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, October 10, 2007

Torre’s Fate Tied To A-Rod

Ive been annoyed with Joe Torre ever since he started Roger Clemens against the Mets on Belmont Stakes day instead of waiting for the following day. Big news coverage for the big Sunday papers, I guess.

As if that decision was made in Tampa and not in a locker room in New York.

The Clemens thing didnt work out as planned. Come to think of it, neither did the Yankees season. Or, for that matter, the Mets.

In town over the weekend for the Paul Moran Newsday retirement bash, nobody asked which horse I thought would win the Breeders Cup Classic. Instead; Do you think Torre will get fired?

I say if the Yankees re-sign Alex Rodriguez, theyll re-sign Torre. If not, then no.

And I dont believe that the Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Bobby Abreu and Andy Pettitte situations figure into this.

Roger Clemens? Please.

This is a big sports story outside New York, too. The results of an ESPN fan poll is that Torre should return, 71 percent to 29, a landslide.

Maybe it was Mets fans who voted. It certainly wasnt the front-page headline writers for the New York tabloids.

For the most part, I agree he deserves to stay. Yankees payroll or not, body of work counts for something. Number of seasons as Yankees manager: 12. Number of playoff appearances: 12.

Twelve, unfortunately, is divisible by three, as in the number of first-round eliminations the past three seasons. Underachieving is as underachieving does.

In defense of Torre, he was 0-for-0 at the plate in this ALDS, won by a team that played and pitched better baseball, the Cleveland Indians.

But when they werent grounding into double plays, the Yankee power machine popped up, after pop-up, after pop-up. That happens when big boppers forget to work the count or play station to station baseball.

A lot of boppers think theyre too good to work the count. If youre paid like a home run hitter, you act like a home run hitter, worshipping at the altar of the three-run homer.

If A-Rod is re-signed, the Yankees could use more Torre stability to usher in the new Yankee Stadium era. More melding of the young players with the old, especially the pitchers.

In the last three years, Yankee pitchers couldnt hold the fort when big bats went silent.

But isnt this when a little Stengelese would have come in handy? Mixing, stirring, shaking things up?

It was Torres stoicism that kept their post-season hopes alive in May and June when the team played like the worst unit in baseball. They looked like they had given up, lifelessly going through the motions.

The youth movement was that needed infusion of life.

If the Yankees lose A-Rods power production, maybe the youth-infused, suddenly promising pitching staff would benefit from some legitimate small ball.

Wheres Billy Martin when you really need him?

I know this: Martin would have pulled his team off the field in the bottom of the eighth inning in midge-infested Cleveland. And would have retaliated against Red Sox pitchers who threw at Yankees hitters.

In baseball, as in life, class, like good deeds, never seems to go unpunished.

Speaking of Billyball, hard to envision that he would have capitulated, according to reports, to managements calling the shot to start Chien Ming Wang over Mike Mussina, said to be Torres choice, in Game 4.

As a horse owner, Torre knows how to read a set of PPs. The PPs said that Mussina throws well fresh. He did in September, anyway.

Look, everyone knows fans are fickle. Another ESPN poll this week revealed that 83 percent of college football fans believe that USC should fall out of the Top Ten after their loss to Stanford at 41-point favorites.

Then thats why Im glad theres no public voting component to the Eclipse Awards. Fans, by definition, lead with their emotions.

In any case, I wouldnt be thinking about backing the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday.

If the Yankees dont re-up Torres contract, Id like to see the youth movement extended to the dugout. The Yankees offense needs to change its approach.

I was born a Yankees fan. My parents took me to Sunday double-headers from age six. I was in the building when Mantle hit the faade off Pedro Ramos and when Reggie hit three home runs when the Bronx was burning. I saw DiMaggio face Satchel Paige., and the Scooter and Yogi and Reynolds and Raschi and Lopat.

I know that whoever replaces Torre--whenever that is--has a difficult act to follow. But if the players on the field are different then so should the direction in the dugout. When are era ends, its over. Yogi could tell you that much.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

New York Juveniles in Final Breeders’ Cup Preps

Elmont--Its amazing what one race will do for your reputation. And what another can do to tarnish it.

Majestic Warrior became a star at Saratoga, the product of an upset score in the Grade 1 Hopeful. Even with Readys Image in position to atone for that defeat, it was no surprise when Bill Motts colt was sent off a clear public choice in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes.

But Belmont Park is not Saratoga and the Champagne was not a four-horse field in which your main rival did all the work but where you got the money.

So, Garrett Gomez and Eibar Coa on the top choices kept eyes on each other. No one noticed that Cornelio Velasquez had stolen away on a loose lead with War Pass.

Yes, splits of :22.87 and :45.72 are daunting, even in top company. But loose is as loose does.

I have to give Cornelio a lot of credit, said winning trainer Nick Zito, [The colt] has blazing speed and I was very glad to see him do what he did.

Which was leave Majestic Warrior in his wake, sixth, and Readys Image, who finished last of eight. The performance of the two choices were as stunning as the dominance War Pass showed during the race.

