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

Friday, August 03, 2007

Demon Speed On Display All Weekend

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 3, 2007

Dear Diary,

Handicappers headed to the East Coasts destination tracks this weekend will find one thing in common: Demon Speed.

Tomorrows Grade 1 Darley Test Stakes at Saratoga for three-year-old fillies has attracted a dozen fast fillies and six of the them would rather be on the lead than be President.

The best of these, of course, is Dream Rush, a filly that has already earned her Grade 1 title by virtue of a comprehensive victory in the Prioress at Belmont Park, July 7.

She probably wouldnt have run in it if it werent a grade one, said her trainer, Rick Violette, earlier this week. But this is the one we want, its an important race, said the horseman having a career year.

Such is the esteem in which the Test is held. In all, seven of the fillies are graded stakes winners and two are graded stakes placed. Of the remaining two, one is undefeated, the other has earned the best performance figure in the field. A true Grade 1, surely.

But the marquee race of the weekend will not be run in the mountains. It will be run at the shore.

Sundays $1 million Grade 1 Haskell at nine furlongs drew a field of eight, including three confirmed speedsters, three pace pressers and two late-rally types, the dynamics almost guaranteeing one hell of a horse race. Not to mention the horses, of course.

Curlin, who many believe is the best three-year-old in America, drew post six and was installed the even-money favorite. Obviously, his record has earned him that role. The race shape will make him a tough out.

Triple Crown rival Hard Spun drew right next to him in the gate at position seven while the very speedy Preakness pace horse, Xchanger, drew the extreme outside that will necessitate a fast start from the barrier.

Hard Spun blew out in a sharp :34 and reunites with Mario Pino, who we believe was somewhat unjustly criticized for his Preakness ride. I didnt see much improvement in the Belmont, dead-panned trainer Larry Jones regarding the woeful rating displayed by Garrett Gomez.

Gomez will ride impressive Dwyer winner Any Given Saturday for Todd Pletcher from post one. Pletcher termed the Dwyer effort a breakthrough performance and seeing certainly was believing. A tactical speedster with kick, he figures to sit a perfect trip saving ground in behind the speed.

The wild card is the undefeated local hero, the 3-for-3 Cable Boy. He will be tested for class with this bunch, obviously, but any horse that can run a mile-and-70-yards in 1:38 3/5 then prep in :57 1/5 for the Haskell should not be dismissed out of hand.

And right in behind the speed and the stalkers will come Curlin, whose stated purpose in addition to the purse is getting a race over the track in preparation for the Breeders Cup Classic in late October. Then will come ralliers Imawildandcrazyguy, fourth in the Kentucky Derby, and local runner Reatas Shadow.

One interested observer will be Carl Nafzger, trainer of Street Sense. When queried about Curlin, Nafzger said hes a formidable foe. Nafzger has that on good authority.

* * *

Fifth Race: Unlike the Rumspringa situation earlier in the meet, when refunds were issued after it was determined that horse was in the grasp of an assistant starter, no refunds were ordered when it appeared the same fate had befallen Tobruk. Jockey Johnny Velazquez told the stewards he wasnt sure if he was compromised at the start, yet Tobruk broke with his head cocked left while apparently in the grasp, spotting the field many lengths, his chances virtually eliminated. The Rumspringa scenario has led to a lawsuit involving the principal owner and the NYRA, Steve Sigler alleging that since the assistant starter admitted culpability, via a public apology, the claim of Rumspringa should not have been voided since it was an NYRA employee that was the cause of the horses non-starter status.

The NYRA is classy enough to offer refunds to bettors when incidents like this occur. That is not standard procedure at all racing venues. Apparently the popular clich, in regards to the Rumspringa scenario, is true: No good deed goes unpunished Meanwhile, Kick Up Your Heels won the race at inflated odds beneath a deft Edgar Prado. Eibar Coa tried to drive favorite Tsunamic through a non-existent opening on the fence. Thus far, no suits have been brought against Coa.

First Race: In the end it came down to Tahoe Warrior, who took command soon after entering the straight, and Great Point, who slipped through along the fence in midstretch. That deft move by Julien Leparoux won it for Great Point and trainer Nick Zito.

Second Race: After his antics at headstretch, no question Rebounded was much the best, reaching even terms with another well meant newcomer, Caravel, in mid-stretch before drawing clear. Strike It Ritz finished up nicely for third completing all first-timer trifecta. Not unusual in that its Saratoga; a little strange since it was at a mile and a sixteenth on the turf. The other, experienced half of the Pletcher entry (Strike It Ritz) was dismal. But figure Caravel wont be a maiden for long; bet back under similar conditions.

Third Race: Good training job by Steve Asmussen, having Royal Moment ready off a one-year-old absence. And expected, he was, as the 2-1 choice, holding off Bold Mon from the continued live Schosberg shed. It was the winners third victory in four Spa starts.

