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, July 25, 2014

V.E. Day at the Spa; Lezcano Wins 2000th

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 25, 2014—As far as Travers preps go, today’s Curlin Stakes probably raised more questions than were answered, although it seems likely at this point that the first two finishers will return on August’s penultimate Saturday.

Coming from absolutely last and from as far back at 10 lengths between calls as the leaders entered the final turn, V. E. Day, making his first career start on dry dirt in his fifth lifetime run, rallied strongly down the center of the strip to win the restricted 9-furlong event by a head over Charge Now.

Protonico, making his second start this year and only fourth start in life, and a tepid 3-1 choice in a field reduced to nine with the program scratch of Commanding Curve, was a nose farther back in third, the mile and an eighth going in a solid, albeit unspectacular, 1:50.51.

Another lightly raced colt, Viva Majorca, finished even faster than the winner and was reaching the front three but ran out of racetrack.

A convincing case can be made that the Tiago colt, making his first start beyond 7 furlongs and around two turns, was the best horse given the race's dynamics.

It’s not often when you see runners come from absolutely last in a two turn dirt race that featured a legitimate pace that was somewhat on the moderate side. But after breaking slowly, Jose Lezcano, reaching a personal milestone with the victory, guided his mount to the inside, tipped wide gradually leaving the quarter-pole, then gamely prevailed over two rivals.

“He settled into a nice ground-saving trip,” said winning trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who will tack up Wicked Strong, the 2-1 early line second favorite, in tomorrow’s Jim Dandy.

“He’s bred top and bottom turf but he trained so well on the dirt I wanted to give him a chance,” Jerkens explained. “On paper it looked like there would be a ton of speed in there and we were tucked in behind, saving ourselves.”

“My horse did everything so easy to the quarter-pole,” added Lezcano. "He saw the horses and he kept running. I saved ground the whole way and when I asked him he gave me a kick.”

Bill Mott, trainer of the runnerup, was disappointed but encouraged enough to take the next step. “I thought it was a great effort. He was a little green when that horse went by him and he came back again.” Then he added, “we want to win the Travers, anyway.”

It’s unknown at this point whether the third finisher will go on to the Midsummer Derby. “For his first time going a mile and an eighth and only his second start this year, I thought it was a good performance,” said trainer Todd Pletcher.

“He learned a lot today,” jockey Javier Castellano added. “I think in the future he’s going to appreciate [added distance] because he was always on the lead but today we stretched him out. I thought it was a great effort for him."

As for Viva Majorca, beaten less than a length after rallying wider and faster than the winner in the final sixteenth of a mile, he appeared to have no chance to win at any point. Despite the fact he was coming out of sprints, he had only two horses beaten for much of the race instead of getting into the game from the start.

Further, he was steadied by Julien Leparoux after hesitating to run up inside horses approaching headstretch, then was shifted outside over rival’s heels, eventually reaching the 6-path with a furlong remaining then flew home, albeit too late. Like the winner’s run, his was a remarkable effort.

The top four finishers might not be ready for prime time just yet, but the second half of the sophomore season has only just begun.

In earlier races, Silver Union took the opening maiden claimer in a manner suggesting he will repeat if spotted properly by George Weaver, who saddled his first of two winners on the day.

Starting an early double for Johnny Velazquez, he was in hand late while drawing off; bet back in the right spot.

In the 7th, Castellano cut it a little too fine, waiting, waiting, then waiting some more with Hope Cross, finally tipping out with less than a sixteenth of a mile remaining and finished like a rocket to just miss catching Sumba Sunset.

Trainer Michael Matz and Luis Saez continue doing good work on the Saratoga turf course but bet that Hope Cross will not be a maiden for long.

After some confusion on the tote board, the stewards got it right in the finale when they disqualified runnerup Angel Choir and placed him third.

Bearing out under Jose Ortiz’s left handed urging, he bumped the eventual winner, Fresh Feline very hard, starting a chain reaction into original third finisher, Jolene. The incident cost that one either first or second position and the 24-1 chance justifiably was placed third.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Clement’s Career Year Rolls On

SARATOGA SPRINGS, July 24, 2014—Guess we just might have to chalk it up to fate because right now, even with Todd Pletcher’s prolific winning and his strength in numbers, especially with babies, this just might be Chris Clement’s meet. We’ll know more at the week’s end.

