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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Sunday, January 27, 2019


Pegasus Soars Once Again


January 27, 2019--For racing media, one of the fun parts of the job, believe it or not, is waking up at ungodly hour, rain or shine, and visiting the barns of the players from the previous day’s big race.

As expected, mostly the winners laugh, tell stories, and the losers say deal. Temporarily sidelined myself, I wonder what happened when my colleagues this morning only to find nobody was home.

That didn’t happen, of course. With winners and losers celebrating or commiserating over dinner late into the South Florida night, Mike McCarthy and John Sadler still needed to show up and check on their horses before watching them be loaded onto a Lexington-bound van.

So it’s not likely that City of Light or Accelerate would have been among this missing this am, but they won’t be around for long, leaving the racing's stage forever--fertility issues notwithstanding.

While City of Light separated himself from the 2018 handicap champion in the gloaming at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, both will soon arrive at the same stud farm to begin a second career.

Some guys have all the luck.

On a day better suited to Netflix binging than going to the races, the building was hopping despite the elements. Stakeholders, horseplayers and fans showed up brought money, and weren’t shy about spending it.

Despite the fact three races were rescheduled from turf to a sealed, sloppy main track, resulting in 21 program scratches, on-site attendees wagered over $4.1 million, the same as last year. Simulcasting handle, however, took a 10% year-over-year hit.

Nevertheless, total handle exceeded $37.7 million despite fast and firm competition from five high-profile venues: Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita and Tampa Bay Downs.

Add up their business and it probably would be in the same neighborhood as Gulfstream's.

With the 2018 Triple Crown winning Horse of the Year cozy inside his stall at Ashford Stud Farm, Saturday’s main event still managed to attract America’s two best handicappers, both Breeders’ Cup champions, replete with a maxed-out supporting cast.

While conditions and race eligibility may be subject to change in the future, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational has secured a rightful place on the international racing calendar as a world class event.

Timing is everything. Staging the Pegasus less than 48 hours after Eclipse Award ceremonies ensures that racing's elite will support the day with some of their very best runners.

In addition to the two mega-million dollar events, there are seven supporting stakes, four of them graded, right there for the best horse on the day.

Of course, making indecent purses available on dirt and turf midway between the Classic and Dubai World Cup doesn’t hurt.

Neither does the spacing in this less-is-more racing age.

For fans, the hardship was throwing out Friday night’s homework in favor of some on-the-fly, wet-track, speed-biased adjustments.

A quick-hit race-by-race Pegasus day overview:

Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint
: Rescheduled to the main track, the result likely would have been the same--even with Stormy Liberal on grass. World of Trouble is simply an old school speed freak. Having Jason Servis in your corner helps, too.

Maiden Allowances:
Every once in a while Bill Mott does this: Unleash a powerhouse runner on debut. Hidden Scroll might not turn out to be Justify, but we wish there were a Belmont Futures book to bet into. Find a replay a see for yourself.

Making a maiden win at a mile at first asking, with or without a bias, look easy takes the rarest of animals and superb preparation. Hidden Scroll is son of Hard Spun, from the Juddmonte Farms mare Sheba Queen, by Empire Maker. It's five weeks to the Fountain of Youth? Perfect place to find out just what you've got.

Ladies Turf Sprint: She was stakes placed in her second start at 2, Saratoga’s Spinaway, then third in Belmont’s Astoria. But Cherry Lodge, making only her 10th career start, finally got her graded stakes win at 5, thanks to a turf washout, quarter-horsing by Jose Ortiz from the start, and expert pointing by Todd Pletcher.

South Beach Stakes:
Cannot remember Bill Mott having a Gulfstream like this—ever—winning his second of the day with Dolce Lilli, under routinely superb turf handling from Johnny Velazquez over squishy, yielding ground.

G3 Hurricane Bertie: With help from Javier Castellano, Kairan McLaughlin is on the right path by having Dream Pauline answer these questions: Seven furlongs? No problem. No lead? No problem. Is she a slop-loving little scooter? Affirmative. Longer trip? Possibly. Good job all around.