Fourth Race: Rick Dutrow strikes off the claim with Predate, winning on the raise following a $50,000 claim at Churchill Downs. Predate was so fast leaving there he made the start look bad and he took control throughout. Class drop and experience probably helped Ellies Buddha, a good, albeit non-threatening, runnerup.

Sixth Race: Pletcher finally gets his first juvenile debut winner with Il Girasole, who withstood several stretch challenges in game fashion. Wonder what the winter book odds would have been that the score would come in a turf route? Could have gotten out for the meet on that one.

Seventh Race: Velazquez was unseated at the start aboard Gaelic Storm but was unhurt. No truth that he told the stewards he was unsure that he had fallen More tough luck for a turf favorite as Leo got bottled up and shook clear much too late. Kiaran McLauglins barn continues to go well as National Captain was unaffected racing in two aluminum pads.

The Honorable Miss: Burmilla got a gift. For a Grade 2, six furlong stakes to go in :23.03 and :45.90 early is a joke, but apparently Rafael Bejarano is the only jock smart enough to be laughing. The filly came home in a worthy :23.61, but she should have under the circumstances. Favorite Miss Macy Sue was in a jackpot throughout, to put it kindly, not a good job by Edgar.

Ninth Race: Gilded Thread, first-time Tom Bush, took the finale, paying $37.20 and keying a $26,415 superfecta and, of course, the Pick Six was hit, returning $79,957. There will be a quiz on Monday. Goodnight.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Gold and Roses, Shakespeare’s Return, Highlights Spa Program

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 2, 2007

Dear Diary,

In terms of the way news eventually reaches our desk, today New York State settled all family business.

First, Gov. Eliot Spitzer vetoed legislation that would have made it easier for racetracks and OTBs to allow rebates, citing that the bill was poorly drafted and confusing, making implementation difficult.

Ever see an IRS form?

Spitzer is somewhat correct in that even the bills sponsors say there is no clear standard. Apparently, setting one is out of the question.

The governor thinks the bill unnecessary because the State Racing and Wagering Board already had given permission to NYRA and NYCOTB to conduct rewards programs. But it goes beyond just the rewards programs.

Rewards can take many shapes and sizes. You can reward customers with a bonus on their winnings, provide services and merchandise, or lower takeout. Politically, that last idea wouldnt sit well with the OTBs and the counties. And the governor has an approval rating that now might be even lower than Mr. Bushs.

Mr. Spitzer said hed like to help the tracks compete with other betting platforms, but that such needs should be tempered with a need to enact necessary laws that can be understood.

Clearly, this was no time to be proactive.

The governor did, however, sign the measure that provides the New York Thoroughbred Horsemens Association with an increased share of the purse fund, from 1% to 2%. Good news for the benevolent work horsemen provide their backstretch workers.

* * *

At last, relief is the on the way for horseplayers!

TrackNet Media Group, the new strategic alliance formed by Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment will now offer rebates to bettors currently doing business with two betting companies; Elite Turf Club and Racing and Gaming Services.

Theres a small catch, however: Your personal handle for the year must be one million dollars!

You read that correctly.

Of the announcement, an RGS spokesman said he was happy his company would do whatever it could to help the tracks. What he really meant was were happy that our clients will still be able to bet on races from Churchill Downs, Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Fair Grounds and Pimlico.

* * *

The SRWB also approved a measure that would make pre-and post-race blood samples permanent as well as approving new tests to detect total carbon dioxide levels. Both measures are meant to deter milkshaking, a process that helps rid the body of CO2.

Also, it no longer will be possible to use more than one medication in the same syringe, a measure the SRWB hopes will avoid contaminated samples. Suspensions will also be accompanied by fines of $2,500 per day for the duration of the suspension.

Finally, authorities appear to be getting serious. Heres hoping.

In an unrelated ruling, mutuel clerks will no longer be able to bet while on the job, either on the live or simulcast product.

Appearances do matter.

* * *

Trainer Roy Sedlacek received a 15-day suspension and $1,000 fine when his horse, The Village Vicar, tested positive for Acepromazine, a depressant. The Village Vicar finished second in the fourth race at Belmont Park, June 8th.

According to a poll presently being conducted on the Thoroughbred Times website, horseplayers, responding to the effective lowering of takeout to 11.4% at the upcoming Laurel meet, said they would be inclined to wager on those races, 53% to 46%.

Youll have to do better than that, people.

First Race: Rum Squall received a well timed move from Xavier Aizpuru to take the opener, the Jonathan Kiser Novice, an overnight stakes for the up-and-over set.

