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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, July 25, 2007

Successful Spa Opener Dampened by First Race Spill

Saratoga Springs, NY, July 25--

Dear Diary,

Wouldnt you know it? Before you can watch the horses run, you first have to get by the dogs and ponies.

Maybe you thought the racing would take the NYRA/Albany nonsense off the front page?

Think again.

Its seems that in the interests of integrity, Governor Eliot Spitzer gave up his box at Saratoga Race Course and suggested that the members of the State Racing and Wagering Board do the same.

Spitzer doesnt want people to think that a box at the track would color his decision on which entity should become the next franchise holder.

Of course, that wont be the case. Because either its already a done deal or he still remains clueless.

The SRWB? Now thats a good decision. Why would you want the agency that rules on racing in the Empire State to watch an actual horse race? The governor probably doesnt know that these boxes go to the organizations, not to individuals that would benefit in perpetuity.

As for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, this probably was a blessing. He goes to the races once every three years whether he wants to or not.

Saratoga County will keep their box, as will the Mayor of Saratoga Springs, Valerie Keehn. Good to know some people have their priorities, and perspective, straight.

And so will Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno, who represents Saratoga County and has two boxes that he pays for. Retail, boxes go from $4,500 to $6,700 for the season.

Want to know the real upset here? Eliot Spitzers political vendetta has turned Joe Bruno into a sympathetic figure.

Bruno later had some fun at Spitzer's expense in a press conference at the track before the races began.

But, no sir, dear diary, that aint easy.

First Race: The air came out of the balloon quickly when favorite Massoud broke down in mid-stretch and longshot Lieutenant Danz fell over him, unseating Johnny Velazquez and Raul Rojas, respectively. Fortunately, neither jockey was seriously injured. Massoud was euthanized. Winning dropdown Westmoreland and Garrett Gomez were lucky to get through for the nose victory. Runnerup Forget The Judge, finished strongly from next-to-last of 12 to just miss and was probably best.

Second Race: Fittingly, the first baby race of the year produced the first horse to watch. Sort of. Still dont know whether Todd Pletcher trainee Forest Prince can run since the rider did not ask any serious questions of the colt; follow. Meanwhile, Stanley Hough had debuting Sargent Seattle set for debut and he drew off following turn-move to win by open lengths in fast time. No excuses for favorite runnerup, Bold Trust.

Third Race: The pace was hot and contested and Ramon Dominguez timed his move perfectly, driving hard to nail Brilliant Son with Lord Snowden in the shadow of the wire. Anthony Dutrow trainee was fourth in the same race as favorite Grand Champion, who appeared to bounce off the lifetime best effort. Eligible to rebound next out.

Fourth Race: Second winner for Bill Badgett since returning to the trainng ranks, this time with Egypt Lane in a short turf sprint, the late move perfectly timed by Edgar Prado seeking a defense of his Spa riding championship. There arent too many riders; Gomez, Dominguez, Bravo, Desormeaux, Bejarano, to name five off the top, that are in Prados class on the grass.

Fifth Race: Post 10 on the tight turns of the Spa inner turf? No problem for Calvin Bo-Rail in his first full Spa season. Biding his time until the far turn, Borel guided Warn through down on the fence, steadied awaiting room, angled out in mid-stretch and Ronnie Werner trainee did the rest. Three-year-old War Chant colt showed excellent late kick to break maiden. Might be good enough to handle preliminary allowance types next out; bet back All Verses, in the bridle most of the trip, lost too much ground throughout; follow. Crowd went for Bobby Frankels Borobudur returning from layoff. Loomed inside behind horses into lane but finished one-paced. Should benefit.

