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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Tuesday, July 17, 2007


There Oughta’ Be A Law


It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Read that somewhere.

But thats the kind of weekend it was for Todd Pletcher, leading trainer in the universe.

The sheer volume of all aspects of his operation; from the number of horses in his care, to his graded stakes wins (on track to break his own record), to purse earnings (ditto), continues to astound.

Look at what happened last weekend: King of the Roxy; Cotton Blossom; Indian Vale; Safari Queen and Host; all of them favorites, all of them lost.

But then, look what happened last weekend. Honey Rose was placed first in a listed stakes at Ellis Park; Unbridled Belle won the million dollar Delaware Handicap, Sunriver won the Grade 2 Bowling Green and Pavarotti took the Round Table.

Four-for-nine in stakes for the weekend. Not bad.

Of all those performances, one was an eye-opener and it wasnt Unbridled Belles perfect-trip tour de force in the DelCap. But did you see the Bowling Green?

It is very unusual for horses to win graded stakes on both dirt and turf, but now Sunriver has. If his Bowling Green is any measure, his future in surely on the grass.

Pletcher is still mystified by the two dirt performances earlier this year. Then he worked Sunriver on turf just to see if it would wake him up mentally. He worked fantastic and the decision was made to run him on grass.

He won that allowance race as if breaking so many sticks. But it didnt prove anything despite his going to the front and improving his position with complete authority.

On Sunday, he did it again. But this time it was different.

He was in with tougher and, while setting a moderate pace, was pressured throughout. At headstretch, Garrett Gomez pushed the button and the response was electric.

It wasnt so much how he opened up ground; instantly, but how he looked doing it.

If you missed it, catch a replay. Old-timers used to call good turf horses daisy cutters for the way they skimmed over the top of the ground.

They would have loved Sunriver.

He absolutely just skims over the top of the grass. Hes very spectacular over it, said Gomez in post-race quotes. I think he can just keep extending himself and getting better.

He will need to. Pletcher said the Arlington Million is next. Not only will the competition go up several notches but the Arlington course is less forgiving. Theres more cut in the ground, and most often its less than firm.

Early speed does relatively well in the Million. And so we shall see if Sunrivers near perfect turf action works as well in Chicago as it does in New York.

Im quite sure Pletcher hopes so. There were those five stakes he was supposed to win last weekend and didnt, now did he?


Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, July 15, 2007


The Unforgettable New York-Bred Funny Cide


The "gutsy gelding" will race no more.

If any horse earned a well deserved pensioners life, it was Funny Cide.

He was conditioned by a trainers trainer, for everyone in racing knew how good a horseman Barclay Tagg was. The rest of the world found out in 2003 when the gutsy gelding, so dubbed by race caller Tom Durkin at the finish of a thrilling classic horserace, won the Kentucky Derby.

He won the Preakness, too, by a short pole, when rider Jose Santos, stupidly accused of carrying an electrical device in his Derby win, apparently felt that a margin victory was needed to vindicate himself and the horse.

The combination of that big Preakness effort, a wet track, a talented, fresh rival and a fast workout all conspired to tax his reserves. His Triple Crown bid fell short but that didnt stop him from becoming a local hero on a national scale.

Clearly, Funny Cide was the feel-good story of 2003 and began a renaissance of sorts for the sport because of a yellow bus filled with small town school-mates from upstate New York.

Between Funny Cide and a generally well reviewed, commercially successful feature film, Seabiscuit, racing got on a 15-minute roll.

The gutsy gelding moniker stuck. Another accolade might have been overachiever.

Funny Cide was always blessed with speed, his juvenile season a testimony to that. But it took Tagg and assistant Robin Smullen to slow him down by calming him down and stretching him out.

In Santos, he had a partner who believed and got along with him very well on the track. Funny Cide also put an entire wing of the breeding industry, the New York-bred program, on the national map.

