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, December 12, 2007

For Now, New Breeders’ Cup Races All About the Handle

I fully expect that when all precincts are heard from, the addition of three new Breeders Cup announced on Monday will not be reviewed favorably. On balance, those critics by definition would be correct.

The newly created Breeders Cup Turf Sprint, Dirt Marathon and Juvenile Fillies Turf does not add prestige to the overall event and in all probability weakens it from a prestige perspective.

New Breeders Cup races are superfluous when measured against the intent of the events founding fathers, unless the races properly result in the creation of new divisional championship categories. Talk about the age of specialization.

However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Expansion in major sports has not blunted their popularity nor has it muffled the enthusiastic cheers of its followers. But expansion undoubtedly has compromised overall quality, the New England Patriots notwithstanding.

Consider: Does expanded racing opportunities really do any more harm to the collective quality of the thoroughbred sport than does the premature retirement of its athletes?

When added to the new races introduced this year at Monmouth Park, the three new races brings the total of Breeders Cup events to 14, double the original magnificent seven, and expands purse opportunities from racings original $10-million Day to a two-day $25.5-million bonanza.

Between 1984 and today, the term World Championships was added to the Breeders Cup brand and that does have a modicum of truth to it. There has, after all, been significant European participation, albeit preciously little from anywhere else.

The six new races, and the Filly & Mare Turf, for that matter, do nothing to enhance that world championship concept. All they do is further segment existing championship divisions. And while that might be more ecumenical, it does nothing to define true greatness.

The sport of racing has always been a business but never more so than it is today. And since the true measure of the modern games popularity is betting handle, from a business perspective Breeders Cup event days have been a huge success.

More than $27 million was wagered on the first two-day Breeders Cup card, on races that were neither inspiring nor memorable and were run under abysmal conditions. The wet track at Monmouth that Friday reduced the races to truly chaotic events from a handicapping perspective.

With three more Breeders Cup branded events scheduled for the last Saturday in October, 2008 at Santa Anita Park, that Monmouth handle figure easily could double.

Despite their chaotic nature, turf sprints are popular with bettors due to the generally higher payoffs. But they prove nothing from a sporting sense and wont until theyre recognized with their own Eclipse category. Further, the Turf Sprint has a high probability of adversely impacting the quality of the Mile field.

Think a lot of horses were cross-entered this year? Wait until next year.

The Juvenile Fillies Turf is a natural extension to this years Juvenile Turf. But until they get their own Eclipse category, all juvenile turf races will be are terrific betting races and another opportunity for owners and trainers to earn more black type. Even if these races remain non-graded, Breeders Cup winner will appear in bold black type in sales catalogues.

All this is in sync with the reality that too many graded races exist already, blunting a horses true achievements at the sports highest levels.

Racing in America has lived with the fact that this fractured sport is less than it can because of provincial competition. Now it seems the same might be said of the international racing: Its every continent for itself.

Until such time that thoroughbred racing has uniform drug rules and an international schedule that makes sense, every region in the world will host its own version of World Championships. For the time being, more will be just have to be more.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ellis Pick 4 Operation A Success, Patient Dies

As it turns out, Ron Geary, the new track president at Ellis Park, was a lone voice crying in the wilderness of bettor-friendly racetrack owners. Looks like the bad guys won again. What a surprise.

In case you missed it, Geary stated at last weeks Racing and Gaming Symposium, hosted annually by Arizonas Racetrack Industry Program, that his Henderson, Kentucky track would no longer offer a Pick Four with four percent takeout, the lowest taxed wager at any track, anywhere.

Overall handle at Ellis was lower this year than in 2006, but none of it can be attributed to the Pick 4. Geary did not quote figures but did say that Pick 4 handle improved. (HRI researched the figures several times during their 2007 meet and found Pick 4 handle up significantly).

Geary noted, too, that handle in the straight pools on the final four races, which were part of the daily Pick 4 sequence, also increased.

So the wager was a win-win for Ellis and Pick 4 bettors but ultimately was unsuccessful because it did not make enough of a positive impact to be renewed. While he didnt state the reason publicly, politics is at the heart of this problem. Yet another surprise.

