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 03, 2014

Whitney Day Redux and Through a Spa Trip Notebook

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 3, 2014—I don’t know for sure but I’m going to take a shot here: Whitney day was the first time women trainers won two Grade 1s on the same card.

Earlier this week, Rosie Napravnik and Linda Rice swept two mid-week feature races. But yesterday's distaff heroics were more dramatic; a lot more.

We’ll say this: Two Grade 1s on the same day is probably an historic achievement, but two women winning championship events a half-hour apart? That’s never happened, ever.

On Saturday, Rice, who claimed Palace for $20,000 and turned him into a multiple graded stakes winner, continued her hot hand going back to the recent Belmont summer meet,

And given the manner in which Palace won yesterday, his talent level might just keep getting better and better.

Even though Joe Orseno did not have the speedy Happy My Way wound up 100 percent for the A.G. Vanderbilt, that speedster still looked like he was long gone at the furlong pole. But at the sixteenth marker, the water got a lot deeper.

You hear the term “reeled him in” all the time. This time, the cliché was absolutely appropriate. Rice not only has improved this runner, but has kept him performing at a very high level for a sustained period of time. Excellent work.

The career of Leah Gyarmati really began to flourish at this meeting last year when juvenile filly Sweet Reason, in the most impressive sloppy-track run I’ve ever seen, ever, won like a wild horse. And she did it again, just for good measure, in the Grade 1 Spinaway.

Noble Moon also put Gyarmati on the national map, but now the filly is beginning to push her trainer into elite company. Back to back Grade 1s in the Acorn and in Saturday’s always contentious Test Stakes has assured that.

Sweet Reason is now 5-for-8 with three Grade 1s and has not tasted defeat in Saratoga in three lifetime attempts. From the University of Allen Jerkens, he has learned her lessons well. Good for her.

Good for them.

Through a Saratoga Trip Notebook: Some runners to keep a watchful eye on; others to bet back next time postward:

Billy the Bull (1st race) was loaded with run in the Whitney day opener, tried to sneak up the fence approaching the five-sixteenths when Javier Castellano slammed the door in Taylor Rice’s face. Well meant turf sprinter continued well through the stretch at double-digit odds and will be worth a wager under similar conditions; follow.

Debuting turf runner Strong Coffee (3rd) made a good impression in the post parade with his size and demeanor for Graham Motion—who’s made a strong impression in the Saratoga trainer standings—and finished professionally, winning as clearly best; likely repeater if spotted properly next out…

In the same 1-1/16 miles event, runnerup Face the Music, a bit green in the paddock but more settled in the post parade, finished strongly down the center of the course and won’t be a maiden long; bet back…

Longshot Skerkis was aggressively handled throughout breaking from a wide post and tired late; tough read whether colt needed the effort, was the victim of dynamics, or might not have that much ability; follow progress.

Price shot Striking Style (6th) was in the bridle throughout from a wide post going two turns on turf, surged to the lead at headstretch, but was hindering rider Luis Saez who was forced to wait until clear of inside rivals before going to a right-handed stick on the filly who was trying to bear in. Saez did everything right but just got nailed on the line by favorite Granny Mac’s Kitten beneath leading rider Javier Castellano; note.

Royal Sun debuting for Todd Pletcher as the favorite in a juvenile dirt sprint, was pressured throughout and held very well for place. Good-sized colt was forced to move early breaking from the rail post, hustled on the way around, never getting a breather. Will benefit; bet back next time out.

Flimbi (7th) won the De La Rose with a strong late run, lengthening her stride perceptibly the closer she got to the wire. Bill Mott trainee has graded stakes in her future and it appears that added distance would be in her wheelhouse. When Mott’s horses improve incrementally, as this one has, take notice.

Aside from Moreno, Itsmyluckyday was the only horse that did any real running in the Whitney as even third-finishing champion Will Take Charge was a one-paced third late. After the race, trainer Eddie Plesa said that his charge proved he belongs in this company; agreed.

It’s difficult to know how to gauge the non-effort of Palace Malice in the Whitney. He’s been examined thoroughly and there was no physical excuse for the performance. He had been training very well, loves his surroundings, and, then, this.

If Pletcher enters him back in the Woodward, as he said he would this morning, it would be a signal to handicappers to cross this line off his form. If there’s more of a significant layup, that would be a red flag.

We asked Pletcher at the end of the post Whitney draw press conference whether the colt might return again at 5. The trainer said that he and Cot Campbell have not ever had that conversation. You can be sure the subject will come up now. Maybe it has already.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Game Taketh Away but Giveth, Too

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 2, 2014—It’s funny the things that pop into your head when your first reaction to something you have just seen was so stunning—not gorgeous stunning but jaw-droppingly stunning.

When Moreno crossed the finish line in front of the richest race that will be run in Saratoga this season, my mind flashed back four years ago to Churchill Downs moments after Blame hung the first ever career defeat on the great race-mare Zenyatta.

That moment would never present itself again.

As I walked out on to the press box viewing stand after the race, I made eye contact with Dick Jerardi of the Philadelphia Daily News as I walked by and asked: “Do you believe this?”

“Of course I believe it,” Jerardi said. “This game will rip your heart out sometimes; it’s the reason we keep coming back.”

But no one should ever experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows that this game can throw at you in one afternoon. But in a matter of two hours and 40 minutes, trainer Eric Guillot ran the emotional gamut of deep sadness to exultation.

In the day’s fifth race, a typically loaded special-weight event for two-year-old chock full of first-time starters, Guillot tightened the girth on a colt named Sir William Bruce.

