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, May 03, 2014


CALIFORNIA CHROME CRUISES TO VICTORY


By Press Release

LOUISVILLE, KY (Saturday, May 3, 2014) – Steven Coburn and Perry Martin’s favored California Chrome, ridden by Victor Espinoza, took command at the head of the stretch en route to a 1 3/4-length victory over Commanding Curve to win the 140th running of the $2,202,800 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I).

A sun-splashed crowd of 164,906, the second-largest attendance in Kentucky Derby history, watched California Chrome give jockey Victor Espinoza a second Derby victory to go with his triumph on War Emblem in 2002.

The largest Derby crowd was 165,307 in 2012.

Art Sherman, 77, conditions California Chrome and became the oldest trainer to win a Kentucky Derby winner. Charlie Whittingham was 76 when Sunday Silence won the 1989 Kentucky Derby.

Uncle Sigh led the field of 19 through fractions of :23.04 and :47.37 with Chitu and Samraat in closest pursuit. California Chrome led the second pack and began to close in after six furlongs in 1:11.80.

By the time the field hit the top of the stretch, California Chrome was showing his heels to all of his pursuers, opening up at midstretch and coasting under the wire well clearing of Commanding Curve.

The victory was worth $1,442,800 and increased California Chrome’s earnings to $2,577,650 with a record of 11-7-1-0.

California Chrome is the first California bred to win the Run for the Roses since Decidedly in 1962. He is a son of Lucky Pulpit out of the Not For Love mare Love the Chase.

California Chrome covered the 1 ¼ miles on a fast main track in 2:03.66.

California Chrome paid $7, $5.60 and $4.20. Commanding Curve, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, paid $31.80 and $15.40 with Danza, ridden by Joe Bravo, finishing 1 ¼ lengths behind Commanding Curve in third and returning $6 to show.

It was another 2 ¾ lengths back to Wicked Strong, who was followed in order by Samraat, Dance With Fate, Ride On Curlin, Medal Count, Chitu, We Miss Artie, General a Rod, Intense Holiday, Candy Boy, Uncle Sigh, Tapiture, Harry’s Holiday, Vinceremos, Wildcat Red and Vicar’s in Trouble.

TRAINER QUOTES

Art Sherman, trainer of California Chrome, first – “Just awesome. I’m breathless. This is so cool. I think I rode the horse with Victor (Espinoza) the last 70 yards. It was a picture-perfect ride. He was right where he should have been all the way around. Coming down the stretch I was thinking: ‘Keep rollin’ big boy. Keep rollin’.’ This has to be the sweetest moment of my life. To be my age and have something like this happen, what can you say? For all my friends in California, this is for you. We did it!”

Dallas Stewart, trainer of Commanding Curve, second – “I wish I was out there (in the infield winner's circle), but you know, hey, I thank God for everything, the way it is, and that's what keeps us going for next year. Hopefully, we'll be back here next year. On training the second-place finisher two years in a row: "I would never get frustrated over that. There's a lot of things to be frustrated about. Getting beat in a horse race isn't one of them.'' On whether the Preakness is a possibility: "You know, who knows? Maybe. Yeah, probably. We'll see. He's a big, strong horse. You can see he handled the paddock real good. He handles a lot of things good. So, I doubt the race would knock him out. I was just hoping California Chrome would kind of give in a little bit, but he didn't. We were running at him. I mean, Shaun (Bridgmohan) said, 'He was running, Dallas.' So I'm very proud of him.''

Todd Pletcher, trainer of Danza, third, We Miss Artie, 10th, Intense Holiday, 12th and Vincremos, 17th, – On Danza: “I thought he ran well. Coming by the wire first time, he got bumped by Vinceremos. But he got back in position and started to respond. Joe (Bravo) had to move him a little earlier than he wanted to. Considering that this was only the fifth race of his life, you’ve got to say it was a very good effort.” On Intense Holiday: “He was hung outside all the way around. He just never seemed to get with it.” On Vinceremos (17th): “He got into trouble in two different spots. He was involved in two bumping incidents. It was just a tough race for him to run.” On We Miss Artie (10th): “We took him back and tried to make a late run with him. He’ll go in the Queen’s Plate next.”

Jimmy Jerkens, trainer of Wicked Strong, fourth – “I thought he ran decent. He didn’t accelerate fast enough to go through the holes that were opening and those closed up on him quickly. He was making nice forward motion at the end though and that was encouraging.”

Rick Violette, trainer of Samraat, fifth – “I thought he his ran eyeballs out. He laid it out on the line. The kid (Jose Ortiz) rode a terrific race. No second guessing, my horse ran a great race. The winner was just better. We looked him in the eye and he just pulled away. My horse came out of the race good. So far so good. I feel bad for a horse that ran so well and so hard and only got fifth place.”

Peter Eurton, trainer of Dance With Fate, sixth – "After talking with [jockey Corey Nakatani], it sounds like he handled the dirt OK. He just didn't have that necessary kick to continue. If he continues his run he's right there. Unfortunately he didn't. Whether it was getting hold of the dirt or not, whether it was the mile and a quarter, or going a little further because he was a little wide--I don't know. He had a clean trip, though. No excuses."

