John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com 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 MSNBC.com, 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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Tuesday, April 03, 2018


Championship Numbers


5—Number of Florida Derbies won by trainer Todd Pletcher and Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez:

This comes as a surprise to absolutely no one. Does Pletcher have the numbers and the horses to get the job done? Of course. Does Johnny do most of the riding in these spots? Obviously.

But this is a meet where their talents blend in with the task. Pletcher gets very expensive equine athletes that fits Gulfstream’s speedy track profile; a perfect match.

And, for how long now, a decade? More? Johnny V. is a position-conscious race rider who finds the sweet spot most every time he’s on the right horse—and even when he’s not—filling the vacancy left years ago when Jerry Bailey retired.

15--Number of consecutive training titles won by Pletcher. Again, numbers and quality of numbers. Then, guess what? The horses have to perform with most having targets on their back.

Gulfstream Park is not Saratoga. What is? But it’s a meet that everyone points for. Yes, Pletcher comes for a reason and not for the season—like Chad Brown apparently did this year. Most of his runners never left Palm Meadows’ state-of-the-art stalls.

134--Number of races won by defending jockey champion Luis Saez, an all-time record since the Gulfstream schedule began with the first Saturday in December and ends on the last weekend of March/first weekend of April.

Saez did it by riding for everyone, not simply by being locked in to one or two dominant barns. From the classiest stakes horses to bottom level claimers, his strategy, race riding and strength resulted in more late-driving finishes than anyone.

And a nice young man, too. As stated previously, this number may not be DiMaggio or Woody-like, but it’s hard to conceive it being topped. It took 39 multi-win days, including rolling two sevens and one six-pack. Phenomenal.

6—Number of consecutive owner titles won by Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Not sure anyone enjoys winning—and betting on winners—more than the outspoken Ramsey.

49 9/10—Number in millions of dollars wagered on Florida Derby day. Yes, there were 14 races, equivalent to 1-1/2 old-school race cards. That’s an increase of 63 percent year over year. They print money here.

Most tracks these days schedule 10 or more races each Saturday, although Gulfstream seems to do it any day they can fill a card with good-sized fields. This way, the smaller outfits get to earn, too.

21 1/3—Number of dollars bet in Rainbow 6 pool Florida Derby day. Bettors spent $16 million chasing $5 million worth of “free money.” Both live betting and total Pick 6 pool were both North American records.

21—Number of post-drag minutes--by our count--to handle the Rainbow 6 action between races eight and nine. (BTW: Never heard a single complaint).

When meet figures are released, expected Wednesday, we expect that the handle increase year over year will be approximately 10%, which will be yet another record.

So, despite the “non-championship” fare on many midweek programs, despite the harangue over the post-drag, and despite questionable running times that still occur all too regularly on turf, Gulfstream continues to defy all logic and national trends.

Knock, knock: Who’s there? Nobody, only us players.


Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, March 22, 2018


Great Betting and Good Horses in NOLA Saturday


At once, divining the winner of the Louisiana Derby is as easy or as hard as you make it. The form on the favorites is clear cut and decisive on paper. After that, it's anything goes. A fun race where, if you can fill in the lower tiers, there may be money to be made. Good betting race.

I'm sure Keith Desormeaux has thought this through. Forget the wet for a moment: My Boy Jack (5-2) showed a clear affinity for Oaklawn Park, yet, here he is in NOLA on shorter rest? Does Desormeaux then want more spacing into Louisville? Then again there's the million other reasons; a strong pull: Get it while you can.

That's the only thing that makes some long game sense. Ultimately, he doesn't need to win this but he will if the OP shipper shows up here. Either way, at a short price, no thank you. Having said that, he has a relatively low profile. Ante post 3-1 would be worth a gamble.

Two weeks ago in Tampa, Todd Pletcher's decision to add blinkers to Vino Rosso backfired in, at best, an one-paced fourth. Yet here the blinkers show up on Noble Indy (7-2) today. But this reason I understand:

Noble Indy ran well in spots in the Risen Star here. Showing speed 3-wide and virtually between horses throughout, was surrounded on the turn, finished one-paced but gamely at first blush, but galloped out ahead of the field.

He wants more ground, which he gets, and maybe Pletcher/Velazquez get the sharpness and focus they seek. Sadly, he highly likely will be overbet.

Under normal circumstances, Noble Indy is supposed to benefit from his last race... and chances are that he could move forward substantially. That's why they run races.

