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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Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Where Players Bet Matters


Despite excellent racing and full-court-press promoting by TVG’s wall-to-wall coverage, the message being sent by boycotting horseplayers is being heard loud and clear.

Having said that, I predict that today’s handle will be up over last year’s, thanks to a six-figure Pick Six carryover, a pool that features $1 wagering and not the standard $2 in non-jackpot scenarios.

But that, too, is beside the point.

While unofficial handle at racing’s other top tier venues, Belmont Park and Santa Anita is up significantly, Keeneland’s is down considerably by comparison for the period of OCT 6 through OCT 15.

Courtesy of industry consultant Michael Antoniades, Belmont Park handle for eight racing days was $71,531,890 compared to 64,032,440 year over year, an increase of $7,499,450 on 75 races each year.

Santa Anita handle over the same seven-day period over 62 races, the same number as last year’s was $63,013,409 vs $56,274,507 year over year, an increase of $6,738,902.

At Keeneland, meanwhile, which had the same eight racing days as in 2016, handle decreased by $6,228, 353 going from 2016’s $71,484,762 to this year’s $65,256,409.

A coincidence, I think not. While the Lexington oval suffered through one horrible weather day—sloppy and off the turf—it also set a fall record for attendance this past Saturday of 29,000-plus fans.

Another metric is also telling. Belmont Park’s handle per race showed an average gain of nearly $100,000 per, while Santa Anita’s per race handle increased by almost $109,000.

At Keeneland it was the opposite, as per race handle slid from a 2016 average of $940,588 to $847,485 this year, with one more race. Two Bigs + $100K. One Big -$93K, give or take.

And there’s one more coincidence to consider, if you will. Last year, racing from OCT 7 through OCT 16, Keeneland was the per race handle leader at $940,588; Santa Anita’s was $907,653, Belmont’s $853,765.

In 2017, Keeneland’s handle went from first to third among the Big Three: $847K+ vs. Belmont’s $953K+ and Santa Anita’s $1M+.

The numbers are far from definitive, of course, but the message is clear: Where Horseplayers Bet Their Money Matters.

There also is an early indication that while compliance has been spotty at best, there may be some indication that the new tax laws might be making a difference when applied to boxcar payouts.

Had there not been a boycott in place, there is reason to believe that Keeneland could have been the biggest beneficiary with, on balance, their larger and highly competitive talent-laden fields.

There are other factors at play, as there are anytime comparisons such as this one are made. How it all turns out in the end is still anyone’s guess. Keeneland will continue to race through month’s end.

In the meantime, however, the boycott has made a difference.

While the desired goal being that takeout rates return to its levels of just this spring, that is unlikely to occur. If any track is in a position to take a haircut, it’s Keeneland.

But this is where greed can be a good thing; no one likes losing money. Just ask the closest horseplayer.

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, October 17, 2017

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, October 05, 2017


Final Q & A on Horse Racing Integrity Act 2017


HOW LONG HAS WHOA BEEN IN EXISTANCE AND MANY MEMBERS DO YOU CURRENTLY HAVE?
WHOA was founded in 2012 on a phone call with lobbyist Frankie Trull. She suggested that lobbying as an alliance of individuals would be more powerful than each of us lobbying on our own. As an alliance, WHOA has given us common ground. From those early days with 10 original members, WHOA’s membership has grown to over 1,500 members who have endorsed our pledge and signed on to the WHOA membership roster. http://www.waterhayoatsalliance.com/join.shtml.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE ITS MEMBERSHIP, PRIMARILY, BREEDERS AND OWNERS?

WHOA is a grassroots group of like-minded Owners, Breeders, Trainers, Jockeys, Equine Practitioners, Industry Professionals, Handicappers and Racing Fans who stand against the permissive use of performance enhancing drugs in American horse racing.
WHOA’s membership is open to anyone with a stake in the racing game. It includes all racing disciplines: Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Quarter Horse.
The membership breaks down as follows:
Owner/Breeders 45%
Industry Professionals 15%
Equine Practitioners 1%
Trainers 4%
Jockeys <1%
Handicappers 2%
Racing Fans 16%
Horse Lovers 17%

HOW MANY TRAINERS ARE MEMBERS OF THE ORGANIZATION?
There are currently 54 trainers in WHOA; 10 of them, Hall of Famers.

WHEN WAS THE BARR-TONKO BILL ORIGINALLY INTRODUCED AND WHAT IS ITS CURRENT STATUS?

The Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 was introduced June 3, 2015. This bi-partisan effort is lead by Congressman Andy Barr (R-KY) and Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY). Both are co-chairmen of the Congressional Horse Caucus. Sadly, the original legislation never made it to committee, but during that time new industry groups worked with legislators and industry leaders to make improvements to the bill. The Coalition for Horseracing Integrity (CHRI) was founded with three original members: WHOA, the Jockey Club and the HSUS. CHRI now boasts 17 members who are working to promote passage of the legislation.

The Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017 was reintroduced on May 25, 2017. H.R. 2651 includes new provisions to the original legislation that include: all racing disciplines, no race day medication and oversight by the FTC. All of the changes were supported by WHOA. The CHRI and its member organizations have been assured by Energy and Commerce leadership that the bill will move to committee this fall. Monthly D.C. fly-ins are being held to push for passage and grow support in the house. Currently there are 85 co-sponsors of H.R. 2651. The senate version of the bill promises to be introduced in the coming weeks.

ARE YOU DISAPPOINTED IN THE LACK OF A FINAL SOLUTION THUS FAR?
It is frustrating that the industry cannot come together to support clean racing either through the National Uniform Medication Policy or federal legislation appointing USADA as the independent anti-doping agency responsible for horseracing in the U.S. Polls consistently show that the American Public wants clean and fair sport.
But racing has no national cohesiveness because no single organization has been appointed to deal with its problems. Everything is regulated from state to state. So we are trying to adopt and pass something on a national basis.

HOW MUCH OF A HINDRANCE HAS NATIONAL AND REGIONAL HBPA BEEN TOWARD WHOA’S EFFORTS?

In general, WHOA’s stand on medication, medication reform, uniform penalties and testing, and so on, are opposed by the HBPA. The HBPA has been very active in lobbying against the current legislation.
The HBPA claims to be against the use of performance enhancing drugs in Thoroughbred racing, yet we have never seen any evidence to support this policy; they have gone so far as to fund legal defense of horsemen accused of breaking the law.

WHERE WILL THE FUNDING COME FROM?

Under HR 2651, the Horseracing Anti-Doping Agency (HADA) will not receive any federal funding. Its initial budget and any subsequent budget that exceeds a prior year’s budget by more than 5 % would require approval by 2/3 of its board, meaning that at least three industry board members would have to vote in support. The cost of HADA’s operations would be allocated to states on a per start basis and the states will have the opportunity to choose whether or not it collect the fees from the industry as they so choose or to let HADA do so.
Due largely to HADA’s anticipated out of competition testing (OOCT) protocols (which is in line with the RMTC’s recently approved OOCT program), there will be increased costs – which will impact the states differently due largely to the disparities in their current testing budgets. The end result of having the HADA program with robust nationwide OOCT testing (which is far from the case currently) is that US racing will have a worldclass anti-doping and medication control program to help ensure the safety of our athletes and the integrity of our product.

WOULD WHOA ENDORSE A POLICY THAT COULD POTENTIALLY USE AN INFINITESIMAL PORTION OF FUTURE AUCTION SALE REVENUES--SAY 1/2 OF 1 PERCENT—TO BE DIVIDED TO UNDERWRITE TESTING AND AFTERCARE INITIATIVES?
The Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA) is a grassroots movement of like-minded individuals who support the passage of federal legislation to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport of horse racing. Period. As a grassroots alliance, WHOA does not have a board of directors, WHOA simply has a specific mission statement to stay true to. WHOA relies on it supporters to act as a decision-making body should the case arise.
So while some members may or may not agree to a particular policy, WHOA keeps its blinkers on and stays focused on our goal: The appointment of an independent anti-doping program run by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). WHOA believes that USADA leadership will solve the problem of widespread drug use in American racing and put U.S. racing jurisdictions in step with international standards.
It is obvious that after years of committee review and discussion, America’s racing industry cannot police itself by eliminating the proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs in our sport, nor does it possess the power to adequately punish the purveyors of these drugs.

WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATE ON THE POSSIBLE EXPANSION OF OUT-OF-COMPETITION TESTING?

Without a national program and budget, it is up to each state racing authority or individual racetracks to initiate and fund such initiatives.

HOW MUCH IS THE RELUCTANCE OF HORSEMEN TO GIVE UP THE USE OF RACEDAY LASIX BEEN A FACTOR IN PROGRESS OR LACK THEREOF?
It has been the elephant in the room.

HOW DISAPPOINTED IS WHOA THAT THE US TROTTING ASSOCIATION RECENTLY RELEASED A STATEMENT THAT IT WOULD NOT SUPPORT THE BIPARTISAN HORSE RACING INTEGRITY ACT OF 2017?