Clement had horses for three races beginning today through Saturday; Pure Sensation, who was making his turf debut in the Quick Call Stakes, Life in Shambles in Friday’s Curlin and, of course, the big horse in Saturday’s Jim Dandy.

The latter is the quintessential prep for the Derby of Midsummer but the Grade 2 has no problem standing on its own as a prestigious event. Tonalist, the colt that spread the icing on the Frenchman’s petite duchesse, will head this one up as the early line choice.

But today it was a horse that was making its turf debut in an overnight stakes, a tough assignment for any runner, especially from the rail with its short run to the turn and, sure enough, Jose Lezcano was loaded but couldn’t find a way through.

“I was on the inside and had nowhere to go,” explained Lezcano. I didn't want to go outside too quick so I took it little by little. Once he got in the clear, he took off. It was close but I knew I had it."

Clement is going so well that Pure Sensation didn’t need turf experience to win the grassy 5-1/2 furlongs in a very snappy 1:01.82. Yes, the fast tempo set the table for a late run, but who thought the colt could win on a new surface with a change of style?

“We tried him once at Belmont on the turf and he trained very well,” said Clement. “You can see the way they move, they move really, really well. [Today] he was moving very well at the end. He's a nice horse. When they're good enough they can just get out of trouble.”

Not that there was much choice but to finish. The leaders were moving right along, a job made a little easier when formerly undefeated turf-sprint specialist Escapist missed the break entirely then, for good measure, checked out badly entering the far turn after showing high speed under restrain

They raced 2-1/16 miles in the Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes for limited winners in the opening steeplechase event yet only a nose separated the winning 35-1 Awesome Pearl from Kingdom, the unlucky runnerup who bobbled at the seventh fence.

Kingdom was saddled by Elizabeth Voss, daughter of the late, great Tom Voss, while Awesome Pearl gave rider Kieran Norris his first lifetime win at Saratoga…Meanwhile, Bluegrass Summer was rallying up the inside but checked out entering the final turn. He came on inside with a sneaky late move up the hedge; bet back…

Babies on display in the second with trainer Guadalupe Preciado stealing the show, finishing 1-3 with a stable coupling--ship-ins Villalobos, who finished very fast too late for third; bet back, and winning Zip’s Moondance, beating two heavy favorites, trained by Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher, respectively. Fourth finisher Lemon Royal finished well too late, widest of all; follow

Orient Harbor finished like a rocket in the 5th race as much the best, looking very much like a repeater. Miss Lech made a good return from a layup in that same event; will benefit. Braided acted like he wanted more distance. Sky Crew washed out badly pre-race; note.

Rosie had two more turf winners today, showing her usual patience and coming with successful late runs; she used the same tack successfully yesterday.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Daring Dancer: Poetry in Graham Motion

SARATOGA SPRINGS, July 23, 2014—Have to give a lot of credit to trainer Graham Motion and jockey Alan Garcia for turning around the fortunes of Daring Dancer in today’s Grade 2 Lake George.

Motion, winning the Grade 2 for 3-year-old fillies going a mile and a sixteenth on turf for the third time, didn’t let her completely flat performance downstate deter him from making another run in the Diana, but she rebounded in a manner that underscored her first two grass victories in which showed lots of promise.

With Garcia sitting ice cold saving ground throughout behind a moderate pace, he cut the corner beautifully with the filly, tipped her outside gradually, got her in high gear approaching the sixteenth pole and relentlessly bore down to catch A Little Bit Sassy, who had better position throughout and got the jump on the winner.

With Garcia switching to his left hand for the final hundred yards, the filly surged to win by a head, a surprising margin since no one was sure who even won the race until the judges posted it on the result board in a bang-bang photo finish.

“I honestly think it was the soft ground [when she finished fifth in the Wonder Again last time out],” said Motion post-race. “She was a different horse today. From the beginning she was right in the bridle. Alan gave her a beautiful ride.”

“Somebody had to win and I’m glad I won that race,” Garcia said. “I was looking for a hole but I decided to move outside. She [won] it spectacularly.”

That she did.

Bueno Senor Grandison: A nice promotion to start the day as Spanish language-radio race caller Luis Granderson got to call the second race in his native tongue live over the track’s closed-circuit system.

