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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Thursday, May 16, 2019


The Preakness, Now and Forever, a Classic


By John Pricci

HALLANDALE BEACH—Just when I thought I was out of all the Kentucky Derby talk, they pulled me back in: Post 1? Are you kidding me?

War of Will, the vilified seventh place finisher of Derby 145, has come to Crab Town in search of redemption. Will he wow’em today, or won’t he?

Actually, there was a time back in the day you prayed to draw the rail at Pimlico, a time when one of America’s strongest inside-speed bias was in play.

Now, of course, all tracks, their compositions notwithstanding, are the same, meaning: that the rail is usually dead, the 2- 3- and 4 paths are the roads to glory, and with exceptions, of course, if you’re out in the middle of the track, you’re spinning your wheels.

What will happen tomorrow is anyone’s guess, including the weatherman, whose best bet is Fast Track. And that would be a welcome change in Classics-land.


Given the attendant publicity, I will not be surprised if War of Will goes favorite, a roll currently, and probably deservingly, played by Improbable. But like his main rival on paper, he’s also out of excuses, especially if the track is dry.

And BTW? Screw the naysayers. Love the Preakness for what it is, a Classic that gives the Triple Crown one-third of its meaning. No official or unofficial Derby winner this year? So what. It’s an interesting handicapping puzzle in a division rich with talent.

For instance, how good is Warrior’s Charge? Picking up nine pounds is problematical and Munnings doesn’t scream distance but he’s outrun his pedigree so far. Stablemate Owendale? He comes off a huge Keeneland score and is five weeks fresh. But he, too, picks up weight off a monstrous forward move. A Lexington repeat could win this.

Alwaysmining is more than a quaint local story. Since entering restricted stakes he’s done nothing wrong, winning five straight as distances have increased and his numbers, just below top tier, have improved incrementally. A safe and speedy journey, Kelly Rubley. History was made in the Derby, why not in the Preakness?

All Anothertwistoffate does is run well. He’s poised to move forward again with excellent spacing and pedigree, but the draw really hurt his chances. And how good is Laughing Fox? Has anyone had a better winter/spring than Steve Asmussen and Ricardo Santana Jr.?

On paper, it figures to be a great horse race. And that’s all anyone can ask.

Staff Selections, with Consensus, for the Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness

BLACK-EYED SUSAN

Mark Berner

Always Shopping has won two stakes at the distance
Brill is tractable and should benefit from contested pace
Point of Honor is fresh and suited by pace scenario
Cookie Dough figures in pace but questionable at the distance

Tom Jicha

Brill--Hollendorfer is always dangerous on the road
Always Shopping--The now filly in a lackluster renewal
Point of Honor--Her 4th at GP might be good enough here
Cookie Dough—Top Florida filly working strongly for this

Indulto

Always Shopping – G2 winner still improving for Pletcher
Cookie Dough – FL-bred stakes winner working up a storm after 2 competitive G2s
Brill – Working well after third in Fantasy for Hollendorfer
Las Setas – On a five consecutive win streak

John Pricci

Brill –excellent figures, looms lone F
Point of Honor –flat in last but prior top rate, big upside
Always Shopping –loves the trip, Todd seeks fifth Suzy title
Cookie Dough is a speedy and tough Florida-bred; working bullets

Craig Milkowski, TimeformUS

Brill
Point of Honor
Off Topic
Cookie Dough

BLACK-EYED SUSAN CONSENSUS

BRILL (20)
ALWAYS SHOPPING (16)
POINT OF HONOR (10)
COOKIE DOUGH (4)

PREAKNESS STAKES



Mark Berner

Owendale closed well in good-figure Lexington win at Keeneland.
War of Will didn't show best in past two; will need to work a trip from inside post
Improbable has been competitive with top horses and is the lone Grade 1 winner here.
Bourbon War, compromised by a slow pace in last, will have better position in blinkers.
Alwaysmining is the hot local horse and earns competitive figures.


Tom Jicha


Alwaysmining has win pattern similar to Maximum Security
Improbable hasn't gotten job done as a 3YO
War of Will is now or never for excuse horse
Bourbon War’s late run will get him on board somewhere
Win Win Win’s biggest win still a sprint

Indulto

War of Will – Severely compromised trip in Derby
Improbable – Derby favorite consistent against top competition
Bodexpress – Maiden encountered trouble in Derby
Win Win Win – Disappointed in Derby slop
Alwaysmining – Patiently managed 3YO on six-win streak

John Pricci

War of Will—Like TJ says, it’s now or never, rail or no rail
Bourbon War is fresh for third start at 3, kick suits dynamics, sharper in blinkers
Improbable will never find a better spot, conditions, to live up to his hype
Alwaysmining is best chance for local horse since Cormorant (Slew notwithstanding)
Owendale comes off monstrous effort and he’s had five weeks since; improving, talented, tricky read but a must use.