Second Race: Two special-weight juveniles making their debuts received strong betting support and one of them won it. Irish Smoke, bet early and late, stormed down the three path to take the lead from longshot first-timer Syrianas Cat inside the sixteenth pole and drew off like a nice filly; follow her progress. Runnerup, meanwhile, hails from a good second-out barn; note. Constance, heavily bet but a gate scratch at Belmont Park, was the favorite again but was used hard chasing the pace while wide throughout. She should benefit from the race.

The John Morrissey: Gold and Roses is just a damn good state-bred sprinter, taking this overnight stakes in 1:16.01, drawing off beneath a confident Garrett Gomez. Field tried to pin Tom Bush trainee to the fence but GG bulled his way up to battle for the lead on the backside. That was the dance. Bush said the next start is likely the General Douglas MacArthur when racing returns downstate, September 7th. While not quite as big as the negative pool created by Street Sense, Gold and Roses attracted $186K out of $209K in show wagers.

Fourth Race: Doesnt Bill Mott get beat anymore? After his big day Wednesday, he wins with Queen Joanne making her three-year-old debut; another winner for owner Ahmed Zayat whos having a big meet himself. She looked good sprinting home late and likely will handle preliminary allowance types next out. Impressionism finished well late and wont be a maiden long; bet back. Co-favorite A. P. Test has hindered by her outside draw under these conditions; follow.

Fifth Race: Sugarless and Square Dancing were battling it out in midstretch until the latter began to dominate. Emphatically.

Sixth Race: Raceland did all the work but Irish Majesty got the money. Raceland raced Little Cliff into defeat in a torrid duel then battled the winner only to succumb well inside the final sixteenth; bet back, with sufficient recovery time. Hes a Pioneer had a good trip until stacked up four across the track in mid-far turn; note.

Seventh Race: Not often you see a two-speed number in a two-turn turf race. But Tiverton went to the front, setting a controlled pace throughout. Stalked all the way by Loconia, the latter outgamed the leader in deep stretch for Team Motion/Dominguez. Santas Gold finished well late with a wide rally, but had little chance to make an impression when the leaders were finally set down.

Eighth Race: Shakespeares simply a pretty amazing racehorse. He showed no rust despite returning from an October, 2005 layoff for new trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, outkicking a sharp and talented Art Master in deep stretch, missing the inner turf track record for a mile by 3/5s of a second. Dont mean to be skeptical but will await his next start, presumably vs. better, which will be a true indication of where he currently stands physically. Today certainly was a remarkable first step.

Ninth Race: Southern Prince simply bottomed out the field, harness style; :22.75 and :44.42, racing 5- furlongs on very firm turf in 1:01.60, running to his works. The second speed, Storm N Lightning, finished second for the live Schosberg barn as favorite Metro Meteor finished a willing third.

Bias Report: Track fast, no discernable bias. Turf firm, played honestly.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Polytrack Trouble In Paradise; Mott, Desormeaux Star At Spa

Saratoga Springs, NY--August 1, 2007

Dear Diary,

Theres trouble in paradise, the West Coast version, anyway. Or, you could look at it another way: Del Mars loss is Saratogas gain.

Two planes loaded with classy horses from the Ahmed Zayat stable are shipping from Del Mar to Saratoga because Zayat is displeased with the inconsistent nature of the newly installed Polytrack surface at Del Mar.

Zayat believes, as do many other horsemen, that theres a vast difference between how the surface plays in the mornings as compared to when the temperatures heat up in the afternoons.

No one is against safety, Zayat told Hank Wesch of the San Diego Union-Tribune. You need a surface that is both safe and maintains the integrity of racing. You cant take the speed out.

Battle lines are being drawn. Those who have no problem with the surface are saying its the speed-crazy trainer of Zayats horses, Bob Baffert, thats the problem.

He has to learn to train on it just like the rest of us, said rival trainer Mike Mitchell. And Im no genius about it I dont hear anyone other than Bob complaining.

Baffert has won seven training titles at the track where the rubber meets the surf.

But Bafferts not alone. Although he hasnt complained, trainer John Sherriffs entered his speedy A P Xcellent--second by a nose to Lava Man in the Hollywood Gold Cup on Cushion Track most recently--on the turf rather than on the Polytrack surface thats been cutting the legs out from under speed horses.

Richard Migliore, in town last weekend to ride Fairbanks for Todd Pletcher in the Whitney Handicap, loves Del Mar, but doesnt like the Polytrack surface either. He is, however, a fan of Hollywood Parks Cushion Track.

Polytracks record for safety at Del Mar has been impressive and that is the first order of business. There were 18 breakdowns at Del Mar last year, 10 during the running of races. There have been no significant injuries reported so far this year.

Zayat has shipped 25 horses out of the Del Mar barn area with most of them headed here. Consequently, Baffert will be a bi-coastal trainer for the next five weeks.

