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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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Centre Court Aces Honey Fox

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 16, 2013—If what was on display on the Gulfstream Park turf course was intended as only a prep, then clearly Centre Court is going to have a hell of a 4-year-old year.

Trainer Rusty Arnold wasn’t worried about his filly’s ability and inherent class, and not even her fitness. “She had trained spectacularly up at Palm Meadows,” Arnold said. "We were confident that she’d run well but you don’t know until they do it.

Well, Centre Court did it, and she did it with style beneath Julien Leparoux, who shipped in from Santa Anita for the ride, accelerating in the final furlong in what has become a trademark late burst, winning by nearly two comprehensive lengths.

“We’re really happy,” said Arnold, before allowing himself this: “She’s pretty special, I think.”

The Grade 2 Honey Fox also marked the season’s debut of the talented import and U.S. Grade 1 winner Samitar, who finished like a rocket along the inside before tipping out in deep stretch to complete her after-the-fact rally beneath Joel Rosario.

Arnold, meanwhile, would like to get for his filly’s resume what Chad Brown has with Samitar; that illusive Grade 1.

“She hasn’t won a Grade 1 yet; we’ve got to get that done,” said Arnold. She’s run Grade 1 races but she hasn’t won one. We’re headed for Keeneland and that’s where we hope to get it done.” And so the G1 Jenny Wiley on April 13 is up next.

“She’ll be good this year,” said Leparoux. That much was clear yesterday, the filly completing her mile in a snappy 1:33.18.

BETS ‘N PIECES: Laurel Deserves Props for Video Innovation

Had an opportunity to check in on Laurel Race Course with the running of last weekend’s Private Terms and loved how they’ve improved the simulcast feed with chyron on-air graphics that indicates position on the racetrack and/or distance to the finish, a la the NFL’s first-down yellow markers.

Not only does this give a clue as to whether your late runner can get up in time but it’s a huge aid when trying to call the winner in a close, photo finish.

Every track positions its finish line camera/mirror a little differently; some at the beginning of the finish pole, or near the middle or end, making the task almost impossible unless you know the venue very well.

In races at Laurel, the chyron overlay at the finish line extends cleanly and clearly all the way across the track, making calling the finish a lot easier. This adds an element of fun to the natural excitement of a close finish.

Remember fun?

The idea won’t spread quickly because tracks always hesitate to copy good ideas, employing the NIH philosophy—Not Invented Here--instead. NIH? Not Given that simulcasting attracts nine of every 10 dollars wagered in America, why not hep viewers to better assess their chances?

TRAKUS is an innovation that has caught on relatively quickly for tracks that can afford the improvement. My home track in New York has been talking about it for some time. Hopefully that change will come sooner rather than later.

But most tracks already have chyron capability and can institute the origination relatively quickly. The overlays help veteran players identify in a qualitative way what’s happening on the racetrack. It’s also a means to educate newbies to some of the nuances associated with a game widely regarded for its steeper learning curve.

What if they held the Florida Derby and nobody came? That’s a bit hyperbolic, of course, but not by that much. The race actually gained a starter yesterday when after working well, trainer Ken McPeek decided to keep Frac Daddy in Florida after all, thus becoming probable starter #4.

Following his disappointing effort in the Holy Bull, it was discovered he grabbed a quarter—an epidemic this season—and had a throat infection. The Florida Derby gives McPeek another opportunity to work his colt and run right out of South Florida.

Actually, if you were the connections of a Kentucky Derby eligible and needed qualifying points, would you go out of your way to meet Orb, Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby? Not me, either. Then no prep spot figures to be easy from this point forward.

Louisiana Derby Coming Up Big: Unlike Florida’s Derby, the Louisiana version has 12 probables/possibles as this is written. Taken alphabetically, excluding non-Triple Crown nominees: Channel Isle will try to improve on his fourth in Oaklawn’s G3 Southwest. Code West, beaten a nose in the G3 Risen Star, returns to the East for Bullet Bob. Undefeated Departing will be tested for class; very impressive winning the Texas Heritage for Little Al.

Golden Soul, second in the LeComte but sixth in the Risen Star, will try to rebound for Dallas Stewart and Calvin Borel, back in Derby form after finally taking down # 5,000. Ground Transport is 2-for-2, but not at this level. Mylute was third in the G3 Delta Jackpot, but nowhere in the Risen Star.

Palace Malice will represent the Pletcher barn after running a good third in the Risen Star, his season’s debut. The resurgent Edgar Prado has taken the call. Proud Strike will need to show he belongs for Steve Asmussen and Pletcher will start another, broken-field running Revolutionary.

The suspicion is that Sunbean, 3-for-4 lifetime, does belong, giving Stall a second possible starter and Tiz a Minister is likely the second starter to ship East from California, winning the restricted California Breeders Champion followed by a willing third in the G2 San Felipe.

Written by John Pricci

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