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, May 03, 2007

So What If The Track Is Wet On Derby Day?

Weather reports from area code 502 call for rain. The worst of it to come today, more on Friday, with a chance that it will continue into Derby Day.

Churchill Downs is a fast-drying surface and the track maintenance department work the track strenuously to get it dry and fast by Kentucky Derby post time. Fast, with a capital F, generally is the byword on big race-days at the Downs.

We scurried to our wet-track sire stats as compiled by Bloodstock Research. We looked for two-sided pedigrees, horses that figured to excel in wet conditions because the offspring of the sire and grand-sire already have: We established a minimum criteria for sire and grand-sire combined at 36 percent efficiency. Here are the qualifiers, in alphabetical order:

Any Given Saturday: 41%
Cowtown Cat: 41%
Curlin 36%
Nobiz Like Shobiz 36%
Scat Daddy 45%
Sedgefield 36%
Stormello 39%
Street Sense 36%
Teuflesberg 40%
Zanjero 38%

Its just not easy finding an edge in this Derby. Some of the above are favorites; some are extreme longshots. Keep these percentages in mind if conditions are wet, especially for exotic wagering.

Written by John Pricci

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Toot, Toot Tootsie Don’t Cry

Insiders tell me there was much raising of eyebrows on the Churchill Downs backstretch yesterday morning when it was learned that Scat Daddy has been training up to the Kentucky Derby in a bar shoe. Such footwear has a plate running across the horseshoe that protects the frog, part of the bottom wall of the hoof that at once acts like a shock absorber and, like toes, if you will, helps a horse to grab the surface below.

While providing protection, bar shoes can prevent a horse from grabbing the surface in the best manner possible, especially on wet tracks. Bar shoes are not a positive sign but theyre not always the skull and cross-bones horseplayers often believe they are. Horses win wearing bar shoes, only not as often as they do without them.

Trainer Todd Pletcher indicated that Scat Daddy would not wear bar shoes on Saturday and that the colt has trained in them since he was a two-year-old. As the only two-time Grade 1 winner in the field, it doesn't look like bar shoes have impeded Scat Daddy's progress all that much.

Pletcher does not have a history of placing his horses over-aggressively, and the nations leading trainer wont run Scat Daddy in the Derby just to give him a better chance to win his first classic at the horses expense. Thats not Pletchers style. So take the bar shoe into account, but try not to over-think the situation.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

“It Was Just What We Wanted”

The first thing a young trainer learns after becoming skilled at cooling out his owners is variations on the phrase it was just what we wanted.

Whether it refers to the manner of a recent victory or the speed and style of a just completed workout, it was perfect. Its up to him now, hes as fit as hands can make him. Hell have no excuses.

In the case of the final Kentucky Derby preparations for the undefeated Curlin and juvenile champion Street Sense, their concluding trials were perfect unless, of course, either or both are outrun.

Curlin, certainly fit enough after having run within the last three weeks, had a conditioning breeze at Keeneland on April 23 and on Monday had a perfect lung-opener at Churchill Downs. The half-mile work, termed breezing, was timed in :48 2/5. This followed an opening quarter mile of :24 1/5. Nice, even, 12-second furlongs always put smiles on the faces of horsemen.

Curlin galloped out an additional eighth mile in :13 seconds, for five furlongs in 1:01 2/5.

If Curlins work was perfect, Tuesdays move by Street Sense was pluperfect.

Following the glacially-paced Blue Grass, Street Sense needed a speed move and got one: five furlongs in :59, breezing. At once, the work put speed back into the colt and reaffirmed his preference for the Louisville track. I expected that trainer Carl Nafzger was looking for five-eighths in 1:01 Tuesday.

Could you, should you, say super-perfect-extra-good?

One minute and one fifth exactly, off a half-mile fraction of :49 4/5. Thats a final eighth in a worthy :11 1/5 and he galloped out another furlong in :12-flat, giving him a gallop-out time of 1:13 for six furlongs.

Without urging, Street Sense finished up his work/gallop in :23 1/5. This is textbook preparation for a race as demanding as the 20-horse Kentucky Derby.

Hard Spuns work earlier this week, however, is a difficult read. The good news is that he apparently loves Churchill Downs and with six weeks between starts needed a strong final move. What trainer Larry Jones got from Hard Spun, working in company early with a Grade 1-winning filly sprinter, was five-eighths in :57 3/5, the fastest recorded Derby week workout in 34 years.

Good horses work fast; fresh horses work fast. The colt reportedly was a little tired coming back to the barn but had his energy back within 15 minutes, according to Jones. Or was that meant to cool out the critics? Workouts are very important. They can win or lose races by being too fast or too slow.

In that context this very tough Derby puzzle just got a little tougher. Now, for todays post position draw, and a whole new set of handicapping riddles.

Written by John Pricci

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