G3 La Prevoyante:
Speaking of people you would not expect to make an impression in his first full season in an extremely loaded jocks’ room, enter Chris Landeros. A Kentucky-based star, he’s caught the eye, riding well even when he doesn’t get the job done.

But does he ever fit Si Que Es Buena, who took her second straight at Gulfstream, improving her lifetime mark to 7-for-15, with three seconds and a third. She now has handled firm, good, and yielding ground from nine to 12 furlongs. Argentinian import has won twice for Graham Motion, looking like a serious divisional player down the road.

G3 Hooper: The crowd seriously overbet the physically challenged Copper Town, who appeared compromised by the footing. But not so win machine Aztec Sense. Challenged throughout, Emisael Jaramillo stayed with him, enabling his ninth straight victory and 10 of his last 11 for Jorge Navarro, giving the trainer career victory 1,000.

Still no word on the condition of Aztec Sense, who was vanned off following Jaramillo's dismount on the gallop-out.

So the gelded 6-year-old needs what, 21 more in a row to tie Winx? And Navarro what, 7,000 more to catch Asmussen? Just asking for a friend.

G3 WL McKnight: With Godfather references so much in vogue during these turbulent American times, here’s another: “It was between the brothers, Kay.”

And there was some sibling late contact between winning Zulu Alpha (Irad Ortiz Jr.) and the narrowly beaten runnerup Soglio (Jose). I’m sure it mattered to the owners, but not to Mike Maker, who is so, so good on the grass. Maker saddled the exacta.

Pegasus Postscript: The thing I hate about sloppy-track mega-confrontations is that no matter who wins, victory always seems to come with an asterisk. Yesterday’s romp by City of Light over Accelerate was the result of a fast horse racing with a speed-biased advantage. That may be true.

But what also may be true is that, in the final analysis, City of Light might be the more talented race horse.

As a Grade 1 winner at 7, 8 and 9 furlongs at disparate venues, twice over Accelerate, winning Saturday as if 10 were in his scope, consider it could have been a fourth G1 venue if not for overconfident handling in Saratoga’s Forego—he’d be my choice of the two newest Lane’s End stallions. If only…

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January 26, 2019--At the top of the Hallandale stretch, Pegasus III was all anyone who loves the game could hope for in the World Cup Invitational Stakes; the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner vs. the Dirt Mile winner, about to go stride to stride one last time before being sent home.

But just as quickly as the drama was unfolding, it ended. A just crowned champion male handicap runner had met his match and then some over a speed biased sloppy racetrack, City of Light giving Accelerate more than he could handle.

An uber confident Javier Castellano had a plan that could not have worked any better. He had the Cigar Mile winner in his sights who whole way, stalking comfortably until the right time, mid-far-turn at Gulfstream Park.

By headstretch, Accelerate did just that, trying to cut into the leader’s margin. But Joel Rosario didn’t have enough speed underneath him and City of light had more than enough, leaving a Horse of the Year candidate and 10 other supporting players gasping in his 5-3/4 length, sudden 1:47.71 wake.

The conditions for horse racing in South Florida Saturday were less than ideal for a precious few who found cover and betting windows and television monitors, handicappers throwing last night’s figures out the door, searching the form for any horse with tactical speed and a fondness for wet going.

Horses with tactical speed and enough class to kick home to the finish post won every race run over a sealed, sloppy track inundated by rain storms that appeared more appropriate for summer’s humid hotness than a balmy winter championship season.

Three graded grass stakes remained on the turf and they were formfully won the way most grass races are won in South Florida or anywhere else on the planet, by horses with the best late kick or the best ground-saving trip.

The latter, Zulu Alpha’s, saved ground and took the slippery 12-furlong G3 McKnight, book-ended by a pair of late ralliers; Si Que Es Buena in the G3 La Prevoyante and Bricks and Mortar, who kicked home strongly to win the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Invitational Turf.

Written by John Pricci

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