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, 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?


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’.


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.


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.


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

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, November 01, 2015

NYRA’s Kay and Panza: Two More Years

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., November 1, 2015--Racing executive Bill Nader is not coming back to America after all, at least not as the All-Everything of the New York Racing Association.

HRI learned exclusively on Breeders' Cup Friday that the contracts of President/CEO Christopher Kay and Vice-President of Racing Martin Panza have been renewed for the next two years.

Apparently, the state-run NYRA was sufficiently impressed with the current management team's efforts to reverse the fortunes of New York racing.

Either that or they have no intention of ever loosening the reins, for the two years at minimum.

Along with the news from a highly placed source not wishing to speak for the record, winter racing will be conducted on a four-day-a-week bases, with several possible exceptions owing to racing and holiday considerations.

This will allow the NYRA to squirrel away purse money for the prestigious Belmont and Saratoga race meets, especially Saratoga whose fortunes have been instrumental in keeping top level management in place.

Nader was expected to come on board in February, 2016, which apparently is no longer the case. But stay tuned. Things have a curious way of changing abruptly whenever Albany is involved in the process.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, October 30, 2015

2015 Classic Goes to the Best Horse on the Day

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., Oct. 30, 2015—If Damon Runyon were here in the present tense, he would remind all horseplayers that “the race don’t always go to the swift nor the victory to the strong but that’s how you bet.”

And that’s exactly what I intend to do in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. At end end of the day, as Todd Pletcher is fond of saying, it’s only money. And my money will be keying the three-year-old.
In truth, I’m going to be keying two of the three-year-olds, neither of which is named American Pharoah.

No, we’re not looking to be a hero or the wisest of wise guy contrarians. All I’m doing is heeding the sage counsel of Mr. Runyon.

If I were straining to be the ultimate wise guy, I’d be betting on Tonalist (6-1) to win. Why? Because when he was put in a similar position last year--horses from California had a huge home coast advantage—he ran a great race.

Deep closers, as we glean from Handicapping 1.0 guides, are always at a disadvantage. Between running style, atmospherics and a natural bias favoring close-up runners, Tonalist dawdled for most of the 10-furlong trip last year.

It’s tough to beat a duel Classics winner and a Haskell-Pennsylvania Derby repeater when laying 13th of 14, then angling out six wide at headstretch. Tonalist’s strong late kick resulted in a mere five-length loss at the end. He never got enough credit for that effort.

There are two popular knocks on him; that he’s a Belmont Park specialist and that he never made the expected transition from 3 to 4: He hadn’t find the winners’ circle until his fifth start of 2015.

But his numbers on the Thoro-Graph scale belie the latter. His figures made a jump to a minus-3¾, a three-point move from the 2014 Classic and, remarkably, he’s held that speed form for five consecutive races.

I concede that he may not be the same horse away from Belmont but that’s far from a given. On consistency, he is the fastest performance horse in the race and at double-digit odds is a legitimate overlay. But at 6-1 or less relegate to exacta boxes only.

We cast no aspersions on the Triple Crown champion. American Pharoah (4-5), win or lose, is the 2015 Horse of Year whatever happens Saturday afternoon, especially since Beholder's unfortunate recurrence of an old issue.

Whatever happened to American Pharoah after June 6 would be icing on the rarest of rare confections, racing’s Triple Crown.

As all know, American Pharoah treats all tracks the same and has the frequent flyer miles to prove it. And the eight weeks between the Travers and Classic is just what Doctor Baffert ordered. He has a fresh runner that he could train up to the race, Baffert’s best game. For the first time this year, the Hall of Famer has been allowed to seek the bottom. Now, it’s up to the colt.

But here’s the thing: American Pharoah can run his best race and it might not be good enough to win.

Going into the Classic, I don’t see any remaining upside. Of course, he must be used as a bankroll saver in exactas and again as exotics filler. I wish him only good things in the Race of the Year 2015.

Now for the two three-year-olds I’ve had difficulty separating since the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, and I I might not be able to do so until minutes before post time.

My first Classic wagers Saturday afternoon will be win and show bets on Keen Ice (8-1) and Frosted (12-1). I think the latter may be the shorter price at the end. Of course, each will be used in all multiple and super-exotic positions.

These two young horses are battled tested and physically rate to be peaking at the end of their three-year-old campaign. They’ve have had their mettle tested all year and neither has been as good as they are right now. The more they've raced, the better they've run.

Keen Ice moved forward in a big way to a minus-3 in the Travers, as much a product of the fast pace as anything else. But having seen his development through the season, we're satisfied we were wrong about needing a run between the Midsummer Derby and Classic.

The connections have played the Classic preparation perfectly and now it’s up to Keen Ice to prove that he’s still on the come and not just a beneficiary of pluperfect race dynamics in Saratoga.

Frosted, meanwhile, has shown the incremental improvement one likes to see in winning the Pennsylvania Derby and he has looked more visually impressive than he has all year. Final Penn Derby furlongs in 12 seconds will do that. Six weeks of spacing between starts is ideal.

On paper, the 2015 Classic figures to be one hell of a horse race. Here’s hoping the Classic horses, and all Thoroughbreds going to the post Friday and Saturday, will run well and, of greater import, come back well.


Given the post draw, the field’s overall balance, and many of the world’s best jockeys in the boot, this will be a rider’s race, as most big races are.

Now, will the jock who’s willing to go first over against American Pharoah please step forward?

Don’t believe any of them wants this responsibility and neither would I. But if the pace were too slow someone will take him on. If I were American Pharoah’s rivals, I’d be hoping that 10 furlongs, mild pace pressure, and all those air-miles take their toll in deep stretch.

If I’m Joel Rosario, I’d like to establish Frosted’s forward position, take a little sting out of American Pharoah into the first turn, then before ease back and save ground. But Victor Espinoza might not fall for that with the favorite, content to stalk a horse he’s beaten thrice this year.

Meanwhile, it is likely that Johnny Velazquez on Tonalist and Irad Ortiz on Keen Ice will use Rosario as their stalking horse, essentially making their play when Rosario makes his, both edging closer approaching the far turn.

Javier Castellano, meanwhile, who opted off Keen Ice, will keep deep closer Honor Code in his usual spot at the back of the pack. Whether he will have his customary big kick going 10 furlongs for the first time is the concern.

Keen Ice and Frosted must run their own races and allow the front end take care of itself. Recent revelation Smooth Roller is likely to be somewhere in mid-pack, perhaps even stalk, but is more likely to find the competition and inexperience major obstacles.

We have no idea what will happen in the home straight but that’s why they run races in what Leroy Jolley and others have called “the greatest game played outdoors.”

In that context, there’s no need to be a contrarian. I have another glass of Kool Aid, please.

This column was underwritten via special promotional agreement with

Written by John Pricci

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