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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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

March Mayhem

HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA., March 6, 2012—Racing has its own brand of March Madness; from the continuing and more significant line of Kentucky Derby preps, the Big ‘Caps of the West and the Big Money of the Middle East. It’s a great time of year to be a fan/player. To wit:

Is Bill Mott Bringing the Wrong Horse to Dubai?

We love Royal Delta. Bet her every time she won last year, starting with the Black-Eyed Susan. Her effort behind the well named Awesome Maria in the Sabin Stakes was a great race to build on. The added distance of the Dubai World Cup plays to her strengths.

However, slow final quarter-mile and all, Mott has unlocked the key to Ron The Greek, who’s become more tactical as he’s gotten older. That almost always means a fast horse learning how to distribute his energy more efficiently (see Hansen’s Gotham).

Nonetheless, Ron’s gotten faster, handier, and you hardly ever see that. He broke his maiden while making debut coming from last at Hoosier Park. He came from last to win the LeComte as a Classics hopeful and his trainer then, Tom Amoss, knows how to put speed into them.

He’s handier now though. What was impressive about his Big ‘Cap score, aside from shipping from East to West—never easy—was the fact he made two distinct moves. And it was how he did it that impressed, too.

Ron The Greek made a big brush up the backstretch in an attempt to make contact with the leading group who were 22-and-44-ing it in the first half mile. Then, just as he was reaching the bend on the far turn, Jose Lezcano decided to tap on the brakes.

Having wagered on him, I feared that when he slowed down the loss of momentum would cost him any chance he had to win. But he re-rallied, attacked Setsuko, a good horse himself, at headstretch, and drew off.

As for that final quarter-mile, if you run fast early, usually you can’t run fast late.

Is There a Futures Pool on the Carter Handicap?

Maybe some sport out there in CyberLand would like to offer a play-or-pay price on Caleb’s Posse in the Grade 1 7-furlongs on the Wood Memorial undercard, April 7. I'm listening.

Perhaps it’s the old story of not giving the winner, in this case, Calibrachoa, enough credit. But did you see the stretch show America’s most accomplished 3-year-old of 2011--our Eclipse Award choice as the generation’s only two-time Grade 1 winner and conqueror of older horses—put on in the Tom Fool stretch?

You can come from far back on Aqueduct’s winter track under some circumstances but the surface configuration does have a natural bias toward speed. When good horses get together in the Ozone Park winter, it’s a good idea to have a little tactical gas.

Into the lane, Caleb’s Posse was nowhere in sight but, then, here he comes!

Jackson Bend runs Saturday at Gulfstream in the Gulfstream Park Handicap vs. Mucho Macho Man and the returning Tackleberry et al.

And after winning the Hal’s Hope on January 14, Nick Zito was saying that, while he’s come close on several occasions, he’d like to finally win the Metropolitan Handicap, better known as the Met Mile. He considers it a hole in his Hall of Fame resume.

I don’t know where the Macho Man is going after Saturday--I’m guessing back around two turns--but putting these three together on Memorial Day would be worth the price of admission. We’ll see. Meanwhile, however, I do believe Caleb’s Posse was the ninth Breeders’ Cup winner to lose its seasonal debut.

Money Makes the Jock Go

The idea of all this new purse money the New York Racing Association has on its hands with which it hopes to attract the best horses in the country to Belmont Park and Saratoga remains to be seen. But it sure has lighted a flame under the riders.

Julien Leparoux, a Saratoga mainstay the last several years, will move his tack to New York starting with the Belmont Park spring meet. Last week, Anna “Rosie” Napravnik, the only female leading rider in Fair Grounds history and on course to win consecutive titles this year is also going to give New York a go.

Rosie tried coming to New York before but failed to break through. But now that she’s won riding titles and is horse backing for several top outfits, this time could be different, especially after hiring super-agent Matt Muzikar.

Muzikar also has Javier Castellano’s book--on a big double-digit lead and on course to win the 2012 Gulfstream Park riding title. Javier and Rosie make quite an entry.

As an aside, I am no fan of one agent serving to journeyman masters. Didn’t like it in California and don’t like it now that it’s permitted in New York. A journeyman & apprentice? Yes. Two experienced riders? No.

In that context, how do people complain that Todd Pletcher trains too many horses when a handful of super-agents are allowed to control the game in New York? (I’ve known Matt for a long time. I like him. He’s a class act, so it’s nothing personal. Although I hear Joey Rathburn’s looking for a rider).

Agents notwithstanding, the jockey race at Belmont Park—and always at Saratoga—is going to be special; good sport and good betting. There’s nothing like competition: Castellano v Dominguez v Castellano v Leparoux v Napravnik v Velazquez, just to name a half-dozen off the top. Think you’ll get a run for your money?

Bets N' Pieces

Hansen may or may not win the Derby, but he’s a very good racehorse—and a neat one at that…The San Felipe and Tampa Bay Derby this Saturday; can’t wait…Kiaran McLaughlin said he’s planning on an extensive turf campaign for Soldat but he’ll be tempted to run him on the dirt in at least one big spot this year; don’t you think?...Las Vegas notwithstanding, making racetracks the only place to get a legal sports bet down is racing’s only chance to flip turnstiles on a day-to-day basis.

Out Of Bounds has joined Algorithms on the sidelines for at least the next three months. Travers anyone…? Pants On Fire looked very good in his return; Dialed In not so much--should never have blown the show dough…If he starts, don’t expect Ever So Lucky to halt the Thunder Moccasin juggernaut, but if he wants a chance to win the Derby for Mr. Strawbridge, Jonathan Sheppard must know time’s running out.

Written by John Pricci

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