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, June 08, 2016

Handicapping Thumbnail Sketches of Belmont 148 Field

1-GOVERNOR MALIBU (12-1) won Tesio prep but bypassed the Preakness for this, a spot in which Christophe Clement scored with Tonalist in 2014. Peter Pan winner Unified was either feeling the effects of early exertions, pedigree challenged or lost focus. All that doesn’t obscure New York bred’s strong finish placing. Blinkers have helped big time, so does pedigree and his chemistry with Joel Rosario. Money prospects.

2-DESTIN (6-1), was trip compromised in the Derby but ironically bore into the sometimes obstreperous Lani, instead of the other way around. Like ‘Brody’, comes in five weeks fresh and figures to be a pace factor from close range, especially given his inside draw. More than a grinder, he can kick strongly but appears pedigree challenged on dam’s side. Javier and inside aids.

3-CHERRY WINE (8-1), uncoupled mate of Brody, had his freshening before his excellent Preakness placing. Generally underrated, he owns the best turn of foot in this field and given that could blow this race open with a strong mid-race move from the inside, a la Summing in ’81. Corey Lanerie saves ground. Solid 1:00 breeze over ‘Big Sandy’ June 4. Upset potential.

4-SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS (10-1) is, given Belmont Stakes dynamics, up against it as a deep closer. But like trainer Von Hemel said, he will be closer to the leaders at a steady comfortable pace given marathon fractions. This is not ideal for a horse that loves to come from the clouds but he never fails to fire and is very stoutly bred. Like two other major contenders, he comes in here five weeks fresh. Live price shot.

5-STRADAVARI (5-1) chased a strong wet-track Preakness pace while racing wide throughout in only his fourth lifetime start and was beaten only four lengths, an excellent try. Returning on short rest is not exactly in Pletcher’s wheelhouse but these are special circumstances. The colt’s route-challenged genes in this young talent’s major concern; looms underlay.

has been recruited by his owners likely to serve as a rabbit for strong finishing stablemate Creator. Encouraging is a stout pedigree and a nine-furlong, two-turn maiden breaker, but that’s it in seven starts. As for the barn transfer prior to a classic, old school racing officials are spinning in their chairs. Nice colt; not today.

7-SEEKING THE SOUL (30-1) like most Fipke home-breds, he owns a classy and stout pedigree and comes up to the added ground perfectly, stretching out incrementally in three straight starts. But here he jumps from eight furlongs to 12 and from maiden company into a Grade 1. Stewart has had longshot classics success and Geroux is an elite rider. But the Belmont, really? Underlay on early line.

8-FOREVER D’ORO (30-1) turned his fortunes around when he got to Long Island, breaking maiden in his first start over Big Sandy. Royally bred by Medaglia d’Oro from a Kentucky Oaks winning mare, he has all the DNA needed for the grueling 12 furlongs. Obviously, this is an ambitious spot.

9-TROJAN NATION (30-1) was absolutely and unequivocally eliminated when sloughed from the #1 slip in the Derby. While still winless in seven starts, he was the runnerup in the G1 Wood and trainer Patrick Gallagher is capable and is no shot-taker. Obviously, he thinks he can get the distance and his pedigree says he can. Still, this poor horse…

10-1 LANI (20-1)
it’s not often when connections use the Derby and Preakness as preps for the Belmont, but this is the race they have pointed for. This sometimes insensible colt has been getting his act together little by little. The thing about him is that he likes Belmont Park, always finishes his races, and is bred to run from here to, well, Japan. Another live price shot.

"The Recuperater." The image that the Santa Anita Derby winner made after winning the Preakness was the energy he showed after the race, nudging against the pony while his jockey was being interviewed. He’s done nothing to dissuade since that gas remains in the tank and is more tactical then generally acknowledged. Desormeaux likes Exaggerator’s post: “It lets him get comfortable with no dirt in his face My dream run would be to be forwardly placed.” If not, there’s plenty of racetrack to work with later on. Strong favorite.

12-BRODY’S CAUSE (20-1) had sneaky good run when seventh in the Derby and comes into this five weeks fresh. Excellent work pattern, including a strong gallop-out following strong mile breeze at CD in 1:42, followed by subsequent solid five-eighths. Among stoutest bred in here; live upsetter. Post draw most likely neutral but did him no favors. Great value on early line.

13-CREATOR (10-1)
Rebel third and Arkansas Derby winner was completely eliminated by horrendous trip in the Derby. Also owns good turn of foot when called upon and all the pedigree that’s needed but as a deep closer, his style works against the grain of Belmont Stakes dynamics. Wide draw most likely will not hurt this deep rallier.

