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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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Committees Decision To Deny Grade 1 Status Disingenuous

Americas graded stakes committee, in charge of America's Graded Stakes Committee, whose job it is to separate the stakes wheat from the chaff, this week denied the three new Breeders Cup races Grade 1 status. Expected? Yes. Disappointing? Of course. Striking a blow for tradition? Whoa, not so fast!

Without question, the GSC followed precedent by not assigning a grade; according to guideline, a race must exist for a minimum of two years. But when Breeders Cup debuted in 1984 all races were Grade 1, again when the Filly & Mare Turf was instituted 15 years later. All Breeders Cup were anticipated to be of world class. That assessment proved resoundingly correct.

No one argues that the new Filly & Mare Sprint deserves instant Grade 1 status for reasons obvious to even the most casual fan. But when Breeders Cup officials made their presentation, they took an all-or-nothing-at-all posture. After all, no event calling itself world championship wants any race to be regarded as less-than.

So, a dirt miler doesnt have a formal Eclipse category? But until that becomes a reality, cant Americas best miler be a sprint or handicap champion, even Horse of the Year? The answer: highly unusual but, of course, it could. The Juvenile Turf superfluous and meaningless? Wasnt turf specialist Wait A While the open three-year-old filly champion of 2006?

This is horse racing. Eclipse Award voters dont follow hard, fast rules because there arent any. Anything can happen and often does.

This does not denigrate the committees decision in this matter but grades have been changed in the past for less, more as a function of power politics and geography. After that, the game is to follow the money. Too many graded stakes exist already. But then there wouldnt be all that black type cluttering up the pages of a sales catalogue.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

American Broadcasters Should Be So Lucky

As HorseRaceInsider contributing staffer Vic Zast pointed out in a recent blog, American horseplayers have little or no interest in steeplechasing. In Great Britain, however, horses not only are a way of life but horse racing is considered a major sport. And no more so than in the coverage of the rough-and-tumble Grand National Steeplechase.

As a young boy, I caught my first glimpse of the Grand National in a movie theater news reel between feature films. (Yes, boys and girls, there was a time you could get two first run movies, albeit one of B-movie status, not unlike on the flip side of a 33 rpm vinyl record. Indeed, back in the day thered be two features, a news reel and, at Saturday matinees, a Tom and Jerry or Felix the Cat cartoon). But I digress.

In the last three years, the Kentucky Derby, a.k.a. Americas Race, has drawn television ratings of 7-plus with roughly a 15 share. Would you believe last Saturdays Grand National attracted a 66.5% share? That means two of every three television sets in use were tuned into the great horse race.

This week, the British media have been discussing the possibility of moving post time back 45 minutes, to 5 PM, thereby attracting more Saturday viewers. But that decision is not the no-brainer you might infer.

The Grand National is seen live in 140 countries with a potential reach of 600 million viewers. The fear is that the later post time would adversely effect the huge Asian market by airing too late.

Theres been no hint of how this issue might get resolved. Eventually, interested parties would do well to follow the money. In any event, it's a nice problem to have.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pletcher Taps America’s Best Jockeys For First Derby Win

Its only been two years since a trainer started five horses in the Kentucky Derby. But the best a Nick Zito-trained runner could muster was a seventh-place finish. The only other trainer to start as many as five was Darrell Wayne Lukas 11 years ago. One of them, Grindstone, won it.

Interesting that Lukass protg, Todd Pletcher, whos never won a classic, will run five in Derby 133 and might even have a sixth starter if Soaring By wins Saturdays Lexington impressively. But even if he doesnt, Pletchers not backing away from his position. Id have to say with three weeks remaining that were holding our strongest hand ever.

Ya think?

Know this much: Pletcher recently named the five jockeys that will partner his Derby starters. Four of them, arguably, are Americas best. The other, at 19, exploded onto the stakes scene last year and has become the regular rider of defending Horse of the Year champion, Invasor.

And so Garrett Gomez will ride quick-footed Any Given Saturday. Eclipse-winning Edgar Prado, who won the Florida Derby on Scat Daddy, retains the mount. Pletchers first-call rider, Johnny Velazquez, sticks with Circular Quay, widely perceived as the best of Pletcher's quints. Ramon Dominguez guides the Derby fortunes of long-winded Sam P. and Fernando Jara re-rides Illinois Derby-winning Coaltown Cat.

Now if only the five were coupled in the wagering handicapping this Derby would be easy. But what fun would that be? Degree of difficulty for both horse and handicapper is what the Kentucky Derbys all about.

Written by John Pricci

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