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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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Heads Up for New York’s Racing & Wagering Board

Heres another situation the New York State Racing & Wagering Board probably wont address. Only this time it wont be because its taking a neutral position and doesnt want to rankle political feathers, literally biting the hand that allows it to feed. (Even if its the racing industry, the tracks and OTBs via our takeout dollars, that helps pay board salaries).

I could have laid this on the New York stewards, who may or may not act on this because either they failed to notice it or because a rival horseman forced their hand by bringing it to their attention.

Now, I dont know if the rules of racing apply in the case of newly acquired horses--the racing rule that states trainers must be consistent in the use of equipment.

And this is all about protecting bettors and the publics perceptions.

In todays nominal feature, the eighth race at Aqueduct, a secondary allowances, optional claiming event for older horses around two turns, a game old pro named Ricardo A, 12-1 on the early line, is entered as part of a David Jacobson-trained entry.

Ricardo A won his last start wire to wire by 3- lengths, a victory termed handily in the official chart. He was claimed for $35,000 by Jacobson, who shows a flat-bet profit with recent claims, winning the next start off the claim at a 19 percent clip.

At the price, I seriously considered picking him to win in the feature race analysis I write for HRI every New York racing day. But I couldnt do it. Why? Because Jacobson will be adding blinkers to Ricardo As equipment this afternoon.

Even if there were no such rule in the book, stewards should never allow an obvious equipment change, blinkers on or off, following a win.

(Stewards should also mandate that first-time starters using blinkers be noted on the official track program, as should the use of tongue ties, on or off. Another issue for a different day).

Even if I werent a bit paranoid after four decades of betting on thoroughbreds, how am I supposed to view this change? Blinkers are about helping a horse to focus, or to sharpen a horses early speed, putting him into the contest earlier.

But I dont know what to do with Ricardo A because hes a nine-year-old! At this advanced age, horses cant be tricked into doing something different. He won his last start from gate to wire, so speeds not an issue.

As for improving Ricardo As focus, he owns a career slate of (65) 15-10-8. The term old pro was invented to describe horses like Ricardo A.

A huge part of the handicapping process is assessing trainer intent. I havent the slightest idea why Jacobson thinks this horse would need blinkers. And after four decades, if I had the chance I wouldnt even ask.

Either way, permitting this equipment change would leave a bad taste. The horse certainly doesnt need blinkers.

The only thing I can surmise is that if blinkers dont work and Ricardo A runs poorly, the horses form becomes needlessly darkened. So, after one bad running line, here comes a class drop, blinkers off, and bingo: one successful insider coup.

Again, this is not about Jacobson. Its about racing officials and the state agency responsible for protecting the betting public doing its job. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Jacobson should not be allowed to add the blinkers, period. Would that guarantee a repeat win? Not even with Joe Namath in the boot. Nothing is for sure in this game.

But given all the negative press racing receives--and not all of it is justified--why send the wrong message here?

Written by John Pricci

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Truth In Advertising

God looks out for fools and drunks, the saying goes. To that point, Ive never considered myself much of a drinker.

Tee Palm called my cell early in the simulcast day Saturday, as he had the week before. We use slightly different approaches, but generally agree in principle.

We both liked Smooth Air to upset the Hutcheson last weekend. Got a great ride from Manoel Cruz and won at 9-1. Tee wanted to keep the karma going, I guess. Never a bad idea.

Hey, read your analysis on HRI, Tee said. Im on the same horse in the Affectionately, Stage Luck. But I dont think shell be anywhere near 6-1.

I didnt pick Stage Luck, I said. I picked the Levine filly. I cant believe this; I screwed up. Stage Luck. Shell be 2-1, tops.

Right, 2-1, he said. But Im reading it right here. Taking Stage Luck.

Well, I guess Stage Luck is the one that has to go on the record, Tee. If thats what it says in print, thats whats on the record, win or lose.


But Im betting the Levine filly. Lucky Revival. Think shell be 8-1.

Good luck, Tee said.

You, too.

If youve been playing horses for longer than five minutes you know how this story ends. Lucky Revival struggled to take the narrowest lead from the outside in midstretch.

