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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Sunday, November 27, 2016

As Door Closes on 2016 Season, Another Opens Immediately

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, November 27, 2016—If the cornucopia of major races from around the country over this holiday weekend proves anything, it’s twofold:

There is life after the Breeders’ Cup and a new season will be here before you know it.

That would be the opening of the championship meet on Saturday in South Florida and likewise in Southern California the day of Christmas. For now, we’ll begin putting on bow on 2016 with all appropriate pomp and circumstance.

Very soon, an official Eclipse ballots will be mailed to voters electronically and by courier, and when those opinions are assessed 2016’s champions will be crowned after primaries have decided the top three vote-getters in each category.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, a bad thing in the racing business. First, the skinny on the weekend’s races of note and possible future implications. To wit:

Grade 3 Comely: Barclay Tagg, trainer of 20-1 upsetter Verve’s Tale, had it right: “I wasn’t quite sure she was where she should be for these type of horses.” The bettors agreed, hence the price.

The crowd bet Lewis Bay down to 3-5 off a dominating score in the G3 Turnback the Alarm and it appeared that result was going to play itself out once again. But the filly, returning on short rest, tired inside the final sixteenth despite the moderate pace.

“I didn't have much pace to run at,” observed Paco Lopez, who rode the hair off his filly. “In the stretch she gave me a lot.” That she did.

Grade 2 Demoiselle: Paco, Part Dos, only this time he set a reasonably moderate pace instead of chasing one. But much of the credit goes to his willing juvenile partner, Miss Sky Warrior, who also took the G3 Tempted prep for this.

Trainer Kelly Breen thought his filly would appreciate two turns and she did, able to relax early and having enough stamina to kick home, holding off the very determined favorite, Jamyson ‘n Ginger, returning on short rest and a cross-country trip to the Breeders’ Cup.

They will meet each again, very likely at Gulfstream Park this winter, with each outfit planning to get to the Kentucky Oaks the right way. But much can in the interim (E.G. the emergence of Elate; check out yesterday’s fourth race at the Big A).

Grade 2 Remsen: We are well aware that this two-turn nine furlongs has been a negative harbinger of Kentucky Derby form. Counterintuitive but true nonetheless. However, this year might be different because, well, Mo Town rocks!

Deterred by neither a two-month break nor elongated trip, particularly this early in the “prep season,” he used his stamina and bounding stride to great advantage, kicking clear by 2-1/2 lengths beneath an excited Johnny Velazquez who uncharacteristically showed a little emotion at the finish, albeit more of a fist pump than the arm variety.

“He was very good,” the Hall of Famer said. "He got carried wide into the first turn and after that I had to do the dirty job with the horse in front. After that he did everything well. Hopefully, he can come back better as a three-year-old."

No doubt the ability is there, and so is the scope. He will winter at Payson Park, said trainer Tony Dutrow, who’d like to bring him back to New York to get started in the Gotham.

Grade 1 Cigar Mile: Well, it might not have been the Distaff or the Classic, but that was a damn good show put on by the exacta finishers—and a tough beat if you took the price on Divining Rod!

But credit Connect who, like G1 Clark Handicap winner Gun Runner Friday, are two soon-to-be four-year-olds that might have just run their way into the Pegasus and a titanic battle with California Chrome and Arrogate, among others.

Connect was coming off at September 27 layoff, was meeting older horses for the first time and turning back into a hot-paced, one-turn mile. The race didn’t appear to feature a stellar class on paper but may have produced a future superstar.

Runnerup Divining Rod was tremendous. With Daniel Centeno taking advantage of a favorable outside post and the addition of blinkers, they took command at headstretch, opened ground with three-sixteenths remaining, but Connect simply denied him the win.

“He hadn't run since the Pennsylvania Derby. We freshened him a little and there is always a bit of a risk doing that,” Chad Brown explained. “He could be a little short but he had just enough today and got it done at a mile… He really showed a lot of heart.”