Lower takeout is the enemy of racetrack operators and off-track bet takers because it costs them revenue in the short term. And in this instant society, good ideas will not be given sufficient time to catch on. Tracks simply are unwilling to allow lower takeout wagers the time they need to make it a revenue winner--especially those tracks needing to protect and enhance shareholder value.

Not all of Elliss simulcast partners offered the wager, citing financial, programming, and regulatory issues. The tracks that did offered the Ellis Pick 4 did so reluctantly as an accommodation.

As the new owner/president of a track trying to re-invent itself, Geary is under pressure to be less intrusive with his off-track partners. At the same time, his stated goal is to enhance Elliss national reputation as a player friendly venue. He's one of the good guys.

Like Hyman Roth, who always made money for his partners, I must realize that the bottom line is, well, the bottom line and that Geary has an obligation to the simulcast community. But he cares deeply about his on-track fans and, to that end, will offer a new wager, details about which will be released in early 2008.

Geary would be well advised to offer the promised innovative wager on-track only, with a similarly extremely low takeout. If his simulcast partners want it, fine. If they dont; no harm, no foul. Geary shouldnt force a short-term loser down the throat of his business partners.

But if Ellis is to deserve a reputation as a true player-friendly track, Geary needs to finish what he started. If it was right then, it is right now.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Old Gray Man Is What He Used To Be

With the possible exception of a couple of maiden breakers, yesterdays Aqueduct card was pretty mundane. Except as we said, for Barrier Reef, who half bolted entering the backstretch in the second-race for juvenile colts.

Having bet on Hedgefund Investor, that was a yip-pee for me. H.I was cruising on the lead, and when he opened the lead out to nearly four lengths in midstretch, it was why didnt I bet mo?

Whats this? Oh no, its Barrier Reef, making a strong turn move into the lane and had momentum, but still had plenty to do. But the combination of the leader tiring and Barrier Reef hitting overdrive resulted in a going-away victory beneath the persistent Johnny Velazquez.

While I had no stake in the fourth race, emotional or otherwise, I still had to admire the stretch rally of debuting Thatsrightofficer.

In one breath it was will he get there? In the next, it was no problem. He drew out smartly, winning in full stride under Edgar Prado, a wide smiling Edgar Prado as he accompanied the Officer to the winners enclosure.

At the other end of the spectrum, fittingly, it was an old gray man, Evening Attire, who, three weeks short of his 10th birthday, would own the day.

Barcola, as expected, was in complete control on the front end in the Grade 3 Queens County Handicap, looking like hed be tough to beat even though over a half mile remained.

But Evening Attire was running free on this afternoon, narrowing a lead that still appeared insurmountable as the field approached the turn for home.

When Barcola put daylight between himself and his closest pursuers, the result appeared inevitable. But the younger legs that carried Evening Attire to a Jockey Club Gold Cup victory five years ago just kept chugging.

And Barcola was feeling the heat now, tiring but still chugging himself. Despite remaining on his left lead--at his age, E.A. can use whatever lead he wants--he ran down Barcola right on the line.

Its a crusty bunch of curmudgeons that gather at the Saratoga Harness simulcast each Saturday, but even they erupted as one when the wire neared, and burst into applause when Evening Attire reached the line first.

I needed Barcola to win, but even I had to smile when the old boy got up. It was, after all, T.J and Joe and Mary Grant that owned him, and thats a trifecta no one can root against.

Got to love Mary, who refused to sell her big horse to Middle Eastern interests for not quite stupid money, but into seven figures, anyway, back when Evening Attire had a lot less gray hair.

Mary Grant loves this horse the way her Hall of Fame partner, T. J. Kelly, loves all the horses, especially this one which, along with the Grants, bred this foal of 1998.

Yesterday, their old warhorse reciprocated in a fashion that has been his custom, winning for the 14th time in 63 starts, banking more than $2.7-million along the way.

Now if the story of a near 10-year-old horse winning a 102-year-old race is not worth applauding, I don't know what would be.

Written by John Pricci

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