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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Thursday, October 05, 2017


Final Q & A on Horse Racing Integrity Act 2017


HOW LONG HAS WHOA BEEN IN EXISTANCE AND MANY MEMBERS DO YOU CURRENTLY HAVE?
WHOA was founded in 2012 on a phone call with lobbyist Frankie Trull. She suggested that lobbying as an alliance of individuals would be more powerful than each of us lobbying on our own. As an alliance, WHOA has given us common ground. From those early days with 10 original members, WHOA’s membership has grown to over 1,500 members who have endorsed our pledge and signed on to the WHOA membership roster. http://www.waterhayoatsalliance.com/join.shtml.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE ITS MEMBERSHIP, PRIMARILY, BREEDERS AND OWNERS?

WHOA is a grassroots group of like-minded Owners, Breeders, Trainers, Jockeys, Equine Practitioners, Industry Professionals, Handicappers and Racing Fans who stand against the permissive use of performance enhancing drugs in American horse racing.
WHOA’s membership is open to anyone with a stake in the racing game. It includes all racing disciplines: Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Quarter Horse.
The membership breaks down as follows:
Owner/Breeders 45%
Industry Professionals 15%
Equine Practitioners 1%
Trainers 4%
Jockeys <1%
Handicappers 2%
Racing Fans 16%
Horse Lovers 17%

HOW MANY TRAINERS ARE MEMBERS OF THE ORGANIZATION?
There are currently 54 trainers in WHOA; 10 of them, Hall of Famers.

WHEN WAS THE BARR-TONKO BILL ORIGINALLY INTRODUCED AND WHAT IS ITS CURRENT STATUS?

The Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 was introduced June 3, 2015. This bi-partisan effort is lead by Congressman Andy Barr (R-KY) and Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY). Both are co-chairmen of the Congressional Horse Caucus. Sadly, the original legislation never made it to committee, but during that time new industry groups worked with legislators and industry leaders to make improvements to the bill. The Coalition for Horseracing Integrity (CHRI) was founded with three original members: WHOA, the Jockey Club and the HSUS. CHRI now boasts 17 members who are working to promote passage of the legislation.

The Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017 was reintroduced on May 25, 2017. H.R. 2651 includes new provisions to the original legislation that include: all racing disciplines, no race day medication and oversight by the FTC. All of the changes were supported by WHOA. The CHRI and its member organizations have been assured by Energy and Commerce leadership that the bill will move to committee this fall. Monthly D.C. fly-ins are being held to push for passage and grow support in the house. Currently there are 85 co-sponsors of H.R. 2651. The senate version of the bill promises to be introduced in the coming weeks.

ARE YOU DISAPPOINTED IN THE LACK OF A FINAL SOLUTION THUS FAR?
It is frustrating that the industry cannot come together to support clean racing either through the National Uniform Medication Policy or federal legislation appointing USADA as the independent anti-doping agency responsible for horseracing in the U.S. Polls consistently show that the American Public wants clean and fair sport.
But racing has no national cohesiveness because no single organization has been appointed to deal with its problems. Everything is regulated from state to state. So we are trying to adopt and pass something on a national basis.

HOW MUCH OF A HINDRANCE HAS NATIONAL AND REGIONAL HBPA BEEN TOWARD WHOA’S EFFORTS?

In general, WHOA’s stand on medication, medication reform, uniform penalties and testing, and so on, are opposed by the HBPA. The HBPA has been very active in lobbying against the current legislation.
The HBPA claims to be against the use of performance enhancing drugs in Thoroughbred racing, yet we have never seen any evidence to support this policy; they have gone so far as to fund legal defense of horsemen accused of breaking the law.

WHERE WILL THE FUNDING COME FROM?

Under HR 2651, the Horseracing Anti-Doping Agency (HADA) will not receive any federal funding. Its initial budget and any subsequent budget that exceeds a prior year’s budget by more than 5 % would require approval by 2/3 of its board, meaning that at least three industry board members would have to vote in support. The cost of HADA’s operations would be allocated to states on a per start basis and the states will have the opportunity to choose whether or not it collect the fees from the industry as they so choose or to let HADA do so.
Due largely to HADA’s anticipated out of competition testing (OOCT) protocols (which is in line with the RMTC’s recently approved OOCT program), there will be increased costs – which will impact the states differently due largely to the disparities in their current testing budgets. The end result of having the HADA program with robust nationwide OOCT testing (which is far from the case currently) is that US racing will have a worldclass anti-doping and medication control program to help ensure the safety of our athletes and the integrity of our product.

