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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Early on, observers were thinking that Jose Ortiz and Joel Rosario were in a two-rider race for the Angel Cordero Saratoga meet title. Irad Ortiz was having a quiet meet–until Thursday’s five-bagger.

As for the trainers, Christophe Clement got off to one of the fastest starts we’ve seen in 53 years at Saratoga. But there’s no stopping the Chad Brown juggernaut and now it’s a horse race (CC was leading 9-8 through Thursday).

But this weekend, it’s about the horses, upstate New York and near different oceans. Champion turf mare Sistercharlie returns in the Ballston Spa and Volatile will try to become the star of the 2020 sprint division. He’ll be odds-on to do so.

However, on Saturday morning, the great Enable will try to get back on right track as Ascot vs. only three rivals–all Ballydoyle runners. It will be one against three, but the one is a legendary race mare.

Perhaps the biggest return, though, occurs at Del Mar when Maximum Security makes his first start for Bob Baffert in the G2 San Diego, a possible and likely prep for the Pacific Classic.

Here’s a handicapping look-in at the Spa and out west.

SARATOGA G2 Ballston Spa

The last time Sistercharlie (2-5) was seen she was finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. But prior to that she won a remarkable six consecutive Grade 1s. Her class is extraordinary, but we’re looking for a minor upset.

The champ is now six years old and older horses often need a run to get their game hooves back on. Chad Brown said she’s fit enough but is concerned that 1-1/16 miles is not as suitable as longer distances.

In that context, Starship Jubilee (2-1) can do anything from any distance, as her 17-for-35 lifetime record attests. She’s not beaten the quality of this champion but gets her best chance to do so in this spot.

She’s closer to a race, having won the always competitive G2 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs, she can lead or come from behind, and was a little unlucky not to have won this race last year, losing ground throughout while racing a bit too keen early on.

Two-for-two beneath Javier Castellano, she might be able to steal away into the first turn with not much speed signed on today.

Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt

The redoubtable Whitmore (2-1), earner of $3.5 million, is clearly the most accomplished runner, given time after his convincing win in Oaklawn Park’s Count Fleet, a race he’s won thrice.

To repeat here, he will have to beat a budding star in Volatile (4-5). Mitole Redux? Well, the barn’s the same, the style at this stage is similar, and this looks like Steve Asmussen’s major Spa goal, getting this colt a Grade 1.

His last was off the charts, winning Churchill’s Aristedes by 8-1/2–his last three races by a combined 18-1/2–and the time of 1:07.57 was 2/100s off the track record.

His Thoro-Graph figure of minus-5 1/4 is among the fastest we’ve ever seen. He’s had a full seven weeks to recuperate and is drawn nicely toward the outside in a short field. His tactical speed is his best weapon for today’s task.

DEL MAR Grade 2 San Diego Handicap

That’s no typo, an actual handicap, one in which the returning Maximum Security, highweight at 127 pounds, will have to spot five and six pounds, respectively, to G1 winners Higher Power and Combatant and multiple graded winner Midcourt.

Baffert said he loves how the horse is training and is confident. The worktab is strong and steady but we didn’t care for the one work we saw as it appeared that he was ridden hard through the stretch.

Can’t beat him on paper but he’ll win this without me. Your call.

Check in Saturday am as we’ll construct some betting strategies for the Spa races and analyze Del Mar’s G2 San Clemente, the first half of a turf meets the surf stakes double.

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22 Responses

  1. John: Hope that you and your family are doing well down in FLA. I just couldn’t stop myself from laughing about the “weight” assigned to the alleged best Horse in the world, i.e., Maximum Security. John, I wonder if Frank Whiteley and Sherrill Ward are also smiling up there in Horse Heaven. Somebody would have probably had Tommy Trotter tested for mind-altering drugs, if he ever imposed anything less than a Buck-Thirty on the Great & Mighty One. By the way, its getting very hard to watch the emptiness that is the Spa. We all know that there is no choice but it still hurts just the same. Speaking of laughing, I’m sure that, wherever he is, Rod Serling must be finding the humor in the surreal, fan-less Saratoga.
    Please stay safe, John.

    1. Thanks Fram, to you and your family as well. Funny you should mention the fanless Spa. As Saratoga Live went off the air last night there was this wide, elevated paddock shot and with no racing left, the area was empty but to see the fence, normally about four deep with fans, I turned to Toni and said “look, everyone’s trying to beat the traffic.” The starkness of that was in its way shocking.
      So Fram, sadly, I get it…

  2. Clearly Baffert is working “Max” faster than his predecessor did. Given all the changes to the horse’s environment, however, it seems to me that keeping the horse focused on running hard in the stretch could be a positive rather than negative indicator.