The horse was working bullets for his debut and every outfit wants to win a race on a big race day, especially Whitney day in Saratoga. Despite some fast morning trials, he was sent away at 14-1.

Sir William Bruce raced evenly and finished a one-paced fifth 5-3/4 lengths behind the winner, the six furlongs clocked in 1:10.85. He beat half the field and it very much looked like the kind of effort you could build on. The colt never made it back to the barn.

In what was termed at that time “an apparent heart attack,” the colt fell to the ground between the finish line and the sixteenth pole and was gone, carted off in the horse ambulance after efforts to revive him failed.

But in two hours, forty-one minutes and forty-eight five-hundredths of a second later, Guillot watched his Moreno pass the finish line first by 1-1/4 lengths over Itsmyluckyday with Will Take Charge, the 2013 three-year-old champion that beat him by a nose in last year’s Travers, back in third.

In what was supposed to be the Saratoga coronation of Palace Malice, who was seeking his fifth straight 2014 victory without defeat and seeking to atone for last year’s tough-trip Travers fourth, checked in sixth at 65-cents on the dollar, 11 lengths behind the winner.

"When they crossed the wire, it took me a while to believe it,” said Guillot. I saw the 47 3/5. I saw the 1:11 and change. I was feeling pretty confident… The softer the fractions the better he is. He feels and waits on horses behind him. That's the kind of horse he is.”

A very fast one, who after being within reach of breaking through, like in the Travers or when second again to Will Take Charge in the Pennsylvania Derby, or this year, when he was third in the Pimlico Special, then second in the Suburban. And today?

"It means so much for my partner and best friend, Mike [Moreno], who always believed in me from day one and still does today. I'm getting emotional. This is what we do. It's why I get up at 4:30 seven days a week.

Not even after today’s fifth race when the partnership’s first-time starters never made it back to the barn after the race. “We never doubted each other, ever,” said Guillot. “Not one time.”

As for the disappointing favorite, jockey Johnny Velazquez said: "I don't know what went wrong.

“He was in perfect position. On the backstretch he was looking around. I was hoping by the half-mile he'd move on, but he never showed any interest. He went through the whole race not paying any attention. He trained great, warmed up great but he just didn't run at all.”

"We got the trip we were hoping for,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “It wasn't his day. We were in good position, he just didn't fire."

Neither trainer mentioned coming back in the Woodward at meet’s end but it’s clear that Moreno loves this racetrack and no one would dare challenge him for the early lead, rabbits notwithstanding.

As for Palace Malice, why not? His effort today certainly took nothing out of him.

Written by John Pricci

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Retraction: We Were Wrong; Industry Reactions to Trainers’ Pledge

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 2, 2014--The story that two of the 25 trainers who supported a gradual phasing out of Lasix beginning with the juvenile of 2015 and go to a complete ban the following year contradicted themselves, as was reported in Friday's Saratoga Diary, is wrong.

In our haste to put up the story late Friday night, we googled the issue to find out more information and up came a story written by Jerry Bossert of the Daily News with quotes from two of the trainers, Todd Pletcher and Bill Mott, contradicting their support of the Lasix phase out. A phone call to Pletcher Friday night was not returned.

The News piece was originally written in April, 2011. We regret the error, especially one of this magnitude.

We will follow-up on this story today and in the coming days. Our apologies to Mssrs. Bossert, Mott and Pletcher and to you for needlessly confusing this important issue.

Here is a complete list of 25 trainers who support the gradual Lasix phase out as was reported in today's online edition of the Bloodhorse.

Thomas Albertrani
Roger Attfield
Christophe Clement
Jose Corrales
David Donk
Neil D. Drysdale
Jeremiah C. Englehart
Eoin Harty
Neil Howard
Michael E. Hushion
D. Wayne Lukas
Richard E. Mandella
Claude R. McGaughey III
Kiaran P. McLaughlin
Kenneth G. McPeek
H. Graham Motion
William I. Mott
Todd A. Pletcher
Kathy Ritvo
Jonathan E. Sheppard
Albert M. Stall, Jr.
Dallas Stewart
Barclay Tagg
William Van Meter
George Weaver

Under the proposal, no two-year-olds would receive race day medication beginning in 2015, and no horses of any age would receive race day medication starting in 2016. In addition, this group is supportive of the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium's efforts to approve model rules for twenty-six controlled medications by the RCI board of directors.


“The position of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association has not wavered. The science has not changed. The horses have not changed. Most horses suffer from exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH), and Lasix is the only scientifically proven, truly effective treatment we have to protect them.

A Lasix ban does not benefit the horse, the owner or the horseplayer. Forcing trainers to return to using archaic methods to treat bleeders, whether it is the barbaric practice of taking away water for 24 to 48 hours or trying homeopathic remedies with questionable results, is not progress. Absent a researched and reasoned alternative to protect horses from EIPH, NYTHA is vehemently against any ban on Lasix.”

Statement from Breeders’ Cup Chairman Bill Farish and Breeders’ Cup President and CEO Craig Fravel

"On behalf of the Board of Directors of Breeders’ Cup Limited we want to acknowledge and applaud the courage of the trainers who have recently pledged their support for the gradual elimination of the use of authorized medications on race day in the United States. The Breeders’ Cup has long advocated for policies that would bring the US in line with other major international racing jurisdictions and we fully support this group of prominent trainers.

"We believe a broad coalition of tracks and owners also share this view and we are committed to provide support, financial and otherwise, to an effort to implement on a national basis phasing out race-day medications. We look forward to participating in this initiative to create a workable plan with others in the industry, including the forward-looking trainers who are signatory to this statement, all of whom are long-time supporters of the Breeders’ Cup."

Written by John Pricci

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