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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Saturday, November 14, 2015


Maryland My Maryland, New York and Kentucky, Too


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., November 13, 2015—Laurel Race Course continues its simulcast resurgence this weekend with the $350,000 DeFrancis Dash memorial sprint program featuring five other listed stakes at $100,000 per event.

And the heavy heads will all have their opportunities elsewhere: Aqueduct is offering the Grade 3 Red Smith Handicap for older turf males going 11 furlongs while Churchill Downs has a beauty scheduled, the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere for three-year-old fillies on grass.

The latter at 1-1/16 miles is the last graded event restricted to sophomore female grass runners this year. It drew an overflow field of 18 but only 14 will start, four also-eligibles notwithstanding.

Weather handicappers are predicting clear skies for all three venues but given recent wet conditions in New York, there rates to be some cut in the ground on a turf course sure to be less than firm. And that’s where our handicapping look-in will begin:

AQUEDUCT RACETRACK: The Red Smith drew a field of 10 including one Main Track Only. While the gate will not be as crowded as Laurel’s, this feature is no less contentious, not with equines saddled by emissaries of Brown, Casse, Clement, McGaughey, Motion, Mott and Pletcher.

Six of the nine Red Smith starters have peaked our interest. Our top contenders from the inside-out:

Bill Mott is sending out War Dancer (5-1) who looks like a horse that’s been directly pointed this way. Narrowly beaten in the G1 Man o’ War and second again in the G2 Bowling Green, both a today’s trip, he was speed-sharpened in the shorter Knickerbocker Oct. 10, stalking the leader throughout before tiring in his first start since August. He’s worked thrice since for a barn that avenges beaten favorites at a 24% clip.

Kaigun (3-1) has enough bottom-side pedigree for the distance and he’s been toughened and sharpened recently in two Canadian Grade 1s, most notably the WO Mile two back while finishing two lengths behind Mondialiste, the eventual fast-finish BC Mile runner-up.

Parenthetically, while certainly fast and talented enough, we’re not completely sold on the notion that Mr Speaker will get that 11th furlongs and, at 5-2, we’re not that anxious to find out.

Holiday Star (8-1) offers value at early line odds. Distance is not at issue owing to two wins at 12 furlongs, both G3s. He handles any ground and Graham Motion fave Edgar Prado rides him likes he owns him with two wins and placings in four rides dating back to October, 2014.

Recent Chad Brown acquisition Mr Maybe (5-1) has been a revelation since returning as a gelded four-year-old. Following his 2015 horror-trip debut came a flying-finish third and two straight wins, including his distance debut last out, although 5-1 seems more a function of trainer than horse.

Charming Kitten (10-1) has earned the fastest figures on the Thoro-Graph scale with laudable consistency but is going to need clever handling from his outside slip with the short run to the first of three turns. The rub is Johnny Velazquez can’t be in two places at the same time; he’s listed to ride Stallwalkin’ Dude at Laurel 50 minutes later

BETTABLES: The most probable winner appears to be Kaigun. But at early odds, anything near early odds, we’re taking a hard look at Holiday Star and Charming Kitten to key our exotics plays.

CHURCHILL DOWNS: Per usual, the Mrs. Revere is a great betting race, which is code for hair-on-fire mind-bender.

Return to Grace (10-1) is a price shot, one of two entrants with a course; their 12 rivals do not even have Churchill lawn experience. Nicely drawn, she’s twice graded-stakes placed beaten on 4-1/4 lengths in Keeneland’s G1 QE II. Joe Rocco Jr., 1-for-2 with her, is on a re-ride.

Devine Aida (10-1) is making her second start since the Black-Eyed Susan and second for Clement, who’s switching to one of his best team players, turf maven Joe Bravo. She was second to Mrs. Revere favorite Partisan Politics (4-1) in the one-turn Pebbles while both prior 7-1/2 furlong grass scores came around two turns. She appears live in this spot.

Onus (6-1) has come to hand rapidly for Shug McGaughey with forging Pricci Energy Figures since returning from an April layoff, winning three straight at Laurel which begs the question: Why not New York?

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that since New York does not permit use of a hyperbaric chamber, readily available at the Fair Hill training complex. For this she sports a recent Belmont bullet half-mile and Forest Boyce will seek his fourth straight on the Blame filly.

