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

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Record Whitney, Big Prices, Big Business and Retirement Highlight Week 1

Saratoga Springs, NY--July 30, 2007

Dear Diary,

Not reporting on the races today. But will be betting on the races today; I have not yet taken leave of my senses. Much to reflect on in memorable opening week of Saratoga 139.

Before the meet began, we talked about the weird vibe in the air opening day eve. Consider all this and you decide:

Tom Durkin did an unusually good job at warming up the opening-day crowd. This years fan rendition of Theyre Off At Saratoga was a loud, heartfelt chorus. But soon after the favorite entered the stretch on a clear lead in that first race, Moussoud took a bad step and subsequently was euthanized.

Air in, air out, of the red-and-white striped balloon.

The next morning, Moussouds trainer Graham Motion called David Jacobson to apologize and offer his condolences. Jacobson had claimed the seven-year-old from Motion for $35,000 and, according to rule, owned him once the horse left the starting gate.

Although the backstretch is a tight-knit community, its doubtful Motion and Jacobson knew each other personally. Jacobson thought the turf specialist would be his best claim this year and believes the horse simply took a bad step.

Such courtesy and empathy between racetrack rivals is a little weird, right?

Not sure the first race set the tone but toward the end of Week 1, favorites were winning at a paltry 21 percent and Todd Pletcher had won only two races. Somehow these events dont seem to be mutually exclusive. Both will do much better in the weeks ahead. Pletcher already is up to four winners.

Business, meanwhile, has been absolutely booming. Handle figures for both on-track live handle and total handle from all sources were up markedly every day. Whats unusual is that churn is most often effected by the rate of winning favorites.

But despite an endless parade of longshots, the crowd kept right on sending it in. And somebody kept on hitting the Pick Six. There was only one carryover, into the Monday program. It was hit, paying $146,000-plus. Weird.

Attendance is up, too. The Win And Youre In Breeders Cup promotion not only entertained a national television audience for two hours last Saturday but put fannies in the seats, too. The gate was higher than last year even though the Whitney was moved up a week. Traditionally, Saratoga is still an August, not a July place to be. Twilight Friday, too, was an unqualified success.

Through the first week, attendance is up 14 percent, on-track handle 20 percent and all sources betting revenue increased 13 over last years totals with only one extra race carded, 58 to 57.

The weathers been good, weve had no races come off the turf [there were four last year] and field size has been large, explained NYRA President Charles Hayward. Indeed, there have been 42 more betting interests than there were last year.

Meanwhile, the pre-race Whitney storyline was which horse was capable of stepping up to lead the handicap division in the wake of Invasors retirement. His name is Lawyer Ron, who, as a four-year-old and now in the care of Pletcher, has moved way up on performance figures. He did so again Saturday in a track record performance.

Whether Lawyer Ron did or did he not set a track record was the most beaten dog in Saratoga during Week 1. The time was just too fast, it didnt make sense, said the racing paper of record.

Minutes following the Whitney official, Daily Racing Form staffers charged into Haywards office insisting the time of 1:46.64 was wrong. NYRA had placing judge and official course timer Stephen Foster time in three times off the television monitor before the next race was run. The clocking fell into line every time.

The next morning, Pletcher timed it off a replay monitor and verified it as correct. And its not like he had a vested interest. His Left Bank already owned the nine furlong mark set in 2004.

Another DRF writer weighed in, too, timing the race off a computer replay. Must have used a super-duper fast modem to insure there would be no glitches. Sure enough, the time had to be wrong. After all, a Grade 1 filly on the same card raced the distance in 1:49.19. That individual then reversed his position after re-timing the race from a TV replay.

Foster was back at it again on Monday, only this time before representatives of Equibase, Daily Racing Form and the New York Turf Writers Assn. The posted time checked out within a couple of hundredths on two sets of watches and it was agreed that the new standard of 1:46.64 was accurate and would be recognized.

All this could have been avoided, of course. Grade 1 filly Ginger Punch was a half length behind a six furlong pace of 1:12.83 in the Diana. Lawyer Ron was 1- lengths behind at the three-quarters that went in 1:10.28. Consequently, while running a slower final time, Ginger Punch actually raced her final three-eighths 3/5s of a second faster than Lawyer Ron! That should have been sufficient subjective evidence.

Maybe next time the frame of reference will be Moss Pace instead of Beyer Finals. Until then, arrogance must be its own reward.

Sundays Jim Dandy was big fun. Street Sense is a very popular colt and who doesnt love Calvin Borel? Except, momentarily perhaps, his brother Cecil, who phoned Calvin in the jocks room after the race and called him out. Why didnt you switch sticks to your left hand when he was getting in? You rode him like a bug boy.

Cecil had better be careful. He could lose his best groom with remarks like that.

