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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, March 16, 2012


“What A Surprise”


HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA., March 15, 2012—It was as if I were that little kid at the dinner table who ate his vegetables first. Why? Because I was saving the best for last.

Sunday nights have been an HBO habit in my household for some time. It started in earnest with the Sopranos, not lovable like the Corleone’s, mind you, but endearing nonetheless.

You see, I’m not one of those Italians who see defamation lurking behind every scene. As that goombah wannabe, Jimmy the Gent, once said: “look, it is what it is.”

My friend Tom Jicha, recently retired TV/Radio critic of the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, gave me a present; DVDs of the entire first season of “Luck.”

So, did I break out the prosciutto de palma, extra sharp provolone, roasted peppers, mozzarella, EVOO, a loaf of Ciabatta and sit down to watch season one wire to wire, washing it all down with a bottle of Ducale Reserve?

Of course not. Like the kid at the dinner table, I delayed my viewing until 9 p.m. each Sunday after I DVR’d “The Good Wife,” anxiously awaiting to see what kind of mischief Ace or Escalante or those guys I knew from Corona would get into.

But after a third horse on the the series died, the terrorists, in this case PETA and HBO subscription counters, won: Adios, amigos. Sunday will never be the same.

After awarding “Luck” a second season following a string of mostly positive reviews, showing faith the series would catch on like “The Wire,” or that ultimate first-season disaster, “Seinfeld,” did, HBO decided that every day should be a dark day.

Ironically, racing has had a disastrous run of luck this week, pun intended. For one thing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York called for a special investigation after a spate of breakdowns on Aqueduct inner track this winter. And there were the breakdowns at the celebrated Cheltenham festival.

Two months ago, Cuomo's State of the State message to legislators was “get real, we already have legalized gambling, let’s do it right.” The inference was that Thoroughbred racing would be a big part of it, given the revitalization of Aqueduct by the sea.

Then came a different message in a Newsday interview, to the effect of having to see just how Thoroughbred racing fits into the future of New York State.

Now there’s a full scale investigation, unprecedented in my lifetime. Despite record purse levels, racing’s on the run in New York, just like in many other jurisdictions around the country.

I will not talk down to this audience. Anyone that goes through life with his eyes and ears open knows how well these animals are treated.

For example, I recently owned a filly, not the soundest of the breed but one who brought back seven straight checks in as many starts, including a win.

The time had come to ship her to Parx because we thought she couldn’t do it in New York anymore, but after not giving her best for the first time in eight starts, my partner, trainer John Parisella, and I decided to send her home.

Dubai’s Connection has found a home as a broodmare on John Nash’s Pennsylvania farm. That’s what responsible horse people do; give them a chance to be horses when their racing days are done.

Racing’s a tough, tough game, but these animals would not even be on the planet if it were not for the horse people and an industry that made my mare and all the rest of them go.

Just like there wouldn’t be racinos if it were not for Thoroughbred racing.

The final nail in the “Luck” coffin came when a horse reared up, fell over backward and died from the trauma of striking the ground head first; the quintessential accident. Three equine veterinarians were at the scene but saving her was not possible.

But try being reasonable and explain that to a disinterested audience in this throw-away, one-and-done society. Horses simply have no practical use in modern everyday life; notwithstanding preservation of green space, the creation of tens of thousands of jobs, both inside and ancillary to the industry and helping put—I don’t know--millions of kids through school.

In the modern era, 10 actors, the most prominent of whom were Vic Morrow and Bruce Lee, died on movie sets while doing their jobs. None of those projects were canceled.

David Milch probably didn’t help matters by threatening to take a baseball bat to Michael Mann, who was not editing efficiently enough to suit Milch, according to actor Nick Nolte.

Behind the scenes HBO probably decided that it had had enough; enough of PETA, so-so ratings, Milch, and not wanting to roll the dice with its subscriber base.

Boxers and football players are allowed to become demented in polite society because they have free will to choose whether or not they wish to compete. And it doesn’t hurt that people like to bet on those athletes.

Never mind that outside of four states it’s against the law.

Horses can’t choose and can’t talk. But they surely act as if they like their racetrack jobs; they surely act as if they want to please their handlers; they surely act as if they appreciate caring human contact.

But why bother trying to explain something that’s no longer in fashion? There’s no time for nuance in the digital age.

Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?

No word whether anyone left the set in a big yellow taxi.

Written by John Pricci

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