Sixth Race: First good old-fashioned put-over of the meet. Again And Again, claimed for $50,000 four starts back and working his way down in class to $20,000 for his Spa return, benefited from a switch to Rafael Bejarano and stormed down the center of the track to win going away at 16-1. Heres where it gets interesting, dear diary. The official track program denoted a trainer switch from Diane Balsamo to David Jacobson, son of a former New York leading trainer, Buddy Jacobson, whose career ended after he was found guilty of the murder of model Melanie Cain in a celebrated tabloid story three decades ago. Doug Jacobson, Davids brother, was listed as owner of horses trained by Balsamo at the recently concluded Belmont meet. David has held an assistant trainers license for four months according to the NYRA stewards. He was accused of abusing the horse Hugable Tom in 1981, who subsequently died of laminitis, the trainer explaining at the time the disease is what claimed the horses life. Hugable Tom was owned by Michael Ricatto. Michael Ricatto Jr. was the listed as owner of Again And Again. Curiouser and curiouser.

Seventh Race: Formful result as favorite Hangingbyathread received a super ride from Prado, who slowed the pace to a crawl, and won the preliminary allowances for state-breds. But the Ricatto Jr. owned, David Jacobson-trained Highly Spoken completed the exacta at 21-1, after stalking the winners pace throughout. So lets see, diary, that would be Again and Again and Again!

Eighth Race: Patrick Biancone, who has his own problems, got a well timed finish from stable rider Julien Leparoux to win this with Pauillac. The favored entry of Incriminate and Blue Sky Gold both appeared in need of their returns from lengthy layoffs; note.

The Schuylerville: Prado is serving notice, a riding triple on opening day with first-time Rick Dutrow trainee Subtle Aly, now undefeated in two starts. State-bred I Promise was a game come-again second for Gary Contessa and Eibar Coa, appearing a resurgent winner, instead a nose shy of the line. Blitzing loomed a brief threat but settled for third. Favorite According To Plan broke slowly, moved menacingly between horses into the stretch, angled out for clear run but lugged in slightly in a green stretch effort. While the winner showed some class in overcoming a poor start of her own, no one really impressed as a potential stretch-out filly off this event. Lady Chace never menaced for Pletcher, who had a rough opening day.

Tenth Race: After a day of blanket finishes, appropriate the finale ended in a dead heat between American Dreama and Strong Presence. Papas Kara and Turning Leaves finished two noses behind the top pair. Of these four, Turning Leaves could have the most upside. She distributed her energy nicely in her debut then rallied willingly into the stretch here before being caught from behind. She will benefit from this; bet back at any distance with "non-winners of one" state-breds.

* * *

Amazingly, even with dead-heat winners (at 16.60-1 and 27.50-1) and a $5.90 favorite (from post 12) the Pick Six was hit, paying $57,288. The other sequence winners paid $11.20, 35.40, 16.80 and 10.20. Doesnt seem like enough, does it?

With the exception of the spill, it was a terrific lid-lifer as 30,052 paid their way in and bet a record $3,825,564 on track.

* * *

Bias Report: Track fast, no discernable bias. Turf firm, natural closers bias (especially early at any race meet). [The wire-to-wire turf winner set very slow fractions].

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Weird Vibes As Saratoga Opens

Saratoga Springs, NY--

Dear Diary,

Happy 29th Birthday!

Just wanted to get that out of the way. Been through a lot, you and me. But this is no time for nostalgia. Opening day is upon us. Quickly, out of vacation mode. Time to press on.

So, Happy 139th Birthday, Saratoga!

Youve been through a lot more than me. The bad, and the very, very good.

In this game, thats as good as it gets.

Starting tomorrow Saratoga gets busy creating new memories. Get busy living or get busy dying, Andy Dufresne would say.

But how can the grand dame of American racetracks do that when she doesnt even know who she is, or what she is?

So whos going to be the landlord next year? Still the New York Racing Association? Empire Racing or Capital Play or Excelsior Racing, who won the actual bidding before the new governor said never mind and lets do it again.

Then how does one get on with the future when one doesnt know what that future will bring?
Dont expect sympathy on this from me, dear diary. Saratoga looks a lot better than I do and shes got, according to the birthday salutations above, 110 years on me.

