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, February 23, 2008

Game’s Greats Will Be Denied Hall of Fame Admission This Year, Too

I believe Im rethinking my stance on how thoroughbred greats human and equine are voted into Racings Hall of Fame. Im now thinking there should be more than one admitted per category, per year, if deserving.

And Im thinking, too, that if none are truly worthy of the pantheon then they shouldnt get it just because we have to have a ceremonial celebration every Saratoga racing season. But more on that when we get closer to casting ballots.

For me, its easy separating Inside Information and Silverbulletday from Sky Beauty and Open Mind. I know were picking at nits here, but it seems that domination among equines should be the deciding factor. Dont think Open Mind had that; Sky Beauty did, but never won outside New York. And I still have a problem with that.

If I could, Id vote for both Inside Information and Silverbulletday. I cant.

Manila was a terrific turf horse and was dominant, but for me theres that pesky body of work bugaboo. And, yes, Tiznow was the first repeat winner of the Breeders Cup Classic. But 8-for-15 doesnt an immortal make. So it might finally be Best Pals time. Seventeen stakes wins from two to seven is supposed to count for something.

Alex Solis? Im a frayed knot. Randy Romero is lucky to be alive much less a winner of more than 4,000 races. And he handled pressure, getting the undefeated job done with Personal Ensign. But Edgar Prado is eligible, has dominating numbers, and looks like a first-rounder.

Old school trainer Bobby Wheeler cant get a break. Before there were such things as graded stakes, he was winning them. In fact, the races he won that are now graded means he won 26 percent of the graded stakes he entered. He won back-to-back Santa Anita Derbies for C.V. Whitney, one with a filly, Silver Spoon.

Carl Nafzger became eligible this year. How can he be denied? No problem, he wont. Wheeler will be denied and shouldnt be. And, for me, thats the problem I have with the system this time. No Inside Information and Silverbulletday. No Bobby Wheeler.

When it comes time to vote, Ill play the hand Im dealt. But Im sure I wont like it.

CORRECTION: According to Mike Kane, information officer of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, both Carl Nafzger and Edgar Prado were eligible for Hall of Fame admission prior to this year. They appear on this year's ballot after being approved by the Hall of Fame nominating committee. My assumptions were incorrect. Mea culpa.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

New York City Troubles Tip of OTB Iceberg

Dont look now, but theres no grass growing beneath Mike Bloombergs feet. And thats not just because the New York City mayor seldom ventures out into green spaces.

But now that it appears he will not take on the Obama juggernaut and throw a hat into the presidential ring (although conservatives would probably prefer him to Papa John McCain), hed like to put New York City on firmer fiscal footing.

And that means fixing, and not subsidizing, the current NYC-OTB situation. On this, Bloombergs a quick study vis a vis state politics: The only way you could get Albany to act is create a crisis.

Well, theres also political contributions, but thats not particularly germane here.

Anyway, if it took Albany years to resolve the franchise situation, the OTB issue is far too complex for a solution to be piggy-backed onto the franchise bill, as some were hoping.

Not that anyone, anywhere, has a clue about how to fix it. Even if they did, who would dare take on a political powder keg that would make the recent NYRA situation pale by comparison?

So, NYC-OTB is going into a fiscal hole in early June and Bloomberg will not have the city support it the way the state does racing. While hes been disingenuous on some gambling issues, on this he seems entitled.

The state should kick back some of the cut it currently gets from the OTBs, a rate that seems to go up every few years. Hell, a couple of years ago New York State decided the racing industry should pay to police itself. Resultantly, New York State no longer pays the salary of STATE Racing & Wagering Board members, the industry does.

Last year, New York City received $17-million from NYC-OTB. At the same time, the state got $16-million. Doesnt seem equitable, does it? Not when by this June OTB will be working with a negative cash flow (accounting theirs).

And this outfit now handles a billion dollars a year.

But thats what can happen when percentages are based on gross revenues, not net. Any company must be allowed to pay their own operating expenses first, yes?

Should the OTBs try to solve the same problems faced by the tracks; that the point of purchase has changed, that walk-up customers are being replaced daily by phone and Internet bettors? Of course.

That means streamlining and the elimination of duplicate tasks are an imperative. But that would result in a loss of jobs and nobody wants that, especially in a recession. It seems, however, that if downsizing is good enough for the private sector its fair that those same principles be applied to government agencies as well.

State Senator Joseph Bruno said recently that the legislature will take on big-picture OTB issues in 2009. The delay surprises no one.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hot News From South Florida

There were two news items out of Florida early this week that were, at once, surprising and pleasing.

The fact that Jorge Chavez rode four winners for four different outfits on Monday hints that Chavez might really be back this time.

After returning too soon from an injury a few years ago, his many fans, myself included, thought he was ready to assume a customary spot in the top five of any jockey colony he joined, especially after he won a graded stakes for Bobby Frankel, of all people.

Thats not Frankels bad, just unusual for any jockey, even one as talented as Chavez, to ride a stakes winner for a trainer whos not a regular client.

But on Monday Chop Chop, so-called for his unusual north-south whipping style, did it the old-fashioned way--his way--riding for everybody.

It was the success he enjoyed during his heyday, the late 90s, that eventually earned him a winning Kentucky Derby ride aboard Monarchos, trained by another sometimes client, Kentucky horseman John Ward.

It was Chavezs aggressive riding style that endeared him to New York regulars. That, and his indefatigable late finishes. You never saw Chavez styling, ever, just riding hard to the finish, horse after horse, race after race. And hes nearly peerless on wet racetracks.

So, after getting some ink in the racing media a fortnight ago for victories and in-the-money finishes aboard longshots, getting his mounts to outrun their odds, hes gotten better stock.

From virtually nowhere, Chavez ranks sixth in the Gulfstream Park jockeys room, just behind fifth leading rider Eibar Coa, who sits aboard no shortage of live stock.

The other pleasant surprise was the announced return of the Saratoga Grade 1 Hopeful winner, Majestic Warrior.

Of course, he was going to make a three-year-old debut eventually, but it turns out to be sooner rather than later, the Louisiana Derby on Mar. 8.

Its not an unlikely spot Hall of Famer Bill Mott has chosen for one of his classic hopefuls. The timing is better for this colt--starting in early March as opposed to later in the month--and the Fair Grounds' long stretch suits the colts come-from-behind style.

But its a little unusual to choose such a difficult spot for a return from a lengthy layoff. The Derby colt that most people are talking about at the moment is Pyro, given his Risen Star effort, and Pyro is scheduled to run back in the La. Derby.

Mott is right when he says that no Derby prep is going to be easy from this point forward. But its what he didnt say that impresses most, that hes not concerned George Steinbrenners colt would embarrass himself against such a celebrated rival. Interesting, indeed.

Written by John Pricci

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