No one should really be surprised by the result. War Pass, now undefeated in three starts, overcame a tardy break to win his debut at Saratoga then returned to dominate a preliminary allowance group by nearly six lengths.

And theres another reason: Zito has made a habit of winning the Champagne. Saturday was his fifth, a stunning achievement. His most recent Champagne winner before Saturday eventually went on to win the Belmont Stakes the following year. Unfortunately for Smarty Jones, Birdstone really liked Belmont Park.

War Pass, who earned an automatic Juvenile berth, will return to Saratoga, train up to the Breeders Cup at the Oklahoma track and van to Monmouth sometime during that week. Runner-up Pyro, also prepared at Oklahoma, finished very strongly late for place. It was the kind of effort that should augur well in three weeks.

We always thought that this was a quality colt thats why I came here to ride him, said Shaun Bridgmohan, who probably would ride anywhere regular patron Steve Asmussen asks him to go.

The winner of the Frizette doesnt gain automatic entrance into the Juvenile Fillies, but try to keep the undefeated Indian Blessing out of it. Not many Grade 1 winners pass up that chance and her early speed should play nicely on the Monmouth strip.

She semi-rated, said Bob Baffert, in way of explaining his fillys trip. Shes very fast and had been training easy. But you never know about the [added] distance until they do it. It looked like Garrett [Gomez] was shutting her down in the stretch, and it made us a little nervous when the crowd began to get excited.

Shut down or not, speed favoring Monmouth or not, final quarter-miles of :27.24 are not going to get it done. She did have an eight length lead with two furlongs remaining but it appeared to us Gomez was riding her to the finish.

The effort of place finisher Backstreet Rhythm was promising in that she was going in the right direction at the wire. A maiden winner on turf at this meet, she switched surfaces for her prep because trainer Pat Reynolds wanted to run her long and there was nothing for her on the dirt.

We went into this hoping shed run well and go on to the Breeders Cup, said Reynolds.

Mission accomplished.

Sunday Holiday finished best of all for third--and that was following a poor start and rally-wide trip into the stretch. It was a good effort and the Breeders Cup is a possibility, said Bill Mott.

* * *

War Pass is not the only undefeated colt moving on to the Breeders Cup off yesterdays prep schedule.

Taking advantage of his preference for Polytrack, Wicked Style parlayed two victories at Arlington Park into a dominating open-lengths victory in the Lanes End Breeders Futurity at Keeneland over Slews Tiznow and Old Man Buck.

The 1-1/16 miles was run in 1:45.21. What that means on Polytrack Im not sure. Well wait for Mr. Fotias to do the math. Visually, however, Rusty Arnolds colt looks like a very promising individual.

Maiden Country Star won the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades for juvenile fillies on Keenelands opening day. Bobby Frankel used a turf prep for the transition to Polytrack and it worked to perfection. The Frank Stronach-owned filly will make her presence felt on Oct,. 27.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Nurture Meets Nature, Finally

When you grow up on the streets of Corona, New York, and betting the races come as naturally as playing stickball and softball in Linden park, you dont later in life become a breeding weenie.

At the time, it was the night sport that first afforded the opportunity to play the races; you didnt pay much attention to pedigree at Roosevelt Raceway--Where It All Began, Where Its A Shopping Mall Today.

It didnt matter much exactly which Hanover horse or what Adios horse won a harness race. Hell, a sub two-minute mile was the huge deal back then.

So, when we discovered the flats, breeding wasnt all that important. The only crosses you knew about back then were lefts and rights, and the occasional uppercut.

But I did note that everything seemed to be by Bold Ruler. Then later, when I started getting paid to live this life, it was Mr. Prospector winning everything important. To his fans, he was Mr. P.

And there was the great Northern Dancer, too. And Danzig. Finally, Storm Cat. You just couldnt help but notice their influence.

In the last decade, pedigree handicapping has become highly fashionable. And you need to keep up if only to know what the crowd is thinking.

But what happened on the racetrack last weekend, given the totally uncanny influence the 15-year-old stud Smart Strike had on the results, is mind boggling to me. Yes, Im aware of the role of the dam in all this.

Crude or not, you could always hear an old-school racetracker describe a debut winner from a classy mare thusly: Sucked good titty.

But last weekend it was all about the sire. I just cant fathom how one stud on one weekend can dominate three disparate Grade 1 races; one at six furlongs, another at a mile and a quarter, both on dirt, and a third at a mile and a half on grass.

Is this the first time this has happened? Who knows? Theres no real clearing house for racing statistics like this that's easily accessible. Some enterprising computer geek might create an Elias Sports Bureau of racing. Another story for another day.

Its no wonder, then, that Smart Strike is the leading progeny earner in the sport this year. His stud fee has tripled to $75,000 in the last three years. Two things are certain: It will cost much more to breed to Smart Strike in 2008. The other?

Hell be represented on Breeders Cup day by at least three horses which, at this early stage, are unlikely worse than third or fourth choice in the Sprint (Fabulous Strike), Turf (English Channel) and Classic (Curlin).

Written by John Pricci

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