Fans appeared to enjoy the Spanish Heritage Day festivities as part of International Heritage series, listening to the race call in Spanish. Granderson is from Panama and has been calling races since 1978.

Horseplayers in South America are enjoying his race calls via local simulcast venues there.

A formful beginning for the up-and-over set as Rudyard K and Selection Sunday finished 1-2 as the favorites in today’s opening steeplechase event at 2-1/16 miles.

There will be ‘chasing every Wednesday and Thursday with first post set at 12:25 p.m. Flat racing begins with the second race each day at 1 p.m.

Juvenile maiden fillies completed the early double with Expressive Rumor, blocky-sprint-meant body and all, came on with perfect-trip handling beneath Rosie Napravnik, her first Spa winner, to nail the overbet Overspending, who held well for place. The runnerup was very quick early and won’t be a maiden long; note.

Napravnik will ride likely Haskell favorite, 3-year-old filly Untapable, in Sunday’s $1 million Haskell at the Jersey Shore. Steve Asmussen trained today’s second-race winner and will tighten the girth at Monmouth Park, in a deep and contentious renewal of the Grade 1 event.

Got Lucky got a great ride from Johnny, looking very much like his mentor, Pa Pa Cordero, as he brought his filly inside to eyeball rallying Madaket Millie then back out to see late finishing Unbridledexplosion, who hung late from her 6-path rally but definitely should benefit from the effort; bet back in the right spot.

Girlaboutown was much the best in the fifth, looking very much like a future repeater and Quit Smokin was going well on the outside in late stretch in a useful effort; note.

Artemis Argotera needed a confidence builder following a disappointing try in her season’s debut and got one. With a devastating two-move-on-the-lead 10-1/4 length win after being shadowed down the backstretch early, winning eased up by Jose Ortiz in the final strides.

She made all the running in 1:22.20, after posting splits of 22.78, 45.22 and 109.11 for the 7 furlongs. She’s ready for bigger game.

Through a Diary Notebook: The meet got off to a fast start over the opening four-day weekend and one surprise was the unexpectedly good per capita from Sunday’s baseball cap giveaway crowd as 26,000 fans bet $3.8 million on-track.

The crowd probably was not that large due to the spinner phenomenon which occurs when fans pay multiple admissions. The NYRA said spinners would not be counted more than once but I don’t know how they can stop fans from entering the grounds more than once…

Opening Saturday Sanford-winning Big Trouble showed a big kick late. He has plenty of scope for development and trainer Tony Dutrow promises that he will take his time with this one who will not be Breeders’ Cup bound…The runners-up, Mr. Z and Cinco Charlie were very good in defeat…

Somali Lemonade certainly is a new filly at 5 after adding blinkers and given her head early in her races, benefiting from a perfect trip, but it was Stephanie’s Kitten who might have been best with a wide, flying finish off extremely slow fractions…

Stopchargingmaria is a Grade 1 winner now and with time between races she has become an absolute tigress. She might not want any part of Untapable but then one never knows. That‘s the fun part of watching young horses develop….

Frankie Dettori certainly brought a special brand of excitement to the Spa opening weekend, proving popular with the crowd, trainers not named Wesley Ward--his sponsor for the weekend with a glut of live mounts—and his brilliant race riding that was surprisingly, refreshingly aggressive. There are reports that he might come back later in the meet…maybe the airlines won’t lose his luggage and tack this time.

Trainer David Cannizzo completed the rarest of racetrack triples over the weekend, saddling two winners on Saturday and getting married on Sunday. But no honeymoon yet, not with races to be won at Saratoga…

Insiders are whispering that full knee replacement likely will force Gary Stevens back into the TV analyst chair. I’ll invoke the Frank Whiteley rule on that one: Whiteley, when asked about a horse that was coming to the end of his career, he said “don’t count a horse out until it’s dead at least 24 hours.”

Just shocking and sad news, the sudden death of horse owner Dan Borislow who suffered a heart attack while playing in a pickup soccer game. Borislow, who campaigned the good horse Toccet, was the wily bettor who jumped into the Rainbow Pick 6 pool on the Sunday before a mandatory giveaway and walked off with $6.6 million. Easily the worst example of good news-bad news ever…

Written by John Pricci

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