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

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Stars Shine: Good Horses = Good Racing = Good Business

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 21, 2016—

Dear Diary,

Who said you can’t go home again? Like New Orleans, Saratoga is a place you feel more than see. It’s as if you’ve never left, especially given five decades of prior experience.

In Saratoga, the horse that has the right of way at all times. Posted signs virtually everywhere tells you as much.

As for Saturday’s racing, including the final two legs of a special Pick 4 wager that combined three Grade 1 stakes and a Grade 2, the final two legs at Del Mar, was spectacular.

Saturday was the kind of day when you feel sorry for all those people who just don’t get it about the game. Even the non-stakes where highly competitive, featuring many tight finishes.

Betting notwithstanding, it boggles the brain that sports fans seem unwilling to appreciate the athleticism involved in the sport of Thoroughbred racing; the equines, the jockeys and, most significantly, the interaction between them.

On sun-baked afternoons from coast to coast, two SoCal based horses, Songbird and California Chrome, were so dominant they made graded stakes-winning rivals appear inferior by comparison.

Questions were answered. Songbird, indeed, can carry her speed a mile and a quarter, even if it took 26.99 seconds to close the deal.

Songbird, of course, is now 10-for-10, and the Alabama was another “margin” victory: first by 7.

While Songbird dominated at the end, she won ridden out, not handily or easily. Mike Smith was taking no chances, giving her some left-handed encouragement in the stretch, the final reminder with a sixteenth to go.

Songbird: Before...

However, the performance and ride of the day, occurred cross-country. California Chrome, the top-ranked horse in America, justified his #1 ranking with an exclamation point victory in the Pacific Classic.

Jockey Victor Espinoza blasted out of the gate from his pole position and altered course to the outside entering the first turn as his main rivals, Beholder and Dortmund, chased from close range curling into the bend.

The wide tack forced Espinoza’s rivals into make a surprising, early decision, likely freezing them for a moment, wondering what Espinoza would do next.

From that point, Espinoza let the big chestnut roll and moved back closer to the rail. Down the backside, Gary Stevens on Beholder tried to put some pressure on ‘Chrome’.

Espinoza would have none of that, pulling the rug out from beneath his rival’s hooves with little more than five furlongs remaining.

After settling into a rating hold a second time, Espinoza tripped up his rivals once again, gaining separation at headstretch, blowing the race wide open.

Into the stretch and after straightening away, Espinoza looked back four times, twice over each shoulder, for competition that never materialized.

In midstretch the big powerful chestnut simply bounded away with a 23.20-fast opener, 47.29, 1:11.22, 1:35.69 and 24.44-fast home, for a final of 2:00.13.

It’s premature at this point, but California Chrome vs. Frosted looks like the Classic matchup everyone wants to see come the first Saturday in November.

...And After

Del Mar handled a record $25 million+ for the day while Saratoga did over $26 million…

THE LONGEST DAY: Post time for the last race on Saturday’s 12-race card was 7:28 pm. First post at Saratoga was 1 pm; you do the math. It’s just too long. To wit:

I brought my computer out to the car before the Fourstardave so I could go paddocking unencumbered for the back-to-back Grade 1s. I was astonished at the amount of people filing out the gate before the two best races on the card, including an undefeated champion, were staged.

Suddenly, on these long race days, maybe running the best races earlier in the day is the way to go. Aesthetically and traditionally I don’t like it, but if tracks are interested in “selling” the sport

We predicted that this would be Chad Brown’s year if the weather cooperated, but he’s been winning and placing with every type runner imaginable. (To be fair, we said the same thing last year).

MIND-BLOWING STAT: After saddling the first race winner ON Sunday, Chad was tied at 29 victories each--with jockey Johnny Velazquez! He’s up 11 on Todd Pletcher, who’s suddenly running out of racetrack.

The Ortiz brothers are in a battle at the top with Jose’s 35 wins leading Irad by one as of Saturday night.

Javier Castellano, aboard the Fourstardave runnerup, A Lot, claimed foul against Joel Rosario for alleged interference at the start when the winning Tourist crossed over to the inside, forcing Castellano to check.