Isabella Sings (8-1), used hard setting a rapid Pebbles pace, ships in for the ubiquitous Todd Pletcher. She reunites with Paco Lopez, aboard for her narrow defeat in the G3 Boiling Springs. She also will appreciate a second turn and will be always prominent.

Partisan Politics is in from New York for Chad Brown who not so quietly has become the second-leading-trainer in money won in 2015.

Beaten by a tough trip, 3/4s of a length in Saratoga’s G2 Lake George at Saratoga, Partisan Politics subsequently was beaten a nose in the Riskaverse before taking the Pebbles.

Her late run needs to be timed carefully but when she comes with it, look out. Javier Castellano is her regular partner.

BETTABLES: Would like to get Devine Aida and Onus into the exotics mix and both are potential win bets, price dependent, of course. But either of them has Partisan Politics to beat; tis the season after all.


LAUREL PARK RACE COURSE: The main attractions in Laurel, Maryland are the Safely Kept for three-year-old fillies sprinting seven furlongs replete with its interesting déjà vu implications, and the DeFrancis Dash.

With the Lady Sheila connections not having the brilliant New York-bred and BC F & M Sprint runner-up La Verdad’s campaign to anticipate in 2016, another three-year-old Empire state-bred might be in a position to become heir apparent.

A four-time winner and twice second in 10 career starts, Hot City Girl (5-2) has a win and placing at the 7-furlong trip and is the controlling speed--if not lone speed--in this 12-filly matchup.

Since beating half the field in the G1 Acorn, she’s won two straight coming off a three-month break, taking the G3 Charles Town Oaks and a secondary Belmont allowances going 6-1/2 furlongs, earning the field’s top PER by a significant margin.

The centerpiece, of course, is the DeFrancis which hopefully will be accorded graded status again in the future: The appearance of Palace (9-5), a lifetime winner of 12 of 27 career starts, including two Grade 1s and $1.48 million in earnings, is yet another Linda Rice-trained New York-bred star.

Ridden by regular partner Cornelio Velasquez, a consistent player for this barn and a regular rider companion, this is likely to be the six-year-old’s racing swansong. He passed on a BC Sprint run and will go out wearing blinkers, a 24% win scenario for Rice.

The DeFrancis will be no walkover despite Palace’s impressive resume. Enter Stallwalkin’ Dude (5-2), also down from New York, for David Jacobson, who will be making a rider switch to Trevor McCarthy.

Prior to getting shuffled back from along the inside in the BC Sprint, the five-year-old 6F specialist fought it out gamely when beaten by only a neck when third in the Vosburgh. Following that Grade 1, Jacobson freshened him five weeks to prepare for the BC Sprint.

BETTABLES: Despite his tough BC Sprint trip, Stallwalkin’ Dude defeated half the field and was beaten less than five lengths. An exacta box with Palace and a win bet Stallwalkin’ Dude makes the most sense.

[See Feature Race Analysis for today's wagers]

This analysis of Saturday stakes is brought to you via special promotional agreement wth 123GAMING.com





Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Salute to America’s Heroes and the HRI Faithful, Too


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., November 11, 2015—As the nation honors its heroes today, we would like to thank our HRI veterans for their service to the country where appropriate, and for their loyal readership, too.

By no means are we equating the two, just figuring there’s probably some crossover among the readership.

Many loyal readers have asked why we don’t do more handicapping and so, in that spirit, we going to look at a second feature race today from Churchill Downs.

Indeed, we are aware of the unacceptable takeout rates but the takeout rate of 17.5% in the straight pools, while high, is not so egregious compared to the average WPS hold at other venues. Thus we’ll try to concentrate on the winner.

Parenthetically, f you’re willing to go against 22% in the multiple pools, have at it. We only get exotic there but four days a year.

Today’s featured 9th race in Louisville, an NX3 other than maiden, claiming, restricted or 4 lifetime optional claimer, is for turf males three-year-olds and up going a mile and a sixteenth on grass.

Note that if the race is switched to the main track, Eagle (9-5) rates a significant edge. Otherwise, this group is highly competitive.

Coming out of a restricted stakes, Flashlight (3-1), a willing second in a restricted stakes and now making his second start for Michael Maker is a logical enough early line choice. But from his outside slip, he’s worth trying to beat.

