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

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nafzger and McGaughey and Travers History

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 22, 2007

Dear Diary,

The billboard says it all: Travers 138.

Its all about history. Past and present both.

A comprehensive victory by the Kentucky Derby winner could lock up a championship, no matter what happens in October at the Jersey Shore.

Its not the fault of Street Sense that Curlin and Any Given Saturday and Rags to Riches couldnt be here, wouldnt be here.

Six were entered to beat Street Sense this morning at the Travers post position draw, the two that couldnt beat him but came closest in the Jim Dandy, and four others, promising runners to varying degrees.

The biggest obstacle for Street Sense could be history itself. Its been 12 years since a Kentucky Derby winner even ran in the Midsummer Derby, much less won it; 17 years since a two-year-old champion, Fly So Free, did this.

How about the Alabama factor? Only five trainers have hit this double since the turn of the last century at this storied course, 1901. None since Hall of Famer Leroy Jolley did it with Optimistic Gal and Honest Pleasure 31 years ago.

The Travers has been on Carl Nafzgers dance card since Street Sense lost the Preakness photo. Its been longer than that for Shug McGaughey, soon after Sightseeing finished second in the Wood Memorial.

Shug targets a race good, Nafzger was saying the other day. Especially this one. He goes for his fourth on Saturday.

Street Sense is the 3-5 early line choice to give Nafzger his first winner since Unshaded in 2000. Shugs got three. Id like to get two.

So would Nick Zito, wholl start two to get his second. Remember Birdstone? The best of his two is C P West, the Jim Dandy runnerup. Speedy, he drew an inside post, which helps.

C P West will be in front for as long as he can stay there, maybe all the way if he can get away soft and easy. The linemaker thinks hell be second choice. But hell be third choice, behind Sightseeing.

At the end of the day, which begins at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday, Street Sense and Calvin Borel will be all the sizzle this race needs. History takes care of itself.

* * *

First Race: Can you say quick dividends? Bobby Barbara can. He sat on Half a Note for 18 days after claiming him from David Jacobson, then had Alan Garcia cut him loose from the far outside at the sixteenth pole and, as Durkin says, rolled right on by. Eddie C., making his first start off a very lengthy layoff, did well to win a place photo after a protracted battle. Yet another second place finish for the Weaver shed; this one should make amends next out, note.

Second Race: Experience often counts, especially in baby races. Syrianas Song ran very well when second in her debut. She went to the front again today, but this time improved her position, never threatened beneath Borel. Runnerup Tazarine debuted in same race as choice but finished evenly in mid-pack. But D. Wayne pulled the string today and she was much better, the only possible threat to the winner at any stage. Debuting Armonk finished well after the fact; third while ridden out late, bet back. Not a very good race for celebrity owners; Bobby Flays Smokin A Stephanie beat one horse, Little Miss Julien, owned in part by Joe Pesci.

Third Race: Tejida was Michael Matzs third win from nine starters at the meet and it was easy after Carlos Marquez Jr. set a controlled pace, the Rahy fillys third consecutive victory. Speaking of streaks, this was the 26th consecutive Todd Pletcher entrant that failed to win, as odds on Wingspan sat covered up the whole trip but remained one-paced when the real running began.

Fourth Race: Number 27 for Todd as Desifinado never got out of a gallop; victory number 10 for Gary Contessa, whose Beam Of Love drew off sharply soon after entering the stretch, Eibar Coa in the boot. Gullible Gal, a beaten favorite at 13-10 in her debut, failed to give a good account of herself again. Her running action isnt the best weve ever seen. I wouldnt be looking to get even on her, not necessarily.

Fifth Race: Love Cove re-rallied, coming again gamely to out-photo Follow My Dream, who was seeking a repeat win. Admittedly, the winner was a bit tough to come up with but, at 14-1, was a silly price by any measure. Hope you thought so and bet out.

Sixth Race: Most often two is better than one. The crowd probably was betting on Cherokee Time, but Wild Logic saved the favorite players. The former engaged in some late stretch bumping with Reatas Rose and, to her credit, won the show photo. Debuting Vesper and second-starter Panthera Tigre were virtually eliminated at the start, as the inside and outside fillies came out, and in, respectively, making them a not-so-nice sandwich.

The Capades: Overnight stakes at 5- furlongs for fillies and mares, three-year-olds & up, named for the late Richie OConnells ultra fast and consistent turf mare of two decades ago, went to Jazzy, a second-time starter in the U.S., who went flying past the streaking Smart and Fancy and Stormy Kiss, who stalked the early pace, led, but was nailed by the last-run winner. The South African five-year-old was winning her fourth race from only nine lifetime starts. Might be another useful acquisition for Team Valor Stables, et al.

The Albany: State-bred three-year-olds going nine furlongs and third leg of the Big Apple Triple, a bonus series for New York breds comprised of the Mike Lee at Belmont, the N Y Derby at Finger Lakes, and this race. No one has ever swept this series. At this rate, no one ever will. The question prior to the Albany was whether the fastest horse, favorite Chiefs Lake, could get the nine furlong distance. Well, he didnt, and didnt look like he would at any time. Contessas Stunt Man looked like he could, and did, his second of the day for the barn. Ramon Dominguez blew it open approaching the quarter pole, winning it with stick turned down. Dr. Vs Magic put in a good run after removing blinkers, a non-threatening second. Ghouls in the crowd please note: number 28 for Pletcher.

Ninth Race: One In A Romp won. Barely. She was a last jump winner for Allen Jerkens and Javier Castellano as the favorite. Todds 2-1 second choice, The Ag, was number 29.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

As Travers Approaches, Nafzger Ponders His Future

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 21, 2007

Dear Diary,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Borel, anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Spa Continues Astounding Meet

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 19, 2007

Dear Diary,

Feels very much like the day after. It was just such a great Alabama Day. The weather cooperated, for just about the 22nd consecutive racing day, the fillies put on a great show, and the fans came out to see it.

