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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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Tuesday, February 21, 2012


New York State of Confusion


HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA., February 21, 2012—And I thought navigating my way through the Eclipse Award ballot this year was tough.

Only goes to show how much I know.

By the time this is written, my ballot for the New York-bred champions and New York-bred Horse of the Year will be postmarked by the snail mail office. Has to be; today’s the deadline for submissions.

Throughout American racing history, some famous and some great racehorses have been Empire Breds: American Eclipse, Hambletonian and, of course, Funny Cide, just to start.

Then I wrote Ruthless and Silent Screen and Fourstardave, too. More recently came several truly world class performers, runners such as Commentator, and Haynesfield.

And, of course, who can forget that lovable loser, Zippy Chippy, in the conversation for the most inept Thoroughbred of all time?

But at least he was unforgettable, unlike many of the best of their division in 2011. Nice horses, really. Several runners in different categories did in fact step up to win a big open class event, but not often enough, not dominant enough. Except for one, perhaps, our champion New York-bred of 2011.

This 2011 class of New York-bred divisional champion nominees might be compared with the open-class three year olds. You know, just when one runner started to separate itself from the pack, it quickly became a herd animal once again.

There were flashes of brilliance throughout the season but the flame quickly became a screen of thick smoke. We want dominance in our champions; best in show simply does not do in a historical context.

But, hey, weren’t last season’s Super Bowl champions 9-7 at the end of their year?

What we got in 2011 was a whole lot of best in show. As is our habit at HRI, we come clean with our choices and invite the readers to have at it, more specifically, to have at me. Perhaps we can’t see the forest for the trees, but isn’t transparency the best policy?

So run forests, run, but not too fast and not too far. Here were our thought processes as we filled out the ballot. I’m certain I’ve overlooked something, then again, maybe not.

Like the old man in “Moonstruck,” I’m so confused:

Two-Year-Old Colt: Swag Daddy. Won half his six starts, two stakes, but needed three chances to break maiden and never ventured into the deeper, open end of the pool. (If only Brigand had won one of those graded stakes…)

Two–Year-Old Filly: Weemissfrankie Most deserving. Five starts, all open class events on the Left Coast, three wins, two Grade 1s and a wide-trip third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Three-Year-Old Male: Socialsaul Extremely vexing category for me. Won the New York Derby, second in three stakes, including Grade 3 Discovery behind Redeemed, beaten a length after setting pressured pace in Oklahoma Derby (Redeemed again).

Three-Year-Old Female: Ava K Won five of eight starts, three state-bred stakes and show finishes on two open events including G3 Comely. (Love Hessonite, owning a very worthy (6) 4-1-1, but not one of those efforts came on a dirt surface).

Older Male: Giant Ryan. Top sprinter won six of nine starts, including G2 Smile Sprint Handicap and G1 Vosburgh. (Love, love, love Compliance Officer, and what he achieved for Bruce Brown—four stakes, one open class--but another turf specialist).

Older Female: Lovely Lil. Did just enough, winning three of five, including two stakes, one the G2 Go for Wand, and third in G2 Gallant Bloom.

Turf Male: Compliance Officer. As above, and got away with one when he escaped Breeders’ Cup Mile unscathed. (Had only Mission Approved gone forward a little from his Manhattan Handicap. An ambitious G1 campaign but 1-for-5 doesn’t cut it compared to 6-for-8 for the choice with virtually the same earnings).

Turf Female: Hessonite As above. Parenthetically, must give Gitchee Goomie honorable mention on (8) 3-4-0 slate, and it might have been a ‘heater’ had she won Saratoga’s Irish Linnet [pilot error].

Sprinter Male: Giant Ryan. As above. (Sorry, Monday’s General George doesn’t count, Yawanna Twist, but will in 2012).

Sprinter Female: Lovely Lil As above, in a narrow victory over stablemate Ava K. which was 5-for-8 including a third in G3 Comely. Lil wins the photo, qualifying on her Union Avenue score and sealing the deal with classy G2 Go for Wand. (A one-turn mile is, after all, technically a sprint).

Horse of the Year: Weemissfrankie While the rest of the racing world might view her as an end of year disappointment by not sealing her deal in either the G1 Juvenile Fillies (a good third, however) or G1 Hollywood Starlet, winning half your four Grade 1 tries is pretty damn strong!

Written by John Pricci

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