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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Saturday, October 06, 2007


New York Juveniles in Final Breeders’ Cup Preps


Elmont--Its amazing what one race will do for your reputation. And what another can do to tarnish it.

Majestic Warrior became a star at Saratoga, the product of an upset score in the Grade 1 Hopeful. Even with Readys Image in position to atone for that defeat, it was no surprise when Bill Motts colt was sent off a clear public choice in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes.

But Belmont Park is not Saratoga and the Champagne was not a four-horse field in which your main rival did all the work but where you got the money.

So, Garrett Gomez and Eibar Coa on the top choices kept eyes on each other. No one noticed that Cornelio Velasquez had stolen away on a loose lead with War Pass.

Yes, splits of :22.87 and :45.72 are daunting, even in top company. But loose is as loose does.

I have to give Cornelio a lot of credit, said winning trainer Nick Zito, [The colt] has blazing speed and I was very glad to see him do what he did.

Which was leave Majestic Warrior in his wake, sixth, and Readys Image, who finished last of eight. The performance of the two choices were as stunning as the dominance War Pass showed during the race.

No one should really be surprised by the result. War Pass, now undefeated in three starts, overcame a tardy break to win his debut at Saratoga then returned to dominate a preliminary allowance group by nearly six lengths.

And theres another reason: Zito has made a habit of winning the Champagne. Saturday was his fifth, a stunning achievement. His most recent Champagne winner before Saturday eventually went on to win the Belmont Stakes the following year. Unfortunately for Smarty Jones, Birdstone really liked Belmont Park.

War Pass, who earned an automatic Juvenile berth, will return to Saratoga, train up to the Breeders Cup at the Oklahoma track and van to Monmouth sometime during that week. Runner-up Pyro, also prepared at Oklahoma, finished very strongly late for place. It was the kind of effort that should augur well in three weeks.

We always thought that this was a quality colt thats why I came here to ride him, said Shaun Bridgmohan, who probably would ride anywhere regular patron Steve Asmussen asks him to go.

The winner of the Frizette doesnt gain automatic entrance into the Juvenile Fillies, but try to keep the undefeated Indian Blessing out of it. Not many Grade 1 winners pass up that chance and her early speed should play nicely on the Monmouth strip.

She semi-rated, said Bob Baffert, in way of explaining his fillys trip. Shes very fast and had been training easy. But you never know about the [added] distance until they do it. It looked like Garrett [Gomez] was shutting her down in the stretch, and it made us a little nervous when the crowd began to get excited.

Shut down or not, speed favoring Monmouth or not, final quarter-miles of :27.24 are not going to get it done. She did have an eight length lead with two furlongs remaining but it appeared to us Gomez was riding her to the finish.

The effort of place finisher Backstreet Rhythm was promising in that she was going in the right direction at the wire. A maiden winner on turf at this meet, she switched surfaces for her prep because trainer Pat Reynolds wanted to run her long and there was nothing for her on the dirt.

We went into this hoping shed run well and go on to the Breeders Cup, said Reynolds.

Mission accomplished.

Sunday Holiday finished best of all for third--and that was following a poor start and rally-wide trip into the stretch. It was a good effort and the Breeders Cup is a possibility, said Bill Mott.

* * *

War Pass is not the only undefeated colt moving on to the Breeders Cup off yesterdays prep schedule.

Taking advantage of his preference for Polytrack, Wicked Style parlayed two victories at Arlington Park into a dominating open-lengths victory in the Lanes End Breeders Futurity at Keeneland over Slews Tiznow and Old Man Buck.

The 1-1/16 miles was run in 1:45.21. What that means on Polytrack Im not sure. Well wait for Mr. Fotias to do the math. Visually, however, Rusty Arnolds colt looks like a very promising individual.

Maiden Country Star won the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades for juvenile fillies on Keenelands opening day. Bobby Frankel used a turf prep for the transition to Polytrack and it worked to perfection. The Frank Stronach-owned filly will make her presence felt on Oct,. 27.


Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, October 04, 2007


Nurture Meets Nature, Finally


When you grow up on the streets of Corona, New York, and betting the races come as naturally as playing stickball and softball in Linden park, you dont later in life become a breeding weenie.

At the time, it was the night sport that first afforded the opportunity to play the races; you didnt pay much attention to pedigree at Roosevelt Raceway--Where It All Began, Where Its A Shopping Mall Today.