Now all must await the results of Sundays Haskell to know whether there will be a Preakness redux with Curlin in the Travers, presented by the New York Lottery, whose takeout really needs lowering!

As for Curlin showing up in the Midsummers Derby, I wouldnt hold my breath.

Rags To Riches is back in training! She galloped at Belmont Monday and will ship to Saratoga Tuesday. Pletcher will decide in about a week whether shell be ready for the Alabama, August 18th. Its great having her back, and no small surprise given recent HRI reports.

Saratoga is, of course, synonymous with juvenile racing and weve seen a few promising maiden breakers; Sargent Seattle, War Pass and J Z Warrior, to name three.

If there was one disappointing element it was the retirement of jockey Jose Santos who, at 46, will be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame one week after making his retirement official. Santos fractured his spine in five places in a Feb. 1 spill. The doctor said there would be an 80 percent chance I could wind up in a wheel chair if I continued to ride. Im extremely grateful for the career Ive had.

According to Equibase figures, Santos rode 4.083 winners, 331 of them graded stakes including 91 Grade 1s, total purses of over $187 million and, of course, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness aboard the highly celebrated stable pony, Funny Cide, in 2003.

He might not be the best horse Ive ever ridden, said Santos in the Saratoga press box Monday, but hes on top of the list. When a jockey wins the Kentucky Derby that becomes his favorite horse. Now were both retired.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

I’d Like Some of What Calvin Borel’s Having

Saratoga Springs, NY--July 29, 2007

Dear Diary,

For Calvin Borel this time, the celebration started early.

Perhaps it was the shock of his Kentucky Derby victory that prevented Borel from whopping it up at least until he got his classic winner pulled up on the backside of Churchill Downs.

But not yesterday at Saratoga. Once Borel urged his Derby winner passed C P West, the resolute pacesetter, he turned his whip down, Street Senses ears went up, Borel took a firm hold with his left hand and, with his right, blew kisses to the crowd.

Most racing fans have a love/hate relationship with jockeys. Thats what happens when someone elses decision and athletic ability either win or cost you money.

Win or lose, however, fans who dont enjoy watching Calvin ride Street Sense probably ought be betting their money on something else, like the NBA.

Yesterdays Grade 2 Jim Dandy was routine and yet not without its anxious moments. Anticipating that he would be fresh, Borel and Carl Nafzger sensed the colt would be closer to the early pace.

And he was, about five lengths off the lead, saving ground, of course, but moving comfortably as the leaders raced through sensible but solid fractions.

But there was a moment leaving the half-mile pole when Borel appeared to be nailed to the fence. And Garrett Gomez and Johnny Velazquez and Cornelio Velasquez were doing their best to keep him right where he was.

Fortunately for Borel, Cowtown Cat was unable to keep pace at the precise moment he was seeking running room. He got it, soon after entering the straight.

From there, it was a matter of when Street Sense would forge ahead of C P West. That point came with a sixteenth of a mile left to run.

Street Sense began leaning inward, as he usually does in deep stretch, but never came close to hindering the progress of the Nick Zito-trained frontrunner.

When Street Sense crossed the line, the timer read 1:48.99, well off Lawyer Rons track record set 24 hours earlier in the Whitney. But a final furlong in :12 and a couple of ticks should have him precisely where he needs to be on August 25th.

Win or lose the Travers, Calvin Borel is enjoying his once in a lifetime horse in his first full Saratoga season, and having an awesome time. Ill be happy as long as Mr. Nafzger keeps me riding him.

So will the colt and so will Nafzger as long as Street Sense keeps on doing what he does best.

* * *

With more than $800,000 wagered in the show pool, and over $700,000 of it on the $2.70 winner, a negative show pool cost the house $143,181.

First Race: Mega-dropdown Cool the Economy didnt look great in the parade postward but was a lot better when she showed her class to outgame Sneaky Girl is a stretch-long duel, denying trainer Gary Gullo a natural longshot double, his Any Which Way having taken Saturdays finale at $23... Fourth finisher Tzipi was untenably wide into the stretch but continued willingly in a wide rally; bet back under similar conditions.

Second Race: Another impressive juvenile winner as J Z Warrior, responding most favorably from the addition of blinkers, made two moves on the lead before drawing off to win by 10 widening lengths in 1:10.40. It was the third win at the young meet for Zayat Stables Debuting Hopehopehope should not be a maiden long. After being reserved inside early, he angled out for room midstretch and finished well; note. Favorite Jolie The Cat stalked the winner until they straightened away then was summarily dispatched.

