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 18, 2007

By Whatever Name, Call Her Alabama Champion

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 18, 2007

Dear Diary,

No clever witty pithiness, no one to tweak today. No time. Will spend all day at the track working for some of you. Were preparing for Pacific Classic Day tomorrow at Del Mar.

Interesting card, to say the least.

So, apologize to your morning coffee for me. I expect to return to normal (just an expression) tomorrow. That would be Sunday, the 19th.

Damn, its all flying by so fast!

But must say were looking forward to the Alabama Stakes that, even without its marquee attraction, Rags to Riches, looms an interesting puzzle deep in proven and budding talent.

OK, girls, show me something.

* * *

First Race: Fanciers of lone speed were smiling after the sudden Make Me Smile was a late scratch, figuring that new Anthony Dutrow acquisition would be loose on the lead. They were right. Theyre off! You lose! While he gave way grudgingly, gave way he did, 6-5 choice Nerve wearing him down leaving the eighth pole. Thats all he wrote.

Second Race: Cant say you hadnt been warned (see Diary 072807, second race). Slews Tiznow finished well late while ridden out after angling outside in midstretch Not yesterday. With the stretch to seven furlongs he was on the engine, repulsing a speed challenger down the backside, repelling the perfect tripping favorite at headstretch, and drew away late from nicely bred newcomer Hedgefund Investor in the final furlong. The time was 1:23.44, after posting pressured fractions of :22.73 and :44.24. There have been flashier maiden winners at this meet but this one, especially at the distance, was really professional and a likely harbinger of good things to come. Remember the name.

Third Race: They gave you the winner right there in the program; Cant Refuse, the only horse in the race coming off a victory--over the course, yet--went off at double the price of his recent win and won easier despite the rise from special-weights maiden to preliminary allowances. Like last time, Jean-Luc Samyn timed it perfectly. Third finisher Manhattan Mack, the horse that unseated Kent Desormeaux twice, carried Rafael Bejarano to the wire without incident, actually finishing pretty well.

Fourth Race: Whats the first thing you do when youve got a live horse in a two-mile race? You get Calvin Borels agent on the phone. Its advisable to save grounds in marathons. Second thing you do, especially if Ken McPeek saddles the winner? You get the bloodstock agent for the Saudi Royal family on the blower and tell him to tell the king hes got the next Passing Ships right here!

Fifth Race: McPeek makes it a natural double with Ms. Sabbatical, reuniting with Desormeaux, who made the last run aboard the 3-year-old turf miss. Malibu Moon filly wore down a very determined Sunshine for Life. Bill Mott trained favorite, Fancy Fusaichi, was a non-threatening third.

Sixth Race: Preliminary allowances win available, no experience necessary. Turf experience, that is. But Giant Gizmo had Giants Causeway hitting you over the head, and it was Bobby Frankel off a long break. Want more? Broke his maiden going long on Poly; long on turf today. Holding at 7/2 virtually throughout the betting, he justified that confidence with an open lengths score. Probably will go through conditions quickly. Parading also was making grass debut but her mom is the good turf producer, On Parade. She came from far back beneath Garrett Gomez, clearly second best.

Seventh Race: Talk about snatching defeat from victorys jaws. How could Terror On Track get beat approaching the eighth pole, I ask? By giving a hanging demonstration probably not seen at the meeting thus far. Purists could argue Desormeaux should have allowed his colt to sleep just a bit longer, but Holiday Trip, with a switch to Bejarano, would not be denied his maiden breaker.

The Yaddo: Although she stumbled at the start, the drop into state-bred company for JRay did nothing to help her. She virtually ran one-paced throughout the 1-1/16th miles. But the story was that, this time, Desormeaux timed it right and John Hertler had Latitude Forty primed for her best. Four-year-old Chester House filly stalked the quality soft-paced leader, Factual Contender, into the stretch and ran her down, drawing away late under pressure. The runnerup was clearly second best. Half Heaven sat a good trip throughout but was one-paced at the finish; fourth. With the exception of Lawyer Ron and Readys Image, it hasnt been a Todd-like meeting for Mr. Pletcher. Wheres The Green Monkey when you really need him?