While we are disappointed, we are not surprised, as the pro-medication forces among the troops of participants in harness racing are very strong.

WILL THE RECENT SUPPORT OF AN ORGANIZATION SUCH AS THE ASPCA MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE IN WHETHER THE LEGISLATION WOULD BE ADOPTED?
According to recent polls by Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) https://media.gractions.com/130D0DEC14413A987751556AFC00A53D2C17D6F9/a566eb73-01bc-4b5e-af87-282581fd7c46.pdf the American public supports medication reform. Therefore, groups like HSUS and the ASPCA, who represent national animal welfare concerns are powerful allies and will help educate and organize the general public.
Doping destroys public confidence in racing, defrauds the betting fan, weakens the genetic pool and, most importantly, puts the life and limb of our equine athletes and their jockeys at risk.

WHAT OTHER NATONAL ANIMAL RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS WOULD IT TAKE TO MAKE THE AMERICAN PUBLIC ACCEPT THE NOTION THAT THE HORSE RACING INDUSTRY, CONTRARY TO POPULAR PERCEPTION, TREATS ITS ANIMALS EXCEPTIONALLY WELL?

To have the support of HSUS and ASPCA on a national level speaks volumes.

IF THE HRIA IS ADAPTED, HOW LONG DOES THE ORGANIZATION THINK IT WOULD TAKE TO BENEFIT FROM THE BREEDING OF HEALTHIER HORSES THAT WOULD NO LONGER BE PERMITTED TO COMPETE USING RACEDAY MEDICATION?
It took 30 years to get to this point…three generations. So to turn the tables back, it may take the same period to return to “clean” bloodlines. But with infusion of the international market, it could be shorter. Whatever the case, if our industry is to reclaim its place in the international market, we must breed a horse who runs on his own merit and ability… and not chemical ability.

WITHOUT WHOA, OR ORGANIZATIONS LIKE IT, SHOWING THAT THE INDUSTRY IS SERIOUS ABOUT LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD FOR ALL IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE HORSES AND RIDERS, WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF RACING SURVIVING IN THE LONG TERM?
WHOA has raised the bar and encouraged industry groups to take a stand against the status quo. WHOA has given members a platform to share their common belief in clean sport and drug-free racing. WHOA has given members a voice by standing together for the common good.
If WHOA can continue to push the boundaries, raise awareness and demand that U.S. racing eventually joins other international horseracing jurisdictions and IFHA rules of racing, our grassroots efforts will have paid off.
Horse racing will always be with us. But it will never be as popular or widespread as in the past, like many other forms of entertainment and gambling. Racing has encountered a number of things that have diminished its footprint.
As rural life changed and cities developed, the disappearance of the horse on roads and farms changed people’s tastes. NASCAR has flourished as people embraced those speedy machines. Racing at one time had a virtual monopoly on domestic gambling. Today there are any number of ways one can place a wager.
Racing has been slow to adapt to the changing landscape, but there are many passionate supporters of the game and they are sure to develop strategies that will allow the sport to be conducted in the future.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, October 01, 2017


One Super Saturday Down, One to Go


Within 36 hours, serious Breeders’ Cup prep races came fast and furiously. Let’s flip a Horses/Trainers To Watch championship notebook, by division:

DISTAFFERS: In the last eight years, Bill Mott and Richard Mandella own five of those titles. Hall of Famer Mandella did it with the same horse, the great Beholder, four years apart. The big mare won the Distaff at 3 and last year at 6.

Hall of Famer Mott has won five Distaffs with four different mares, two of the five with three-year-olds. After Saturday’s Beldame, can’t blame anyone for thinking he has a chance to make it six with a third three-year-old.

There’s something else these gentlemen have in common: The longer the season runs, the better their horses run. They are the Horsemen of Fall, and both are in the conversation when someone asks: “Who’s the best trainer at pointing toward specific spots?”

Man-Oh-Mandella wasn’t too kind to horseplayers when he ran Paradise Woods and Avenge woefully short of their best condition at Del Mar but both came alive in a big Grade 1 way in Arcadia.

Santa Anita Oaks 11-length winner Paradise Woods is back but she beat only three rivals after two late scratches, and close second-choice and runnerup Faithfully has never made anyone shake in their boots at entry time. Her speed will play nicely at Del Mar; the competition and likely race shape won’t.

