John Pricci 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, 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, February 10, 2019

Big Days, Big Dollars

Very interesting Twitter post yesterday outlining the biggest handle days of the year in 2018. Certainly no surprise that Kentucky Derby day, like every year, was the big kahuna with cross-country handle and at Churchill Downs totaling $225 million.

Actually, the Triple Crown races ranked first, second and fourth. Belmont Day completed the handle exacta at $137 million with Preakness Day in at $93 million from all sources.

Splitting the Triple Crown cold trifecta was Breeders’ Cup Saturday attracting action worth $105 million. Weekend festival-type days checked in fifth and sixth, with Kentucky Oaks Day in with $55 million and Breeders’ Cup Friday at $52 million.

The seventh and eighth finishers underscored that the three-year-old category is Thoroughbred racing’s glamour division. Travers Day was tied for seventh at $52 million with Breeders’ Cup Friday, and Florida Derby Day was eighth at $49 million.

Races restricted to three-year-olds comprise half of racing’s Top 10 business days. Completing the Top 10 were Pegasus Day, with handle of $41 million, and Woodward Day at $31 million.

Extracting the Breeders’ Cup road show, a different venue every year, there was a three-way tie among venues Churchill Downs, Gulfstream Park and Saratoga with two each.

Tampa and More Saturday, New Orleans Next for 2019 Derby Class

Derby-aged colts began their first significant steps towards May’s first Saturday—and Friday, too. Ladies first:

The winners of yesterday’s Grade 2 Las Virgenes and Tampa’s ungraded Suncoast Stakes could not have been more disparate; graded vs. listed stakes and one of the established leaders of the female class vs. an up-and-comer.

In Northern Florida, Point of Honor earned a great deal of respect with her strong-finish victory in the Suncoast, her stakes debut.

Brought along very well by George Weaver, she parlayed a winning debut in an off-turf two turner, a stalking open-length win, into a well-timed, going away 2-3/4-length victory coming from eighth and last at the first point of call beneath Javier Castellano. Stable mail, please.

Whereas the longer the better with the late developing daughter of Curlin, one didn’t get the same feeling watching Bellafina’s all-out mile victory over an onrushing Enaya Araab.

In fairness, Bellafina was hounded throughout and it’s unlikely that Simon Callaghan leaned on her too hard. The Las Virgenes was her second G2 win in two starts at 3. She’s a serious divisional player.

A promising, potentially good horse won the Jimmy Winkfield who admittedly still has things to prove. But he did something you rarely see ordinary talents, but he seemed to enjoy close quarters on the fence in midstretch.

With two rivals outside him, he surged, showed no fear, and willed the victory. Rajiv Maragh said he showed no hesitation and only started running in the last 50 years when he had some breathing room in a better than it looked performance. He, too, is stable mail worthy.

Well Defined surprised a lot of people when he made a comfortable early lead, has good controlled energy down the backside and drew away after straightening away from home.

The players he didn’t surprise were those who watched him take the Florida Stallion impressive. It wasn’t a quasi-routine speedy display around two turns at Gulfstream; it was the way he powered away in the late. He appeared something more than just lone speed.

Kathleen O'Connell knew just what he needed, blinkers, and underrated Pablo Morales, who can nurse speed like Saturday and make those winning late runs on turf, coming from last of to take the finale, executed with precision in both spots.

We don’t know exactly how good Well Defined is. What we do know is that he is better than your ordinary speed horse.


While the exact number remains unclear, a good number of horseplayer lives changed for the better Saturday when multiple tickets worth a $100K apiece were distributed among the winners of Gulfstream Park’s mandatory-payout Jackpot Rainbow 6.

Of course, it wasn’t an easy sequence. Those payoffs don’t grow in chalk dust. I invested $52 of my own but four winners won’t get you there.

Counterintuitively, the $26 horse in the second leg of the sequence was for me a longer reach that the $100 winner that started it: At least Papa Y showed improved early speed for his new trainer and Juan Avila’s layoff stats for his maiden’s return were positive. I used two horses in there; they completed the trifecta.

But half the field in the next race was not enough to reach Trilby, on whose nose the Dickey family got to share in nearly every part of the first, and maybe the 12-1 offered if they were so inclined.

I finished second in that leg, too. But the mandatory payout is a must-lottery play when millions are offered and sometimes in two-figure investment is all that’s needed to score.

Oh, if only I had singled two obvious favorites, Global Campaign and Café Americano, and ALL-ed the first two impossible legs… “If only”--which is exactly why we all keep coming back whatever our wagering preferences.

Written by John Pricci

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