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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Thursday, March 12, 2009

HRI Derby Ten with Interpretation of Equiform Performance Figures

Saratoga Springs, NY, March 12, 2009--The idea for this chart is a direct rip-off from our friends at Equibase. Just wanted to clear that up.

Good ideas should be emulated. To those who disagree, I say: “I Hear You Knockin’ But You Can’t Come In.”

We’re speaking of a chart that lists the Top 50 Equibase speed figures achieved by this year’s three-year-olds. That makes it good for assessing current form and as a useful bridge to past and future sophomore crops so that history may judge.

The Equibase list is larger and more inclusive of factoids. The HorseRaceInsider figures will reflect how fast its Derby Ten have run--the figures they‘ve earned. Our thanks to Cary Fotias; part time HRI contributor, full time handicapper, figure-maker and friend.

The measure is Equiform performance figures, numbers that breathe, figures that lend themselves easily to empirical interpretation.

This works because the relationship between pace and final-figure data creates patterns that allow for the kind of handicapping creativity not available in other methodologies.

Whatever the handicapping process, it’s all good. Useful to recall the words of legendary Racing Form clocker Eugene ‘Frenchy’ Schwartz who advised: “The game ain’t hard and nobody’s barred.”

Words to live by, indeed.

So, “borrowing” the best elements of the Equibase model, our focus is the HRI Derby Ten. The following chart includes, from left to right:

Column 1: Final and Pace figures from the most recent race.

Col. 2: Lifetime Best Final Figures.

Col. 3: Level of competition at which figure was earned.

Col. 4: Racetrack where figure was earned.

Col. 5: Date of race.

Col. 6: Name of race.

Col. 7: Distance.

Col. 8: Running surface.

(Figures listed focus on races at one mile or longer)

1 - Old Fashioned
Final Pace Life Top Class     Track    Date Race Name Dist. Surface
74¾/80 NPT76   NW1   DEL   11/03/08   ALW  8F       Dirt
OLD FASHIONED earned his lifetime best figure in a preliminary allowances, following that up with a 75 for his Remsen win at 9 furlongs. Normally it is preferred to see a higher figure at 3 due to added maturity and physical development. In this guy’s case, he did the next best thing, earning a New Pace Top while winning the Southwest with energy in reserve. That projects for a forward move in tomorrow’s Rebel Stakes.

2 - Pioneerof the Nile
Final PaceLife TopClass    Track   DateRace NameDistanceSurface
*75¼/64(73½)G2SA 02/07/09Robert Lewis8.5FAW**
PIONEEROF THE NILE has not run faced enough according to some. Hopefully, they’ve watched his races and noted how slower figures earned on synthetic surfaces translate to the kind of figures it takes to be identified as a major Kentucky Derby contender. See I Want Revenge. Monitor Bob Baffert’s handling. This horse is developing very nicely.

3 - The Pamplemousse
Final PaceLife TopClass    Track   DateRace NameDistanceSurface
THE PAMPLEMOUSSE (tie) appeared to leap forward big time winning the Sham but showed a 2-point forward move off his previous lifetime top. This is well within the constraints of the coveted incremental development that handicappers and trainers alike hope to see. You’ve read the horseman’s cliché: “We’re right on schedule.” Well, this guy really is.

3 - Friesan Fire
Final PaceLife TopClass    Track   DateRace NameDistanceSurface
*74¾/75-74G3FG 02/07/09Risen Star9FDirt
FRIESAN FIRE (tie) is the poster child for incremental development with a ¾-point forward move off its previous lifetime best. In fact, he’s developed less than three points from his lifetime best figure as a two-year-old in November. That is healthy. The good news is that he appears set to explode in Saturday’s Louisiana Derby. In terms of future development, that could be problematical, however.

5 - I Want Revenge
Final Pace Life Top Class     Track    Date Race Name Distance Surface
*78¼/70 -73 G3 AQU 03/07/09 Gotham 8.5F Inner**
I WANT REVENGE Exploded in the Gotham, as everyone knows. The amount of development was huge; more than five points, and more than double that in lengths. I takes a figure in the range of 80-82 to win the Kentucky Derby, and he’s closer to that than anyone. Three-year-olds in the spring of the year are capable and often pair up big lifetime tops. Where an individual goes from there is the issue.

6 - Desert Party ***Dubai
Final PaceLife TopClass    Track   DateRace NameDistanceSurface
72½ MDNAP06/22/08ALW4.5FAW**
DESERT PARTY Can’t speak to his development at three since Equiform does not generate figures in foreign countries. His figures as a juvenile were good but far from great. His stature in the HRI Ratings is an acknowledgement of a visually impressive win in the G3 UAE 2000 Guineas.