WOULD WHOA ENDORSE A POLICY THAT COULD POTENTIALLY USE AN INFINITESIMAL PORTION OF FUTURE AUCTION SALE REVENUES--SAY 1/2 OF 1 PERCENT—TO BE DIVIDED TO UNDERWRITE TESTING AND AFTERCARE INITIATIVES?
The Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA) is a grassroots movement of like-minded individuals who support the passage of federal legislation to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport of horse racing. Period. As a grassroots alliance, WHOA does not have a board of directors, WHOA simply has a specific mission statement to stay true to. WHOA relies on it supporters to act as a decision-making body should the case arise.
So while some members may or may not agree to a particular policy, WHOA keeps its blinkers on and stays focused on our goal: The appointment of an independent anti-doping program run by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). WHOA believes that USADA leadership will solve the problem of widespread drug use in American racing and put U.S. racing jurisdictions in step with international standards.
It is obvious that after years of committee review and discussion, America’s racing industry cannot police itself by eliminating the proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs in our sport, nor does it possess the power to adequately punish the purveyors of these drugs.

WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATE ON THE POSSIBLE EXPANSION OF OUT-OF-COMPETITION TESTING?

Without a national program and budget, it is up to each state racing authority or individual racetracks to initiate and fund such initiatives.

HOW MUCH IS THE RELUCTANCE OF HORSEMEN TO GIVE UP THE USE OF RACEDAY LASIX BEEN A FACTOR IN PROGRESS OR LACK THEREOF?
It has been the elephant in the room.

HOW DISAPPOINTED IS WHOA THAT THE US TROTTING ASSOCIATION RECENTLY RELEASED A STATEMENT THAT IT WOULD NOT SUPPORT THE BIPARTISAN HORSE RACING INTEGRITY ACT OF 2017?

While we are disappointed, we are not surprised, as the pro-medication forces among the troops of participants in harness racing are very strong.

WILL THE RECENT SUPPORT OF AN ORGANIZATION SUCH AS THE ASPCA MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE IN WHETHER THE LEGISLATION WOULD BE ADOPTED?
According to recent polls by Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) https://media.gractions.com/130D0DEC14413A987751556AFC00A53D2C17D6F9/a566eb73-01bc-4b5e-af87-282581fd7c46.pdf the American public supports medication reform. Therefore, groups like HSUS and the ASPCA, who represent national animal welfare concerns are powerful allies and will help educate and organize the general public.
Doping destroys public confidence in racing, defrauds the betting fan, weakens the genetic pool and, most importantly, puts the life and limb of our equine athletes and their jockeys at risk.

WHAT OTHER NATONAL ANIMAL RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS WOULD IT TAKE TO MAKE THE AMERICAN PUBLIC ACCEPT THE NOTION THAT THE HORSE RACING INDUSTRY, CONTRARY TO POPULAR PERCEPTION, TREATS ITS ANIMALS EXCEPTIONALLY WELL?

To have the support of HSUS and ASPCA on a national level speaks volumes.

IF THE HRIA IS ADAPTED, HOW LONG DOES THE ORGANIZATION THINK IT WOULD TAKE TO BENEFIT FROM THE BREEDING OF HEALTHIER HORSES THAT WOULD NO LONGER BE PERMITTED TO COMPETE USING RACEDAY MEDICATION?
It took 30 years to get to this point…three generations. So to turn the tables back, it may take the same period to return to “clean” bloodlines. But with infusion of the international market, it could be shorter. Whatever the case, if our industry is to reclaim its place in the international market, we must breed a horse who runs on his own merit and ability… and not chemical ability.

