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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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Friday, February 07, 2014


NYRA Fires Shot Heard Round the Racing World


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., February 7, 2014—The big news today took place fifteen hundred miles to the north of here and had nothing to do with frigid temps or impending storms when the New York Racing Assn. announced it will host a 13-race card with 10 added-money stakes on Belmont day worth $8 million in purse money.

"This is the premier day of racing at Belmont Park, anchored by the historic Belmont Stakes," said Martin Panza, NYRA's Senior Vice President of Racing Operations in a press release. "I see June 7 as a summer time Breeders' Cup-type event. Fans and New York horsemen deserve a day like this."

“We want to grab attention of racing fans in typically big New York style,” said NYRA President Chris Kay on a subsequent national conference call. “We want this to be a summer time championship day of racing.”

Until I read Panza’s quote, I flashed back to a time when the industry was learning that Breeders’ Cup Ltd. was intending to host a Lasix-free event in an effort to keep pace with the rest of the international racing world.

As you might imagine, that idea was not warmly received by horsemen, just as former NYRA president Charles Hayward was not pleased when the Breeders’ Cup, according to Hayward, reneged on a handshake promise to bring the event back to Belmont Park.

After Hayward was dismissed, NYRA’s then-current state of disarray was the reason Belmont Park was passed over, whispered Breeders’ Cup officials at the time.

While the furor was raging, Saratoga was ending and the return to Belmont Park that Fall prompted wealthy horse owner Mike Repole to say that if Breeders’ Cup went through with its anti-Lasix stance and continued to bypass New York, he would put up the millions needed to host an event like this personally, in direct competition with Breeders’ Cup.

It didn’t take long for media wise guys to dub the event, the Bleeders’ Cup.

Whether or not this is some trial balloon for a big Fall day in the future remains to be seen, as will Breeders’ Cup’s anti-Lasix agenda, a stance on which they caved this year when California horsemen threatened to boycott Santa Anita’s Cup entry box in November.

There are many issues that will come out of this and the good news is that if it generates any controversy, much of it will be of a positive nature. For now, it’s time to enjoy the prospects of what this means not only for Belmont Stakes day 2014 but the future of the NYRA franchise itself, which will be up for bid in the not-too-distant future.

If honeymooning President Kay and his newly minted Senior Vice-President of Racing Operations were interested in making a statement, it comes through loud and clear.

It says if we have anything to do with it, true New York racing is making a comeback with this shot heard around the racing world. No top hat and tails required.


JOCKEY CLUB TOUR ON FOX TAKES STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION: Even before the first horse enters the Gulfstream Park starting gate Sunday, kicking off “The Jockey Club Tour on Fox,” the series caught a flyer with Thursday’s announcement of the talent team the network assembled for the broadcasts.

While I’m familiar--but not very well acquainted--with the work host Greg Wolf and reporter Alyssa Ali, I do respect the fact that analyst Simon Bray learned his training craft from two of the very best ever; the legendary late Sir Henry Cecil and Hall of Famer Bill Mott.

However, I’m very familiar with the work of two fellow New York racetrackers, analyst/co-host Richard Migliore and handicapping analyst Andy Serling. In Migliore and Serling, Fox has two of the most insightful commentators as there is in the game.

As the winning rider of 4,450 races, there isn’t much Migliore can’t tell you about a race horse. It’s what happens when you start sleeping in stalls at the age of 12.

A winner of eight New York riding titles and an Eclipse Award as the top apprentice of 1981, Migliore has become a national broadcast figure with his work on HRTV and with the many hats he wears on the NYRA circuit.

What sets Migliore apart from those in a similar role is his skill as a communicator; an educator without being sophistic or patronizing. That coupled with his talent for reading equine body language and workouts should help viewers, both novice and pro alike, improve their opinions.

Opinions are something that Serling is well familiar with. He has lots of them, on a lot of subjects. As a public handicapper by trade, I have an appreciation for the art/science of handicapping and, like every horseplayer, he’s going to be wrong more than he’s right.

But this is a business that will call you genius if you’re wrong only on two of every three calls you make. Right or wrong, Serling will tell you what he thinks without hedging, is a tireless researcher, and bets his own money. No one could ask more of any handicapper.

The series will feature the Grade 1 Donn Handicap Sunday which includes the return of 2013 three year old champion Will Take Charge vs. 10 rivals, and also the final career run of the popular filly and mare sprint champion, Groupie Doll, in the G3 Hurricane Bertie.

The next stop on the tour will be the Dubai World Cup on March 29, a.k.a Florida Derby day.

BUSINESS NOT AS BRISK AS WINTER WEATHER: Exiting last year with flat wagering handle after a positive start, it was not too encouraging a start for the Thoroughbred industry in 2014 with handle off slightly at about $2-million year over year, a small percentage loss of 0.23.

But there’s something counter-intuitive going on with the numbers: How can purse increases of 1.35 percent be justified when handle decreases? Further, why should national handle drop at all when the number of racing days increased by 4.45 percent, from 292 in 2013 to 301 this year?

Written by John Pricci

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