Indeed he did, also showing class as he extended his head right at the line to win it; great race.

Grade 2 Golden Rod: When juvenile fillies get together going two turns, it’s fairly commonplace to see the early leader to show the way throughout. [See the Demoiselle].

But to watch Farrell take command of the mile and a sixteenth from an outside slip and widen through the stretch to win by six dominating lengths, that’s another matter entirely.

Favorite Daddys Lil Darling--coming off an excellent fourth in the Juvenile Fillies following her G2 Pocahontas score and second in the G1 Alcibiades--could have been luckier.

“We had a little bit of trouble,” admitted Corey Lanerie, “but with a clean trip, I don’t know if I could catch the winner.”

“Nobody was going to beat Wayne’s [Catalano] filly the way she ran, said trainer Ken McPeek of the runnerup. “She ran huge.”

“The biggest thing was she settled into the turn and on the backside and from there it was going to be tough to catch her” said Channing Hill, who rode the winner for his father-in-law. “She’s going to be tough wherever she goes this winter.”

That will be New Orleans, which also happens to be Daddys Lil Darling’s winter destination.

G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes: One thing became abundantly clear as the juvenile colts reached the finish line: McCraken is for real!

The Ghostzapper colt won it the hard way from 11th of 12 with a strong 5-path sweep to reach contention by headstretch, continuing that acceleration winning with stick down by 1-1/4 lengths with energy in reserve under a confident hand-drive from B J Hernandez.

“He is as good as I thought he was and he handled [the race] well,” trainer Ian Wilkes said, after winning his third graded stakes of the holiday weekend. “They didn’t hand it to him. It wasn’t easy, but he came through for us.”

Runnerup Wild Shot acquitted himself very well, spotting him recent conditioning after not having run since finishing third in Keeneland’s G1 Breeders’ Futurity, October 8.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, November 25, 2016

A Holiday Festivus for the Restovus

Cigar Mile analysis comes via promotional agreement with http://www.123BET.COM. Click here for a handicapping look-in of the other three graded stakes on Aqueduct's HolidayFest program

Race 10 Grade 1 CIGAR MILE 3&UP 1 Mile

2-Economic Model (6-1): Comes up to this nicely off two sharp, graded 7-furlong sprints, showing improvement in both those efforts after adding blinkers. Fresh, has good spacing into this, and stretches to most effective trip to date. Looks set for best go in his second start vs. elders and the first of three Chadsters in the lineup.

7-Connect (5-2): On the sidelines awaiting this since a strong, albeit pluperfect trip, score in the Pa Derby. He turns back to one-turn trip where he was very effective given a similar dynamic back in June. All recent works have been steady and strong and Javier takes the re-ride for Chad, 27% with repeaters and a profitable 28% effective with this type of spacing.

9-Threefiveindia (6-1): Up in class and distance but late developing 3YO has advanced quickly this fall. Game second when compromised by inside trip in 7-furlong Bold Ruler last time, now shifts outside reuniting with winning rider Irad. Suitable pedigree for added trip and Chad a very worthy 32% profitable going sprint to route. Value potential.

1-Anchor Down (2-1): Fastest and most accomplished at today’s trip and skipped the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile awaiting this, preferring the better spacing. Has a worthy (5) 2-1-0 slate in top company at the distance and is reunited with speed ace Jose Ortiz. Looms the speed of the speed but needs alert beginning from the pole.

10-Divining Rod (8-1): Was good second to blowout, loose-on-lead winner Noble Bird in Keeneland’s Lafayette. May be ideally suited shortening up to one-turn mile for super-trainer Delacour, 24% efficient when adding blinkers and a profitable 27% with all 2016 starters. Reunites with Centeno, 2-for-2 aboard this late developing 4YO. Solid price shot.