7 - Quality Road
Final Pace Life Top Class     Track    Date Race Name Distance Surface
77¾/78-76G2GP02/28/09F’tn of Youth8FDirt
QUALITY ROAD What makes this a quality colt is that he came out running, earning a figure of 76 at the demanding sprint distance of 6.5 furlongs. Therefore, while his Fountain of Youth was impressive both arithmetically and visually, it didn’t represent a huge leap forward, suggesting there likely is more where that came from. Of course, we’re making one-turn speak here. The jury will remain out until one turn becomes two.

8 - Dunkirk
Final PaceLife TopClass    Track   DateRace NameDistanceSurface
*75½/73 Rev(70¾)$ALWGP02/19/09ALW9FDirt
DUNKIRK earned a good-not-great figure winning a 7-furlong debut then jumped up big time winning a two-turn money allowances. As suggested above, the REV following his figure is Equiform short-hand for reversal, meaning his final figure was higher than the pace figure. For that to occur a horse must distribute his energy more efficiently- later in the race-indicating that he’s getting stronger and learning how to run. His potential is undeniable, and he’s expected to move forward in the Florida Derby.

9 - Theregoesjojo
Final PaceLife TopClass    Track   DateRace NameDistanceSurface
75¾/7076¼G2GP02/28/09F’tn of Youth9FDirt
THEREGOESJOJO is a perfect example of what added maturity, and added distance, can do for a horse’s figures (read ability here). He impressively ran down Quality Road, earning a lofty 76¼ and, instead of regressing off a 5-length improvement, virtually paired that lifetime best with a 75¾ despite moving up in class and distance--not easy. He owns a huge turn of foot but must show it around a second turn.

10 - Hello Broadway
Final PaceLife TopClass    Track   DateRace NameDistanceSurface
HELLO BROADWAY showed laudable incremental improvement with a half-point forward move in his first start at 3, earning a very respectable 75¼ under trying, between-rivals circumstances. This line indicates he’s set for an explosive effort and recent workouts indicate that a big move indeed might be forthcoming. Of course, a second turn and the quirky Tampa Bay surface could set back that development, making a projected figure a tough read.

Legend: * Lifetime best figure earned in most recent race
**AW-All Weather Surface, **Inner-Aqueduct winterized inner surface
***Dubai-Raced in United Arab Emirates, no figure available

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Spring Forward

Saratoga Springs, NY, March 7, 2009--Sometimes the game is real good, even when it doesn’t treat you real good.

The racing yesterday was pretty extraordinary, with Stardom Bound getting up to win the Santa Anita Oaks, even though at not time did anybody think she would--except Mike Smith.

At least that’s what Smith said afterwards.

But to make money, which is the idea, of course, it would have been better had Hooh Why held a little more determinedly at the wire. Even second would have been better than losing by a pair of noses.

But give Stardom Bound her due. Quick, who was the last filly to win five straight Grade 1s?

I’ll look it up and get back to you. It’s 9 pm Saturday night and it’s been a very long day.

Especially after Imperial Council nailed Mr. Fantasy for the place at the line, at the cost of an 8-5 exacta. But the price on I Want Revenge was square at 3-1 and his Gotham performance first rate.

Helen Pitts Blasi had one like this coming, right? I know; Curlin was a long time ago. But it takes a long time to get over something like that.

I suppose other trainers might have done as well with Einstein, a real good horse. But so what? What a terrific job she’s done with this guy.

And he runs on anything; grass, dirt, synthetics, anything. And the fact that Einstein looks and acts like a two-year-old at age 7 is also to her credit. And Julien Leparoux, who is wise beyond his years between the fences. What the Big Cap lacked going in is a lot different than the way it turned out.

The Kilroe Mile wasn't a classic Grade 1 going in either, only it, too, came out that way. The great Ramon Dominguez timed it perfectly with Gio Ponti and just nailed the lady, Ventura, who was good in defeat.

You might argue that she got a good trip. You could also argue that she prefers to race from farther back and come running late, rather than strike the front in midstretch and hold on. She did everything right but win.

Next Saturday, four graded stakes for three-year-olds. It’s beginning to look a lot like spring.

Written by John Pricci

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For Handicappers and Fans, Big Weekend Coast to Coast

Saratoga Springs, NY, March 6, 2009--If you can’t get excited about the stakes action on display from coast to coast this afternoon, there’s a hole in your racing soul.

