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

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Two Grade 1s, But Only One Is a Contest


August 4, 2010--

Dear Diary

The acknowledged two best horses in America are racing on Saturday 3,000 miles apart. The mighty Zenyatta will face four rivals in the Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar, trying to win it for the third time while seeking her 18th victory without defeat.

Quality Road will be trying to win his first Whitney Invitational Handicap, using it as a bridge to the Woodward and ultimately, Churchill Downs, late on an early fall afternoon in November.

The connections of the undefeated filly champion have apparently decided that the Del Mar surface, which has drawn much criticism this season, is just fine for the big mare, who never has done her best racing there. She will, however, enjoy the competition.

Her four rivals, in post order, are Princess Taylor, who’s Grade 3-placed; Made For Magic, winner of the G2 Milady at Santa Anita; Spring Style, eligible for ‘non-winners of 3’ allowances, and Dance To My Tune, winless since 2008.

Zenyatta’s toughest rival will be the quirky Del Mar synthetic track, as her camp continues to take the path of least resistance toward the Breeders’ Cup. “She looks good,” trainer John Shirreffs told the Daily Racing Form after she galloped over it Wednesday morning. “Steve [exercise rider Willard] said she felt fine.”

It was Zenyatta’s first day of training away from her Hollywood Park base. Interestingly, while the mare received a stamp of approval from her trainer, it’s a provisional one as Shirreffs has yet to fully commit to the race.

“I didn’t want to commit, but that [gallop] was good.“ Zenyatta also stood quietly in the starting gate as part of her schooling session. “I didn’t want to do a 180 two days from now,” he said, which still sounds a little like that might still happen.
Shirreffs is not the only SoCal horsemen who’s been having a hard time deciding what to do with their star horses.

Bob Baffert spoke with three reporters in the aftermath of Lookin For Lucky’s comprehensive win in the Haskell Invitational. Depending on the day, the time or the reporter involved, Baffert was running, not running, then running again in the Travers, even though the race was “never under serious consideration“ according to a DRF story.

Meanwhile, the colt spiked a fever on Tuesday morning, the second time he has done so following a recent race. Although Baffert never had any intention of running in the Belmont Stakes after having lost the Derby, a fever kept him from training his horse for more than a week after the Preakness. This forced Baffert to work ‘Lucky’ strenuously to get ready for the Haskell; five Bullet Bob-type works in a 22-day span. Obviously, the colt thrived on that regimen.

It appears more than likely now that the protem three-year-old champion will race once more pre-Breeders’ Cup, probably in the Pennsylvania Derby, one week before the Jockey Club Gold Cup vs. older and six weeks in advance of the Classic, which seems like ideal spacing. As we’ve learned, nothing is written in stone.

Actually, Todd Pletcher, too, has been conservative in his handling of Quality Road this year, the difference being that he picked out high profile spots--albeit on tracks that the best older male in training has shown a distinct preference.

Or, as Al Stall Jr., trainer of Blame, the second Whitney favorite and afforded the best chance to defeat the 2-5 early line choice, said at Wednesday’s post draw, “[Quality Road’s] a Gulfstream monster, maybe he’s a Saratoga monster, too.”

With the exception of the seriously overmatched Brazilian import Jardim and, to a lesser extent, Musket Man, and the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner, Mine that Bird, who figures to need this start, too, and has not recaptured his best form of last spring,

Quality Road, Blame and Haynesfield will put on a good show Saturday, a very good show. The key will be just how aggressive Ramon Dominguez will be aboard Haynesfield, who at minimum will either stalk the favorite from close range, or actually set the pace.

It’s an interesting puzzle which will be discussed in greater depth here Saturday. Tomorrow, meanwhile, a look at Blame, the best horse with which most fans might not be too familiar, is in order.

Unlike their vacillating colleagues, Pletcher, Stall and Steve Asmussen have pointed for the Whitney and have stuck to the game plan. All their horses seem to be meeting at tops, and what could be better than that?

Written by John Pricci

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