Did they ever.

Four thousand more than in 2006, 35,476 in all, betting $700,000 more on track and $1.6 million more from all sources. This meet continues to astound.

The filly worked this morning. That would be Rags to Riches, in company with Magna Graduate, the older stakes winning male. She went in :59.50, pulling away from her workmate late and galloping out strongly, a handful to pull up by Angel Cordero Jr., the worlds greatest exercise boy.

Pletcher was a little coy about a possible Travers run, saying it was not totally out of the question--if something happened to a couple of the other colts. Think Street Sense here.

* * *

First Race: Going down the backside, it appeared that Bill Mott was about to add to his meet leading total of 16 victories and Kent Desormeaux was about to ride winner number 27, tying him for the lead with Cornelio Velasquez. But no. With Shes My Sunshine chewing on him all the way around the turn, 7-5 favorite Stage Dream weakened badly. At that point, Javier Castellano tipped second favorite Star Dixie off the fence into the four path and wore down Universe, who had taken command in midstretch. It was another winner for Stanley Hough and main patron E. Paul Robsham, both having great meets. Pretty execution by Castellano.

Second Race: Forest Trail was the odds on choice off her good second place debut at Belmont and todays added distance was expected to help break her maiden. So much for logic. She was driving hard and beaten before the field straightened away into the stretch. The sharp Sentebale was on a clear lead and was about to be challenged--and passed--by Sabooth, who quickly opened ground, blowing the race open. Kiaran McLaughlins filly, a daughter of A. P. Indy, did benefit from the added ground, getting her 7 furlongs in 1:24.81. Alachua finished well after the fact, clearly second best.

Third Race: Longshot Pulla Fast One lived up to his name, getting trainer George Weaver off the duck, holding gamely to repulse Manitowish Waters, who finished well from the middle of the course after angling six wide into the stretch, a good trip to that point. But the story was debuting Cosmic, far back with one horse beaten entering the stretch. We he finally leveled off inside the furlong pole, he finished as fast as horses can run. If you bet today; bet back next time. Harbinger saved ground to no avail. Co-choice Lumen did a lot of the dirty work, but should have finished it up better than that.

Fourth Race: Blue Bullet set the pace under pressure from favorite Grand Champion, the chaser throughout. After disposing of the leader, Grand Champion braced for the challenge to come from a rallying Bribon, who loomed a winner at the eighth pole. At that point, the favorite resurged and was well clear at the line in 1:16.24. Pretty damn good main-track sprint debut for the runnerup after making first 10 career starts on grass; note.

Fifth Race: Trainer Mike Hushions having a quiet meet--not a bad one, just a quiet one. But he made some noise today as debuting Grasberg got all the mile and a sixteenth on turf, running down longshot leader Gentleman Scholar, drawing away late and giving Hushion his third winner from 15 starters. Third finisher Wondrous Day is worth following. After speed-and-stop sprint debut, he looped the field beneath Desormeaux to loom a major threat in midstretch but hung late as a result of those exertions; follow Mark Hennig trainee closely. Edgar Prado, meanwhile, not having a good time recently. He was cruising on the lead here with 6-5 favorite Unity until that one blew the far turn and had to be pulled up.

Sixth Race: Speaking of quietly, Barclay Tagg is having a good meet. Late running False I.D. gave Tagg his fifth win of the meet from 22 starts, along with eight other money finishers. My Man Lars made a bid to give Weaver his second on the day but his wide rally came up short. Calvin Borel tried to steal it with 33-1 Really Rollicking, who stayed gamely for third after setting a dawdling pace. The full stride winner False I.D. gave Velasquez a natural double and, in one of those racetrack oddities, followers of lucky number seven its fourth straight winner.

Seventh Race: Prados futile Sunday continues as his rally aboard 6-5 Tactical Gold falls a nose shy of reeling in Again and Again, a repeater winning on the rise following the Leah Gyarmati claim. The winner survived a pace duel with eventual show finisher Little Cliff. The likely Pick 6 single did none of the carryover crowd any favors. Interesting to see how the rest of the sequence shakes out.

Eighth Race: After Quick Humor took command on the far turn and opened the lead out leaving the furlong grounds, it appeared Tagg was going to saddle his second winner of the day. But My Dear Annie made a better run under Castellano, his second, holding off wide rallying Bella Attrice. Quick Humor was a very game second. Prado? His 2-1 favorite stumbled at the start and finished well too late for fifth, never a threat; note.

The Johns Call: The 16-year-old gelding Johns Call led the parade postward. Like Funny Cide, he stays fit working as a stable pony, for trainer Tom Voss, and looked great as he galloped off. Not too far back in the day, he was a legendary Horse for the Spa Course. Meanwhile, the overnight stakes went to, what else, a nine-year-old. And a classy one at that. Once Revved Up secured running room, those engines vroomed right by Rousing Victory, who swooped to the lead entering the straight. General Jumbo had gotten through on the fence for a stretch challenge, running hard right down to the finish. Dont know what kind of spot you can find to bet him back, but if you get similar conditions next time dont be shy. Bailador finished strongly for place. Mike Luzzi, incredibly, still looking for that illusive first winner while Desormeaux chalked up another.

Tenth Race: Nice pickup mount for Coa, replacing Shawn Bridgmohan, stalking the pace of Chief Tashmo with Bill Allyns Brushed Prince, setting up a winning Pick 6 payoff of $388,514. Prado? He was a fast closing third aboard 3-2 favorite Dubliner. Day over. A Spinner crowd of 63,559 collected their red umbrellas.

Written by John Pricci

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