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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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Same Old, Good Old

Jay DiLorenzo, president of the Preservation League of New York State, announced yesterday that the Saratoga Race Course was added to the 2008 list of Seven to Save Endangered Properties.

Seems like a quaint notion but this development actually could have some impact on current franchise negotiations between the New York Racing Association and the states lawmakers.

Before making his announcement, DiLorenzo spoke of the luxury suites that recently were built at the new and improved Churchill Downs, and how the suites obscured the views of the famed, trademark twin spires.

The first time I saw it, I gasped, DiLorenzo told the Albany Times Union. That cannot happen here.

The first time I saw the twin spires was 24 years ago, Sunnys Halos year. There were terrorists in 1983, too, and they took the lives of some of our best Marines in Beirut.

And the people back in the day still cared about the space program, and a filly with the appropriate name Sally Ride became our first female astronaut.

I was at Newsday then, their handicapper and handicapping columnist. I didnt yet have an opportunity to cover the big events. But Steven Jerkens, Allen Jr. and Jimmys brother, and the Chiefs son, had Pax In Bello in the Kentucky Derby, Jeffrey Fell in the boot.

Sunnys Halo, bidding to become historys second winner of the Arkansas Derby to repeat two weeks later in Louisville, was the tepid favorite. Actually picked him to win, too, ($7.00 wasnt much value). But Stevens colt had a punchers chance despite his long odds.

My friend Jack Shelley and I de-planed in Louisville to root for Stevens horse. Two days later, early morning on the first Saturday in May, our rental car passed the building line on South 4th Street and as it reached the corner of Central Ave., I looked right, and there they were, reaching high into the Louisville sky.

I felt my stomach jump, my eyes well up and--not trying to be melodramatic here--I felt something like what my grandparents must have when first they layed eyes on the Statue of Liberty. Of course its not the same thing! All Im saying is that it might be close. Loves funny that way.

The Downs are the twin spires. But Saratoga has spires, too, and DiLorenzo expressed the fears every Saratoga fan has no matter where he was born, reared, or presently lives.

Saratoga is Nirvana for horseplayers, now and then. Saratoga is where a Revolutionary battle was fought, where racing has been conducted for the past 144 years. It needs to be protected and preserved.

It is hoped that some of this history will be on the minds of lawmakers before they figure out just how to slice this New York racing pie and who gets the biggest piece. Thats the reality now.

In 1983, Pax In Bello beat more than half the field, finishing seventh. It was a very good effort and the connections where proud of their horse. And there really is nothing to compare with that first Derby experience.

Coincidentally, or not, I havent been back to Churchill since the recent reconstruction. Maybe Im just afraid to go back.

For now, old memories will have to enough. But thats because Im spoiled, living in the Union Avenue Historic District. And not long ago, the Saratoga City Council had the good sense to officially preserve the race course under that same umbrella.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Is There Anybody ALIVE Out There?

For anyone to get the most from the following--aside from those who already participated via comments appearing beneath my blog of Monday, Dec. 15--you need to first familiarize yourself with the issue and the comments of readers to it. The background of those commenting is diverse enough to represent a good cross-section of bettors/fans.

Before issuing a proposal/challenge to our readers, and their friends and follow bettors, some background:

While at Newsday, I organized a one-day boycott of the Pick 6. I've mentioned this before. At the bottom line it was successful, cutting handle by over 50 percent. Unfortunately, it did not engender further dialogue or lasting impact. In that context, it failed. But that was one voice, one newspaper, one issue, affecting only a small percentage of the horseplaying population on Long Island.

But if all of us took on only half the issues elucidated by regular poster Mr. Corrow, we'd have much work to do. Unfortunately, the apathy Mr. Kling referred to is all too real. And as someone associated with the Capital OTB television network, I have seen what drives people to comment and/or act. And it ain't much.

There is a pocketbook issue out there, however, that not only affects bettors but the future health and vitality of the thoroughbred sport, a business fueled by wagering.

We can all have input on the issues that interest us most, and how we should attack those problems. But I believe we should start with the greatest single concern affecting all of us, from customer to industry honcho. Or, to paraphrase a political slogan from a previous administration: Its about the takeout on betting, stupid.

In order to reverse the current trend that gives us the wagering we deserve--what were getting now aint much--here's my proposal to affect change:

If we can shake ourselves from our lethargy, if we really want to affect change, I propose a campaign having at its core two traditional dynamics: demonstration and boycott.

After you stop laughing, read on.

The campaign will start at a grass roots level with demonstrations in front of the state houses in major racing states, those in Albany, NY, Frankfurt, Ky., Sacramento, Ca., Tallahassee, Fla. and Springfield, Ill.

The movement probably would need at least three busloads of organized demonstrators to appear with picket signs, and a spokesperson willing to intelligently state our case to mainstream media.

Phase two would be demonstrations in front of major tracks in those states, the following week, month, whenever. (This is trickier because, in most cases, it would be private property. Things could get, lets say, interesting).