It didnt matter much exactly which Hanover horse or what Adios horse won a harness race. Hell, a sub two-minute mile was the huge deal back then.

So, when we discovered the flats, breeding wasnt all that important. The only crosses you knew about back then were lefts and rights, and the occasional uppercut.

But I did note that everything seemed to be by Bold Ruler. Then later, when I started getting paid to live this life, it was Mr. Prospector winning everything important. To his fans, he was Mr. P.

And there was the great Northern Dancer, too. And Danzig. Finally, Storm Cat. You just couldnt help but notice their influence.

In the last decade, pedigree handicapping has become highly fashionable. And you need to keep up if only to know what the crowd is thinking.

But what happened on the racetrack last weekend, given the totally uncanny influence the 15-year-old stud Smart Strike had on the results, is mind boggling to me. Yes, Im aware of the role of the dam in all this.

Crude or not, you could always hear an old-school racetracker describe a debut winner from a classy mare thusly: Sucked good titty.

But last weekend it was all about the sire. I just cant fathom how one stud on one weekend can dominate three disparate Grade 1 races; one at six furlongs, another at a mile and a quarter, both on dirt, and a third at a mile and a half on grass.

Is this the first time this has happened? Who knows? Theres no real clearing house for racing statistics like this that's easily accessible. Some enterprising computer geek might create an Elias Sports Bureau of racing. Another story for another day.

Its no wonder, then, that Smart Strike is the leading progeny earner in the sport this year. His stud fee has tripled to $75,000 in the last three years. Two things are certain: It will cost much more to breed to Smart Strike in 2008. The other?

Hell be represented on Breeders Cup day by at least three horses which, at this early stage, are unlikely worse than third or fourth choice in the Sprint (Fabulous Strike), Turf (English Channel) and Classic (Curlin).


Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Fractional Superfecta Wagering Comes to New York: What A Concept!


Little has changed since the first time I entered a New York racing press box and was summarily warned that just because something is a good idea, and works very well elsewhere, that it automatically would be instituted in New York.

Why not? I asked.

N.I.H.

What!

Not Invented Here.

Oh.

I had three reasons to go to Belmont Park last Sunday: the Breeders Cup Preview program; an absolutely beautiful fall afternoon perfect for going to the races and, of course, the 10-cent superfecta.

Well, it was about damn time.

Ive been betting the fractional super at the Saratoga Harness simulcasts and Capital Off-Track Bettings Teletheater for over a year now, but not until Sunday was I able to get down on track in New York.

Of course, fractional betting should be available everywhere now!

There are no excuses. The software programs are out there. So are the players who want and support them. And so are the opportunities to make money, given the high priced payoffs.

Why not get the little guys involved, anyway? And why not give the intermediate and bigger boys more leverage for the wagering dollars?

I agree with the whales and with track executives, that the Pick Six should remain a $2 wager. The Pick Six is about carryovers, and handle does grow exponentially as the size of the carryover pool increases.

However, offering a 50-cent trifecta, as is done at several tracks currently, wouldnt be the worst idea, either. Neither would a $1 Pick Five with a mandatory payout, or a 50-cent Pick Seven.

The problem is getting the State Racing and Wagering Board to agree quickly to anything practically takes an emergency session of the State Legislature. The process is just so silly.

Big bettors are concerned that fractional betting takes away the edge their larger bankrolls provide. But the majority of $1 and $2 bettors generally are not as sophisticated as the big boys. Why not invite everybody into the pool? The more the merrier. Whats to be afraid of?

Like somebody actually has a lock on this game!

The betting menu in New York doesnt go far enough; its not complete enough. Only three superfectas are carded daily plus any Grade 1 race with a $500,000 purse.

Like half-million dollar Grade 1s grow on trees.

The SRWB, meanwhile, wont allow superfectas in races with stable entries. As if the fans couldnt figure out that if the order of finish in a race were, say, 1, 2, 1A, 3, 4, the winning superfecta ticket would read 1,2,3,4 which includes the actual fifth-place finisher. And they already compensate for that kind of result in the trifecta.

Give players a little credit. Were adults playing an adults game. Stop protecting us from ourselves.

Fractional betting in super exotic pools levels the playing field for all horseplayers. Not only is that eminently fair but its also good business.


Written by John Pricci

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