John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to MSNBC.com, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Stars of Tomorrow Prep Everywhere


SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY, December 1, 2009--As was the case with the American humorist Mark Twain, the reports of the death of the Remsen Stakes are greatly exaggerated. Then, what about “I came to bury the Remsen, not to praise it.”

Admittedly, I’m as guilty as the next turf writer. But then why not hype a Grade 2 event for juveniles at a mile and an eighth on dirt over the same surface that New York’s ultimate Kentucky Derby prep, the Wood Memorial, is contested?

But facts, as they say, is facts. The Remsen Stakes has had a long history, albeit not that storied given the amount of attention it gets from winter book Derby bettors.

Since the 1904 inaugural running, the Remsen has been contested at six different distances but run at its present nine furlongs since 1973. And in those next 35 years, only Pleasant Colony [placed first], Go for Gin and Thunder Gulch could parlay a Remsen score into a repeat performance six months later at Churchill Downs.

But it was the success of two Remsen winners in the 1990s, and maybe even subsequent Travers hero, Coronado’s Quest, or Preakness winner, Pine Bluff, that earned the Remsen a reputation as a useful barometer of future three-year-old form.

In this decade, however, it hasn’t worked that way. Old Fashioned, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Bluegrass Cat, Rockport Harbor and, to a lesser degree, Court Vision, were expected to be major Derby players off their promising Remsens. Of course, none of these panned out.


The running time of 1:52.09 by this year's authoritative winner, Buddy’s Saint, was not particularly fast compared to some recent speedy Remsen winners, but it was .14 faster than Demoiselle winner Tizahit.

Of course, fillies are generally considered to mature faster than young colts and the filly finished faster; :12.61 for her final furlong compared to his :13.49. But he won geared down after being ridden out strongly through the stretch; she was under intermittent encouragement, showing herself to be a strong, efficient mover. These two were fun to watch, as were the Cigar Mile's Kodiak Kowboy and the Gazelle's Flashing.

Unlike recent fast, highly regarded Remsen winners, however, Buddy’s Saint was quite handy. He’s never finished behind a rival [disqualified from first in his debut], including the G2 Nashua, and owns a sharp, decisive turn of foot--the kind of move that wins on May’s first Saturday.

Before thinking here we go again, find the Remsen replay several times and decide for yourself. After showing much improved early speed to win the one-turn, one-mile Nashua on the lead, he rated professionally and took command of the Remsen in push-button style.

Of course, his trainer is excited: “He’s still learning,” Bruce Levine said. “He’s a big horse and I think he still has to grow into his frame. He’ll go to Gulfstream Park this winter. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone in America.”

Think Todd Pletcher feels the same way? "It's very exciting to have a well-bred colt that's good-looking with all the tools and obviously getting better as the year goes along," Pletcher told reporter Marty McGee.

The colt that Pletcher can have some fun with in 2010 is Super Saver, a comprehensive winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on their always entertaining and informative all-juveniles Fall Meet card known as the “Stars of Tomorrow” program.

Partnered by two-time Derby winner Calvin Borel, Super Saver was five lengths the best in 1:42.83 for a mile and a sixteenth, getting his last half-furlong in a fairly stunning :06.42.

After setting a pressured pace in the G1 Champagne Stakes--Super Saver was beaten two lengths by Homeboykris, who was manhandled by Buddy’s Saint at Aqueduct an hour earlier--he was shipped into Kentucky for his Churchill and two-turn debut. He made an extremely promising effort.

It’s not only how fast you run, but how you run fast. Super Saver set a realistic pace but was no run-off. And it wasn’t even the controlled split quarter-miles in :23.42, :24.68 and :24.98 that impressed. Rather, it was Borel rating him with reins dangling, allowing two rivals to swoop up head-to-head on the turn, Pat Day style, before Calvin cut the corner and cut his colt loose.

Super Saver responded generously and opened ground quickly, leading by a five-length margin in midstretch and maintaining that advantage to the wire under an intermittent hand ride.

It was a powerhouse performance by a colt bred to run the Derby distance--by Maria’s Mon, from the A.P. Indy mare, Supercharger--that was all the more impressive because of the speedster’s willingness to distribute his energy efficiently on the front end. He went out relatively quickly and came home the same way, unusual for a youngster, indeed.

Interesting, however, is the fact that a race in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes hasn’t been as productive as a win in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. In fact, since the previously referenced Pleasant Colony in 1980, no Kentucky Derby winner ever has come from the lynchpin of Churchill’s Stars of Tomorrow program.

Written by John Pricci

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