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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


I understand the frustration of rank and file horseplayers when the only names they seem to read or hear about are Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown.

But the rank and file racing fan can’t get enough of America’s most famous horsemen. These men, one Hall of Famer and two that are sure-fire first-ballot inductees, train many of the best horses in America. They should win the best races.

They train “Saturday horses,” running in races with famous, familiar names, the kind of events that can earn good horses a championship title. Win a plethora of them and your training program becomes horse racing’s equivalent of a sports dynasty.

The two biggest events Saturday were run at two iconic venues with an entire country in between, knowing the horsemen who were involved in putting on the show.

Yesterday, Baffert and Pletcher proved their status is made of accomplishment, not hyperbole.

At Saratoga this summer, racing at the highest levels has produced outstanding performances throughout the meet. And a handful of juveniles proved that Saratoga is the place to showcase an exciting two-year-old. Calibrate and Golden Pal leap to mind.

With two weeks remaining, it’s the human performances and internecine competition among the trainers and jockeys remains a most compelling storyline. All week, Brown and Pletcher traded victories and started on equal terms Sunday.

Each have specialties. Brown is mostly associated with turf routers, Baffert with fast dirt horses but Pletcher is tougher to categorize. He has been successful all ages and all types and his ability with stretch-outs and spot placement is responsible for his Spa success this year.

Take Halladay, who looked like a top turf prospect in Florida this winner–though not necessarily as a miler in Grade 1 company. But in his most recent losing effort, his connections learned that he is best when allowed to run freely.

Aggressive Luis Saez was on the send and, after a stutter-step start, he took the lead, re-broke after straightening into the lane and won in fast time despite a moderate pace, one that enabled him to fend off a stretch rally from the Spa-rejuvenated mare, Got Stormy, in the G1 Fourstardave.

Alas, no one is perfect. Chad Brown started a four-headed monster, none of which got out of a gallop, racing uncharacteristically poorly. But the next day, Brown pulled a “Turf Woody,” taking the G1 Diana for the fifth straight year.

Maximum Security showed that he was back with a comprehensive professional victory at Del Mar that was more workmanlike than flashy, especially for an odds-on Pacific Classic favorite that had the race won before reaching mid-first turn.

Abel Cedillo gave a clinic on how to ride a speed horse. When two horses challenged in mid-backstretch, he let out a notch and discouraged them, though Sharp Samurai remained a determined runnerup. Cedillo won it for real when he pulled the rug at headstretch. ‘Max’ did the rest.

Among older males, if Tom’s d’Etat is not over the top and can rebound from his disappointing Whitney effort, then Baffert might have himself to beat with another of his four-year-olds, Improbable.

Should ‘Max’ keep winning, or continue training very well, and remain healthy, we’ll see if last year’s most famous three-year-old is as talented as this year’s most accomplished sophomore. However, it’s first things first.


We’ve been generous in our praise of the Saratoga stewards this meet and it was clear early in the session that they wanted to set the tone. Taking a safety-first approach, “race-riding” came under close scrutiny.

Resultingly, there were many close, borderline calls and I’ll be damned if I didn’t agree with every single one, even if I would have had no particular issue had some decisions gone the other way. Then again, nobody’s perfect.

I would have taken a horse down in Saturday’s fifth race for maiden allowance juveniles going 7 furlongs in a off-the-turf event. It’s not so much that I disagreed with the stewards; my issue was they didn’t give the public a courtesy of posting an inquiry.

With a furlong remaining the babies were tiring but driving toward the wire. At that point leading Irad Ortiz Jr. applied a stern left-handed whip and when he did so, his mount came up two paths and bumped with Repo Rocks to his outside.

After correcting his mount, Ortiz returned to left-handed whipping, came out again and bumped Repo Rocks again. Even though the latter was tiring, a case could be made that getting bumped twice cost Repo Rocks, possibly even a win as all three runners were tiring, including the winner.

