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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Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Ready, Aim, Firing Line


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., May 12, 2015—It’s anticipated that Saturday’s Preakness field will be relatively small although we suspect it will turn out slightly larger than many expect when entries are taken May 13.

In a pre-Derby column, we asked whether Bob Baffert would cost himself a chance at Triple Crown immortality by winning America’s Race with either American Pharoah or Dortmund then run both colts back in the Preakness, which is expected to happen later today.

This was pre-supposing that he had the best horses going into Louisville and the best two horses coming out. That might still be the case, something we will all know with some certitude late Saturday afternoon.

Nearly two weeks ago, American Pharoah not only validated his thrashing of overmatched Arkansas rivals but proved that he was the best of his generation; unknown class quantities such as Competitive Edge and Kentuckian notwithstanding.

American Pharoah showed guts to match his undeniable brilliance, proved he could survive a fetlock-to-fetlock battle, and that when Victor Espinoza would finally ask him to reach bottom, there would be more there, there.

However, we think something remains to be seen relative to true greatness, that he is the equal of legends past, most notably Seattle Slew, the magnificent Hall of Famer to which many observers have been more than willing to draw a comparison.

To paraphrase the irascible Lee Corso, not so fast my friends.

There is no denying Pharoah’s brilliance and courage, not after what he showed in Louisville, and not after the speed clinic he put on in Hot Springs, where he made the surface act like a trampoline beneath his hooves.

It could be that the Michael Jordan comparison was more apt than those which likened him to the only undefeated Triple Crown winner in history, no matter what happens in the next 3-1/2 weeks.

But while he remains the “best horse” going into Baltimore, we’re dubious as to whether American Pharoah will move forward with that same air of invincibility--especially after Firing Line turns the tables on him Saturday at Pimlico.

After all, it wouldn’t be modern day horse racing, and it wouldn’t even be gambling, if the best horse ALWAYS won.

Races are won by the horse that proves best on the day. And that will be the Arnold Zechter-owned, Simon Callaghan-trained, Gary Stevens-ridden son of Line of David which, ironically, traces himself back four generations to Seattle Slew.

In terms of the American Thoroughbred, handicapping and training preferences aside, the modern race horse runs better and holds his form better when he has sufficient recovery time between starts.

This is attributable to one of the negative by-products of the diuretic Lasix on race day because it most often results in excessive urination and, when combined with exercise, dehydration.

Hitting the animal with extra electrolytes thereafter is not the panacea that a five or six-week freshening can be.

On Saturday, American Pharoah will be making his fourth start in 63 days; Firing Line his fourth in 84. Doesn’t seem like much of a difference, does it?

However, when it comes to last-three-outs spacing, the difference is exacerbated: Saturday was will AP’s third start in 35 days, but will be FL’s third in 55 days; the same level of freshness but in a shorter timeframe.

Two races separated by six weeks each, then a third start back in 14 days, can do one of two things; turn a young racehorse into a man, super-fit and on edge, or it will take its toll, physically and mentally. So, which will it be?

“The two weeks will help us because we had the six weeks [off] and [another sux weeks],” Callaghan said on last week’s NTRA conference call.

“We love the way he came out of the race, he’s eating up, very bright, takes these big races in his stride. I doubt if anyone came out of the race any better than us.”

“He licked up his feed tub completely by 9:30 that night,” added Stevens later in the call. “We like where we’re at,” the Hall of Famer said. “We don’t know about the other two horses, it’s none of our business.”

But since it is ours, we’ll hazard a guess. The Baffert team needed an extra day of walking post-Derby before going back to the racetrack for exercise; not so the fresher Firing Line, back to galloping before Baffert’s two colts.

We also like the idea of a little tweak to his training regimen, open galloping a few days this week, which figures to maintain his sharpness while keeping his energy level high.

Of course, should he again fail to change leads, it won’t have to be American Pharoah or Dortmund that finishes ahead of him on Saturday. But since he had not shown that tendency previously, we’ll regard it as an aberration and expect him to switch over in time.

And somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-2 is a lot more appealing than around 3-5 at come Saturday.