WITHOUT WHOA, OR ORGANIZATIONS LIKE IT, SHOWING THAT THE INDUSTRY IS SERIOUS ABOUT LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD FOR ALL IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE HORSES AND RIDERS, WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF RACING SURVIVING IN THE LONG TERM?
WHOA has raised the bar and encouraged industry groups to take a stand against the status quo. WHOA has given members a platform to share their common belief in clean sport and drug-free racing. WHOA has given members a voice by standing together for the common good.
If WHOA can continue to push the boundaries, raise awareness and demand that U.S. racing eventually joins other international horseracing jurisdictions and IFHA rules of racing, our grassroots efforts will have paid off.
Horse racing will always be with us. But it will never be as popular or widespread as in the past, like many other forms of entertainment and gambling. Racing has encountered a number of things that have diminished its footprint.
As rural life changed and cities developed, the disappearance of the horse on roads and farms changed people’s tastes. NASCAR has flourished as people embraced those speedy machines. Racing at one time had a virtual monopoly on domestic gambling. Today there are any number of ways one can place a wager.
Racing has been slow to adapt to the changing landscape, but there are many passionate supporters of the game and they are sure to develop strategies that will allow the sport to be conducted in the future.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, October 01, 2017


One Super Saturday Down, One to Go


Within 36 hours, serious Breeders’ Cup prep races came fast and furiously. Let’s flip a Horses/Trainers To Watch championship notebook, by division:

DISTAFFERS: In the last eight years, Bill Mott and Richard Mandella own five of those titles. Hall of Famer Mandella did it with the same horse, the great Beholder, four years apart. The big mare won the Distaff at 3 and last year at 6.

Hall of Famer Mott has won five Distaffs with four different mares, two of the five with three-year-olds. After Saturday’s Beldame, can’t blame anyone for thinking he has a chance to make it six with a third three-year-old.

There’s something else these gentlemen have in common: The longer the season runs, the better their horses run. They are the Horsemen of Fall, and both are in the conversation when someone asks: “Who’s the best trainer at pointing toward specific spots?”

Man-Oh-Mandella wasn’t too kind to horseplayers when he ran Paradise Woods and Avenge woefully short of their best condition at Del Mar but both came alive in a big Grade 1 way in Arcadia.

Santa Anita Oaks 11-length winner Paradise Woods is back but she beat only three rivals after two late scratches, and close second-choice and runnerup Faithfully has never made anyone shake in their boots at entry time. Her speed will play nicely at Del Mar; the competition and likely race shape won’t.

Alabama heroine Elate may have beaten a deeper field of her peers in Saratoga and was not meeting any older stars in the Beldame—but oh how she did it. Never before has she shown that kind of turn of foot. She’s getting better at the perfect time.

The great unknown is the ability to handle the Del Mar surface with the same aplomb. But that’s a question that all horses unfamiliar with the Del Mar surface must answer. Despite the new Santa Anita-like surface, not all horses handle it. Arrogate, anyone?

JUVENILES:
Anytime the Breeders’ Cup is staged on the west coast; advantage west-coast based runners. And throw in what will be for many the two-turn factor, that’s another checkmark that California-based main-track youngsters can check; Churchill’s two-year-olds notwithstanding.

But even if this year’s Juvenile were held on the moon, Bolt d’Oro would be the favorite. His Frontrunner made a track that yielded moderate to slow times all afternoon look fast, lengthening stride with each step in the final furlong.

By Medaglia d’Oro from the A.P. Indy mare Globe Trot that would make sense but the manner of his victory makes him the clear favorite for the Juvenile, a championship to be named later, and early favorite for the 2018 Kentucky Derby. He’s 2-for-2 at Del Mar.

As is juvenile filly Moonshine Memories, the second of three Grade 1 victories for Flavien Prat. While not nearly as impressive as ‘Bolt’, she checked the appropriate boxes under somewhat trying dynamics. She showed class taking the Chandelier and also 2-for-2 at the seaside track.

At Gulfstream Park, Soutache did what was expected of him to win the In Reality Stakes for Florida-bred juveniles.

It was a comprehensive win that did not comes too easily despite the winning margin and, as a son of Backtalk, doesn’t inspire confidence that he can handle good horses over a distance of ground, certainly Bolt d’Oro anyway.

In the My Dear Girl Florida-bred division for fillies, the top two fillies ran well, duplicating their 1-2 finish in the sprint prep for this. Only this time the runnerup was best as the race was run; too bad she didn’t get the lion’s share.