But pacesetting Aliysa was resurgent, reopened what appeared an insurmountable margin approaching the finish line. Then, just as she shortened stride, here comes the cavalry. Stage Luck was finishing fastest of all in the middle of winter track and won it in the last stride.

If you bet one, you got three back.

Good for Tee, good for HRI visitors, and good for the Total Dollar Return on the bottom of the daily New York feature-race analysis. But bad for my win-place wager on 10-1 Lucky Revival.

I love the Packers tonight, Tee said. Who do you like?

I havent bet a football game since I stopped handicapping games for the Form. But since you asked, I disagree again. Guess Im with the conventional wisdom. I like the NFC dogs and the AFC favorites. Id say the Colts are the safest bet of the weekend.

I love the Colts tomorrow, added Tee.

As far as I know, Tee went 2-for-3 this weekend and got $6.10 on Stage Luck. Lucky Revival and I got hot and dirty. My NFL mind bets went 1-and-3.

But, hey, Eli played well, under control for a second consecutive week. The Giants won another road game and theyre going to play on the frozen tundra next Sunday.

Maybe even win a conference championship from a team that plays its home games in a place called Title Town.

Ill just go back to the drawing board, try to do HRI visitors some good, knowing that sometimes clichs do come true.

Written by John Pricci

Comments (2)


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lottery Privatization: Wagering Solution or Pandora’s Box?

While Gov. Eliot Spitzer was busy ignoring racing in his big, sweeping State of the State plans, and its multi-billion dollar impact on the states economy--not to mention 17,000 jobs in this land of 5% unemployment--he might have hinted at what direction the negotiations are tilting once they resume.

The 2008 Legislative session begins the day after tomorrow, and the three legislative branches must find a solution within 14 days, the stroke of midnight Jan. 24.

But gambling, if you consider the Lottery gambling (I like to think of gambling as an enterprise with some reasonable expectation of winning), was part of Spitzers address.

What inquiring minds want to know is this: Why privatize the Lottery if youre going to guarantee existing government jobs related to that agency? Could this be the bedrock of a racing-franchise compromise to come?

Could it be that the new regulatory public authority called for by Spitzers political rival, Sen. Joe Bruno, is already part of some done deal, and that the Lottery, the horse racing industry and other gaming entities would fall under its auspices?

Of course, we want this agency because its about transparency going forward, right? Never mind that the franchise negotiations have been conducted behind closed doors. Besides, whats more transparent than partisan politics at work?

However, there is a hopeful byproduct of Lottery privatization. Spitzer, reportedly looking for $30 billion upfront for the Lottery, could resolve with the other legislative branches to use a portion of that money to include a plan for streamlining the entire gambling industry, putting the franchise and the states six OTB regions under a single wagering umbrella.

Via new technology, operating costs could be lowered for all concerned and could put the state in a better position to compete with private wagering platforms worldwide. Unfortunately, layering, especially in New York, usually results only in more duplication and waste.

Meanwhile, no turf is growing beneath the feet of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemens Association. In a Thursday press release, the group stated some demands, more in the language of a hopeful wish list.

It underscored how the sliding-scale expectations from VLT revenues as prescribed in the original non-binding Memorandum of Understanding have already been lowered to 6.5 percent, with rumors that the horsemens cut could be lowered yet again.

As compared to what, you ask?

As compared to, according to the NYTHA release, an 18% slice in Pennsylvania, 11.1% in Delaware, 10%--West Virginia, 30%--Oklahoma, 20%--New Mexico and 8.25% in Florida. True: Even that notorious bunch in Tallahassee apparently is more magnanimous than the Albany crowd.

And horsemen rightfully want some future input into the simulcast-negotiations process. New York is the only racing state in which thoroughbred horsemen have no seat at the simulcast table. The NYRA currently has complete control over the New York signal.

The NYTHA is, according to its release, the only horsemens group in the country that has no protection under the Interstate Horseracing Act that governs simulcasting on a federal level.

Does that seem fair? And does that sound like they would have any shot under a state-regulated agency?

Its hard to have faith than any of this would, or even could, work. Lets hope that their first order of business would not be to mandate synthetic-track racing at the New York tracks. Sorry to be so cynical, but Ive had a lot of practice in this arena.

Written by John Pricci

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