Billy Gowan, trainer of Ride On Curlin, seventh – Not available for comment.

Dale Romans, trainer of Medal Count, eighth – “I felt good about where we were the whole race, even up the backside. About the half-mile pole I thought we were ranging up exactly where we needed to be and he could quicken from there. I wish there had been a lot more pace in the race. It looked on paper like there would be a lot more. We got shut off pretty badly down the lane but, I don’t know, that’s the Derby. I think we could’ve moved up a couple positions but I don’t think it kept us from winning. I do want to say one thing on the record. I didn’t think that California Chrome had any chance going into this race and I was very, very wrong. Whether the crop’s a good crop or not, that’s a special horse. I was wrong. I was a very big skeptic; I threw him out of all my tickets in every spot. I didn’t think he fit the profile to win the Derby. I’m very impressed the way he came into it, the way he looked, the way he was prepared and the way he ran. Now he has a new fan.”

Bob Baffert, trainer of Chitu, ninth – “He ran well for a while. I was watching California Chrome stalking. You could tell he was comfortable the whole way. He’s for real. It’s going to be a great Triple Crown series.”

Mike Maker, trainer of General a Rod, 11th, Harry’s Holiday, 16th and Vicar’s in Trouble 19th, – On Vicar's in Trouble: "It looked like he got bounced off the rail early.” On Harry's Holiday and General a Rod: "It just looked like they weren't good enough. That's about it.''

John Sadler, trainer of Candy Boy, 13th – “It was a nightmare trip. He was never in a good position at any point and almost went down in the first turn. He just didn’t get any kind of trip. The track was speed favoring all day and that didn’t help us. But he looks good back at the barn and as long as he came back in one piece we are happy.”

Gary Contessa, trainer of Uncle Sigh, 14th – “He got the lead and the pace wasn’t fast. But he just got beat.”

Steve Asmussen, trainer of Tapiture, 15th – “He just flattened out. He put himself in a good spot, had every chance, made a little run around the turn and then just got tired.”

Jose Garoffalo, trainer of Wildcat Red, 18th – “I’d have to say the track was a factor. He couldn’t handle the track. I think I’ll give him a break now and look for a race.”

Written by HRI Publisher

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Friday, May 02, 2014


Use’m and Lose’m


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 2, 2014—It’s one of the first things they teach you in Wiseguy School: You’re not sure what to do with the fave; you’ve got a hunch and you want to bet a bunch. What to do?

“You use’m, then you lose’m,” kid.

That’s the dilemma for me in Derby 140. What do I do with California Chrome. Do I wiseguy my way out of a winner, or do I believe my lyin’ eyes?

All horses have issues, some issues are bigger, some not so much. For all his brilliance and power, California Chrome’s hind legs need treatment from time to time, conventional treatment, acupuncture, whatever it takes.

But I’m sure it’s an issue that trainer Art Sherman and his staff can deal with. That’s the way it is with fast horses sometimes; slow ones don’t run fast or hard enough to do themselves any harm.

It’s those hind end issues that occasionally cause the Derby favorite to break a half-beat slowly. This race is unkind to horses that have gate issues on race day.

But there’s more to it than that. California Chrome, breaking from post position 5, has two quick gate horses to his inside; Vicar’s In Trouble—which had better break quickly from the dreaded rail or risk running into the fence—and Uncle Sigh, which adds blinkers to make him even quicker.

On the favorite’s immediate right is another speedster, Samraat, and a couple of more stalls away is very fast Wildcat Red. The potential for a speed jam is there as is the possibility of a tardy break. And at 2-1, or thereabouts, in his first start outside SoCal?

Of course, if the Santa Anita Derby version of California Chrome shows up in Louisville, this group could be in big trouble. If not, things really open up. What to do?

Use'm and lose’m.

The problem here is that there are some many ways to go after the favorite: There’s Intense Holiday, the training star of Derby 140.

There’s his stablemate Danza, also training well, and Candy Boy, getting good right now and loving his time in the Blue Grass, and Samraat, experienced but still learning, and a throwback energizer-bunny of a horse named Medal Count, and...

There are a few others worth of mention but why bother; all have pluses, all have minuses. It’s horse racing; it’s why you gamble on it.

We’ll give this a little more thought and catch up later in the Feature Race section. Hey, anybody see that filly today?

Unbeatable Untapable

Some good favorites win and then there’s Untapable, the filly that turned the Kentucky Oaks into her own private party. And it’s likely the 1:48.68 will come up pretty good with the speed boys.

Good enough to tackle colts in the Preakness? I think we all should keep our shirts on until at least 6:24 p.m. on Saturday. But that WAS special.

Her margin was 4-1/2 lengths over a filly that won both of her previous starts going long impressively. And when Fashion Gate hopped at the start and broke behind the field, an anticipated lively pace became pretty pedestrian, an opening half-mile in 47.80.

Rosie Napravnik had My Miss Sophia and Javier Castellano in her sights throughout. You might even say that with their better position, Castellano’s filly had a first-run edge. She did but Tapiture ran right on by with little urging.