Truth is that no two Polytrack surfaces are created equal. Turfway Park and, to a certain extent, Woodbine, has played more honestly than the versions installed at Keeneland and now Del Mar.

While there were some issues with Cushion Track at the end of the recent Hollywood meet, that surface clearly has been the most fair in terms of running style, more closely resembling the American style or racing where speed is king.

Not an inveterate West Coast player myself, my personal handle at Hollywood last winter was much higher than it ever had been, such was the honest nature of Cushion Track racing. Santa Anita strongly considered converting to Polytrack but decided to install Cushion Track in time for its Oak Tree fall meet. Wise choice, especially since it brings continuity to the Southern California circuit in greater Los Angeles.

The difference between the Polytrack surface from morning to afternoon might as well be the difference between night and day. Its fine in the mornings until the Southern California sun turns Polytrack into a kind of rubber soup.

While artificial surfaces have virtually eliminated sloppy tracks, weather still can wreck havoc. Some trainers on occasion have resorted to applying cooking spray and other lubricants to a horses foot to help their runners gain traction.

Safety is a primary concern, of course. But as Zayat says, so is the integrity of racing. Natural elements are one thing. But surfaces themselves should not possess a natural bias that favors one running style over another.

Yes, its a learning process for everyone. Weve all heard the spin. But no trainer, no matter how gifted, can train a horse one way in the morning and expect similar results over virtually a different surface.

And we still have not learned anything about the extent of soft tissue injuries, reportedly more prevalent on artificial tracks than on conventional surfaces. Further, theres much empirical data suggesting that horseplayers have not found the means to make the proper adjustments.

And thats a group the industry might want to listen to. They vote with their dollars.

First Race: All wagers on even money favorite Rumspringa were refunded when it was discovered he was in the grasp of an assistant starter at the break. Jockey Ramon Dominguez was unseated but unhurt. Meanwhile, the loose horse impeded Sweet Grass Creek twice and forced Kent Desormeaux aboard Explosive Count to check approaching the quarter pole; follow both, Sweet Grass Creek in particular.

Second Race: Experience counted in baby race for maiden claimers, Double Or Nothing getting D. Wayne Lukas off the duck at the meet. Fuffy made strong late move down the center of the track beneath Jorge Chavez for Jamie Sanders, a good runnerup effort; note.

Third Race: Over-bet Trendy Lady was raced into defeat by Fast Deal, who placed gamely behind Cuaba, a strong late runner from down the center of the track; Bill Mott having a strong meet. Meanwhile, third finisher Veneti finished well too late and should benefit from the effort; bet back under similar conditions.

Fourth Race: Rasta Farian withstood interference and still out-gamed Sweet Ransom, who was subsequently, and justifiably, disqualified; second winner of the meet for Michael Matz, both on turf. No excuses for loose leader Beau Dare, who has shown little development since turning four; note

Fifth Race: Dallas Stewart improved on his good record with second-time starters as Georgetown justified his low odds in debut. Burgenland came from far back beneath Garrett Gomez for the place; two two-year-old starts for Sanders and two seconds. Well backed Elusive Schemes was rank in the post parade; note.

Sixth Race: Pegase Jim finished strongly to take short turf sprint, pacesetting Tourn Again holding gamely. Lemon Shore finished well too late, third; follow. Wild Quake chased the pace while racing wide throughout; note.

Seventh Race: The next time someone asks what was the last horse you saw break through the gate before the start and win, tell them it was Tight Grip on the grass at Saratoga. The fastest horse on performance figures finished smartly from off the pace to win his turf debut. Kaishu was used up alternating on the lead; note. Peace Mon finished very well too late, just missing; bet back vs. state-bred maidens.

The Fleet Indian: First of two overnight stakes and the smart money was, well, smart. Showing no aversion to a second turn, Laurens Tizzy stalked the leader, moved easily to the lead at headstretch and blew the race open, driving hard to the finish. Shady Lane finished strongly too late for the place; note.

The De La Rose: It was only an overnighter but know that Fantastic Shirls going to win something important this season. It could come here, a course she obviously loves, or at the mile distance which she loves more than this course. She absolutely flew home beneath Johnny V. who guided her brilliantly between horses to beat me, er, Amansara, in the final strides. Four-year-old Fantastic Light filly really coming into her own for McLaughlin; follow her progress. Meanwhile, the runnerup should benefit from her first start of the year for George Weaver; bet her back, too.

Tenth Race: Did we mention Mott was having a great meet? He had Ruban Bleu tight off the brief freshening and Desormeaux rated her brilliantly in front, giving him a riding triple. Tears I Cry raced well enough with the aluminum pad on. Prom Party lost ground on the backside but had no pop when the test came in a disappointing performance.

Bias Report: Track fast, no discernable bias. Turf (very) firm, played honestly.

Written by John Pricci

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