Dessert Honeys kicked her sprint-meant pedigree in the hind-quarters. After getting bumped hard at the break and checked again shortly thereafter, she rallied five-wide into contention on the final turn and roared home late and just missed catching Starship Bonita.

Whether she’s good enough must be seen, but Dessert Honeys earned her way into open company the next time she appears. She should not be taken lightly when the big girls start arriving slowly the next two months.

SPRINTERS:
Intermittent heavy rains didn’t do G1 Vosburgh favorite any favors, having to scoot out of their in a speed-laden field to open a clear advantage. While game right to the end, El Deal didn’t get the separation he enjoyed during his recent winning streak.

But he stayed on very well and might not have been able to hold off Takaful under any circumstances. He has the better pedigree and great connections, Team McLaughlin doing the right thing by shortening up to sprint distances. He’s been a revelation since.

The victory might not have been possible without the services of Jose Ortiz—who returned to take the Beldame aboard Elate—who stalked El Deal from close range, punching his ticket to Del Mar. The problem is next time he’ll be stalking a Bob Baffert-trained sprint champion.

CLASSIC CONTENDERS: Whatever happens in Oceanside early next month, Mubtaahij earned his spot in the Classic starting gate with his game victory in the G1 Awesome Again that might have been more facile that it looked at first blush.

While he might not prove to the equal of other Baffert-trained older G1 performers, the trainer threw his hat squarely in the trainer’s category. To my unofficial count, the Irish-bred five year old was Baffert’s sixth Grade 1 win with six different horses this year.

If a trainer is fortunate enough to win close to that number, it’s usually with one dominant performer, but a half dozen horses? Remarkable. In short, going first time for this barn, Mubtaahij ran to a series of impressive drills, adding blinkers for his first start in 189 days.

TURF: Beach Patrol enjoyed perfect circumstances and took advantage of dynamics when he thoroughly romped taking the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and proved a mile and a half is within his scope.

Three year old Oscar Performance raced well over wet ground that he might not have cared for and finished third. He will appreciate Del Mar turf if his connections decide to take the trip west.

And while there may be more “talent” in the Mile than the Turf, turning back over firmer ground could be the way to go after proving that he can sit off early leaders.

Meanwhile, all eventual Turf entrants caught a break when trainer John Gosden announced immediately after his amazing filly Enable won Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe that he would recommend putting her away now until 2018.

In terms of dominant performances, her’s was the equal of Bolt d’Oro’s or Elate's. Despite racing close to the pace to maintain position over the yielding “speed-favoring” Chantilly ground, she showed a remarkable, sustained turn of foot to the finish. Wow!

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, September 24, 2017


A Star Is Born at Parx Racing


Let's face it. When it comes to determining the three-year-old divisional championship, the Kentucky Derby is a Grade 1 with a bullet.

Isn’t it really perceived as if it were the equal of two other Grade 1s combined? No disrespect meant, but that includes the final two legs of the Triple Crown. Simply stated, America’s Race is in a class of its own.

But the glitter of this year’s Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby champion, Always Dreaming, unquestionably has lost its luster since.

A regression in Baltimore two weeks two weeks post Derby, followed by a freshened and needed-the-race Jim Dandy prep, followed by a subsequent Travers flop brought the colt back to the pack in abrupt style.

Meanwhile, a bay colt by Flatter was gaining momentum, taking some of the glitter away from Cloud Computer’s Preakness and Tapwrit’s Belmont score, with the promise of better things to come in the Easy Goer Stakes. And it came in a big way.

The Los Al Derby against six outclassed rivals subsequently didn’t prove much but the beat went on. And when it arrived in Saratoga and a new dimension was added; early speed, the result was a dismantling of 11 rivals in the Derby of Midsummer.

But when he blew the roof off Parx Racing on Saturday by 7-1/4 widening, authoritative lengths, this west coast beast clinched the division that has lacked definition since it left Louisville.

The newly minted Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby attracted four multiple graded stakes performers in addition to Saturday’s winner, justifying its new status.

That group included the winners of should-have-been-Grade 1s Blue Grass and Wood Memorial and the matchup was rewarded with a brilliant G1 performance, courtesy of a pair of Hall of Famers.