The damning aspect, in our view, was returning to the left-handed whip a second time. Politics, leading rider Irad for Todd Pletcher? I don’t want to go there but that doesn’t mean that others won’t. Light the sign; the bettors are paying the light bill, and for everything else, too.

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52 Responses

  1. Completely agree, light the sign. You once spoke of Jordan rules and I saw this firsthand in Preakness with Genuine Risk. Angel Cordero and the “Coach (D. Wayne Lukas)” stayed up (Codex) most likely because of who they were. Maybe I’m wrong and there was no foul but it didn’t look that way at the time. Maybe Codex stayed up because it was such an important race. Who knows. Famous jockeys less likely to come down than workaday riders, IMO. Did not see the race you referred to above but Irad/Pletcher is formidable.

    1. If you do see it, catch the head-on C. Came out and bumped the outside filly twice. No telling what it cost her. Irad corrected her then in another jump, he was jack to a left-handled stick.

      Thinking about something the Mig said when asked to compare the brothers Ortiz. He said I’ll compare them to two all-time greats. Jose reminds me of Jorge Velasquez; Irad reminds me of Angel Cordero.

      I rest my case…

    2. IMO,of all the great jockeys Cordero got the least respect. If he rode for the trainers that the Ortiz Bros. ride for he would have been the leading rider at every meet he rode. I really don’t think in most cases Angel got the benefit of the doubt.

      1. To make my statement more clear,Angel didn’t ride for the top trainers of his era. Draw your own conclusions as to why.

        1. He dominated at Saratoga. Would win the jockey title there every year. I would like for JP to weigh in on what you said about Cordero not riding for the top trainers of his era. It doesn’t add up but hey, maybe I wasn’t looking back then. I remember him winning KY Derby with Spend A Buck. He went wire to wire.

        2. Aaron,

          It was a different time and there were the “old money” breeding operations and, frankly, there were more “white” jockeys to choose from in the day. But he did ride for Marylou Whitney!

          I had a front row seat to the Cordero show for many years, and today we are friends. But he took race-riding right to the edge and many times beyond. I think that’s what the Mig was intimating in his comment…

          1. As a kid, I used to watch the race replays on our cable network, and I always rooted for Angel Cordero – for some reason, he was my favorite. Later, when I got older and latched onto Slew as my favorite racehorse (after Man o’War, neither of whom I saw race, though I was 6 in 1977), I had even more reason to love him. Jean Cruget, who wasn’t a great jockey anyway, never really loved Slew; he always thought Hoist the Flag was better. It truly was a shame what happened to HTF, but even so, it bugged me. Angel loved Slew; he compared him to Mohammed Ali – and even before he rode Slew, he respected him. He used to exercise Slew at Three Chimneys, which I always thought was a wonderful thing.

            John, HAP had another outstanding work on Saturday …I’m not really concerned about a lack of foundation to go 1 1/4 now as it looks like John and Mike are building that through the works.

            Max also had an outstanding work, so whatever concerns I had about his condition after the Travers have evaporated. I think he was tired because Linda didn’t train him hard coming into the race – it was extremely hot and humid in NY, so I get her not wanting to push it. I would have sent Max to Saratoga earlier, but that’s over and done with now. Point is, I think it explains why Max lacked the late punch he had in the Belmont. I think he’s going to run well in KY…

      2. Jorge Velasquez wife, Margerita, told my friend that Angel Cordero had no agent. He was a freelancer who sought out his own mounts. She works in Player’s Club at Aqueduct and Jorge sometimes comes in. So, as an example, Todd Pletcher uses Johnny V it is likely that Johnny V would take a mount on a first time starter that probably has little chance. Angel, on the other hand, would go to trainers who had live horses and solicit the mount. He may or may not get it. Saw him playing pin ball in a bar at Saratoga in late ’70’s.