Coordinated with the demonstrations would be an organized boycott of betting pools. Were not going to get everyone to go along, obviously, but we need to choose a major racetrack one Saturday and make sure we significantly impact handle negatively. It has to be a number that makes a difference, that cannot be ignored. If it works, maybe a bandwagon would start rolling.

I pledge to try to get major television exposure in the Albany media market to cover the demonstration. The Albany market includes, of course, Saratoga. I also pledge to contact the National Turf Writers Assn. to engender support for our cause, as well as traditional industry media; Daily Racing Form, Horseplayer magazine, Bloodhorse, and the like.

If all else failed, at least we'd get some play. In addition to mainstream media, print and electronic, we could enlist support from the racing-blog community, satellite radio, and all the rest.

Populist philosophy, no matter the party affiliation, is resonating with Americans as the 2008 presidential election draws closer. What could be more populist than three busloads of $2 bettors demonstrating in state capitals? (Those sporting $400 haircuts need not apply).

The challenge, then, is to get off our soapboxes and walk the talk. Im willing to do my share.

Like Kilroy, they will know we were here. So, to paraphrase what Mr. Springsteen has asked ad infinitum on his most recent tour: Is there anybody alive out there with a better idea?

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Let There Be Peace In the State House

The recent headline in a Albany Times Union story, Concerns Over Franchise Playing Into NYRAs Hands was at worst disingenuous, at best, misleading.

Before going further, I will state for the record, for the umpteenth time, that I have no dogs in this fight. The main issue for me is the continuity of New York racing which, directly and indirectly, has been a source of livelihood for most of my adult life. For this, I owe.

My other concern is for many friends Ive made along the way, the owners, jockeys and trainers of the smaller outfits, and the mega-ones, too, and the exercise riders and grooms and hot walkers and valets and clockers and mutuel clerks and managers from top to bottom, from the executive wing to the basement. In short, everyone.

And for the OTB workers, too, and for my fellow horseplayers, who make the whole thing go.

The Times Union story intimates that NYRA is willing to play a game of chicken with the state and are willing to hold their employees--and the other 40,000 people in this state who derive a living from thoroughbred racing--hostage.

In this entire process, there have been very few people among the NYRA shot callers, including their Board of Trustees, which operate without transparency just like the three Indian Chiefs in Albany--political correctness be damned--that could always be found wearing white hats.

And I include the media in all this--but only those who do not strive for the whole truth. They know who they are.

Hey, pragmatism was never my strong suit.

But concerns that are playing into NYRAs hands? I dont think so. If NYRAs whole stance is based on land ownership claims, they cannot afford to agree to an extension while negotiations continue. They believe that either they have a franchise to run racing, or they do not.

Unreasonable? Its not like the states lawmakers havent known about this scenario since the fall of 2001.

So now were supposed to believe that its been NYRA all along thats been holding a gun to peoples heads?

If my name was Mr. NYRA, and my existence depended on my claims to land worth an estimated $1-billion, I dont think Id jeopardize my future position without an agreement in principle. And now they should operate without a net on a handshake?

Following that gentlemans handshake, who could be trusted to count everyones fingers?

If Im Mr. NYRA, Id have to roll the dice in court. The governor knew that. Thats why he proposed to extend NYRAs existence another 30 years.

Republican Sen. Bill Larkin Jr., New Yorks Chairman of Racing, Gaming and Wagering, went on the Down the Stretch television show Saturday morning and the soon-to-be 80-year-old appointee spoke about a vision for New York racing before essentially parroting the solution put forth last week by Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

Talk about same old, same old

Our vision for the basis of an agreement between all parties is this: NYRA would probably have to compromise on the 30-year extension--the 15-to-20 years suggested by the Senate is unrealistic under the circumstance--and agree to fewer of their own appointees to the Board of Trustees in favor of--yes--political hacks. Hopefully, those appointees would know something about racing.

Gov. Steamroller then would have to negotiate in good faith no matter what the sign says on his door, tweaking the original Memorandum of Understanding in terms of duration and recompense to NYRA and putting Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver in his place about no VLTs for Belmont Park. Make Silver tell everyone what he wants for his House to sign off on Belmont beyond having a VLT monopoly on the Queens/Nassau County border.

People in Elmont, like people in Saratoga Springs and Canandaigua, need money, too, and the venue that hosts the Triple Crowns third jewel needs a facelift badly. And those Belmont grounds have room for a proposed destination complex for all the people in the state to enjoy. More importantly, people from other states, too.

Sen. Bruno has to get off giving away a store he doesnt own to people he wants indebted to him. Who is he to replace the entire Board of any corporation, not-for-profit or otherwise, in the name of transparency and accountability? Who minds his store? What right does he have to take a product he doesnt own--races for export, via simulcasting--and cut a third party a slice of that action? Hes supposed to be working for voters, not lobbyists.

Maybe if some of the above were the foundation of a resolution to the franchise issue, the process could move forward rapidly from that point forward. But that would require peace on earth and good will, commodities in very short supply, even in this holiday season.

Written by John Pricci

Comments (11)


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