And West Coast just keeps getting better and better and better.

The Penn Derby was his fifth straight victory dating back to May 20, over a different surface each time, and it was his third straight graded stakes, including a pair of Grade 1s back-to-back.

A Classic defeat against older will not diminish his dominance over this peers. But did we not see the future of Breeders’ Cup Classic in Bensalem on Saturday? I’m disinclined to bet against that proposition, given what all were treated to yesterday.

Warned his Hall of Fame trainer: “He’s just learning how to run. To have a three-year-old this time of year, the way he won the Travers, and now winning this race, he is going to be a horse to reckon.”

NOT THIS TIME, MONEY MIKE

For two years now, Mike Smith has been stealing races with stealth-like precision by moving outside one time, moving inside the next; running early one week and running late the next, often against the grain of his mounts’ past performances.

And damn if he almost didn’t do it again on Saturday.

That blur moving up the fence in the Cotillion, a move sustained for perhaps a half mile on a portion of the track that wasn’t the fastest path to victory, was the sophomore filly divisional-leading Abel Tasman. She didn’t win but all she lost was a horse race.

Just as the Travers would turn out to be a precursor to the Penn Derby, Saratoga’s Alabama was going to have an impact on the Grade 1 Cotillion.

Two fillies that moved into the teeth of the Alabama’s 10-furlong pace returned to give the divisional leader a tough fight, one of them emerging the winner.

This time, It Tiz Well didn’t set the pace, as she had in the Alabama; she attended it, allowing a sharp too-fresh-for-her-own-good Lockdown, who broke like a shot beneath Luis Saez and went on with it.

Lockdown took the lead and just as Saez seemingly tried slowing her down gently, Smith sensed it and moved bullet-like up the rail to engage. When he and ‘Abel’ reached the leader, they wisely backed off, trying to conserve for the stretch battle to come.

Meanwhile, Drayden Van Dyke, a rider with patience beyond his years, was content to sit and watch Abel Tasman and Lockdown battle each other in earnest at headstretch. Momentarily, it appeared that Lockdown would win that clash from the outside.

But Abel Tasman battled back on the portion of the track that didn’t yield a single winner all day, and she won that battle but lost the war. It Tiz Well surged on by the embattled fillies in midstretch, giving Songbird’s Jerry Hollendorfer his second straight Cotillion.

Smith described it this way: “The inside [was] wide open and she was pulling me so hard and just took me there. I thought maybe she could pull it off…but it was too much to do.” And then this:

“She’ll be fine for the Breeders’ Cup. It wasn’t one of her best, but she ran well.”

Like her heralded stablemate, the next test will come against older and this time, the whole world will be watching.

SIGNPOSTS ALONG THE BREEDERS CUP ROAD


As we are sure to see several Parx performers in November—including sprinters Coal Front and Running Mate, 1-2 in the G3 Gallant Bob, and another from Belmont, Sharp Azteca, ridden with disdainful confidence by Paco Lopez to win the G3 Kelso—the next two Saturdays will be a prep feast.

On Saturday alone there will be 15 races with aspiring Breeders’ Cup performers from all over the globe competing in races at Santa Anita, Belmont Park, Keeneland, Newmarket, Chantilly and Nakayama.

From now to November 3rd, 81 races will be contested in 13 different countries according to the Bloodhorse online. Breeders’ Cup has become a true international championship event.

At Gulfstream Park Saturday morning, Gunnevera, an excellent late-rally second to West Coast in the Travers, breezed for the first time since the August 26 summer classic, a soft half-mile in 49 seconds at “Calder.” Why no PA Derby?

“I want a fresh horse for the Breeders’ Cup, my horse runs well fresh,” said trainer Antonio Sano. He surely does. He came from 11th of 12 in the Travers, making a sustained turn move to the wire. While no threat to West Coast, he was 2-1/4 lengths clear of Irap.

Irap, meanwhile, still acts a little goofy--and credit Parx stewards for making the right call by not disqualifying Irap from second position.

A head-on view of the stretch run clearly shows that an inside rival came out and bumped Irish War Cry off stride before Irap veered in sharply. Irap was marginally clear and made no contact though it sure was a hairy incident, especially from a pan view perspective.

Written by John Pricci

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