Rosie and her filly were in complete control and if her final time was indeed a regression, I’d love to see her when she's really on her game.

Untapable was a little hot leaving the paddock and in the post parade but she was a cool customer on the track, elevating her Churchill Downs slate to 3-for-3.

She won the storied Kentucky Oaks as easy as she worked the other morning for the biggest race of her career. Steve Asmussen, who had her ready a week ago, was relieved that he could keep her on the ground all week.

He was also relieved for other reasons the whole world knows about. And if they hadn’t heard about the PETA video sting, Asmussen reminded the television audience. Twice.

We thought Tapiture’s recent wins were so spectacular that he might have been vulnerable to a regression and tried to beat her with Unbridled Forever. The sixth betting choice ran well all the way to finish third, but the Oaks was a mismatch.

Tapiture just might be one of the ones.

Written by John Pricci

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My Two Cents, Plain


SARATOGA SPRINGS, May 1, 2014—With apologies to Jimmy Cannon of the late, great Journal-American, as homage to a notes column he uniquely popularized entitled “Nobody Asked Me But…”

Yeah, you get the idea, then probably so did the great Mike Lupica and his “Shooting From the Lip.” Same idea, different name. Anyway, here goes.

Rename Baffert’s Colt “Lostopportunity”

…As in unable to bet against… It truly was a great opportunity for value, a second choice with little chance to win withdrawn from Derby 140 with a foot bruise hurting value potential everywhere on the board.

From a performance figure standpoint, he was on a terrible line, as if another regression were coming, likely not having performed as many taking a positive view thought he might.

From a betting perspective, this hurts every logical contender not named California Chrome.

While I’m not sure that longer-priced, uncoupled stablemate Chitu, will get all 10 furlongs, I believe his chances are better after he drew well on Wednesday; a tactical speedster drawn outside most of, if not all, the important gas in this matchup.

The price might still be right, but now he's the only Baffert, not the "other" Baffert.

“Can You Hear Me Now?”

Rather, can you hear us now, the horseplayers of North America? Handle at Churchill Downs was off a staggering 25% on April 30 and 11% for the meet despite a good opening night--and another 18% on Thursday with one more race than last year, according to an industry watchdog.

Horseplayers no longer will be taken for granted. With many true non-believers already having abandoned the game, those that are left apparently will not be snookered, hoodwinked, bamboozled.

Pre-race price matters both on and off the tote board. It’s very early in the game but it will be interesting to see if this downward spiral continues, especially on Derby weekend.

Look, There’s a Real-Life Person Inside That Suit”

And his name is John Asher, the Vice President of Corporate Communications at Churchill Downs, honest-to-goodness racing guy.

Asher wasn’t exactly Adam Silver, then he doesn’t have the big chair, but you had to feel for him as he tried to explain away a snub of Ron Turcotte by Churchill Downs for a third consecutive year.

Turcotte is a man’s man, one who never has uttered the words; poor me. He’s thankful for the opportunities that life gave him, and he wears his love of the game on his sleeve.

And here was poor Asher trying to explain this whole flap away and it was obvious how badly he felt, and embarrassed, too. I still can’t get over the fact that it cost a Canadian film crew $500 to get Turcotte a handicapped parking space inside Churchill Downs.

Sadly, CDI is not alone in this. Hall of Famers also have had a tough time getting into Saratoga on some afternoons following the annual induction ceremonies.

These are not overt snubs, of course, but those in charge drop the ball when they fail to instruct admissions and security personnel the proper protocol for treating celebrities.

No, red-carpet types seldom have trouble getting on the grounds on Oaks and Derby day. It’s racing’s celebrities who often get short shrift.


“Can We All Bow Our Heads and Pray for Poor ‘Injun’ Chuck’?”

It was inevitable, a matter of time before Ed Musselman buried himself. And it's about time someone caught on. He's gone too far before but it wasn’t until he maligned an entire ethnic group before the industry finally pulled him up.

(If you’re interested in his awful iterations, see the April 26 edition of Indian Charlie in the archives section of the website of the same name).

Guess it was too bad for Chuck that Donald Sterling came along during the same week. Chuck’s message wasn’t as bad as Sterling’s but it was bad enough..

Every racetracker has a good natured laugh with references to Dead Duck Darnell or Ken McPeeked and all the rest. The backstretch never has been confused with church.

But Musselman has made anti-Semitic remarks, too, about two Daily Racing Form staffers and never paid a price for those comments. Now he has, with Keeneland, Churchill and Stronach Group tracks pulling their advertising form his publication and barring its distribution on racetrack property.

“Exotically Speaking, Happy Oaks Day”

Sorry, but Untapable appears Unbeatable in today’s Kentucky Oaks, post 13 and all. Her blowout for this was frightening; had to feel a little concerned for the exercise rider who was tasked to keep her from launching herself into space, she was so out of her mind with run.

Mortgages are not paid at 4-5. So, if you must, check today’s Feature Race Analysis for some alternative wagers.

Written by John Pricci

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