If weather handicappers are correct, the track likely will not be fast at post time, given their call for late afternoon thunderstorms at 80%. American Pharoah has proven affinity over a sloppy track; Firing Line never has raced on one. His pedigree is adequate but doesn't scream slop. Alas, we shall see.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, May 02, 2015


Oaks Lessons for Derby Players


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., May 1, 2015—Witnessed by the largest crowd ever to attend the running of the storied Kentucky Oaks, Johnny Velazquez was asked post-race to describe his trip aboard sixth place finisher Angela Renee.

“Down the lane the first time she was perfect,” he said. “The way she was running around there, I was thinking they were going to have to run hard to pass her. But at the quarter pole, she just didn’t fire. It was bizarre."

Bizarre, which was kind of the way the whole day played out for some of us. The Churchill Downs surface appeared a little quirky yesterday. Speed did well, the inside seemed better than the outside, yet it was demanding.

Stalkers were in the best position to win throughout the afternoon, and if the winner did come from off the pace, it had to make a mid-race move, saving ground at some point along the way. Wide trippers just seemed to flounder out there.

And apparently, the kickback was vicious as the fast surface cupped out beneath the hooves of the horses. Trips are almost always important; on Oaks day it was everything.

Ultimately, Angela Renee didn’t stay the entire eight furlongs, shortening stride perceptibly in the final hundred yards. But not Lovely Maria. She ran great, showing her preference for the surface with a quick blowout for the most important race of her life.

Her victory who old hat for Larry Jones as he took his third Kentucky Oaks and seems to be working in earnest on a Hall of Fame resume. He saddled the third finisher, too, I’m A Chatterbox, a tough tripper that did well to finish as close as she did.

Speaking of bad trips, and a little questionable handling, too, favorite Stellar Wind got jammed up at the break, racing wide into the first turn, victimized at the draw when she drew the#12 slip.

Trainer John Sadler was very unhappy that she was as far back as she was early on, given the speed-kind going, and she never seemed to get into any rhythm going down the backside.

“I tried to stay up to the horse next to me but we were getting outrun,” explained Victor Espinoza, who will also ride the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. “Then when we went into the first turn and the dirt was flying back, she started jumping up and down. It wasn’t her day.”

Sadler saw it differently: “You can’t be that far back today. She was way too far back. She was last around the first turn and the winners were all up close all day so she never had any position. Sometimes you get a bad trip, there’s nothing you can really do.”

Dale Romans, who saddled second favorite, Birdatthewire, was more philosophical: “It was a good bunch of fillies and she didn’t get beat very far. I think the best filly won.”

For Oceanwave, it wasn’t the surface as much as the trip: “Rafael [Bejarano] said she wouldn’t run between horses. When he wanted her to go, she got intimidated and put on the brakes,” explained trainer Wayne Catalano.

But the surface and position were responsible for Puca’s poor performance: “The post didn’t help us,” said trainer Bill Mott.

“We were hung up a little wide going into the first turn and he didn’t have enough to go on with it and it wasn’t easy to get back [in the race]. Junior [Alvarado] thought she might be spinning her wheels.” Alvarado confirmed: ‘I don’t think she was comfortable today.”

What the Derby horses will be in for Saturday likely will be more of the same, with atmospherics expected to identical with Oaks day: Clear, fast, pleasant temperatures. It will be interesting to see if the surface tightens up with some manicuring from track maintenance.

We shall see if after two defections, American Pharoah will be helped by moving a little more insider, into the 16th slip but from the 17th post positions as the rail horse, Ocho Ocho Ocho, is expected to leave one stall over from the pole position.

As for the cupping out surface and stinging kickback, I wonder if Mr. Baffert will entertain the idea of having a little chat with track management who might mention something to the track maintenance department. It’s not like trainers of the big horse haven’t done things like that before.

We see a number of things that could happen by what’s known going in. If the American Pharoah of the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, particularly the latter, shows up, his brilliance, despite the pedigree and soft-prep regimen, will win the day.

But good horse doesn’t mean good bet. At the close of advance Derby betting Friday, the early line favorite was 5-2 in real time. Conversely, his undefeated, tested stablemate, leaving from a better position is a square price at 9-2.