        1. Betsy, your points are well made; you just need to hope that Tiz gets caught in turbulence on the far turn (lol).

          Seriously, do believe both your horses will run well. Max might have gotten ‘faster’ on the earn change and HAP will run the race of his life–and will have to. Can’t wait…

          C, sorry, since I’m all alone here, there will be fewer trips down memory lane for me. But that should stop you with sharing with the HRI Faithful. Appreciate all of you!

          1. LOL John…I’m confident in HAP. I make no predictions, I just know that he can beat anyone. With Max, I’d be thrilled if he hits the board – he’s a good colt, really a cool horse to follow; I have different expectations for him.

            Just give me a fast track and a clean race (as clean as a Derby can be, lol)….that’s all I can ask!

      3. I totally agree. For many years he was considered a good claiming jockey. But in time, that changed to “great jockey“.
        Probably the most athletic Jock of his time, and smart as a “whip”.
        Not a bad agent also.

        1. Angel was a freak that way, he loved riding so much that he’d go barn to barn hustling mounts. Meanwhile, learning about the competition, too. Smart as a whip indeed.

  2. JP,
    Watching the Big Boys lose with the best without a competitive effort is worse than watching them win without competition. What happened to both Brown’s Uni and Raging Bull in the FourStarDave with FourBrownStarters?

    1. I, have written and said I think that, on balance, Brown’s turf horses have been under-performing at this meet. The pace was slow, their tasks very difficult, but they didn’t show up. Meanwhile, ‘Charlie’ improved some but is not back to her top form; Rushing Fall is a truly remarkable horse and she won chasing a quality filly on a slow pace. Winning G1’s at 2,3,4 and 5 is extremely rare. To be fair, Brown can take a deep bow on that one.

  3. You have to add Asmussen to the troika of Baffert, Pletcher, and Brown; thus, it is a quartet that has a monopoly on Thoroughbred racing, aided and abetted by turf writers, announcers on racing programs, and racetrack management who throws money at their feet by holding six/seven figure purses that they believe will enhance the status of their racetrack.

    Wealthy people who purchase regally bred thoroughbreds for a half million to several million dollars place their newly acquired yearlings with one of the quartet; why not? The four get all the attention and enter their horses in the so-called ‘best’ races in the country; stake races that maybe run one or two seconds faster that most races at just about any other racetrack in the country; and, these stake races the majority of the time offer little value to the horseplayer as an odds-on favorite is usually entered.

    Brown having entered four blue bloods he trains in the Forestardave is shameful and displays greed; but, Pletcher and the others have done the same thing in many of the touted ‘big’ races. And, the public goes ga ga with enthusiasm even though the stake race will be no different that any other race in the country in appearance, excitement, and ‘cashing’ opportunities. How can an allowance or claiming race be any different when the entrants all came from the same sires and broodmares as the knighted blue bloods?

    In the past I have ignored stake races for serious waging, though I will put $2 on a long shot if I decide to watch one. With Covid-19 now raising havoc, my being in the most venerable age group, and unwilling to go to the local joint or a casino I must endure and bet on what is available via the wagering platform I use: Though I loath the gushing commentary spewed forth by the announcers on the quartet and the horses they train as if there were no other trainers/thoroughbreds and races in the country.

    1. You will have an opportunity in this year’s DY to hear the announcers rave about the likely second choice’s trainer, Thomas Drury, Jr. (Art Collector). He is not one of your household name trainers and yet he has a horse who has a chance to win. Based in KY, I believe, and soon everyone will know this guy’s name, and horse. I do agree with you about having 4 in same race but that is also the owners and not just Chad Brown wanting to run in that spot. It really is an embarrassment of riches, ‘tho, for these same trainers winning so often. Was happy for MAX winning PAC Classic under Cedillo. This horse didn’t know it was getting help from Servis & Co. He just keeps winning. We’ll see him again in BC Classic (for Baffert).

      1. With you all the way on what you’ve written, C. And you right that people will know who Drury is after the Derby win or lose. We lauded him before, calling him a “trainer’s trainer,” getting layups ready to come back in top form. I’m a huge Tiz fan but you’re right, Art Collector can win. Hope both bring their ‘A’ game!