HRI Staff Selections will be posted Friday

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, June 03, 2016

Tough Late Pick 4 at Belmont; Value Abounds


By John Pricci
Exclusively for

Listed by program number with early line odds


placed gamely earning good foundation Pricci Energy Rating despite racing greenly but that came vs. four maiden claiming rivals.

2-ARTHUR AVENUE (12-1) broke poorly and bumped from pole position in heavily backed debut this winter and away since. Michelle Nevin 3-for-7 when adding first Lasix; wakeup potential.

3-INVESTIGATOR (4-1) never has taken a backward step on the PER scale, earning excellent figure in winter finale. First-time Catalano, blinkers and Johnny; solid contender.

4-BORN FOR A STORM (10-1) owns reasonable pedigree top side for debut with dam producing two winners from three foals to race. Training steadily since March for Chad Brown.

5-BENEVOLENCE (6-1) showed improved early speed in second start, first at this hybrid trip. Cancel re-rides and McLaughlin 24% efficient second-time Lasix; good value on line.

6-FEAR THAT (20-1) has trained steadily for debut but is lacking nature and nurture for successful first start.

7-KENYAN (8-1) finished well too late in May 14 BEL debut, earning excellent PER, among field’s best. Hushion 31% effective with second time starters; excellent value at early line odds.

8-MASSENA (15-1) showed brief speed and stopped in turf/racing debut now switches to Dutrow barn that’s 24% turf-to-dirt and 27% with second-time starters. Price shot player.

has nature and nurture for career debut. Lynch having (profitable) career year and is also profitable with his debut types at this level. Dam’s produced 4 winners from 5 starters, including a stakes winner.

10-BROOKLYN MAJOR (10-1) has put it together since Lasix added four back. Finished strongly when third in recent BEL debut, earning field’s top PER. Again, more value available on posted early line.

11-COLONEL ANDY (20-1) dam has produced five winners from six starters but Freud a 10% debut style. Sciacca having profitable 2016 but 0-for-last-24 with debut runners.

barn winless in 2016 and gelding by 4% first-out sire.

13-D’ELOQUENT (6-1) earned competitive PER when 1-1/4 lengths behind Brooklyn Major in debut. Dilger profitable with second-starters and a profitable and worthy 29% adding blinkers. Loses Rosario to out-of-town assignments.

14-JET BLACK (5-1) just missed in strongly run mile despite stumbling beginning in BEL debut now turns back with conditioning switching to leading rider J Ortiz; very solid player.


1-HAMMERS VISION (8-1) earned best last-out PER when second over course and distance, albeit on yielding ground. Stakes tested and broke maiden here in debut at 2. Confident placement by Lynch, considering added distance.

2-CAMELOT KITTEN (8-5) won the G2 American Turf at Churchill last out getting first-time blinkers. Broke maiden this course at 2, all dam’s winners have won on turf. Worthy favorite for Brown/Ramsey/Irad team.

3-KISMET’S HEELS (15-1) is maiden vs. winners but not disgraced in GP Grade 3 prior to recent roaring-finish placing but losing Castellano in this spot.

4-AZAR (5-1) is multiple graded stakes money performer including G2 win at Saratoga last summer. Badly out-posted in last two starts, not so here for Todd/Johnny team; major player on competitive Thoro-Graph figure with favorite.

5-HIGHLAND SKY (8-1) gamely won overnight stakes in Aqueduct finale and was beaten only 4-1/2 in the B Cup Juvenile Turf last year; incremental improvement augurs well developmentally and gets along nicely with Luis Saez; excellent value on early line.

6-DRESSED IN HERMES (10-1) was out-posted and predictably suffered a wide trip in G2 American Turf; also was competitive in BC Juv Turf and Armstrong profitable on turf and 23% efficient in graded stakes.

came from far back to break maiden at Big A in April when well meant. Chad profitable with this spacing and J Ortiz on a return call. Price shot potential despite high profile connects.

8-CONVERGE (8-1) uncoupled Chad runner won G3 Palm Beach this winter at GP. Mare’s four winners all won on grass but must overcome apparent gate issues.

raced evenly in Woodhaven after TAM maiden breaker; must show more.

has improved markedly since adding Lasix two back but gets wide draw and facing much tougher in spot. Competitive T-G figure getting weight break.