We thought the very wide draw would be a big hindrance to Upstart. And while he’ll be at least half this price ante post, 32-1 on Upstart is astonishing. Equally, 6-1 odds on Mubtaahij is seriously undervalued.

There appear to be two wise guy horses that many fancy and that enthusiasm was seen early on; Firing Line was 10-1 at end of betting Friday; Frosted, 9-1.

Moment of truth: We think the steam on Frosted is well warranted. Taking Kiaran McLaughlin’s brand spanking new Wood-winning gray to repeat in thoroughbred racing’s most prominent world class event.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, April 30, 2015


Is It Post Time Yet?


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., April 30, 2015—For the most part, the avalanche of information and storylines has abated, but then news never takes a holiday, does it?

Stanford is leaving Dodge and headed to Baltimore for the Preakness; Frammento is leaving the Also-Eligibles and entering the Churchill Downs starting gate.

Goodbye speed, hello closer; goodbye LA, hello Louisville for Mr. Nakatani.

However, we feel we owe the HRI faithful a very quick look at the Derby field after the draw, so, here goes:


1-Ocho Ocho Ocho (50-1): Should be named Seis, Seis, Seis, given a hell of a post draw. Was up against it before. Now? Fuhgedaboudit.

2-Carpe Diem (8-1): Johnny’s going to need all his skills to extricate himself and his colt from this mess; draw forces the issue and does him absolutely no favors.

3-Materiality (12-1): At least he has excellent gate speed when warranted, but still must be hustled out of there from the jump. Apollo with two Ls, right?

4-Tendendur (30-1): Developing rapidly but this looks like too much, too soon. Superfecta filler?

5-Danzig Moon (30-1): On the improve but still has a way to go.

6-Mubtaahij (20-1): Lots of talent; lots of obstacles.

7-El Kabeir (30-1): Just doesn’t get his due; throw out at your peril.

8-Dortmund (3-1): Indeed, he does lack a great turn of foot. But so what?

9-Bolo (30-1): His SA Derby was better than I originally thought but still might be looking over his left shoulder at the Matt Winn turf course.

10-Firing Line (10-1): If I were Gary Stevens, I’d be smiling, too.

11-Stanford (30-1): Cooler heads prevailed; Todd hasn’t won seven Eclipses by making big mistakes.

12-International Star (20-1): You just know Ken Ramsey’s going to get a piece of this, right?

13-Itsaknockout (30-1): Has fallen out of favor; very tall order.

14-Keen Ice (50-1): Romans’ been waiting since January for a mile and a quarter. Superfecta.

15-Frosted (15-1): Has his admirers, me among them.

16-War Story (50-1): Add nose band; subtract blinkers.

17-Mr. Z (50-1): zzzzzzzzzzz

18-American Pharoah (5-2): Let’s see what you really got!

19-Upstart (15-1): Has had outside posts all year, why should Derby be different? Tough draw for very talented stalker type.

20-Far Right (50-1): Going to be far back early anyway. Two 50-1 Derby winners for oney Mike?

21-Fammento (50-1): You got your wish, Nick. Go for it.

22-Tale of Verve (50-1): The last AE standing.

Check Saturday’s Feature Race Analysis for Derby Betting profile


Holy (Sm)Oaks: Compared to the Derby each year, except when the occasional Rachel Alexandra shows up, fillies are the three-year-old division’s red-headed step-daughter.

Friday’s edition has been aptly, correctly described as an open race. But in this case that’s no euphemism for “who cares, it’s a large field and a good betting race.”

But there’s talent in here, too. Condo Commando, Stellar Wind and Birdatthewire might not be American Pharoah, Dortmund and Carpe Diem but they’re damn good fillies.

And Eskenforthemoney and I’m a Chatterbox are good, too, and true stakes class doesn’t with these two, either: Truly looking forward to Friday, 5:49 PM.

The draw doesn’t help Birdatthewire’s chances any, but might bump up the price a bit. There’s plenty of speed to set the table for her late punch and she’s as game a three-year-old filly as we’ve seen in some time.

Today’s her toughest test, but you could say that for any of them.

A betting profile for the Oaks will be up on Feature Race Analysis by 12:01 AM, Friday












Written by John Pricci

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