    But the small field and expected short prices make it unlikely I will play this race sans astronomical odds on certain others.

  3. I reviewed the three stake races you wrote about above. They are surely a horseplayer’s dream: Ballston Spa has five entrants with two fillers who are in the race to get the owner a check and the favorite is 2/5; Vanderbilt also has five entrants with one filler entered for the
    check and the favorite is 4/5; and the San Diego, OMG, with six entrants and one of the owner’s horses isn’t gonna earn a check as, surprise, only five get a check for running around the track. Racing at its best, right?

    You wrote in a previous post, Mr. Pricci, that you cover the stake races because they draw the most handle; wasn’t this scene created years ago when stake races were the only races written about by turf writers? Thus, wasn’t the bettor influence when reading about only stake races?

    Well anyway, they s/be thrillers to watch. And they can be used in doubles and pick threes et cetera. There are so many other races on the Saratoga and Del Mar cards, with smaller purses of course, that offer more value to the bettor and certainly will be more interesting to watch.



    1. I: You make a fair point; the only way a Baffert horse would work in 1:04 would be if you combined two workouts into one.

      And what you say about the new routine, focus, and naturally faster paces conducted out west, he needs to be quite fit, even if the ultimate goal is the Pacific Classic.

      Hope I can stay awake until 9:30 EDT to watch it.

  4. WMC, it may shock you to learn that I agree with all your points and appreciate your acknowledging the facts and, yes, promotion of these races does help their popularity with bettors.

    But fans and bettors also remember horses that win famous races and follow them, so there is that.

    I will be looking to bet on other races, of course, and take a look at Del Mar’s San Clemente, it’s a head-scratcher that is highly likely to offer value on any of the logical contenders

    And, yes, VOTE!

  5. In fairness to Stakes races with short priced horse, there was a poll on twitter today to name the 5 greatest horses you have seen race in person and many people contributed. I remember those horses. I’m pretty hard core ,but if you asked me to name the 5 horses I made the most money with ,I would come up blank. I remember the race but not the names of the horses. There is a place in racing for both type of horses.

    1. Another fair point, hot a few four-figure Pick 6s and some high paying Tri’s and supers but they are a blur. But not so Slew, Secretariat, Ruffian, Kelso, Forego, Rachel, Zenyatta, Shuvee and I’ve not given that any thought whatsover.

      In that manner, this 1% sport plays out pretty democratically, more than pedigree, class must be proven between the fences…

  6. What are you guys remembering? Certainly not the small payoffs of most stake races. I remember with clarity the names and win/double prices of horses that paid the most over my six decades of chasing the ponies and none were stake races nor blue bloods. And, I have great memories of terrific races where I was nipped at the wire (which is usually the case, Alice) – again, none were stake races. Geez, how can one forget the name of a plodder(s) that paid over a hundred bucks to win or a double that paid over $400? How does one forget the name of a claimer that won me $6,000 is a handicapping contest?

    Guess I can still select an elephant out of a lineup of animals and remember a few words. How come, though, I forget my password to some websites?

    1. Enable went off at 1/9 and coasted home. She is indeed memorable. Has been very carefully campaigned. As a 3yo she won Breeder’s Cup strictly on class. Why wouldn’t we want to watch greatness? I don’t give a rat’s –s what she paid to win. She is a gift to the sport, a mare in a million.

    2. Do not despair,mister w,on Sunday’s card,in the third race there are SIX donkeys with MLodds of Fifty to One,Yes 50-1.It must be your wish that at least one of them Will Be in Any gimmicky bet !

      1. For anyone interested– I think I might stop doing this– the column advancing the weekend weren’t “selections,” it was an account of the big events on Saturday.

        The suggested wagers, which appeared in italics below the column, indicated they would appear SAT am, which they were. Some of you have too much time on your hands.

        I will not engage on this nonsense. If it’s sincere interest, a story, a question, a recollection, it’s all good. Otherwise, I’m out…

  7. Replying to the comment by the person using the ‘tag’ c.

    You think the breeder, Juddmonte Farms is in this ‘game’ to breed thoroughbreds and just watch them run around a racetrack or to sell the foals to buyers? Think the owner of Enable simply wants to watch the blue blood run around the racetrack, or did he purchase the thoroughbred to win purses? Think the trainer, John Gosden, is only interested in conditioning the mare or in winning purses? Aren’t they all seeking wealth via racing Enable?