Craig Milkowski, TimeformUS

Warrior's Charge
Owendale
War of Will
Improbable
Bourbon War

PREAKNESS CONSENSUS

WAR OF WILL (22)
IMPROBABLE (16)
ALWAYSMINING (10)
OWENDALE (10)
BOURBON WAR (9)

©John Pricci, HorseRaceInsider, May 16, 2019



Written by John Pricci

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Monday, May 13, 2019


Bloodhorse: Saez Suspended 15 Days for Derby Ride


The Kentucky stewards have suspended jockey Luis Saez 15 days for failure to control his mount and make the proper effort to maintain a straight course in his ride aboard Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) May 4 at Churchill Downs.

Gary and Mary West's Maximum Security was disqualified from victory and placed 17th by the stewards after it was determined that he had veered out and caused direct interference with War of Will and chain-reaction interference with Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress.

The stewards issued their decision to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission May 12 and the ruling was posted to the KHRC website May 13. The ruling, which followed a May 10 film review, calls for Saez to be suspended from May 23-27, May 30-June 2, June 6-9, and June 13-14.

The ruling said the suspension is for "failure to control his mount and make the proper effort to maintain a straight course thereby causing interference with several rivals that resulted in the disqualification of his mount."

Saez, who currently is riding at Belmont Park, was represented at the May 10 film review by Louisville, Ky. attorney Ann Oldfather. BloodHorse.com has reached out to Oldfather for reaction to the decision and will update this story with any reaction or plans to appeal.

Oldfather, who was not allowed to address the stewards at the May 10 session, had presented the stewards with a video that made the argument other riders and horses caused or contributed to the foul. The stewards offered no assurances they would view the video.


Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, May 02, 2019


Tough Game; (HAIKAL ALSO SCRATCHED)


By John Pricci

HALLANDALE BEACH—The genesis of the first, and hopefully only, major disappointment associated with Kentucky Derby 145 began with a little cough.

A good horseman assumes nothing and reacts to learn more. And so a tube with the camera at the end was inserted into Omaha Beach's air passage in search of a problem; it didn't long before Hall of Fame trainer got his answer.

“After training this morning we noticed him cough a few times,” Mandella told Jay Privman of Daily Racing Form Wednesday night.

“It caused us to scope him and we found an entrapped epiglottis. We can't fix it this week, so we'll have to have a procedure done in a few days and probably be out of training for three weeks. We'll have to figure out a whole new game plan.”

*****************

If interested, tune into 1045FMTheTeam, guesting on "Rodger Wyland's Big Board Sports" scheduled for 11:15 am Friday

****************


The condition occurs when a fold of tissue gets stuck and blocks the epiglottis that covers a horse's larynx. Without one, food would go down his windpipe, thus surgery is required.

And, so, for Mandella and owner Rick Porter, whose filly Eight Belles suffered the unthinkable in this race 11 years ago, "a chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance" evaporates, just like that.

There are lots of racetrack cliches trainers use in response to most any question. At times, trainerspeak is embarrassing. But when a horseman says "all we have to do between now and raceday is keep the horse happy and healthy," this is not idle messaging.

This was not intended to be today's lead, which was written before the news broke. It was supposed to be about how changes in track condition alter the handicapping dynamic; about the will-he-or-won't-he-bounce given a fast track and quick turnaround; a query that atmospherics may render moot.

It was supposed to be about whether or not Omaha Beach was beginning to enter the rarified air of greatness. Thankfully, he still will have time to prove that, only not this Saturday, not on America's biggest racing stage.

But the show will go on, there will be a new shooter in the starting gate, a maiden named Bode Express who chased Maximum Security around Gulfstream Park before finishing second in the Florida Derby, earning enough points to make an also-eligible list from which he would escape.

Haikal was withdrawn Friday morning as a matter of precaution after developing a foot bruise earlier this week. The colt currently is being treated and will recover fully in a matter of days; another routine issue that occurred at the worst time.

And so revised Derby selections are posted below, right under the Kentucky Oaks. It may be a new age but gentlemen will still prefer that ladies go first.