The stewards correctly viewed the claim as an “incident of the start” and allowed the result to stand. The irony, you ask?

Castellano, ranked third at the Spa with 31 winners, crosses over in the homestretch drive more than any other rider we can conjure, and that tack affects the winning outcome far more often than does a problem at the break.

Fourstardave winner Tourist, meanwhile, was very good; stalking and drawing out despite a significant stumble on the far turn.

COAST-TO-COAST PICK 4: Considering the short lead time needed for promotion, the special Pick 4 from Saratoga and Del Mar handled a worthy $618,380. The announcement was made Thursday afternoon.

A multi-track Pick 4 seems like an interesting promotional tool to spur handle and interest. Tracks wishing to participate just should get their schedules, logistics and rules settled well in advance.

Also, the fact that NYRA’s Late Pick 4 with its sizable guarantees and 10% bonus to NYRA Bets winners, which properly mitigates takeout, needs scheduling alterations to be stressed significantly at the time that a Pick 4 special event is announced.

The Late Pick 4 traditionally is offered on the final four races on the card but yesterday’s sequence began a race earlier, a fact that was lost on many bettors Saturday, myself included.

Photos by Toni Pricci

Written by John Pricci

Comments (11)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

On the Road Again, Almost

LIC, NY, August 14, 2016—

Dear Diary,

It’s not Saratoga yet but we’re collecting out tack and will be on our way sometime in the next 48 hours.

On Saturday we kicked back some, made a few wagers and settle in to watch “Saratoga Live” for the first time. It’s unavailable in SoFla. We have FS1 in our area, not FS2.

But it almost didn’t matter, because it rained. And when summer storms appear in Saratoga, lots can happen, none of it very good.

But I, and the NYRA, got lucky. But the association deserves credit for creating a Grade 1 double wager featuring the newly upgraded Fourstardave—thank you Wise Dan—and the storied Arlington Million.

The Million was the first international seven-figure turf event in the U.S. and instant classic—thank you John Henry.

It would have been very successful, judging by the wide open nature of both races, but then storm clouds appeared on the horizon.

Because the storm figured to linger, racing was stopped at mid-card. Even the Fasig Tipton sales scheduled that night were canceled.

The lucky part was that “Saratoga Live,” looking to turn NYRA Bets into a true international ADW platform, dispatched Gabby Gaudet and along with Maggie Wolfendale and on-air handicapping talent had Arlington Park covered like a glove.

Just like Florent Geroux and Chad Brown, who, when racing ended Saturday, was five wins ahead of Todd Pletcher, 21-16, at Saratoga. But it was Geroux’s star that shined most brightly.

Interesting that it was Geroux, who, although “struggling at Saratoga,” would steal the show in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights.

Before Saratoga started, we guessed that in the end it would be Brown’s year to lead all Saratoga trainers—it’s not over by a longshot—but that “Flo” would make the jockey’s race interesting.

That hasn’t happened, through no fault of Geroux’s. Yes, the Saratoga jock room is as deep with talent as it has ever been, maybe the deepest ever, but Geroux is world class and neither he nor his agent have been able to breakthrough.

That’s because New York, like California was back in the day, apparently is now a closed shop. And maybe that has something to do with the fact that New York agents can represent two journeyman.

To me, there’s something wrong when four of five agents can tie up entire races.

Anyway, fields are larger in Saratoga than they are many times at Aqueduct or Belmont Park. How trainers do not have Doug Bredar near the top of their speed dial is unfathomable.

Just to be clear, I have no dogs in any fight but, hey, that’s racing, right?

And so by the end of a very different day of racing television, in which the production more than amply survived a God-made change in programming, all parties acquitted themselves well, especially Geroux.

Graded stakes victories, of which he has more than any other rider in the country this year, came back-to-back-to-back. Starting with the Grade 3 American St. Leger, then successive Grade 1s in the Secretariat and Beverly D.

Starting his day with a claiming victory, Geroux got his fifth in the finale, courtesy of the stewards and the stretch antics of Try Your Luck; half of the races on the 10-race card.

Two of the wins were aboard Mike Maker trainees, who deserves props for keeping The Big Hoss in career form virtually all year.