1-STAY TUNED (3-1) has three exacta finishes from five starts on this track and turn back suits his style, as does switch to leading rider.

cuts the claiming price in half, a 33% scenario for elder Englehart and is profitable going turf to dirt and in LAY 3 scenarios; very solid with T-G figures to overcome wide draw.

was a willing wide-trip third after poor start in winter track finale; (4) 1-1-0 here and Gullo profitable this year and with this kind of spacing.

3-GROUND CONTROL (5-2) was a top figure winner of Big A main finale and Rudy sib is 6-for-15 recently with repeaters; barn has cooled since suspension announced last week. High profile connects but a tough call at short price.

4-BERNARDO (15-1) was third in Parx starter allowances last out but that was 18 months ago. Sharp steady recent works for return but barn batting 8% with 90-days+ returnees.

5-DIGHTON (20-1)
was a willing third in strongly run 6-1/2F vs. better in last. Drops notch switching to L Saez and is 3-for-14 here, 4-for-41 everywhere else. Price shot potential.

6-KOWBOY BOOTS (50-1) has been beaten 65-1/4 lengths in three most recent starts for trainer enjoying profitable 2016. Ultimate mixed signals and a big reach.

7-HOWABOUTWE (20-1) re-claim by Antonucci was one-paced but improved third going mile in Big A one-turner and pics up Gryder. But all recent wins in minors at Finger Lakes.

8-BECAUSE I’M HAPPY (8-1) exits rapidly run sprint now down two notches for low profile barn profitable with claiming sprinters but winless at Belmont after five tries.

earned excellent PER when dropped to this level in surface return when dead-heating for place. Picks up Cancel and properly spotted; solid contender.

10-CASTAWAY (5-1) has improved numbers-wise since March claim by Jacobson and had wide trip with too-late rally in last but loses Ortiz to Stay Tuned.

11-FIRST RANGER (30-1)
has been showing early speed then stopping. Winless in four BEL starts and woeful 1-for-17 at this trip.


1-ARIPEKA (2-1)
second in 2015 G1 Makers Mark, slid abruptly down claiming ladder at GP winning last for $25K. Claimed by very live Gargan connects that jailed him and returns at same level off big-figure winning score. Clearly best form, but curious placement.

1A-HURRY UP ALAN (2-1) Main Track Only

2-IT MATTERS (30-1) is winless for two years over either surface now returns vs. tougher off layup; extremely tall order.

3-FINDING CANDY (20-1) showed improved lick in latest but weakened to third’ Barn’s horses known for turf success performing OK but unlucky this meet. Rosario elsewhere so gets L Saez. Wakeup price potential.

4-PATROLIKEACHAMPION (50-1) is 0-for-11 on turf and 1-for-30 overall, often beaten at huge odds.

5-MC ILROY (6-1) earned excellent PER when third on turf here in 2015 three back now drops to proper level in season’s debut picking up Irad for live connects; a player here.

6-DREAM MAN (10-1) veteran won last turf start here in 2015 and Hennig barn having strong meet. Beaten 2 lengths after trailing in AQU finale and profitable turf/barn rider Alvarado sticks. Value at early line odds.

7-MARRIAGE FEVER (20-1) gets fairly close then fails to seal the deal. Turns back to one-turn mile after mid-moving in MTH two-turner recently. Likely to improve some.

8-MR. CANADA (15-1) always a pace player and will be on the engine but must contend with favorite’s speed. Gryder re-rides runner 2-for-6 on turf and 1-for-11 on anything else.

9-HIDDEN VOW (15-1) Serpe horses going well here thus far and freshened to return to BEL turf (13) 3-2-1 after posting 0-for-25 record elsewhere. Picks up strong-finish Arroyo; appears live price shot.

10YO pro has won eight races on this course and hails from good turf connects but likely to need a run coming off the bench at his age despite sharp recent work.

11-ALL OVER ME (5-1) gelded 5YO has come into his own on turf for Maker who is very worthy 41% profitable with claiming repeaters. Proper spacing and 2-for-5 at the trip.

12-SINATRA (6-1)
earned excellent PER score here last fall returning fresh and repeats that pattern for Mott having tough meet but capable with layups. Reunites with winning rider Johnny with sharp recent blowout.

13AE-LIVE IN JOY (10-1)
overmatched in first start off claim over BEL turf May 20 now returns to sensible level for Klesaris, 22% effective with his second chance runners. Switch to L Saez augurs well.