HRI STAFF Abides


Below are the selections of three full-time staffers, a horseplaying regular contributor and the respected TimeformUS Mr. Everything. Additionally, we weighted their choices to reflect a consensus of opinion only found here:

OAKS


Tom Jicha

1- Bellafina—Legit short price; kills Oaks-Derby double
2- Restless Rider—Always fires and likes Churchill
3- Out for a Spin—Dallas Stewart gets pieces of big races
4- Lady Apple—Winning-streak ends but could get a small share

Mark Berner

1- Bellafina is tractable in speedy field and won two stakes on a wet track.
2- Restless Rider was a neck short in return and should benefit from the effort.
3- Liora has been close with similar and pace scenario suits.
4- Lady Apple won prep, likes wet, and will provide value underneath.

Craig Milkowski, TimeFormUS

1- Restless Rider – Ran fastest career race in first start off a four month layoff, expecting top effort second off the bench.
2- Chocolate Kisses – Disappointed last out in Blue Grass country but should get a great pace set-up in this one
3- Champagne Anyone – Showed much improved early speed with the addition of blinkers in the Gulfstream Oaks
4- Bellafina – Likely favorite is the one to beat but disappointed in Juvenile Fillies and meets similar competition here

Indulto

1- Jaywalk – 2YO Champion is back in shape
2- Lady Apple – Improving by leaps & bounds
3- Out For A Spin – Beat champ at KEE last out
4- Restless Rider – Also has beaten 2018’s top filly

John Pricci

1- Restless Rider will benefit from game Ashland placing, her season’s debut, and never worse than second in career; bad post helps price?
2- Lady Apple is 3-for-3 this year, 2-for-2 rounding two turns, and overcame stretch trouble on slower inside footing in Fantasy score.
3- Out for a Spin eligible to regress off huge forward move winning Ashland but has great foundation, tactical speed, pole and picks up Irad.
4- Bellafina has reacted thrice off fast efforts in the past; needs to prove she can duplicate form outside SoCal on relatively short rest at longer trip.

CONSENSUS (points awarded on 5-3-2-1 scale)

RESTLESS RULER (17)
BELLAFINA (12)
LADY APPLE (8)
OUT FOR A SPIN (7)


KENTUCKY DERBY

Tom Jicha


1-Roadster—Late rally in Santa Anita Derby to run down a champion was awesome. Keeps unbeaten 3YO streak alive.
2-Game Winner—Never worse than second so this might be short-changing the champ.
3- Tacitus—Had to fight to win Wood, a trait you like to see.
4- Vekoma—20-1 for Blue Grass winner. Have to have a saver at that price.
5-Improbable--Could Baffert run 1-2-3? Of course, he could.

Mark Berner

1- Vekoma impressed in win at Keeneland, running style suits pace scenario, and has smart recent work; wet-track pedigree.
2- Game Winner is the most impressive Baffert trainee and has never been worse than second
3- Improbable missed by a length to Omaha Beach on sloppy track at Oaklawn in failed experiment with blinkers on and has them removed today.
4- By My Standards is the hot horse on the work tab with good reason; buzz negates some value.
5- Haikal had a good prep in the Wood, trained well since, and is wet-track value play underneath.

Craig Milkowski, TimeFormUS

1 Tacitus – Has won his last three with strong finishes, and most importantly has been able to stay in range of very fast paces
2 Tax – Draws a good inside post but has tactical speed to avoid being shuffled back
3 Improbable – Yet to win in 2019 but should appreciate the removal of blinkers
4 Country House – Don’t consider this one a win contender but will be finishing late and be an exotics player
5 Game Winner – Two year old champ hasn’t been quite the same in 2019 but he’s had excuses in both tries

Indulto

1- Maximum Security – Unbeaten FL Derby Winner moves up in mud
2- Improbable – Compromised in narrow AK Derby loss
3- Tacitus – Wood winner unbeaten as 3YO
2- Roadster – Santa Anita Derby winner unbeaten as 3YO
1- By My Standard – LA Derby winner still improving

John Pricci


1- Game Winner, fast from debut run, has never taken backward step, won 2YO title @ CD, has two good preps @3 and owns wet track pedigree
2- Vekoma won strongly run Blue Grass, earned competitively fast figure at 2, tactical speedster and can kick, two-sided wet pedigree and Castellano
3- Improbable, fast and no backward steps going long, benefits from two-prep campaign, hated blinkers are off, loves CD; Irad a glove fit
4- War of Will, early 3YO division leader, is fast, a powerful eyeful, viably forward via bounce-rebound pattern, loves wet CD, brilliant works; killer post
5- Tax, generally underrated, is tactically fast, a game late battler, inside post a plus, improved with Lasix and added ground, stout pedigree

CONSENSUS (points awarded on a 6-4-3-2-1 scale)

GAME WINNER (15)
IMPROBABLE (14)
TACITUS (12)
VEKOMA (12)
ROADSTER (8)


Written by John Pricci

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