OK? Lets just say there werent enough cold ones in my fridge to guzzle on Saturday night.

And I went to bed early. Slept like a bear in winter.

But as Hyman Roth would say: This is the business we have chosen. I didnt ask-k-k

Where else could Senate Minority Leader Joe Bruno and Gov. Eliot Spitzer be seen sharing a laugh for the cameras, presenting trophies and otherwise enjoying themselves at the races.

The governor wasnt even booed when he presented the Travers trophy to Street Sense owner James Tafel, breaking with a tradition that goes all the way back to Gov. Hugh Carey.

All this excitement exacts a toll. Maybe a dip of 20 degrees will bring back a bounce into the step of fans, increasing the pace for Saratoga Stretch Run 2007.

If it doesnt, no worries. This Saratoga meet owes nothing to anybody.

* * *

First Race: Steve Asmussen has a late developing filly in Sequoia Queen, a winner of her debut here opening week and a repeater yesterday in a solid, professional effort beneath Garrett Gomez. But Awsugahnow was the story, commencing a wide rally approaching the quarter pole, momentum carrying her even wider, a move that carried her to a second-place finish. It was a strong, sustained run and at 14-1 yesterday, shell be worth betting back; note. Favorite Meredith Bee was a willing but non-threatening third.

Second Race: Also-eligible horses have been having uncanny success at this meet. And theyve been proving clearly best. Impressionism saved ground at no time, racing three to four paths wide the entire 8- furlongs. But when Johnny V. was ready, he pushed the button, she cruised up four wide into the lane and held the late runners safe with some authority. Mula Mula might get the moolah with more energetic handling, if you catch my meaning; follow progress.

Third Race: War Pass, an impressive maiden winner of his key race debut (see July 28 Diary), made it two straight for Nick Zito, winning with authority once again while racing a tad greenly beneath Cornelio, who continues to open his lead in the jockey standings with a little over a week to go. It will be interesting.

Fourth Race: Daaher went to the front and improved his position, winning by daylight with something in reserve. Speed has been better in the last two days than its been the entire meeting. Sacrifice Bunt saved ground through the stretch which might not be the place to be on todays drying out good track.

Fifth Race: Knew sooner or later Wayne was going to win one for Marylou. Second-time starter Carnival City, taking advantage of her natural speed in the stretch, outfinished Nightnightnight, who stalked a long way while wide and just missed in a game performance. It was the first win of the meet for Team Whitney/Lukas.

Sixth Race: Friar, dropping into a claimer for the first time, a tack that worked opening day for Albert Stall, looked like it was going to pay off again as the favorite sneaked up the fence with Gomez. But then Dr. Rico, making his first start for Tim Ritvo, came charging down the center of the course beneath Julien, whos really adept at timing his late run with grass runners. The way the winner finished up, he is likely to win on the raise. In fact, bet him back. He was 30-1 today, doesnt figure to be too much shorter if given a class hike next time.

Seventh Race: Been remarking here all meet how well Rick Schosbergs horses have been running. So just when it appeared that Lets Fly Away had wrested the lead for good, Desormeaux tipped Pennylove off the fence and the filly quickly drew off under pressure. Deft training job as state-bred three-year-old miss was coming off a February layoff and emerged with blinkers added.

Eighth Race: Linda Rice really has these 5- furlong turf sprints figured out. Indeed, she might be the only one. But her Huge City, who made a bold mid-race move in last but faded behind the on-rushing deep closers, took complete control in upper stretch and wouldnt be seriously challenged here, winning by daylight. Beneath the Crown was a willing second but the story was third-finisher Thunder Minister, far behind into the stretch, then flying home with a wide rally, nailing show money in the last stride. With better trip next out

The Ballerina, Grade 1: Well, if Calvin Borel can win three Grade 1s at the meet, and Mario Pino another, why not Elvis Trujillo? Trujillo, who really came into his own this winter in Florida, rode yesterdays winner, Maryfield, to a good, troubled fourth in the Grade 1 Princess Rooney last month. Briefly freshened, Doug ONeill shipped her cross country from her Hollywood Park base and got the filly her first Grade 1 title, winning a stirring stretch duel from the younger Baroness Thatcher. Sadly, pacesetting Indian Flare was euthanized on the racetrack, having collapsed 200 yards past the finish line. The ultimate cause of her death was termed cardiovascular shock, according to Dr. Anthony Verderosa, NYRA Chief Examining Veterinarian. Heavy favorite Burmilla was awful, never picking up the bit.

Tenth Race: Juror, making his U. S. Debut in state-bred company, swooped the group from the far outside, winning as much the best.

Written by John Pricci

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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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