The 127th Alabama, Grade 1: And wouldnt you know the girls DID put on a show! Right now, the world belongs to Carl and Calvin. If you dont know who they are, youre on the wrong site. Lady Joanne is a real good filly, one that loves Saratoga the way Street Sense loves Churchill. When she crossed the line in her prep, the Banshee Breeze, she had energy and speed in reserve. Well, she pretty much used it all up today. Going 10 furlongs for the first time, she was much the best. She broke a half-step slow and her wide post draw did her no favors. She raced three wide all the way around, keeping dueling leaders in her sights while the rider kept his eyes on Octave, sitting just inside her, a perfect tripping-out fourth on the fence. Calvin seized his moment at mid-turn, inching up to reach even terms with the leaders, Calvin with two handsful of rein. He set her down, Johnny V. shot up the fence with Octave, and the race was on. But Borel kept the multiple Grade 1 winner pinned to the fence in an old school display of race riding. One hundred yards from the wire, Joanie began to draw away when Lears Princess made a belated late surge. But Nafzgers filly kept her at bay and now only the Travers stands between Rodeo Carl and a sweep of the three most important two-turn races they card for three-year-olds at Saratoga. Nafzger is a certain Hall of Famer to be. If Borels not careful and keeps winning these high profile events, Carl might have Calvin for company. And you get the feeling that nothing could please both of them more.

Tenth Race: Its as if, in another life, Desormeaux was a close friend of Ponce de Lion. Hes not ridden this well since he first left Maryland for California gold, timing Hot Sunrises late run perfectly, sweeping by Als Lark several jumps from the wire, first-time Gary Contessa.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Take My Partners, Please

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 17, 2007

Dear Diary,

In life timing is everything. Take my web-site partners, for instance. Did they have to choose this week to show up in Saratoga for meetings?

Made me miss a day of racing. There are only 36, you know. For meetings, yet. Meetings. In August. In Saratoga. Clearly, I did a bad job schooling these guys.

But I didnt miss too much. Lets see:

There was a track record performance by a juvenile filly. And a significant scratch of Sargent Seattle. He was supposed to run in the Saratoga Special but was withdrawn because a sale was being negotiated.

He went to UAE interests, of course, off a very impressive maiden win, of course. Darley denied they were the buyers. They were the usual suspects since they purchased Discreet Cat from the same people that own--owned--Sargent Seattle. The rumored price for this one was $6 million.

Not bad.

This, of course, came one day following the news that Darley Stable purchased Haskell winner Any Given Saturday, which the brings the total of colts bought out of this years Kentucky Derby to three.

Only 17 more to go.

Between Street Sense, Hard Spun and Any Given Saturday, thats about $8-million a hoof. These are about figures. They never say how much because they are tough negotiators. They just dont throw money at people.

Then there's new two-year-old record holder called Secret Gypsy, well named for her double-digit debut odds. She was a $10,000 yearling. And she broke through the gate before the start!

Reportedly, her owner John Kuehl shut off his cell phone and gave it to a friend. The damn thing began ringing minutes after the filly reached the wire in 1:03.26, after posting splits of :21.70, 44.59 and 56.71, and never stopped.


And I missed a double gate scratch. There have been many gate scratches at this meet, but not a double dip until yesterdays third race.

Leading rider Cornelio Velasquez rode a four-bagger and Kent Desormeaux doubled. Kodiak Kowboy was dominating in the Saratoga Special with The Roundhouse a strong-finish runnerup.

So listen, my computer geek friends. Stay a full week next time and lets have these meetings on a dark day. Youve got your millions to make. I get that. Me? Ive only got this here day job.

Oh, yeah. Thanks to you.

* * *

First Race: The favorite had problems on the first turn, not that it mattered at the finish. Odds on Al Basha was clearly best when a strong rally down the middle of the Mellon Course to win the opener in an eye-opening 1:47.44. The brief, heavy squall that hit the area last night had very little effect on the firm turf, obviously. Winning trainer Angel Penna Jr. having an outstanding meet, winning with half of the six horses hes run. Good to see, just like back in the day.

Second Race: Mike Trombetta has a great record saddling first-time starters to victory. So the crowd ignored the stat, allowed Caves Valley to debut at odds of 6-1, she went to the front then improved her advantage in 1:03.79. Stephen Got Even filly appears to have a future. Runnerup Hi Chris made strong three-path move to contention on turn then tired while racing greenly; give her another chance.

Third Race: Horse Thief broke his maiden with authority, moving into excellent position at five-sixteenths pole and drew off driving soon after straightening away. Hes Tough finished well late from the middle of the track while lugging in and went under the wire ridden out; may pay quick dividends; note.