4-Mylute (30-1):
Finished well after the fact when a fast-finish fourth in 7-furlong Bold Ruler after adding blinkers, showing improved form, and stretches out for Nicks, a profitable 23% when going sprint to route. Cancel has been a favorite local pilot and added today’s furlong suits. Super-exotics factor at a price.

5-Ocean Knight (10-1): Returns at his optimal trip following a tad better-than-even-finish third to Anchor Down in one-turn, one-mile Kelso Handicap last out. Good spacing into this and working well and taking a confident class rise getting a switch to Johnny. Money prospects at early line odds or greater.

For On-the-Record selections, see Saturday's Feature Race Analysis section

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Even in Tough Times, Racing Fans Remain Passionate

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, November 22, 2016—Time might rob Thoroughbred racing of the number of people who love this sport, whether it be for the love of the horse or the love of a buck. Neither is a bad thing, of course.

But no matter what the future might have in store, no amount of time will ever diminish the passion of true fans who follow the game religiously: Zealots, one and all.

Consider, for instance, the amount of coverage and response the notion that Victor Espinoza was somewhat responsible for California Chrome’s defeat at the hooves of Arrogate in the championship defining Breeders’ Cup Classic.

At the end of the day, I’m as big a fan of aggressive reinsmanship as the next horseplayer. Hell, my favorites growing up were Robert Ussery on the Thoroughbred side and George Sholty in the bike behind a standardbred. Neither was shy when it came to flaunting their animal’s speed.

While, arguably, a little more aggression might have enabled Chrome to possibly steal the race, there is no certainty when it comes to knowing whether that’s true.

An earlier show of speed at headstretch might have opened an insurmountable advantage. But that tack might have taken some additional reserves out of 2016’s most accomplished race horse, too.

Arrogate proved to be the best horse on Classic day and might continue to show the kind of brilliance that could one day land him a berth among the sport’s all-time greats. Obviously, he has much to prove on that score.

But Arrogate spotted Chrome a three-length and a couple of horse paths head start, lowered his body with a sixteenth of a mile remaining, lengthened his stride, and went on and grabbed him, Chrome weakening just a tad in the final strides.

A fair question would be how much more money would bettors liked to have risked on Chrome halfway down the backside, or at headstretch, or approaching midstretch? Before the race, I thought Arrogate could pull off the upset. At the eighth pole, I wasn’t sure he would.

After the race, many ‘Chromies’ were willing to hang Espinoza out to dry. Even his fair-minded trainer wondered out loud what might have happened had Espinoza opened a little more ground.

But Art Sherman, class act that he is, insists that Espinoza will retain the mount. And there’s no reason why he shouldn’t.

One knowing glance at Arrogate should be enough to prove this an animal that will not be intimidated and that his natural ability appears limitless. We’ve written this before but it’s worth going out on a limb once more:

Arrogate’s upside remains enormous at this point. His 2015 history-making stablemate was a great horse and went out and proved it every time, even in defeat. But American Pharoah’s dominance disappeared at the finish line once Espinoza geared him down.

When one looks at Arrogate racing through the wire, the sense is that there’s more there, there; I for one can’t keep my eyes off him even after the race is over. Mike Smith says he doesn’t really get tired and it certainly looks that way.

Sometimes it seems that Bob Baffert doesn’t even know what to think about him. His American Pharoah just finished sweeping the newly-minted Grand Slam. How could another horse possibly be better than that?

It’s impossible to believe that the Juddmonte folks, having quite a bit of pocket money after the Classic, would deny California Chrome a rematch and a chance to write a new chapter in racing history in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Invitational.

And that’s something that never could have been conjured up back in mid-August.

Yet here we are, and January 28th will be here before you know it: The almost certain 2016 Horse of the Year vs. the certain 2016 three-year-old champion.

Meaningful three-year-old theater beyond the Triple Crown. That’s certainly novel, and it might even be enough to make a few fans out of sports nerds everywhere.

Written by John Pricci

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