Third Race: Chipotle for all my friends! Bobby Flays Sophies Salad took command leaving the three-sixteenths and drew clear in the short turf sprint. Favorite Tuckahoe Road disappointed from her wide post but the outside didnt deter Stormy Winter, who finished strongly in her turf and seasons debut for Pat Kelly; bet back under similar conditionsFrozen Prospect, unplaced, suffered through a circuitous journey. Find a replay center somewhere and decide for yourself.

Fourth Race: Apparently unbeknownst to us all, upon his retirement Jerry Bailey bequeathed Edgar Prado with his rail pass, especially effective on grass. Saving ground made the difference for Willis Sweet Girl. Madam Manguy was a good second for John Parisella after stalking the pace throughout, holding very gamely late.

Fifth Race: Special-weight state-bred juvenile fillies and first-year sire Hook And Ladder continues on his precocious rounds. Richard Schosberg had her ready and Ramon Dominguez timed it perfectly for a narrow score over the experienced Staid, a willing runnerup. Debuting Ophite was a close-up third for David Donk, whose debut types are not as good as his second-out types; note.

Sixth Race: Bang-bang finish as Banrock and Admiral Bird hit the line together, Banrock taking advantage of the better trip; Admiral Byrd forced to rally very wide through the straight for Team Clement/Gomez. Excellent try from show finisher Chasing the Crown, whose game has been much improved since trying turf, nearly overcoming wide draw. Trainer Wesley Ward, in midst of career year, nearly got it done with his first Spa starter of the season.

Seventh Race: Another winner for white hot Clement shed, only this time with JJ Castellano, not Gomez, as Breezing gets up in final strides over Lets Fly Away, longshot runner making second start for Mike Hernandez, who gave leg up to Dominguez. Ramon was forced to alter course to rail in midstretch, just missing. Much improved Wheelaway filly now off a change-of-pace rally performance and should be set for best; bet back.

Eighth Race: Fast working Seventeen Love found a huge opening on the fence, shot through, and won by a comfortable margin over strong finishing runnerup Rizzis Twist. Favorite Classic Flirt was eased through the stretch beneath Gomez who, the first race notwithstanding, had a rough day. He did the end day on top of the leader board, his seven winners one more than Johnny V.

Tenth Race: JV took the finale with Whats Your Point for Rick Schosberg, whose horses are running well at this meet. Favorite Short Fuse Tara sat comfortable behind a fast pace but offered nothing in the drive. It appears David Jacobsons horses race better at inflated odds.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cup Preps Today; Travers Prep Tomorrow

Saratoga Springs, NY--July 28,2007

Dear Diary,

The Derby winner runs tomorrow!

As opposed to todays extremely contentious Whitney, I didnt need a road map to find the favorite for the Jim Dandy.

Kentucky Derby hero Street Sense is the 2-5 overnight choice to win and, on paper, looks impossible to beat. His talent and class are proven. His performance figures tower over his rivals.

If he runs, that is.

Oh, hell very likely run, but not without some pre-race drama regarding the possibility of a wet track.

Hes a very valuable horse, trainer Carl Nafzger felt compelled to remind us. Hes handled everything. But the ultimate decision to run will be up to Mr. Tafel and Darley, he said Friday.

Isnt it bad enough that Street Sense and all other horses sold for stupid money to foreign interests are whisked away to the breeding shed before their time? Now controlling interests know whats best for their horses race schedules, too?

Someone tell me the last time Nafzger made an irresponsible decision concerning one of his horses? Skipping the Belmont notwithstanding, of course.

Street Sense looks like a layover, obviously. But its not like there arent other interesting horses.

Shug McGaughey has been waiting to race Sightseeing around two turns since his somewhat surprisingly strong effort in the Wood Memorial. Everything about this colt indicates that two turns is his best game.

Sightseeing showed high class winning the G2 Peter Pan despite being hindered by soft fractions. He had little chance in the Dwyer when Any Given Saturday put on an awesome display of brilliance.

Undefeated Tiz Wonderful is returning from an injury. When last seen at 2, he was defeating Any Given Saturday and eventual Blue Grass winner Dominican in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

Tiz Wonderful has been training with extreme purpose, Steve Asmussen obviously intending to double-team Street Sense eventually with this colt and, of course, Preakness hero Curlin.

C P West is making his first start since finding himself on the lead in the Belmont, a race Nick Zito probably would have skipped in a perfect world. His Preakness proved that he belonged with the divisions best.

C P Wests last two works were very strong, unusual in that Zito worked him on the main track instead of Oklahoma. The colt did, after all, break his maiden on this surface in his racing debut.

* * *

If numbers mean anything, and they do, Twilight Racing at Saratoga is here to stay. Compared to 2006, Fridays attendance went from 16,167 to 18,795. On track, live handle jumped from $2.9 million to $3.7 while all sources went from $13.8 to almost $15.8 million.