Alabama heroine Elate may have beaten a deeper field of her peers in Saratoga and was not meeting any older stars in the Beldame—but oh how she did it. Never before has she shown that kind of turn of foot. She’s getting better at the perfect time.

The great unknown is the ability to handle the Del Mar surface with the same aplomb. But that’s a question that all horses unfamiliar with the Del Mar surface must answer. Despite the new Santa Anita-like surface, not all horses handle it. Arrogate, anyone?

JUVENILES:
Anytime the Breeders’ Cup is staged on the west coast; advantage west-coast based runners. And throw in what will be for many the two-turn factor, that’s another checkmark that California-based main-track youngsters can check; Churchill’s two-year-olds notwithstanding.

But even if this year’s Juvenile were held on the moon, Bolt d’Oro would be the favorite. His Frontrunner made a track that yielded moderate to slow times all afternoon look fast, lengthening stride with each step in the final furlong.

By Medaglia d’Oro from the A.P. Indy mare Globe Trot that would make sense but the manner of his victory makes him the clear favorite for the Juvenile, a championship to be named later, and early favorite for the 2018 Kentucky Derby. He’s 2-for-2 at Del Mar.

As is juvenile filly Moonshine Memories, the second of three Grade 1 victories for Flavien Prat. While not nearly as impressive as ‘Bolt’, she checked the appropriate boxes under somewhat trying dynamics. She showed class taking the Chandelier and also 2-for-2 at the seaside track.

At Gulfstream Park, Soutache did what was expected of him to win the In Reality Stakes for Florida-bred juveniles.

It was a comprehensive win that did not comes too easily despite the winning margin and, as a son of Backtalk, doesn’t inspire confidence that he can handle good horses over a distance of ground, certainly Bolt d’Oro anyway.

In the My Dear Girl Florida-bred division for fillies, the top two fillies ran well, duplicating their 1-2 finish in the sprint prep for this. Only this time the runnerup was best as the race was run; too bad she didn’t get the lion’s share.

Dessert Honeys kicked her sprint-meant pedigree in the hind-quarters. After getting bumped hard at the break and checked again shortly thereafter, she rallied five-wide into contention on the final turn and roared home late and just missed catching Starship Bonita.

Whether she’s good enough must be seen, but Dessert Honeys earned her way into open company the next time she appears. She should not be taken lightly when the big girls start arriving slowly the next two months.

SPRINTERS:
Intermittent heavy rains didn’t do G1 Vosburgh favorite any favors, having to scoot out of their in a speed-laden field to open a clear advantage. While game right to the end, El Deal didn’t get the separation he enjoyed during his recent winning streak.

But he stayed on very well and might not have been able to hold off Takaful under any circumstances. He has the better pedigree and great connections, Team McLaughlin doing the right thing by shortening up to sprint distances. He’s been a revelation since.

The victory might not have been possible without the services of Jose Ortiz—who returned to take the Beldame aboard Elate—who stalked El Deal from close range, punching his ticket to Del Mar. The problem is next time he’ll be stalking a Bob Baffert-trained sprint champion.

CLASSIC CONTENDERS: Whatever happens in Oceanside early next month, Mubtaahij earned his spot in the Classic starting gate with his game victory in the G1 Awesome Again that might have been more facile that it looked at first blush.

While he might not prove to the equal of other Baffert-trained older G1 performers, the trainer threw his hat squarely in the trainer’s category. To my unofficial count, the Irish-bred five year old was Baffert’s sixth Grade 1 win with six different horses this year.

If a trainer is fortunate enough to win close to that number, it’s usually with one dominant performer, but a half dozen horses? Remarkable. In short, going first time for this barn, Mubtaahij ran to a series of impressive drills, adding blinkers for his first start in 189 days.

TURF: Beach Patrol enjoyed perfect circumstances and took advantage of dynamics when he thoroughly romped taking the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and proved a mile and a half is within his scope.

Three year old Oscar Performance raced well over wet ground that he might not have cared for and finished third. He will appreciate Del Mar turf if his connections decide to take the trip west.

And while there may be more “talent” in the Mile than the Turf, turning back over firmer ground could be the way to go after proving that he can sit off early leaders.

Meanwhile, all eventual Turf entrants caught a break when trainer John Gosden announced immediately after his amazing filly Enable won Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe that he would recommend putting her away now until 2018.

In terms of dominant performances, her’s was the equal of Bolt d’Oro’s or Elate's. Despite racing close to the pace to maintain position over the yielding “speed-favoring” Chantilly ground, she showed a remarkable, sustained turn of foot to the finish. Wow!

Written by John Pricci

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