    2. Agree about the godding-up gushing, it’s sickeningly sweet. I lavish praise but never reach a perfect 10, much less an 11!

      And agree that Asmussen makes it a quartet, no less effective than the other three. But I talked about three because they had prominent horses in the prominent races I was writing about in the weekend wrap…

  4. Just finished collecting tomatoes, string beans, cucumbers, squash, and bell peppers. Been a special year for vegetable growing, lots of hot, sunny days. Today is going to be very sunny and very hot.

    Philly and Delaware are operating today; doesn’t get any better than this: no quartet of ‘super’ trainers, no odds-on plodders.

    Lots of time on my hands now as the virus goes round and round in this country, while Beijing authorities dropped requirements for wearing masks for the millions of its residents as our POTUS keeps touting a miracle cure is coming.

    A few days ago I asked Mr. Pettyjohn if it was worth it to review the PP’s of the Kentucky Derby. He kindly replied that by reviewing the PP’s something might jump out that will assist you in your selection(s). Just what? All are blue bloods who have won stake races to qualify for the KD; all have high BSF’s; all show workouts (which means nothing to me other than the trainer’s assistant took the horse out of the stall); some have raced against each other before, others haven’t. So, what is going to ‘jump out at me’? Unlike claimers and allowance races, there are no thoroughbreds dropping in class, none coming off of a layoff, few having had more than one jockey up. None having a few distance races under their belt. Few, if any, having experienced mud/sloppy tracks; few, if any, having raced at
    Churchill Downs. So, a serious horseplayer is suppose to get excited about the KD?

  5. Tradition. Been around a long time. Some real good ones have won. Big field so you’re going to get good value no matter what you play.

    1. With you all the way on what you’ve written, C. And you right that people will know who Drury is after the Derby win or lose. We lauded him before, calling him a “trainer’s trainer,” getting layups ready to come back in top form. I’m a huge Tiz fan but you’re right, Art Collector can win. Hope both bring their ‘A’ game!

  6. A bit lost in the great brother jock race, is how low key solid Javier Castellano’s meet has been. He is riding in really strong form. So many times, win or lose, I have said after a race at this meet ‘man, Javier gave his mount such a smart ride.’ As he continues to get further away from his prime age-wise, I can definitely see him shortening his meat and potatoes race commitments, and becoming a flat out lethal hired gun in big stakes races – like an even better version of what Mike Smith has been the past few years.

    Out west, their riding colony couldn’t hold NYRA’s jock, but Umberto Rispoli’s grass riding is absolutely sublime. He is to turf racing what Rafael Nadal is to clay court tennis. Rispoli is literally a must use in every single grass race now.

    1. Javier is having an excellent meet, as is Saez and Tyler and to a lesser degree, Lezcano. Sure I’m forgetting someone. It’s a great room, with the brothers act and Joel…

  7. Couple of comments to above unknowable: a) my bankroll ignores tradition preferring reality; b) you have identified one aspect to pick’in winners far more significant than the past performances of the plodder; but, there is one requirement: you must look skyward and plead ‘don’t fall off’.

  8. Or the comment in DRF, “dwelt.” The gate opens and your horse remains standing in gate while others embark on their way. How do you like them apples? Art Collector has accomplished rider in Brian Hernandez, Jr. He’s won plenty of races.

    1. He has ridden over 2000 winners and won the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic on Ft. Larned. Also rode Rachel Alexandra in a couple of races and then was replaced by Johnny V. She was inducted into Racing’s National Hall of Fame. Now she’s making babies, I think. Don’t worry about Hernandez, ‘tho. He can win the big ones.

      1. Not worried about Hernandez in the least (see above), but Calvin Borel is the rider most closely associated with ‘Rachel’.