Fourth Race: Have we seen the winner of the inaugural Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf? Maybe, maybe not. But youll probably never see as dominating a debut on turf as that of Prussian, a son of Danzig from the Alleged mare, Crystal Downs. His action through the lane was flawless and powerful as he just skimmed over the ground, like cutting so many daisies for Team Mott/Desormeaux. Would have been nice if the workout information had been complete. The last published workout was on Aug. 2nd. The horse opened favorite and closed the favorite. He was no secret unless, of course, you were relying on published past performances data. Win #14 for leading trainer Bill Mott.

Fifth Race: Motts 15th. Here comes Stormy West, with a late burst of energy, said Mr. Durkin, aptly, as three-year-old Gone West filly stormed (pun intended) by Milk Town, who stalked the speed, opened a clear lead, but tired a bit on the shadow of the wire. Bees rallied quickly but too late for third and galloped out well; bet back.

Sixth Race: Light Tactic overcame a roughed start, driving hard beneath Edgar Prado to win for Rick Schosberg, whose horses continue to run well at this meet. Golden Manna had repeated trouble down the backstretch from along the inside and was virtually eliminated; note.

Seventh Race: Subtitles gets over a fairly serious bout with seconditis to win a photo from a very game Georgian, who raced on a surprisingly easy lead throughout. Favored Dragon Fi had dead aim for the entire length of the stretch but finished one-paced late, third.

The G2 Lake Placid: Motts 16th, a triple on the day, and this was a gift. At this level, an easy lead on a very firm course in almost :24 seconds is laughable. Sharp Susan took advantage of her excellent effort over the course, the removal of blinkers proving the difference in improved efforts last time and this. Last time, however, it was from off the pace. Today, she returned to her pacesetting style and never was seriously challenged. Not when you can run 9 furlongs in 1:46.69. She also gave Desormeaux a triple. New Edition closed very well for place. Lady Attack made a strong stretch bid but lost too much ground after being hindered by the soft pace.

Ninth Race: Prado the difference, cutting the corner on favored Whateverwillbwillb to get through on the fence to edge a determined Jeux de Danse, who raced wide throughout. Stashed Away finished best of all after maneuvering off the rail too late.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Scales of Justice Out of Balance

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 15, 2007

Dear Diary,

The State Racing and Wagering Board gave jockey Eibar Coa seven days for careless riding aboard Silver Timber in Mondays featured Troy Stakes.

By definition, this decision is fair. Coa tried to get through a very narrow opening, a hole that bordered on the nonexistent. Thats careless.

Silver Timber was highly unlikely to catch the winning T. D. Vance in the Troy. He entered the stretch behind a wall of horses and was constantly in traffic but had a punchers chance to finish second. Coa tried hard to get there for a long-time client, trainer Linda Rice.

But when attempting to split horses as he sought racing room, Coa caused serious crowding and forced the tiring Afrashad to be checked by Mike Luzzi. Thus the cause for the disqualification, as they say.

By the letter of the law I have no problem with any of this. But Im not crazy about the fact Coa is being punished for trying too hard.

In todays third race, front running Fleet Valid came out four horse-paths from the inside path beneath a left-handed whipping Cornelio Velasquez, forcing Alan Garcia to check Will He Shine, the late-running favorite attempting to match strides with the eventual winner, Council Member.

Garcia claimed foul to no avail.

To many observers, myself included, it appeared the incident cost Will He Shine second money.

At this meeting, the buzz has been about the stewards being disinclined to take horses down. On balance, we believe theyve been right more often than not on these judgment calls.

Until today.

The rules of racing regarding disqualifications based on race riding infractions were re-written recently to give stewards more latitude. If an infraction occurs now, stewards have the discretion to leave the number up if, in their judgment, they believe it had no effect on the outcome.

This is as it should be.

However, they appeared to blow one today. Can I say definitively the bearing out incident cost Will He Shine second money? No call involving horses racing in close quarters at forty miles an hour can be made with absolute certitude. But it is extremely likely it had.

Parenthetically, go to the replay center and check it out for yourself.

The argument here is that Velasquez was trying hard to win--switching to a left-handed whip to get the most from the tiring Fleet Valid--and his effort was validated. Coa tried hard and was punished.

Velasquez is the leading rider at the meet. On Aug. 5, he was suspended seven days for careless riding but lodged an appeal and the suspension was stayed. The curious thing here is that there was neither an inquiry nor a jockeys objection when Velasquez carelessly rode Sultry Sue to a third place finish in the seventh race for which he subsequently received an after-the-fact suspension.