14-CITY STEEL (9-5) Main Track Only

15-EASY COMPARISON (6-1) Main Track Only

See tomorrow's Feature Race Analysis for On the Record selections, brought to you by

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Belmont Stakes Pace Will Take Care of Itself

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., May 31, 2016—As of this posting, 11 days remain until the running of the Belmont Stakes and already much has been made of the lack of pace in the event. Turf writers are writing about and trainers are talking about it.

What to do?

I have a suggestion that perhaps we should all calm down just a tad. No, there are no lead-to-lead types in this year’s race like there were in the Preakness, but that doesn’t guarantee a lack of pace. Let’s consider this question.

Is a half-mile in 48 seconds flat too fast or two slow for three-race-olds racing a mile and a half in early-to-mid June? In our opinion, that would be perfect to insure an honest, competitive race.

There are mitigating factors, of course, atmospherics and track condition to name two but a half-mile in 48 is the perfect 12-clip around which the racing and training game is built.

But if that seems slow, consider this. If one strings 12-clips together for the entire trip, the result is Secretariat’s 2:24 track and trip record.

The problem with sustaining the benchmark of 12 seconds per furlong is that t this rate, the runnerup would find himself 31 fence-post notches in arrears.

Among the nine possible/probable starters in this year’s event being considered at the moment, almost half of them are capable of a half-mile in 48. The problem, of course, is holding that momentum all the way home.

There are some very nice horses in this year’s renewal but none ever will be confused with Big Red of Meadow Stable, albeit Stradavari and Suddenbreakingnews both start with an ‘S’.

Speaking of the former, it must be noted that the lack of need-the-lead runners did lead to Stradavari’s name being added to the Belmont list. Among his other talents, Todd Pletcher can read a form.

Pletcher may have issues with his Derby and Preakness results but need not apologize for winning two Belmonts, one with a filly and the other getting a Derby runoff named Palace Malice to go a mile and a half after removing blinkers.

Pletcher will throw a pair of ‘cheaters’ on the son of Medaglia d’Oro or maybe he won’t. Maybe his other slated entrant, Destin, will set the pace. Either one is capable of striding away comfortably in front.

Stradavari, in fact, was wide and rank chasing a hot pace in Baltimore, Johnny Velazquez alternately trying to get the long striding colt to settle while trying to pressure those that would keep the pressure on Nyquist.

Note, too, that in his allowance win prior to the Preakness, he say a length off of a 47 2/5 half mile before winning by 14 eagle-spreading lengths in 1:48 3/5 which is, of course, 3/5s of a second short of a perfect 12-clip.

Well, as above, he does have a name that starts with an ‘S’.

However, stablemate Destin was a half-length off the Tampa Derby pace before completing a mile and a sixteenth in very crisp 1:42 4/5. And lest we forget he finished ahead of 14 Derby rivals in a troubled journey that began at the starting gate.

If, however, neither tack is in the offing, there is another contender that not only can set and 12-clippish pace and hold that margin to the finish, and that would be from-the-clouds Derby runnerup and Preakness hero Exaggerator.

Jogging memory, he did win the Delta Jackpot in near wire fashion at 2 then next time sat right on Nyquist’s hip in the 7-furlong San Vicente, chasing splits of 22 2/5 and 44 2/5 through six furlongs in 1:08 2/5 finishing 1-1/2 lengths behind the champ’s 1:20 3/5 at the finish.

And, as Kent Desormeaux reminded a national television audience in Baltimore, knowledge is power, indeed. The Belmont is the quintessential “rider’s race.” Not to worry, this group will figure it all out.


Good to see that Nyquist is recovering nicely and will return to SoCal June 5. Providing Exaggerator runs well the following weekend and recovers nicely, it will be good to see them hook up again now that it’s real rivalry; 4-0 did not a rivalry make… Reports are that Dale Romans’ tandem of Cherry Wine and Brody’s Cause seem spot on. Having Cherry Wine work a half mile, galloping out five-eighths in 1:03 obviously speaks to his condition. And while we didn’t see it, Brody’s Cause appears to have worked like a monster. A stamina-inducing mile in 1:42, galloping out nine furlongs in 1:56 2/5 looks like a perfect move…

Creator, a roughed-up 13th in the Derby, also had what appears a beneficial trial. Beneath Florent Geroux, he worked five furlongs in 1:02, galloping out six furlongs in 1:15 with a double gallop-out in 1:28 4/5 for seven-eighths. Irad Ortiz Jr. rides him in the Belmont… Suddenbreakingnews worked six furlongs at his Churchill base Sunday in 1:12 2/5 and galloped out “really strong” according to trainer Donnie Von Hemel, who has booked Mike Smith for the Belmont.

Written by John Pricci

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