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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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Handicapper of the Year Keeps It All in the Family

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 27, 2008--The family that plays together, stays together.

You just never think that this axiom also applies to horseplayers who just happen to believe that the handicapping process means as much as the wagering itself.

It was only minutes after the results of the National Handicapping Championships were known following the 11th race from Santa Anita on the Sunshine Millions program late Saturday afternoon when the winner, Richard Woodall of Las Vegas said: Im so happy, this means so much to my wife.

Yeah, right, thats what all horseplayers say after making what, for most, would be a life-changing score.

But this was no case of hyperbole or false humility, even if Goodall at first wasnt quite sure whether it was eight or nine years hed been married to Sally Wang-Goodall. They met in the Chinatown section here about a mile east of the strip, the site of the current Venetian and Treasure Island hotels.

So why was this couple so horseplayer simpatico, and how did she get so interested in handicapping?

On our first trip, he took me to Penn National [the original, ground-breaking World Series of Handicapping], explained Wang-Goodall.

And she must have paid very close attention to the business at hand, having qualified for the NHC six times, as compared to five for the new half-millionaire, the 2007 Handicapper of the Year.

Theres a racetrack clich that goes: Id rather be lucky than good. Very often thats true. But as far as I could observe, Goodall was, well, good, and he was good from the opening bell, 9:25 a.m., local time.

At the end of the first day of the two-day tournament, Goodall was in second position and always remained near the top of the leader board throughout, obviously embracing the right methodology. Picking winners helped, too.

In the first mandatory race of the contests final day, Goodall broke from the gate like Seattle Slew, nailing an 8-1 shot at Tampa Bay Downs. It felt good, like I was going to have a hot day, said the 64-year-old retiree from the health care industry.

Goodall was hot and good.

Since he was always in contention, his strategy was simple. I just concentrated on the mandatory races early, saving my optional plays until I could see how everyone else was doing.

There were 277 contestants in NHC IX, buy-ins are not permitted, so all had qualified by winning a satellite tournament somewhere. These were no ham-and eggers he was meeting; these were U.S. prime.

The close competition was reflected on the leader board which listed the current top 30 players throughout the tournament. At no time were the people at the very top segregated from each other by very much.

But Goodall blew it wide open late on Saturday afternoon, when the top half-dozen players were separated by more than a winning 4-1 shot. There were 15 contest races each day from a total of seven venues, eight of which eight were mandatory. Bets were tallied on a $2 win-place basis.

Indeed, the tournament was so competitive that the difference between runnerup Don Beardsworth and fourth finisher Albert Wong was breakage: 40 cents. But none were focused like Goodall.

He patiently awaited the ninth race at the sloppy Fair Grounds, a sprint for special-weight maidens, were Big Love Bill finished well from a stalking position to win by 3/4s of a length at 23-1. Goodall did not get the full price, as win odds are capped at 20-1 and place at 10-1.

But $42 will buy you plenty of separation at the NHC. His earnings of $272.30 distanced him from the runnerup by $74, resulting in the largest victory margin in NHC history. The previous record of $31.60 was held by Jamie Michelson, winner of NHC XI.

Having blown the competition away, Goodall braced for a late challenge that would never come. With two tournament races remaining, and with the second, third and fourth handicappers a 20-1 winner away from first place, he bet on the winner of the finale from Golden Gate Fields. The 7-5 favorite iced the result.

Goodall, who plays in a handful of big money contests throughout the year and also on line, then began to talk about the secret of his success in handicapping tournaments.

This year I began using a pretty sophisticated data program and I cant say that I understand it all. But Im learning. Im slow and steady, but finally I got it right.

As Goodall awaited the photo-op to come, his words touched on a prevailing theme throughout the weekend, not only in the NHC at the Red Rock but in the Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans as well: camaraderie.

You meet such great people at these tournaments. Theyre interesting, nice people, and theres never a problem. Ive made some friends for life.

Casino executives arrived, offered their congratulations to Goodall and were carrying two checks; a rather large one for posterity and a smaller one for cashing. If you can consider a $500,000 check small.

The photographers waved everyone into place for the shot. Can my wife get in it, too? Goodall asked. This is my biggest thrill in racing, but only because of my wife. Weve been trying to win this contest for a long time.

Written by John Pricci

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Vegas Handicappers Earn Blowout Victories in NHC and HWS

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 26, 2008--Always in contention throughout the two-day National Handicapping Championships, 64-year-old Las Vegas native Richard Goodall blew NHC IX wide open when 23-1 prefect tripping Big Love Bill finished strongest of all down the middle of a sloppy Fair Grounds track, earning Goodall $500,000 and title of Handicapper of the Year Saturday at the Red Rock Resort and Casino.

Goodalls mythical earnings of $272.30 was a record $74 more than runnerup Don Beardsworth, whose earnings of $194.30 was only 30 cents more than third finisher Roberta Cote. That fraction of a dollar was the difference between second prize of $150,000 and third worth $100,000. Goodalls margin of victory was a record for the NHC.

