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

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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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Profile May Be Lower But D. Wayne Still Getting It Done

Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas may not have a horse in Saturdays Kentucky Derby but he sure started the Churchill Downs spring meet with a bang, winning Saturdays Derby Trial Stakes by what seemed like a short pole.

The margin of victory of Flying First Class was 3 lengths, but it seemed like a lot more such was the dominant nature of the performance, for which the old ball coach pulled out all the stops.

Lukas has a history of prepping horses in highly graded stakes in which the horses are, by definition, ambitiously placed. In the case of Flying First Class, he raced in two graded routes off a maiden sprint win including an appearance against Curlin. If that doesnt season a three-year-old sufficiently this year, it cant be done.

Seasoning gained and conditioning achieved, next comes the turn-back into a 7 furlong one-turn, elongated sprint against non-graded winners. Flying First Class dominated with his speed from gate to wire, taking on all challenges before drawing out to an insurmountable lead leaving the three-sixteenths pole.

For good measure and to complete the play, Lukas made a late rider switch to Mark Guidry, who is rapidly approaching the 5,000-win milestone and recently announced his intention to retire late this summer. Guidry became available when his original mount, Bwana Bull, was a late scratch. Parenthetically, it would seem Lukas now owes jockey Larry Melancon another live mount.

Of course, Lukas is a great teacher. You might have noticed the added success attained last year by two former protgs, Todd Pletcher and Kiaran McLaughlin. One lesson that Pletcher has learned is imparting, Lukas style, mental toughness and seasoning to his runners.

Witness how Pletcher is training Circular Quay up to the Derby, in company with the gifted filly and heavy Kentucky Oaks favorite, Rags To Riches. She makes him work harder, focus better, get more from the work. With her racing on the inside in their trials, he toughens her up, a win-win.

Pletcher and McLaughlin, trainer of defending Horse of the Year Invasor, and Mark Hennig and Dallas Stewart, among others, have learned their lessons well. Lukas will be remembered best as the trainer of trainers and a man who revolutionized his sport, as in the 80s catch-phrase; D Wayne Off the Plane.

But Wayne Lukas has not forgotten his quarter-horse roots, either. He still knows how to get one ready, point toward an objective, and score.

Written by John Pricci

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