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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Monday, February 18, 2008

Fierce Wind Blows in Tampa; a Turf War in Today’s Southwest

It appears that Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito will bring a lot more than numbers to this years Kentucky Derby chase.

Its one thing to talk about potential, quite another to deliver on that promise. Fierce Wind did just that in Saturdays Sam F Davis at Tampa Bay Downs.

Winning the eight and-a-half furlong test over an often quirky Tampa surface was no small feat. In two short months, Fierce Wind has proven himself to be quite the road warrior.

First there was his lengthy maiden breaker over another quirky oval; Calders. Then came a nine furlong win at Gulfstream. Turning back with faster and tougher is difficult when coming from the preliminary allowance ranks. Fierce Wind made it seem like no big deal.

The decreasing victory margin and favorable pace setup is besides the point here. The only thing that mattered was the win and a good clocking of 1:44.18 off moderate, albeit contested, fractions.

Beneath Cornelio Velasquez, Fierce Wind made a four-path off the pace sweep, a difficult transition from a front-end Gulfstream win at nine furlongs. He held off two quality rivals; Big Truck, a quality juvenile who needed the recent Hutcheson, and Smooth Air, who won that useful Grade 2 harbinger.

Bill Mott favorite Z. Humor raced as if badly in need of the race, although his effort can be mitigated somewhat in that it came at Tampa: Racing head to head throughout-- much less a three-horse battle--is not the way to fame and fortune in Tampa two-turn events.

With Anak Nakals sharp breeze for Sundays important and competitive Fountain of Youth, and with War Passs continued strong workline in advance of the Mar. 15 Tampa Bay Derby, among others, Mr. Zito is deep in talented sophomores.

* * *

Todays Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park should uncover a lot more about Denis of Corks true quality. Two-for-two, including a Churchill Downs maiden breaker and a two-turn Fair Grounds allowances over a sloppy track he appeared to dislike, we shall see whether he is the road warrior that Fierce Wind proved to be.

But the Southwest is loaded, maybe not with future classicists, but as a terrific betting race and a useful three-year-old barometer.

Denis of Cork (8-1) has a new rider, Robbie Albarado, which means either David Carroll swapped one Cajun rider for another, or Calvin Borel jumped off to ride Delta Jackpot dead-heater Turf War, which, along with Riley Tucker, earned the best juvenile figures among Southwest starters.

Early line favorite Turf War (3-1) has been prepared at Mark Casses Canadian base and shipped south for a recent blowout over the track. He appears very well intended but taking a short price, the way fellow dead-heater Z Humor raced at Tampa, doesnt seem prudent. But he just might be the best horse.

Unlike Z Humor, whose workline appeared to be geared toward fitness, Mott looks to have put Riley Tucker (9-2) on the fence, asking for more. His works look sharp on paper and stable rider Kent Desormeaux makes the trip to Hot Springs. When last seen, Riley Tucker was second in the G3 Arlington Washington Futurity to Wicked Style, the subsequent winner of Keenelands G1 Breeders Futurity. Post position 10 of 11 doesnt figure to help, however.

Sierra Sunset (4-1) has been keeping good company in Southern California and it will be useful to see how the Cal-bred stacks up in this foray into the southwest. One local horse that appears worthy of note is price shot Isabull (15-1).

While not as fast as some of the favorites, Isabull is on a good line. He was second in his prep over the track. Last fall, he was beaten less than five lengths by well regarded Monba. Isabull worked sharply twice since the Smarty Jones, including a 4th best of 131 three-year-olds to work that week at Oaklawn.

Interesting to note, too, that he shared that tab with Silver Edition (8-1), another Southwest contender breaking from the rail for Wayne Lukas and Joe Bravo. Oaklawn favorite Tim Doocy will take the re-ride on Isabull.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sam F Davis Tops Slow Weekend for Derby Hopefuls

Not a whole lot going on to entice most Triple Crown Saturday warriors, but the Sam F Davis is very interesting. It marks the return of Z Humor, which gets Bill Mott started on the road to Louisville. He is the 9-5 early line favorite and Garrett Gomez, who continues to shop for a Derby mount, comes cross-country for the ride.