We'll have a firm opinion and betting strategy in Saturday's Feature Race Analysis

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Newsday Beaten on Award-Winning Breaking-News Story


Prior to the timelines established below, HorseRaceInsider staffer Mark Berner was working for months on a story that came to fruition in early December 2017: The New York Islanders would be playing its home games in a new arena built on the grounds of Belmont Park.

Berner knew the Islanders could go to the bank, according to several sources, “when the dog and pony show is announced by Empire State Development.” ESD announced on Dec 3 that a listening session would be held on Dec 10, in Elmont.

Newsday was still chasing the story on December 4. https://www.newsday.com/long-island/politics/public-meeting-sunday-on-belmont-park-plans-1.15311800 “The potential to build at Belmont is incredible and the community’s input in this process is vital,” said state Senator Todd Kaminsky. “…We are hosting a listening session so that all bidders can engage with the community and clarify any points,” etc.

Berner, using sources who requested anonymity, had already written his story for HRI for posting on Dec 5: “Belmont Park and Islanders Break New Ground.” http://www.horseraceinsider.com/Inside-New-York/comments/12052017-belmont-park-tradition-breaking-new-ground/

“Empire State Development, New York State’s business development agency, has moved quickly and is ever closer to a decision that will award the bid of the New York Islanders hockey team and its consortium to build a new arena at Belmont Park.

“The Islanders hope to break ground next spring. ‘We have no comment as of now,’ said Kimber Auerbach, Executive Director of Communications of the Islanders.”

Newsday failed to corroborate the HRI story at that time but a sports website, “Fansided,” picked it up but categorized it as a rumor on December 6. https://eyesonisles.com/2017/12/06/new-york-islanders-rumors-say-favored-bidder-belmont/

Wrote Michael Anderson of the Fansided sports blog: “…According to a report from Mark Berner of Horse Race Insider, The New York Islanders might not need to worry about a plan B. Because plan A is rumored to go through.”

Then this: “Empire State Development, New York State’s business development agency, has moved quickly and is ever closer to a decision that will award the bid of the New York Islanders hockey team and its consortium to build a new arena at Belmont Park.

“…I reached out to AKRF to comment on their collaboration with Belmont in relation to the track as well as the RFP winner and they were unable to provide a comment at the time on the matter.

“We were contacted by someone who works at the tracks who corroborated Berner’s claim and indicating that this rumor is in fact true.”

Finally, Newsday was ready to confirm that the “rumors” were true. On December 19, 2017 at 6:05 PM, it published an update to a December 18 story. It read:

“The Islanders are coming home. https://www.newsday.com/sports/hockey/islanders/islanders-new-arena-belmont-park-1.15519161

“The hockey team was informed Tuesday that its proposal to build a new arena at Belmont Park in Elmont was selected as the winning bid, according to people familiar with the situation.

“A news conference is scheduled for Wednesday morning at the racetrack in which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is expected to be on hand.”

Between Berner’s December 5 story until Newsday dropped its award-winning scoop, other sources acknowledged that HRI broke the story.

A Dec. 7 podcast hosted by hockey experts discussed some of the finer details revealed by Berner. https://soundcloud.com/user-331709135/the-puck-doesnt-stop-here

This was after Cable-TV’s News-12 Long Island referenced the HRI story in the aftermath of the breaking Islanders news. Metro.us also referenced the Berner story on Dec. 6, https://www.metro.us/sports/new-york/nhl-rumors-islanders-belmont-deal-verge-completion

This would not even be a “thing” if Newsday sports editor Hank Winnicki wasn’t so cheeky about winning an award for the story, one of several earned by the paper’s talented sports department in 2017:

“The competition is so tough and it’s a great honor to win these prestigious awards. I’m particularly proud that we won three top-10 awards in breaking news. That’s an amazing feat. The awards also show the great work we’re doing across platforms.”

Later, in a Newsday story announcing their awards, it was stated that “Jim Baumbach and Robert Brodsky won in the breaking news category for first reporting that the Islanders’ proposal to build a new arena at Belmont Park in Elmont was selected as the winning bid by Empire State Development.

Some acknowledgment would have been nice, especially for a couple of former Newsday staffers wrote an expose on workouts at New York tracks when competing racing publications were battling for market share. UPI sports editors recognized “Sorry, Wrong Numbers.”

Two questions: Would Newsday, Fansided, or any news gathering agency, be eager to burn any of their deep background sources? And why is it companies demand loyalty but when that debt is turned around, not so much?

Written by John Pricci

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