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, June 02, 2007

Ban Hopeless Digger From Entering The Belmont

One day after taking a hit with the defection of Kentucky Derby-winning Street Sense from the Belmont Stakes, the race took another on the chin with the apparent addition of a horse called Digger. Never heard of Digger? Not to worry.

I dont know Larry Roman, Diggers owner and apparently an honorable man. When a horse he owned, an animal by the name of Lawrence The Roman, was sold for big money then performed poorly in a subsequent stakes race at Aqueduct this winter, Roman voided the sale and returned the money. Four decades in this game and that was a first for me.

Now the same Larry Roman recently purchased Digger, a fast horse for $60,000, and because Street Sense is not running in the Belmont, Digger is. Roman believes hes doing the Belmont Stakes a favor by running his new horse.

You couldnt make this up.

In an attempt to boost the Belmont box office or garner publicity for himself, Roman offered the mount on Digger to retired Hall of Fame jockey, Angel Cordero Jr. To paraphrase Cordero, who gracefully declined the ride, at a mile and a half theyd need oxygen to revive me.

Im unclear as to who would need the oxygen more, Cordero, or a lifetime 2-for-8 son of Yonaguska, the sire of many fast sprinters. Sprinters!

Roman also told racing writer David Grening that owner Jim Tafel and trainer Carl Nafzger should be ashamed of themselvesthey dont care about the game.

Lets see if I understand this: Tafel and Nafzger are bad guys for doing what they think is best for their horse and are planning a second-season campaign that could earn Street Sense Horse of the Year honors but Roman is a good guy because hes entering a self-admitted no-hoper with a sprinters pedigree and somehow this is OK for Digger and helps the Belmont and the sport.

No one likes short-field racing, not even in a classic. And getting the trifecta finishers in the first two legs of racings greatest series to return for the Test of the Champion would have been epic, even without the possibility of crowning a Triple Crown winner.

The only intrigue left, with or without the addition of a wonderful filly, Rags to Riches, was whether Hard Spun--suited to the marathon by pedigree and who figures to control the tempo under new rider Garrett Gomez--could gallop Curlin to death and upset the Preakness champion.

But no one will ever know because Lawrence The Romans stated intention is to be on the lead with Digger, and that Hard Spun would need to be going :44 if hes going to go by us in the first four furlongs.

And somehow this is all good for the Belmont and the game and for Digger, to be thrown to the wolves. Let me riddle you something, Mr. Roman. If the hopelessly outclassed horse ever suffered an injury while the whole world was watching, now that would be something from which your game, already reeling, might never recover. Have you given that any thought, sir?

But why take this all seriously, right? Thats why racing doesnt need a commissioner; isn't that right? Because money is almighty and this stopped being a sport the day the music died a long, long time ago.

If the New York stewards had guts, they would stop the madness before Belmont entries are taken Wednesday morning. And then Roman could sue NYRA because this is America and because he can. Then again, he'd have to wait on a long line for a long, long time to collect. Hey, think of it this way. That would be better than someone dropping a dime to the ASPCA, right?

Written by John Pricci

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That’s A Whole Lot Of Crumpets

Even with the defection of Street Sense, next weeks Belmont Stakes is expecting, as of this moment, a field of five.

Be still my heart.

However, there will be no such shortage in the Belmonts British equivalent, todays mile and a half Epsom Derby. No fewer than 18 rivals will line up to challenge the prohibitive favorite, Authorized.

In an apparent effort not to be outdone by Americas Todd Pletcher and his classics quest, the prolific Aidan OBrien will saddle eight runners in todays race and 36-year-old jockey Frankie Dettori will try to ride his first Epsom Derby winner after 14 failed attempts.

The dominance of Authorized and the presence of the redoubtable Dettori aboard has resulted in the colt becoming one of the shortest-priced favorites in the wagering thus far. In fact, a victory by this team would cost British bookmakers over 30 million pounds.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

On Balance It Was Disappointing Holiday Fare

There seems to be an immutable racing law, one that continues to confound both handicappers and fans: The better the race, the slower the pace.

There were two Grade 1 races on Memorial Day, one on each coast, one on each surface. On both occasions the early fractions were a joke. Why slow down fast horses, taking away their best weapon? Why allow the competition to get comfortable, letting them stalk in slow fractions? Thought the idea of speed was to bottom out the competition?

These werent the best renewals of the storied Met Mile and Shoemaker Mile ever run, even if the latter featured a storied nine-year-old West Coast legend who won at a distance short of his best while making his seasons debut.

The Met always has featured fast horses. Running a flat-out sprint for a mile makes the race what it is, for fans and breeders alike. But :23 1/5 for an opening quarter-mile? There was some serious early gas signed on, one a supposed designated pacesetter.

What the hell is the point of running a rabbit for a late-running mate if he doesnt act like one? Did it make any sense whatsoever to apparently rate the overmatched sprinter Mr. Umphrey?

Corinthian got his Grade 1; Sun King did not and probably never will, although hes probably a better horse rounding two turns. Nick Zito should have started Commentator in the Met instead of bringing him back against state-breds sprinters. He would have given this group all it could handle.

Certainly cant make excuses for perfect tripping Lawyer Ron. Todd Pletcher doesnt run short horses and Lawyer Ron was undefeated at the distance before Monday. Corinthian is a talented horse, but he received a holiday gift. He works faster than he had to run (1:34.77).

The fractions in the Shoemaker Mile were :24 and :48. Twenty-four and forty-eight! The Tin Man is a wonderful racehorse; Richard Mandella is amazing when pointing for stakes engagements. But when a filly--even a talented Grade 1 winning filly--goes in :23 4/5 and :47 4/5 at a mile and an eighth in the Gamely on the same card, whats the point in handicapping a race?

Sour grapes? You bet it is!

Written by John Pricci

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