        1. You’re right, Calvin Borel on Rachel. Also the rider on Street Sense, another great horse. And of course, Mine That Bird.

    2. The Breeders’ Cup Classic among them. BJH Jr. has confidence in ‘Art” and knows him very well; two great qualities to have heading into the biggest of big dances.

  9. I have never had a plater dwell at the gate. Just about all the plodders I bet are right there turning for home; however, at the eighth-pole they seem to lose interest – like about seven of every ten win bets I make.

    Appears you like Art Collector. Will give the blue blood a close look. Might even bet more than my usual $2 bucks on these overrated stake races.

    Parx/Delaware today: My plugs aren’t losing interest, so far today.

  10. Look at Art Collector but don’t listen to me. Tiz the Law has done everything right and I wouldn’t want to encourage you to wager against him. I will watch the race and pull for TTL. Art Collector wins all his races, too, but Tiz the Law is another matter. Probably will run first and second. King Guillermo a bomb that is an interesting “story.” I really want to see what Gamine does in KY Oaks, however. If I were to make a wager it would be her on Friday with whoever you like on Saturday (Derby). It’s the Oaks/Derby DD. One question for JP: Rushing Fall, like Lady Eli and Beholder before her, has won Gr 1’s at age 2, 3, 4 and 5. She just took down The Diana. Her record is stellar. Out of 14 starts she has 11 wins, 2 places and 1 off the board (big deal). Why is she still racing? Shouldn’t she be making babies? Why risk it?

      1. Ran (rushed) to my car but just caught the end of their conversation. This mare has nothing to prove and should get out. Did you hear anything about her future plan (s)? Thanks.

  11. I’m not at all familiar with the blue bloods you listed above as I give scant attention to stake races. I will ‘cap a stake race if not involved with other races. At times I will read Mr. Pricci’s analysis of a stake race, look at the PPs, and maybe comment. I’ll look at the Oaks/Derby double and, of course, Art Collector. As I have written many times, I find stake races far more difficult to handicap or to go against an odds-on favorite. I’m a mid-Atlantic racetrack junkie along with Finger Lakes and Emerald Downs.

    1. I saw Mr. Pricci at Penn National in 1979 for a contest they were having. Turf writers were invited whereby the rest of us paid an entry fee. Andy Beyer, Russ Harris, Steve Davidowitz, John Pricci, and others were there. Nice area just outside of Harrisburg. I caught a DD there for $20.00 once. First half paid $129.00 and second half was 3-1. Collected over 6k. A very rare score back in the day. I was waiting for the contest to end (a friend was entered) after three days and had $180.00 left. I used three horses in their race 8 with three in their last race. Got lucky. Nice drive back to NY late that Sunday afternoon (matinee card). Stopped in Phillipsburg for Chinese food. My treat. But you’re right, stakes races pose certain challenges. Knew of someone who would go to Big A when it was called Jamaica Racetrack and only bet the favorite to show in their feature race on a Saturday (no Sunday racing back then). I asked him if it worked and he said it did for a while and then it didn’t. His colleague at work had this “system,” ha, ha. His desk drawer was filled with old DRF’s. You can’t make this stuff up.

  12. Mr. Pricci: For several years Jay Cronley (Let It Ride) and I communicated via e-mail; he was a Remington guy and a person who could make me laugh.

    For some reason, I just haven’t looked at Remington. I guess because I am having enough difficulty following a few trainers and jockeys at you know where.

    I got involved with Emerald Downs because one of my daughters is employed by Microsoft and lives in a suburb of Seattle.

    1. Yes, he was there but a different date. It was the original handicapping contest called the WSH (World Series of Handicapping). Litfin was there in early 1980’s. Three day contest held on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The emcee was a former NBA official, Charlie Eckman. I think he enjoyed the amber-colored liquids. Lots of fun and amateurs always won it, as I recall.

      1. They named a horse after Eckman that ran in Maryland often, “Motormouth Eckman.”

        I’m sure the amber fluids helped. Greeted everyone “hey leader!”