I’m no huge fan of synthetic track racing. But today’s Santa Anita Handicap program, that also features three-year-old filly sensation Stardom Bound in the Santa Anita Oaks, is, in contemporary vernacular, just awesome dude and dudettes.

The word from Southern California all week was that three fillies were expected to challenge the juvenile filly champion. The Oaks was anticipated to be a routine tune-up for her anticipated battle with the boys in the Santa Anita Derby.

So how did the Oaks wind up with a field of 10?

If you hang around racetracks long enough, you learn things, often too late. But given there are no secrets on the racetrack, especially on the backside, did the trainers of nine other fillies suddenly think it was a good idea to run for second money?

Admittedly, I’m postulating from 3,000 miles away. But a field this size under the circumstances is curious. And when the champ’s closing odds figure to be prohibitive, the laying of two dollars to win one, you must look deeper.

But trainer Bobby Frankel said she’s ready to run her best race. That should be good enough. Frankel has a good opinion and is not inclined to make with the hyperbole.

From a handicapping perspective, there are some interesting fillies among Stardom Bound’s rivals.

Beltene is undefeated, clearly fast enough and never has taken a backward step on the Equiform scale. Still, she’s making her two turn debut in a tough spot.

Acronym made an auspices Pro-Ride debut in a good figure performance and the six week spacing augurs. Test post, but should could be a huge price.

Nan appears poised for a forward move after finishing 2-¼ lengths behind Stardom Bound in the Las Virgenes and is clearly on the improve.

But it’s Hooh Why that’s most intriguing. She earns good performance figures with some consistency, was sharpened sprinting when second to Beltene, and has shown distance ability when narrowly beaten in her only start going long at 2.

Did I mention that her game placing was to the good colt Patena on Woodbine’s polytrack, beating nine other males in the process? Clearly, there’s upset potential here.

The “Big Cap” is always a challenging handicapping puzzle. But this one’s so tough I can’t tell who might go favorite at post time. The track linemaker made Travers winner Colonel John with Garrett Gomez the 9-2 early favorite in the field of 14--as much a function of the rider as the horse.

Colonel John is very solid with good performance figures, a win at the 10-furlong distance--one of only three in the field--has tactical speed, kick and, of course, Gomez. He’s well posted, too.

The classy Einstein, a turf specialist that handles dirt, should make the transition to Pro-Ride. He’s poised to move forward off a good third-place finish in a strongly run Donn. Early line odds of 6-1 are more than fair.

The most interesting from a betting perspective are Matto Mondo (6-1) and Dansant (20-1). Matto Mondo is from the Richard Mandella barn of Richard Mandella, which has been synonymous with “Big Cap.” He’s untested at 10 furlongs but comes up to this perfectly with tactical speed, the pole, and a switch to Rafael Bejarano. A “now horse” if there ever was one.

Remember the Breeders’ Cup, and how the Euros came over and dominated? Well, Dansant, coming in for first rate European ship-in connections, Gerard Butler, might not class up, but is 5-for-8 on Polytrack and 2-for-3, with a second, at the distance. At anything near 20-1, he‘s worth a gamble.

The G1 Kilroe Mile on turf completes the Big Cap Day troika. Quite a program, indeed.

Three-thousand miles away, New York is staging a terrific renewal of the G3 Gotham. The mile and a sixteenth prep for the G1 Wood Memorial has drawn nine entrants and the top four betting choices look like they’ll be the right ones at the finish.

The early favorite at 5-2 is Imperial Council, which seems sophomoric since he has no two-turn form and spots today’s main rivals recent conditioning.

But he’s a huge talent and trainer Shug McGaughey is on a mission to discover whether he fits at the highest levels. McGaughey’s been dying to run him long, insisting the colt doesn’t want to sprint. And he’s been impressive going short.

I Want Revenge (3-1), shipping from California, is a more deserving favorite. He was narrowly beaten by leading Californian Pioneerof The Nile in the G1 Cash Call Futurity at 2, and third behind him in the Robert B. Lewis over a surface rider Joe Talamo insists he didn’t handle. To prove it, Talamo is coming in to ride him back.

The other two favorites are both New York-breds. Haynesfield (7-2) takes a three-race, two-turn winter track win streak into this and has shown he can come off the pace. But he’s never faced this kind.

The most intriguing, however, is undefeated, ultra-fast Mr. Fantasy (7-2). He’s light on seasoning but has won twice on today’s track including one around two turns. He’s a colt with extremely fluid action and acts like maybe, just maybe, he’s really special. His action, to me, is reminiscent of Curlin’s at 3.

Fascinating puzzles all

Written by John Pricci

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