Nick Zito, back on the Derby Trail in a big way this season, will start Fierce Wind, a runaway winner at Calder and Gulfstream in both recent starts. He recently worked a half mile for this in :49 2/5, termed breezing, at Palm Meadows.

The work was the second fastest of 77 three-year-olds to work the distance that week at the Magna training center. But turning back from nine furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth vs. faster, and tougher, stock will not be easy.

Three others of interest are Big Truck (6-1) for Barclay Tag and Eibar Coa, Smooth Air (9-2) for Calder-based Bennie Stutts and Manoel Cruz and a third sharp Calder worker, the underrated Wise Answer (4-1)..

Big Truck was a promising juvenile last year but a major disappointment in the Grade 2 Hutcheson in his seasons debut. He figures to benefit from that experience, however, and todays added distance suits as well.

Hutch winner Smooth Air will try two turns for the first time. While not stoutly bred, hes got enough pedigree to get the trip, and has enough speed, class and heart to seal the deal. Throw in a pair of hot locals and youve got a pretty damn good prep for the Tampa Derby, Mar. 15. David Brownlee's Wise Answer earned an excellent figure at this distance three back and could prove the betting value here, breaking from the pole beneath talented Jose Lezcano.

The associate feature, for fillies and mares on the turf, is the mile and a sixteenth G3 Endeavour, which marks the seasons debut of both turf specialist and 2006 juvenile champion Dreaming of Anna, and the G1 Alabama runnerup and Gazelle winner Lears Princess, who is 2-for-2 on turf. Several top Gulfstream riders are shipping north for the afternoon.

The other featured event for three-year-olds is extremely low profile, the Borderland Derby at Sunland Park. Two strong local outfits, those of Henry Dominguez and Chris Hartman, will have starters in the five-horse field. But expect Steve Asmussens Poni Colada (8-5) and Doug ONeills No Jeopardy (5-2) to view for favoritism and the major share of the $100,000 purse.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

On Balance, Pool Waters Run Shallow

Some interesting results with the release of final odds for Kentucky Derby Futures Pool I. In general, its too bad that racing limits itself in what they offer in the pari-mutuels due to a lack of investment to improve outdated software.

Its not like everyone in the business is losing money.

Anyway, a few observations on a few of the Top 23 that jumped out at us re: their closing odds. Remember that all this is relative. These are futures were talking about, and the format under which the wagering is conducted is flawed:

Blackberry Road at 47-1. Admittedly might be a tad below very top class. But he never stops trying to finish, even when he has nowhere to run. His troubled trip in the Risen Star was overshadowed by Pyros performance. Check it out, then place him on your personal horses-to-watch list.

Colonel John at 19-1. Like this colt a lot. He has class, talent and Derby style. But this seems like an underlay in light of recent inactivity.

Court Vision at 15-1. Love this colt (see 2007 Remsen Stakes) and could not be in better hands than Bill Motts. But another lacking recent activity although he does appear close to his seasons debut. Underlay.

Denis Of Cork at 47-1. If I werent otherwise distracted this weekend, might have taken a flyer here, but a small one. Hasnt proven anything yet except for boundless potential. Price is acceptable.

Monba at 16-1. We like him, and we know exactly where his fans are coming from. But at this price hes a Pool 1 underlay.

Pyro at 5-1. After the Risen Star, this is the price you knew hed be. With no-little SportsCenter types saying hes the Derby favorite, value is a thing of the past. In light of the way this pool is conducted, price is probably correct. But recall that Street Sense was 5-1 on Derby day.

Tale of Ekati at 33-1. Everybody fell in love with his Belmont Futurity and why not? But is he a true distance horse? Considering he will have only two Derby preps, the price is about right, but a bit light in our view.

Yankee Bravo at 48-1. Beat questionable competition on synthetic tracks, but I find it difficult to knock undefeated horses with his kind of acceleration. Might prove to be a real Pool 1 bargain.

War Pass at 6-1. You just knew that Pyro would become the now horse after his wow effort in the Risen Star, but he hasn't gotten close to this guy yet. Distance questions notwithstanding, the champs a square price.

All Others at 3-1. A 25 percent chance that the Derby winner is not included in the Top 23? Seems reasonable.

Written by John Pricci

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