        For the record, I believe I was 0-for-12 years. Think only once I made it with a shot to the last race on Sunday. How did it go? “I looked at Toni and said “we should have beat the traffic instead”

    2. Dave Litfin was there, Dick Jerardi of Phildelphia News, Craig Donnelly or Philadelphia Inquirer (R Harris’ son), turf writers from Harrisburg and Asbury Park papers whose names I’ve forgotten, John Piesen of the Post … and others I can’t remember

  13. John: If I had to win a race for my life, I would want Mr. Cordero to be the rider. That is why I think that he is the greatest rider of the 20th century, all due respect to Arcaro, Shoemaker ( who I will never forgive for putting Forego on the lead in the 77 Brooklyn), Atkinson, etc. As you know too well, Angel was the best at “riding” every horse in the race.

    Anyway, my love for old New York compels a response to something that “c” wrote above, to wit, that the Big A used to be called Jamaica. The fact is that Jamaica was a grand old track on Baisley Blvd, and it was served by the LIRR at Locust Manor station. The Wood Memorial was created there and named after the founder of old Jamaica, Eugene Wood; who was a good friend of Dr. Edward Kilroe, as was also a President of Jamaica, and the father of legendary New York and Santa Anita racing secretary, Frank E. ( Jimmy) Kilroe. Moreover, NYRA’s sale of Jamaica, to create the Rochdale Village Housing Complex, paved the way for the reconstruction of “new” Aqueduct in 1959. Finally, on Jamaica’s final day of racing, 8/1/59, Sword Dancer ( even odds) lost the Brooklyn to Babu ( 22-1), and someone named Shoemaker won the very last race ever run there-Mr.Shoemaker also won the first two races ever run at the “new” Big A, which opened 6 weeks later. John, I have asked that great trivia question many times. It always provokes a quizzical response since Willie the Shoe is not usually associated with New York racing.

  14. Thank you for the clarification. In 1959 I was eight and too young to attend Big A’s opening but it was around this time that The Untouchables aired on TV. In black and white it starred Robert Stack as Elliott Ness. Would watch with volume barely audible so as to not get caught (school night). Good times.

    1. I have a Shoemaker “story” also. Foolish Pleasure had won KY Derby (1975) and he ran second to Master Derby in Preakness. I went to Belmont and sent it in on him in The Belmont Stakes. Who beats me? Willie Shoemaker at 13-1 on Avatar. One jump after the wire FP was in front. Thanks a lot, Jacinto Vasquez! Here’s the kicker: FP went off at 4-5 and paid $3.20 to place. My $1000.00 win bet was all on the front end. Nice, huh? That was the first, and last, time I bet that much money on a “sure thing.” Avatar went wire to wire to beat me, and Foolish Pleasure. I thought Foolish Pleasure was a lock. I was wrong.

  15. C: I also loved the old Untouchables show. They had it on ME TV on Sunday nights until last year. I wish that they would bring it back. Also, Robert Stack is Eliot Ness. I didn’t care for Costner’s portrayal in the movie. However, any movie with Connery is ok by me.

  16. Just heard this morning that Sean Connery is 90 today. Remember seeing Goldfinger on Third Ave in 70’s and loving it. Especially when Odd Job goes to get his hat that is stuck in metal and 007 puts a hose w/sparks to it and bye, bye, Odd Job. Probably the best Bond movie but From Russia w/Love was also good. Yes, The Untouchables on television was a hoot. “Chicago, 1929, Eliot Ness and his band of Untouchables are trying to take down Al Capone. Dutch Schultz and Dion O’Bannion are also competing on the S. Side for the beer rackets…”Costner was ok and DeNiro as Big Al was good, as always. We had great TV back then. Twilight Zone w/Rod Serling. I took a wrong turn and ended up at Roosevelt Raceway and Yonkers. Like many of us I “graduated” to flats. Lots of fun, ‘tho.

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