Geroux also won two for Brown with Beach Patrol, the trip horse of the Spa meet, and Sea Calisi, yet another top Europe-to-America purchase by owner Martin Schwartz.

The two Saratoga stakes, Adirondack Special and Fourstardave will be brought back next weekend. I hear Geroux has a few open calls.

Written by John Pricci

Comments (17)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Terri’s Song

"And I knew just as surely, just as clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last…

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood, and runs over rocks from the basement of time.

"On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

“I am haunted by waters.” --Norman Maclean

LONG ISLAND CITY, NY, August 12, 2016—

Dear Diary,

I’ve been looking forward to flying into Albany International on Tuesday in advance of 15 glorious days in Saratoga Springs, a homecoming in more ways than one.

But home is where the heart is and this weekend, my heart, body and soul, and my immediate family's, are in New York City to attend funeral services for my beloved cousin, Theresa.

As the only child of John and Nancy, and for as long as my childhood memories can transport me back in time, I can say that Theresa, the only child of Frank and Isabel, was the sister I never had.

Though a few years younger, she always kept up, from the time we were kids playing together on holidays and Sunday visits to this past spring on Wood weekend.

Don't know how appropriate the term would be today but back in the day people would describe Terri as a tomboy. Always fun, she was tough and fluent in many sports, a joyful spirit with a heart the size of all five boroughs. Her generosity was boundless.

Now, just like that, she's gone and I don’t understand it, even after having five days to process it. I’ve lost too many friends in recent years; contemporaries. Today I thank God that I have two healthy daughters.

Until last weekend, I was blessed never to have experienced anything like this kind of loss. Sadly, I can now empathize with anyone who has lost a younger loved one taken too soon. It’s just so profoundly sad.

I'm fully aware that the service this website hopes to provide is akin to walking into one of life’s candy stores, an escape from today’s often brutal reality. What could be better than complete immersion into horse racing and Thoroughbred handicapping, the mother of all brain teasers?

And so I thank God for horse racing, too, but I’m at a loss to understand His grand plan. Maybe this happened because my Aunt Isabel, Terri’s mom, died only months ago. Maybe because her dad, Frank, died 17 years ago, to the day.

My aunt and uncle, you see, was very active in the daily life of St. Rita's parish in Long Island City. If you were a fan of “The Sopranos,” you know this church. Filmed at Silvercup Studios in Queens, many of the series' church interiors were shot at St. Rita’s.

Maybe mother and daughter missed each other so much that He decided to reunite them sooner rather than later. I was raised Roman Catholic but I’m lapsed now, like many other Catholics these days.

Looking at the state of the world, can anyone be blamed for having just a little less faith in a loving God?

I'm sorry to rain on everyone’s Saratoga parade like this but I’m stunned stupid. I feel selfish and guilty about that, but I don’t suffer senselessness very well, not when a righteous person is taken from a world that needs more people like Terri, not less.

So, at this moment, I better understand what helplessness feels like: It’s about not having the type of energy that only anger seems to provide.

A brief horse racing aside: On balance, I have a pretty fair record when it comes to picking winners of the Kentucky Derby but have slumped the past three years.

Terri would call, as usual, asking me if I had “any Derby tips?”

On May's first Sunday, the morning after Mohaymen finished fourth in this year's Derby, Terri called to say “don't worry, one of these days you’re going to get it right.”

“Lose my number,” I told her, "you're bad luck to a good hunting dog," as the race-trackers like to say.

From early holiday afternoons spent in Rainey Park with other Pricci family cousins, Josef and Billy, we teased each other mercilessly. You can only do that in a loving, spiritual relationship.

Well, I love you, cuz, and I want everyone in my world to know this with today's Saratoga Diary entry.

Peace be with you, Theresa, strength to your loving Margaret, and tell Aunt Isabel and Uncle Frank I was asking for them. You will live forever in my heart.

Meanwhile, the candy store will reopen next week. I’ll be looking forward to seeing the mighty filly Songbird next weekend, her spirit soaring in the Alabama.

Written by John Pricci

Comments (9)

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