No matter. Saratoga Race Course will be here long after many of those who love her are gone.

To this point in 2007, Saratogas and New York racings prospects has been future-by-trial-balloon.

But the promise is, after new bids are submitted, all will know on September 4th, the day after the meet ends. After consulting the powerful HRI Deadlines-To-Leaks Index it could happen sooner.

Ive set the over/under at 4 days. (August 31st is a push).

Hey, diary, wonder if any NBA bettors will be in attendance opening day? If so, hows this idea for a promotional spot: Bet On Us. Better Odds. Less Crooked Officiating.

I know, anything for a laugh.

But the real truth is I dont think racing has any need to apologize. Racings zebras are the least of all officiating evils in terms of adjudicating racing infractions.

Administratively, however, the stewards are often powerless. The constraints of politics and real world pressures often demands that officials be careful not to throw away the industry baby with the medications bath-water.

Everybody knows that racing can and needs to get a lot more serious about illegal drugs but its making strides.

Hey, diary, did Bonds hit any today? How manys he got now?

The difference between a 15 percent and 25 percent trainer is about $1,500 a month in vet bills.

If racetracks just printed the name of the attending veterinarian in their official program, as my former Newsday colleague Paul Moran wrote many years ago, they will have gained what overseer politicians crave whenever theyve got some person or entity under a microscope: Transparency.

The industry knows that testing probably never will catch up with what comes out of the pharmacological pipeline. Just give the fans the information they need to draw their own conclusions. Let the chips fall. Its good public relations putting your customers first.

Racing and wagering are service industries. Whenever something untoward happens in sports, it seems Las Vegas is always there to come to the aid of industry investigators, to show them just how stuff can happen. Trust the people that monitor the games people play on a 24/7 basis.

(I wont even get into what Michael Vick allegedly did. Far too monstrous and depressing).

So, yeah, diary, the Saratoga vibe is weird this year. Like Sherry Ross of the New York Daily News wrote about the upcoming meet, uncertainty underlies anticipation.

But the anticipation is always for a renewed celebration of history, health and horses, the road signs reminding you as you drive into town that these timeless antiquities are woven into the fabric here.

...In Saratoga, where racing as sport is still king because the horses and the people tethered to it would rather win or lose here than anywhere else.

You can dress up and you can dress down and you can stay out so late it becomes early. Because after realizing that youre relatively sound of mind and body, all thats left in Saratoga is to talk horses.

Generally, horse talk occurs only three times a day: at morning, noon or night. And you never hear a single apology for it, either. The term guilty pleasure need not apply.

But with so much going on, no wonder the vibe is a little strange. And its raining right now. Rain may be good for the rhubarb but its bad for the psyche.

If weather handicappers pick a winner then sunlight will be plentiful when race caller Tom Durkin exhorts the crowd to sound-byte Theyre Off at Saratoga! at 1 p.m. tomorrow.

The first thing fans will notice about opening day entries are field sizes of 16, 15, 14, 13 and two of 11, among the 123 horses entered in 10 races, including the Grade 3 Schuylerville.

And purse size, too: A maiden special weight baby race for a purse of $62,000; a preliminary allowance/optional claimer for $67,000 and a straight $20,000 claimer running for nearly twice the tag; $35,000.

No wonder some horsemen had a hard time getting stalls. Demand for space is always high at this meet but perhaps no greater in recent history than it was this year.

While its no cinch to happen, what if Curlin and Street Sense were to continue in Saratoga what they started in Baltimore?

As it is, having Street Sense be the first Derby winner to run back in the Midsummer Derby since Thunder Gulch in 1995 alone is worthy of a Travers day admission.

Diary, I have no fear. The horses will save Saratoga, the way the racing here always has.

As this meet begins, the strange uncertainty over what the future holds for Saratoga and New York racing is for me, and many others, palpable.

And then it will be September 4th, the precise instant when New Yorks racing history collides head-on with its future.

Written by John Pricci

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