Of the three with the best chance to do so; Knights Nation, (4-1), One Touch (8-1) and Pumpkin Rumble, the most logical to do so is Knights Nation, a Dallas Stewart trainee who would have been our morning line choice.

Nicely drawn with a switch to Robby Albarado, he drops from a NW4 O/T to his winning level and returns to his favored ground where he’s compiled an (8) 2-2-1 lifetime slate. The field has him to beat.

However, it’s worth trying to beat him with One Touch. As a 4YO gelding, he has physical upside and he’s on a healthy TG line and any improvement from his last wins this. Fair odds would be 6-1.

If you can’t resist, Pumpkin Rumble comes from a barn having a career year and all their horses are running well at the moment and is value on the early line.

Check today’s FRA for an analysis of the G2 Discovery Stakes from the Big A.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, November 07, 2015


The Cure for Post Traumatic Cup Disorder


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., November 6, 2007--On Thursday, a comment from someone calling himself Top Turf Teddy was submitted, a poignant message I thought I’d share with all the HRI faithful, especially since some of you may be suffering from the same affliction. After all, our aim is to help:

“My psychiatrist assures me that my recent depression is attributable to PTCD (Post Traumatic Cup Disorder) which is fairly common among railbirds irrespective of their socioeconomic status.

“Symptoms vary; along with the depression. Most suffer from an uncontrollable urge to wager… blurred vision, frequent checking of internet wagering balances, usually followed by hysterical crying jags.

“In rare cases, similar to Tourette’s Syndrome, they may find themselves screaming out the names of race horses, trainers along with expletives…etc., etc.”

Teddy will be fine, we are sure, but the point he makes is, well, not all that crazy. The Breeders’ Cup is over and at this posting the Kentucky Derby is more than six months away. What’s a horseplayer to do?

Plenty.

This afternoon at Gulfstream Park West--a.k.a. Calder Race Course in an earlier incarnation--is hosting Sunshine Millions Preview Day, just one of several interesting Saturday features offered around the USA, USA.

There are no fewer than eight, low-six-figures prep events in advance of the actual Sunshine Millions program at Gulfstream’s Championship Meet, which opens with the Claiming Crown series on December 6.

So there’s that, the Grade 2 Long Island Handicap for fillies and mares going 12 furlongs on the Aqueduct turf course in Queens, and the always entertaining Chilluki Stakes at Churchill Downs, to name just a few.

Here’s a handicapping look-in to see what might be available for handicappers who may be looking for relief from their bout with PTCD.

In South Florida, the final five races on the card are in their way as tough to decipher as last week’s Breeders’ Cup. Difficult? Yes. Score producing? You betcha’.


GULFSTREAM PARK WEST: JUVENILE FILLIES TURF

Saturday’s 9th event in Miami Gardens has attracted 10 2-year-old fillies going one mile on the grass. (The rail was set at 0 feet Thursday). We’ve cut the number of live possibilities virtually in half, and even that was a struggle.

Seeking the Storm (12-1) is slower on both the Pricci Energy and Thoro-Graph scales than most of her state-bred rivals but owns a solid late kick, there’s sufficient speed signed on and her final figures are forward looking. Her last-out maiden breaker came over the course at this trip.

Linemaker Jay Stone has it right, making Lovely Credit (3-1) and Pancake (4-1) the early favorites. The former has earned the fastest ratings consistently, hails from top connections and gets a switch to Paco Lopez.

The latter goes first-time for trainer Ronny Werner who wasted little time dispensing Vitamin L to the filly. If you prefer either of these, try getting close to early line odds in this wide open scramble.

Pancake comes off a solid maiden breaker crosstown and hails from a very good turf family. Others we left open are Beautiful Sin (8-1), a maiden breaker two-back with first-Lasix, and Wishihada (10-1).

The latter Michael Yates trainee had a wide-trip turf debut sprinting, the race looking very much like a prep for this prep, and she gets the services of Juan Leyva [check out the video, Oct. 21].


FLORIDA JUVENILE SPRINT: Completing a vexing late double is the FJS at 6-1/2 furlongs and if it’s a race for Florida-breds all will have Stanley Gold--the all-time leading trainer of Florida-bred stakes winners—to beat. Gold saddles early line favorite Fellowship (7-2).