Where was the transparency here? Where is Getnick and Getnick when you need them. Or are they not overly paid to help adjudicate fouls?

There has been some consistency with the number of what would be termed non-calls in the sports world. But the justice meted out to Velasquez and Coa, relative to the incidents involving Silver Timber and Fleet Valid, are inconsistent.

Unless, in Coas case, the stewards invoked the seldom used standard you see in basketball all the time, when it comes to having a reputation for hard-nosed play. Call it the Bill Laimbeer rule.

* * *

First Race: With three minutes to post, six of the eight horses were between 3-1 and 6-1, the other two at 11-1, in a non-winners of 2/optional claimer at 5- furlongs on turf. When betting stopped, Zaynab was the 2-1 favorite but finished a one-paced third. Astronomia, making its first start in a year for a barn that excels with long layups (Saeed bin Suroor/Rick Mettee), came from far back off the hot pace of Jillis Cape and Flankers, ran by the eventual second finisher, the stalking Willshefire, and drew off rapidly. She was taken in hand late by Johnny Velazquez in a first rate performance. The way the five-year-old New Zealand bred galloped past the wire, she looked like a cinch to win on the raise next out; follow her progress.

Second Race: All the money went to the John Kimmel-trained first timer Winning Punch, who had been working at Monmouth Park before shipping here for her state-bred and racing debut. She raced good, but greenly, and settled for third, her inexperience likely costing her the place. She wont be a maiden for long; bet back. Meanwhile, winning Honky Tonk Trick also down-ticked on the last flash and won convincingly from pacesetting Dana Dew, Trick first prompting, then drawing off in the last furlong. Another win for the white hot Tom Bush shed and another, number 21, for leading rider Cornelio Velasquez. Fourth finisher Fairy Godmother was going well at the finish, ridden out; note.

Third Race: Council Member displayed his late turn-of-foot to catch Fleet Valid beneath Ramon Dominguez, second win of the day for Godolphin/Suroor connections.

Fourth Race: Paint, working fast and aggressively for Nick Zito, impressed favorably with an open-lengths score in his debut, Cornelios second, over tote-disregarded Macho Again. Devereux chased a strong pace three wide throughout and was a willing third. Debuting favorite Inner Light chased the pace and tired, a very disappointing effort.

Fifth Race: Gary Contessa shakes a small slump with Keen Irish, a first-time starter going a mile on the turf. A little anti-profile, dont you think? Nevertheless, River Keen gelding was much the best as he swooped up into contention on the far turn and continued his run through the stretch beneath Eibar Coa, getting a catch-ride from Norberto Arroyo Jr. Tobruk, rank in the gate with Johnny Velazquez (oh no, not again!), was checked soon after the start after bumping with Ill Make It Up and never threatened. Dont look for JV to want to ride this one back.

Sixth Race: Theres no doubt that European turf horses are superior to ours as Palace Episode, a Group 1 winner as a two-year-old, took a non-winners of three with authority, Godolphin/Suroors third, over Kiaran McLaughlins imported Stream of Gold, listed stakes placed in Dubai. It was daylight back to the favorite, Yates Black Cat, a willing but outclassed third.

Seventh Race: Second dropdown score of the meet for Stall/Gomez team on turf, GG timing it perfectly with Cliff Meadows, a strong-finish six-path rally winner. Copy That and Caught Stealing put on a good battle for place after the latter had trouble at the start; note.

The Grade 2 Adirondack Stakes: Just no substitute for SoCal gas. More Happy made the start look bad, outfooting eight rivals to the lead in :21.88 and :44.93 but needing all of her advantage to get home in front of surprising second finisher, late running A to the Croft, in 1:17.51. She was getting tired at the end but was tearing it up early, said winning trainer Bob Baffert of the early pace. An apt description from Bullet Bob, now 2-for-2 at the meet. Going a mile this group wouldnt have seen my horse, said Ken McPeek of the runnerup; note. Phantom Income was declared a non-starter when she reared badly at the start, Coa fortunate not to be badly hurt in yet another gate incident at this meet.

Ninth Race: Willis Sweet Girl made a strong wide rally beneath Dominguez to become a repeat winner at the meet, Contessas second. Bridal Path made a strong late surge but never seriously threatened for the win.

Written by John Pricci

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