    You write ‘she is a gift to the sport’. I have never thought of Thoroughbred racing as a sport. If the ability didn’t exist to bet on the races, the industry would be out-of-business overnight; in other words, the betting window is the attraction not the horse. I have no idea what you mean by writing ‘why wouldn’t we want to watch greatness’. If Enable didn’t produce for the owner early on, he would have dumped the mare long ago. Sounds cruel, but everyone in this ‘game’ from breeder, owner, trainer to horseplayer is involved for only one thing: to make money.

    1. I grew up in Suffolk County and down the street was a farm. This was so long ago you could get milk, butter, etc. delivered if you wanted. Branglebrink Dairy was the name. Anyway, a guy named Harry deLeyer (from Holland) came in later and gave riding lessons. He had a famous jumper named Snowman who won at Madison Square Garden, etc. This horse was on its way to the glue factory when Harry stepped in and bought him. He trained him and the rest is history. Even a movie was made about this. Thoroughbred racing is also commonly referred to as “The Sport of Kings” so you may want to rethink this part of your thesis about it only being about the money to be made. The same could be said for NASCAR and look at the crowds this “sport” attracts. The match race between War Admiral and Seabiscuit at Pimlico was a huge draw as War Admiral was a Triple Crown winner. Seabiscuit won by 4 lengths and was voted American Horse of the Year for 1938. The above-mentioned examples of greatness illustrate that more than money is involved when you get this close to the great ones. I believe that. When Zenyatta ran her last race and lost I got emotional. I didn’t have money on her, I just appreciated her greatness. You are a more accomplished handicapper than I am and I do not intend to diminish your convictions about WPS. As Harvey Pack used to say, “May the horse be with you.”

  8. Excellent call on all 3 races in your write up – well done! Called the Ballston Spa upset and your suspicion on what we’d see in the SD Cap was well founded. I’m not sure yet what to make out of that race but I’m taking the ‘trouble’ he encountered there with a huge grain of salt. I don’t feel it was THAT much of an obstacle, certainly not to the degree TVG and Cedillo attempted to frame it in what felt like a proactive excuse. This isn’t a 20k state bred maiden claimer who needs everything perfect to get there ; it’s supposed to be the top male horse in training.

    In terms of the Vanderbilt, looking at the sprint pace fractions yesterday, Volatile’s quarter and half mile looks very soft. State bred maidens and cheap claimers in the 3 sprints yesterday all went faster to each early fraction than Volatile did. Yes he did what he had to do, but I think I’m finding an upset in his near future.

  9. Sincerely,Mr Pricci,a capable handicappers before Newsday’s Matthews,Mc Carthy,Berner and other unknown Swartzes,a joke, i wish you the best with your life,column et so ,but IF i were you,with your experiences,talents,knowledge I would not Waste my precious time with this Guys unless it was making more $$ than betting,investing via the internet methods. I have never met you you but i still i have never been more serious about it before. Why Waste your ta!ent$ with this ? Do you really mede some anonymous ,lonely, pitiful ruffians to Waste your time? Why bother with cockroaches? Do you ,at your age,,need their Attention?I am definitely closing,without any Future replies,after having gotten the First race at the Spa. I did not learn much outta your wote besides reading repetitious contents,complaints etc but i admired your patience.Ciao,Good hye and. Still wishing you the best.James G Domani

  10. John: With regard to what we remember about names, etc, did you notice that Wesley Ward had a winner at Saratoga that was owned by Steve Cauthen? For those of us of a certain age, “the Kid” was a phenomena in NY like no other. During that winter of 76-77, he literally owned the then New Inner Track and he was, at 16, as big a Sports Star as existed in the Big Apple. Do you recall that Lenny Goodman had him riding 6 days a week ( Mon-Sat), and then Lenny put Stevie on a plane to ride on Sundays at Santa Anita? Anyway, my first winner, ever, was ridden by Stevie ( Hatton’s Rose) and I stood on the cashiers line at the old Big A ( before slots) and watched the Kid guide Turn & Count from last to first. It only Seems like yesterday!

    1. Hatton’s Rose, can’t remember, maybe Lucien Laurin, MacK Miller?.

      Turn & Count pretty sure that was Frank Martin. Knew Lenny Goodman, very good at his job…

      But when Stevie went out there to stay, before going to Europe, didn’t have much luck. But he was a sensational talent; probably was the best looking bug on a horse that I can remember…

    1. Loved the chowder, clams on the half shell, corned beef sandwiches, yes, those were the days…

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