I remember asking one of his owners, the late Gus Williams, after Funny Cides victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, just how important a victory in the upcoming Breeders Cup Classic would be.

The hell with the Breeders Cup, said Williams. I just want to win five more Gold Cups.

Alas, Funny Cide would never threaten to surpass the mighty Kelsos JCGC record and by the following year he began losing steps.

The rigors of a hard fought Triple Crown series two years earlier were beginning to take a toll. Younger and stronger rivals came along and they showed him no mercy, no respect.

The last two years were a hard struggle for him. He began to show signs of non-competitiveness even while taking class drops, from the top of the graded stakes ranks to the Grade 3s, until finally even listed and restricted races were becoming a challenge, too.

But Funny Cides popularity never wavered. Many books and T-shirts and ice cream and beers were sold with his likeness.

In his final race, the Wadsworth Memorial Handicap at Finger Lakes, as far from Times Square as you can get without a passport, he drew an announced record crowd of 12,000 for the July 4th program.

And the western New York upstate crowd cheered raucously as he circled the ring and his class was too much for the best local rivals that could be hustled to face him, many losing their composure as the classy state-bred amped up the kind of electricity never before experienced in the rural Canandaigua paddock.

The track was wet and sealed and Funny Cide struggled to find his best stride. In the end, he out-willed, as opposed to outrunning, his rivals.

The good news is that Funny Cide is not leaving the racetrack. He will remain with the Tagg outfit as a stable pony and hell make a formal farewell appearance at Saratoga Race Course, Aug. 10.

The record book will show that Funny Cide ran in 38 races, compiling an across-the-board slate of 11-6-8, with accumulated earnings of over $3.5 million.

But Funny Cide wasnt about records. He was about speed and guts and how the outside of a horse can be good for the inside of a fan. He deserved to go out a winner.


Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, July 12, 2007


Barbaro, The Movie!


Its probably two years from being released. Im betting Breeders Cup, 2009. Maybe Kentucky Derby, 2010.

With apologies to Shirley MacLaine, were going out on a limb. Barbaro is a sure thing hit.

How could it not? All the elements are there. Think about it.

An American equestrian, a gold medal winner at the Pan American Games, is one of a handful of people to survive a horrific plane crash.

Not only did he survive but he and his fiance helped save the lives of three children who were traveling alone to visit their grandmother in upstate New York.

The compassionate horseman decides, experience and inclination be damned. He would become a horse trainer. His career path comes full circle when he wins the Kentucky Derby.

I know what youre thinking: Too implausible, trite.

The horse that wins the Derby impressively becomes a consensus favorite to win the Triple Crown. But he breaks down in the Preakness, the fractures requiring 23 screws to put his leg back together.

Despite successful surgery, hes given about a five percent chance to survive. Far too generous in light of the circumstances, thought most racetrackers.

But his owners spared no expense; generous to a fault, accused some. The veterinary surgeon that attended him proves a generous, loving, dedicated and tireless genius.

The colt is the best patient anyone had ever seen.

The horse leads the network nightly news for a week. Thousands of blogs and forum items are written about him on web-sites around the cyber-world.

The hospital taking care of him begins to receive significant donations in his name. Cards and candles and flowers rim the surrounding fence posts.

The phenomenon doesnt stop.

Then, ultimately, tragedy. A disease with no cure claims him but because he lived it's now on everyones radar. Strides have been taken.

The man who will produce and direct the movie, from a magazine piece written by his cousin for the August 2007 issue of Vanity Fair, buys the rights with a major studio.

And the director knows a thing or two about making films, movies with a sports theme. Because didn't he turn his cousins book, Friday Night Lights, into a first rate film?

And didn't the film later become a first rate network television series about how a high school football team is the only reason to live in a small Texas town?

A town that could have been prologue to The Last Picture Show if not for the life-affirming value of sport and its heroes.

Love, dedication, hope. Playing at a theater near you.


Written by John Pricci

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