If you saw Fellowship’s victory in the In Reality Stakes going two turns at Gulfstream, you understand why he’s the early choice.

Fellowship dawdled in 14th of 14 for half the race before launching a Belmont Balcony move, circling and inhaling 13 rivals, drawing off by 4-1/2 lengths in the process. It was his second start with blinkers and Lasix. Obviously, conditioning will not be an issue here.

His major rivals are Kokomo Wildcat (9-2) and Galleon Mast (10-1).

Of the major contenders, ‘Kokomo’ is the lone entrant with experience over the quirky main track. He broke maiden in fast time, finishing strongly late off very solid fractions while drawing away to win by 7. He comes in off a brisk five-eighths drill and Eddie Castro takes a return call from Larry Pilotti, a profitable 31% on the year and celebrated for his work with juveniles.

Galleon Mast has the right finishing style, gets Edgard Zayas on a return call, and broke maiden at today’s hybrid trip. While that score came at Gulfstream Park, the GPW backstretch is home base. He has good spacing and has worked thrice for this tough test.

Returnee Big Boy Bruno (10-1), a June maiden-breaker, is worth a look. He enters with a long string of bullet and near-bullet works and is an uncoupled Pilotti charge picking up Paco. Hmm! Turnback Danbury (20-1), used hard early last time, could blow up the verticals at a huge number.


AQUEDUCT RACETRACK: Grade 3 LONG ISLAND HANDICAP

Same story; different scenario. If it’s a turf marathon, then all have Chad Brown to beat. And who does Brown have to beat? None other than himself, and a few others.

Eleven fillies and mares were entered overnight, three by Brown. Not to be outdone, Christophe Clement, also owning turf cred, also entered three. Add two Pletcher’s (one MTO), one Motion, and serve:

Shaken, not stirred.

What one likes about Brown’s Goldy Espony (5-1) is the real possibility of value and the spacing. Not having run since Sept. 5, Brown is 30% effective and profitable coming back in this time frame. Further, she’s undefeated in two starts at the marathon trip. The problem is that she appears too slow.

But not Danza Cavallo (3-1), fast by virtually any measure, and she’s been tested at the G1 level. Both she and Euro-shipper once removed Mutatis Mutandis (4-1) are exiting the Flower Bowl, a key race producing three next out winners including Filly & Mare Turf heroine Stephanie’s Kitten.

‘Danza’ would prefer some cut in the ground, unlikely at this writing, but she certainly owns enough pedigree to handle the extra quarter-mile. She was beaten a neck in this race last year.

We would regard several other fillies as solid: Clement’s Crisolles (5-1) is a rapidly developing 4-year-old and Graham Motion’s Interrupted (12-1) is 2-for-2 in blinkers and is an intriguing price shot with pedigree and a solid last-out TG figure.

If I were making an economy play in the guaranteed Late Pick 4, I’d probably lean on Danza Cavallo and include straight-forward longshot Interrupted.


CHURCHILL DOWNS Grade 2 CHILUKKI STAKES


It’s difficult to argue with the status of the top early line choices: Gold Medal Dancer (2-1) is already a Grade 2 winner and twice G1-placed; Birdatthewire (5-2) won two G2s at GP last winter.

However, it’s a pair of 8-1 shots, Brad Cox’s Spelling Again and Jimmy Corrigan’s Shannon Nicole, that are most interesting.

Virtually eliminated by a poor start in the G2 TCA Stakes at Keeneland most recently, Spelling Again won both priors, including a restricted stakes two back in her CD debut. And know that Cox is an otherworldly 41% profitable stretching to a route off two sprints.

As for ‘Shannon’, she returns off a lengthy break for a barn that not only excels in that role but also profitable with new acquisitions. Corrigan has had 287 days to get her ready, the filly not having run since hitting the rail in her 4-year-old debut back in January.

We would probably lean to the filly with the recency, and add talented 3-year-old Birdatthewire to the exacta mix. Box up the Chilukki before calling it a day and if symptoms persist, call me in the morning.

[See today's Feature Race Analysis for more].

Today's Pricci Morning Line blog was underwritten via special promotional arrangement with 123GAMING.com

Written by John Pricci

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