At the Orleans, handicapper Ken Hopkins widened his advantage as the afternoon lengthened and won the Horseplayer World Series as impressively as Goodall took the NHC. Hopkins winning total of $2,985.80 was $617.40 more than runnerup Gwyn Houston, whose earnings were $248.60 more than the show finisher, James Henderson.

The victory by Hopkins over 682 rivals was worth grand prize money of $307,350, 45 percent of the total purse. Houston and Henderson earned $54,640 and $47,810, respectively.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Two Winners; Singular Achievement

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 25, 2008--Call it the duel in the desert. Da-da-da-da-da-dum. Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-dum. Da-da-da-da-da-dum.

It began with 683 handicappers on Thursday in a ballroom at the Orleans. It's called the Horseplayer World Series and, in the immortal words of Frank Pentangeli, there were more people than a ballgame in there.

Yesterday at the Red Rock Resort and Casino, 276 more joined the fray on day one of the co-sponsored DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championships. When the tournaments conclude with the final race from Golden Gate Fields Saturday afternoon at 4:15 p.m. Vegas time, prize money totaling $1.75-million will have been won.

On the morning of Day 2 at the HWS, David Curich, a weekend warrior who qualified by winning the Daytona Beach Kennel Club tournament, was in first place, having picked seven winners from 11 chances opening day. "A little handicapping and a little luck," said the 40-year handicapping veteran.

Luck ran out Friday as Curich slid to 17th, $800 behind new leader Ken Hopkins, who sprinkled in enough longshots from a glut of short-priced winners from coast to coast. He accumulated mythical earnings of $2,134.60, good enough to accumulate $9,100 in folding money.

Horsemen and industry people have been doing well in these tournaments. While horseman Kevin Matties of Saratoga Springs slipped from second on Day 1 to 25th yesterday, brother Gregg came from nowhere to place 28th going into the final session.

Anthony Pecoraro was in sixteenth at the end of Day 2, although HRI was unable to confirm at posting whether or not it indeed was the Delaware-based trainer.

But there is no denying that Doug Bredar is the racing secretary at Louisiana Downs and he was enjoying a good afternoon, 15th place on opening day of the NHC. While Bredar works at an NTRA member track, he does not get paid by that organization, thus becoming eligible after qualifying.

Ron Geary, president and CEO of Ellis Park, and his son Mark, an executive at the Western Kentucky track, failed to make the leader board on Day 1, nor did Bill Downs, the track announcer at Beulah Park.

(There were no sightings of the Beulah Twins, either as contestants or handicapping advisers to Downs. Nor were visuals made on Florida-based jockeys, although there was a Gary Bain on the NHC leader board).

While you may work in the industry and be allowed to compete, tournament players cannot own nor be related to horsemen having horses running in a mandatory contest race. There were two such possibilities for Saturday's program but those players have been given a new mandatory race, the Aqueduct finale.

There are 15 NHC contest races daily; eight mandatory, seven optional. Players may select from seven different tracks Saturday including Santa Anita, which canceled for a second consecutive day today. The NTRA's Eric Wing, in his best Michael Buffer impression, announced that Santa Anita intends to race Saturday barring more precipitation.

Are we to expect three-quarters of a mile in 1:05?

Many veteran contest players were having problems staving off a lengthy parade of winning favorites. Kathy Kissman, a worker at Ballys who competed in the 2001 NHC, qualified for this edition on line but admitted she was out of her comfort zone making win-place wagers on logical favorites. A trifecta specialist, she'll try to adjust better on Saturday.

Defending champion Stanley Bavlish is living the dream, even if the longshots he specializes were not winning. I'm not having a great day, but the best part of these things is having the opportunity to meet people in the business.

"I was at the Eclipse Awards on Monday sitting at a table with Bob Baffert, and he's still angry with Kent for moving too soon [on Real Quiet]."

Mimicking the story-teller by pounding the fist of his left hand into his right--"I told him to wait, I told him to wait,"--"I discovered that the biggest names in the game are no different than any of us.

"It's been great. Doug O'Neill came up to me at the dinner and introduced himself to me," he said with no small measure of incredulity.

In its first year, the Red Rock has a magnificent chandelier that greets you as you walk through the front doors of the hotel. Elevators and spiral staircases take you to a second floor that houses a casino replete with a poker room, restaurants, various other eateries, and a state of the art but not particularly spacious sports and race book.

But its lighting and graphics are excellent, easy on the eyes. A ballroom might have been a more comfortable venue but a decision was made to start out on a modest scale.

In its ninth season, the NHC still seeks a permanent home. It might this high scale edifice located about 10 miles from the strip; west, then north, on I-215 from Tropicana Ave. Traffic patterns were especially dense at mid-day due to the re-routing caused by the Monte Carlo fire. Thankfully there were no serious injuries.

Whatever happens Saturday, there will be winners but no losers. All NHC players qualified in satellite contests, a clear accomplishment. The Shurman brothers, noted in our Friday blog, were either on or near the leader board today and their handicapping colleague Steve Wolfson Sr. was in third prior to the posting of final Day 1 results.

It all comes down Saturday, the final day at both the HWS and NHC, when the scores, real or imagined, can really change.

Written by John Pricci

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