Some restaurant owners already are complaining about lost business as the races end shortly after 7 p.m. I think they should try to remember that if it were not for thoroughbred racing

First Race: First polytrack result of the day, four horses under a blanket across the finish line, with Private Lap winning it on the re-bob from 38-1 Wood Winner, in front a jump before the wire Sir Jackie came off the rail in midstretch but hung, no excuses. Fire Hero finished well too late; note. Bailero lost too much ground throughout; if you liked him yesterday, bet back.

Second Race: Would never have seen this result two years ago; Zito and Bill Mott finishing 1-2 with first-time starters. Winning War Pass looks like a good prospect, repelling challenges then drawing off late in 1:10.26... Runnerup Commandeered chased from third in the three-path throughout and continued willingly; a good race to build on. Globalization probably needs a field he can boss from end-to-end. Last time, he was used hard early. This time he chased but lugged in when the serious running began Slews Tiznow finished well late while ridden out in deep stretch after angling off rail deep stretch; follow progress.

Third Race: Trainer Dale Romans off to an excellent start, this time getting it done with Thorn Song beneath under-appreciated grass rider Eddie Castro. Import Chief Running Bear, making U.S. debut for Graham Motion, was dead on the board and didnt raise a hoof. Giant Chieftain got a lot of play for the hot Stanley Hough barn; the result decidedly cool.

Fourth Race:Fresh Episode stalked the pace, took clear command into the stretch and withstood all challengers, paying $97. Any questions?

Fifth Race: Stats get you beat and stats make you rich, sometimes all at once! Jimmy Jerkens is an almost obscene 38 percent effective with second-time starters. His favored Forest of Dreams took a clear lead into the stretch but stopped. Meanwhile, Wally Dollase is a profitable 28 percent with new acquisitions. Blackfoot Trail made the last run successfully beneath Cornelio Velasquez, giving him a natural double, returning $63... The victory completed an early Pick 4 of $163,000+. The exacta, however, was a bit light. Holla Bend paid $26.40 to place, the exacta paying $1,486. Rule of thumb, win times place, was $1,662...Fourth finisher Mikes Dream Team finished fast too late; follow.

Sixth Race: Bulletin! Bulletin! Favorite wins at Saratoga! Read all about it: Monster Drive wins game stretch battle from Zipperoo! Pays $4.90, keys exacta worth 19.60!

Grade 1 Diana: Let the winning and in-ing begin! Not that you ever were going to keep My Typhoon out of the Filly & Mare Turf anyway. But the promotion is not for serious fans, only casual ones, and anything that shines a light should not be dimmed Speaking of Castro on the turf, here he is winning a Grade 1 with a well judged ride aboard the very consistent My Typhoon, giving Mott a natural double Argentina finished strongly for place in her five-year-old debut; will be a serious threat atop the division from this point forward; note Favored Makderah, not quite ready for prime time, settled for third.

Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt: The only surprising element in the victory by Diabolical was the generous price ($7.00). This colt has come to hand as a four-year-old for Steve Klesaris, who won his second on the card, as did jockey Mario Pino. Attilas Storm and Commentator hooked up as expected, through splits of :21.74 and :44.45. Diabolical took final command in midstretch and outfinished an extremely game Attilas Storm and the late running Simon Pure in 1:08.67. Looks like the sprint division has a new leaderCouldnt understand the fuss over Benny The Bull. Why 5-2? Commentator? Im afraid he cant do it at this level anymore.

Grade 1 Go for Wand: Bobby Frankel was concerned about the 9 furlong distance for Ginger Punch. No problem, stalking Teammate until ready then she was gone. By six widening lengths. If Allen Jerkens couldnt kill any giants, he did manage a 2-3 finish, as Miss Shop outran her pacesetting stablemate in the final sixteenth.

Grade 1 Whitney: Lawyer Ron! 1:46.64! Wow! Post 11 was no problem. Neither was a deep contentious group. Stalking three wide always comfortable beneath Johnny Velazquez. Lawyer Ron took command in upper stretch then drew off powerfully in the final furlong to put daylight between himself and the extraordinarily game runnerup, the pacesetting Wandering Boy, who must have appreciated any moisture remaining in the surface Diamond Stripes was a willing albeit non-threatening third. Interesting to see where and when Todd Pletcher runs the winner back. Hell need lots of recovery time following that heat!

Eleventh Race: Gary Gullo, trained-turned-agent-turned-trainer again, takes the finale with a new acquisition, Any Which Way, over a dogged Saratoga Kaz. Royal Livingston, following a promising debut, finished gamely late along the fence and should continue to progress. Mor Chances, fourth, finished too late; follow progress.

Bias Report: Track fast (damp), played honestly. Turf: Firm, no pronounced bias.

Written by John Pricci

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