From the (ex)Jockey's Mouth: Praise the Prince Should Win

Editor's Note: Sean Clancy is a retired steeplechase rider and Saratoga regular who now edits and publishes The Saratoga Special with his brother Joe.

By Sean Clancy
From The Saratoga Special, reprinted with permission

Want the winner of today's feature, the A.P. Smithwick Memorial? We have a little background in steeplechasing here at The Special, we can give you the winner. Here's the horse to beat in the $75,000 stakes...Praise The Prince.

How do we know this? Inside information? Handicapping genius?

Nah, we looked at his chart, that's how we know he's the horse to beat in the 2 1/16 mile, 11 jump stakes.

Steeplechasing is different that flat racing, the jumps you know, but the horses are the same. A horse with a record like Praise The Prince would be the favorite in any race. The 6-year-old New Zealand-bred gelding has run 11 times in this country. The Sanna Neilson trainee finished third in his career debut, since then he's never been worse than second (that's only happened twice, both by a neck or less).

He's talented and he's game. Neilson certainly knows that.

"He's definitely gritty. He's plenty determined in the morning but Spring Salute can outwork him. He's a professional with a sassy side to him. He's just relentless and that makes him a good race horse. He can come off the bridle down the backside and still win which is so unusual," Neilson said. "It's so inspiring, you just can't believe a horse can keep giving like that. At the barn he's like a little puppy dog. But you lead him across the road and he gets all swelled up."

Praise The Prince steps from the restricted novice division to open stakes company for the first time today. It's a little like a 3-year-old flat horse taking on older horses for the first time. Although in today's race, the older horses aren't the most formidable group that's ever been assembled.

"I'm not sure he can make this step and carry the weight that he's been assigned," Neilson said. "You have that in the back of your mind although I'm not sure this is as strong a field as some other years. Any of these horses are capable of running a great race but at the same time, they're all a little spotty."

Popular Gigalo probably has the most talent of the group but it's been missing this spring. Chip Miller trains and rides the 7-year-old who finished second to last year's Eclipse Award winner All Gong in the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase.

Canta Ke Brave put together two huge efforts earlier this spring and has run twice on the flat since then, finishing third in the Fort McHenry Handicap at Pimlico and sixth (to John's Call) in the Cape Henlopen a few weeks later. We'll see if those races help or hurt him. He's full of tactical speed and should be sharp after those runs.

Al Skywalker will most likely be up near Canta Ke Brave. The 8-year-old goes from winning a race to getting hammered in a race with each start. His last race was dismal so maybe he's due for a big one today.

Spring Salute is the forgotten stablemate of Praise The Prince. He can jump up and run huge races from time to time. He comes to town with the exact same layoff line as last year when he galloped in an allowance race.

Aggro Crag hasn't won a race since March 2000 but did manage a third in the same race last year. The 9-year-old could find a decent stalking trip behind some of the pacesetters who might gang up on each other.

Tom Voss sends out Quel Senor, a French-bred who was once in Neil Drysdale's barn. He's three for five over jumps in this country but might get caught up in the firestorm at the front.

Breaking from the outside is Indispensable, a runaway winner of his last start. He'll need a collapse in front (which could easily happen) to produce his best effort.

The race will be all about tactics. If the horse in front (Canta Ke Brave, Al Skywalker, or Quel Senor) gets an easy lead then look out for a theft.

Brown will want to put Praise The Prince down on the inside about four or five lengths off the lead if it's a tight group. Spring Salute and Aggro Crag should fill in the gaps. Indispensable and Popular Gigalo will have one way to win, if the race falls apart in front of them and they can close from the back. Just like a flat race – all about position and who has what left at the end.

Brown has faith in his horse.

"He never has an excuse, he doesn't know quit, he doesn't know adversity," Brown said. "He'll have a bad fence and it doesn't bother him. He'll run on soft ground, hard ground, flat courses, hilly courses. He's not flamboyant or flashy but he does his job 110 percent all the time."

Last year's leading jockey and leader this year, Brown leaned on a pitch fork (glamorous it isn't) and talked about the horse who's put $26,018.50 in his pocket in 16 months.

"I like my horse no matter what happens in front of him but if we get a wicked pace than he'll close even more," Brown said. "I'm hoping for one of those 'Bailey trips,' about four or five off it heading down the backside. He needs something to run at, he'll loaf if he gets in front but he'd crawl on his knees to catch someone." Most likely he won't have to.

Contact Sean Clancy via e-mail at or telephone at 518-581-1947.