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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Friday, May 16, 2014


All Aboard Chrome Bandwagon…but on the other hoof


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NT, May 16, 2014—When trying to determine how the bettors will react once the Preakness betting windows in advance of 6:18 p.m. Saturday evening, it’s instructive to review historical events.

No, not Preakness history; Kentucky Derby history.

What is interesting to note is that in an online poll of horseplayers pre-Kentucky Derby, the population zeroed in on the three horses that were gaining the most attention at that time: California Chrome, Wicked Strong and Danza.

California Chrome attracted 32% of the responders, believing California Chrome would repeat his Santa Anita Derby effort in Louisville. In odds-speak, 32% translates into 2-1, which was his price until someone(s) plunked a million dollars down on Candy Boy at the last minute. The colt won, of course, returning $7.

Danza attracted 9% of the population, a fact that translated into post time odds of 8.70-1. In bookmaking terms, 9% of the play is 10-1 on the tote board. But this is close enough.

Eight percent of the population believed Wicked Strong would win. That’s 11-1 by definition, but he was more highly fancied by the sharps and went off at 6.50-1.

And this is instructive how?

When the odds-maker announced early line odds of 3-5 on Wednesday evening’s Preakness post draw, there were gasps from those in attendance--not fans but the connections of 10 Preakness horses and assembled media.

That’s an unusually low odds quote for such a high profile event but I surmised the guesstimate would be just right when the horses leave the barrier at Old Hilltop.

If it weren’t for the blister distraction, the odds might even have been lower. A Preakness poll was taken and at the time of the draw, 84% of the responders thought California Chrome would repeat in Baltimore, the pollsters making him closer to 1-5 that 3-5.

Bandwagons fill up fast in this game but they can empty out just as quickly.

On its face, there’s nothing wrong with slip #3 in a 10-horse field at Pimlico, but It could spell trouble for the Derby winner even assuming a clean start which is not a given in his case. Leftover moisture from the two or three inches of rain expected Friday is another bothersome detail.

And then there’s the blister. I do not believe it is anything serious, but I seemed to have displaced my DVM shingle. I will take the connections at their word; if handicappers don’t play the game “honestly” they have less chance to succeed than usual. Conspiracies kill.

But here’s bothersome detail #3. It was there pre-Derby, was treated, disappeared, but now has resurfaced. Stress is not good for any living organism, human or equine.

Horses run through issues every day, the preponderance of those a lot more debilitating than having a tickle in your throat. Yeah, it’s no big deal, but it’s there.

A glycerin mixture will treat the problem, like it did before the Derby. Here’s a tip for the connections: Google Manuka honey.

I made a comment below Tom Jicha’s Preakness post that I will be using California Chrome in a saver role but losing him in my serious wagers. And there’s always the emotional hedge, too. If he wins, it will be much more fun when we do this again on Long Island.

Ride On Curlin’s trip got all the attention in the Derby, deservedly so. But his rider won the Derby thrice doing the exact same thing, and all of a sudden Hall of Famer Calvin Borel is some kind of bum.

As if it was his fault that a horse stopped in his face.

The quasi-hidden tough trip was General A Rod’s, who steadied after racing between horses in the 3-path most of the backstretch run. It wasn’t bad but it happened at a bad time.

He had run in the stretch but his progress was impeded twice, with absolutely nowhere to go in the last 70 yards. Javier rode him great in Florida and he’s back aboard today.

The interesting thing about Kid Cruz, the fact he is the only entrant with a race over the track—a winning one of that—notwithstanding, is that his best figure is competitive with the favorite, and he’s never taken a backward step.

We’ll come up with a Preakness betting strategy in Saturday’s Feature Race Analysis. Please don’t touch that cursor.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014


Local Derby Hero Has Tough Trip Home


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 7, 2014—As most everyone knows by now, a funny thing happened to Wildcat Red on his way back from Kentucky: He got stuck in traffic.

Considering that he lives in South Florida, this, in and of itself, is nothing out of the ordinary. But this happened on the highway, long before he got home.

Not unlike the accident seen on national television Tuesday night when a bridge fire caused a six-mile backup in LA, a bridge was involved in Florida, too, and there was ‘Red’ in his van standing there in the heat with nowhere to run.

Fortunately, the talented colt was in good hands, Larry Kelly’s.
‘Laz’, the nickname ‘Turnpike Kelly’ gave him, aka T.J., properly known as Thomas J. Kelly, Racing Hall of Fame, class of 1993, knows something about horses as his father’s long-time assistant.

Remember Plugged Nickle? Remember Storm and Sunshine Test Stakes fans? Larry helped T.J. develop those runners as top assistant. Striking out on his own, Larry developed stakes winners of his own; Roving Minstrel and Night in Reno, among others.

Well, now, he has his own horse transport company and he picked up Wildcat Red in Louisville on his way back from Arlington Park.

Anyway, when a trooper rolled by, Kelly told the trooper he had a Derby horse in the van and was wondering how long the tie up would be.

“Who is he?” asked the trooper. He was told it was Wildcat Red. “I’ll see what I can do,” the trooper said.

About 20 minutes later, here come more troopers, several members of the local sheriff’s department and firemen, too.

Kelly already had opened the second section of the van to give the colt a little more air which was convenient when the firemen came along with a hose to cool the horse down.

“Who is that?” they asked. “It’s Wildcat Red.”

With that, they went back to their cars, grabbed bottle water, some of them grabbing cameras and they topped off ‘Red’s’ water buckets and took pictures.

“We bet on this guy, he was Florida’s Derby horse.”

The commotion attracted a few dozen motorists who got out of their guys to see what was going on. More photos were taken and highlights of the incident wound up on local TV, Palm Beach County News 25.

The message should be clear. The next time you ship your horse by van, you had better call Kelly. He’ll know what to do.

A Filly In The Preakness?

Not so fast my friends.

If it weren’t for second-guessing, poor Ria Antonia would have no direction at all.

Sprinted in Canada early in her career, she went to Jeremiah Englehart in New York. Englehart prepared the scopey filly to go a distance, giving her a run in the Frizette before shipping to Santa Anita where she finished second by a nose, but elevated to first via disqualification in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Easy-raced in her 3-year-old debut, she finished fourth in the G3 Rachel Alexandra behind behemoth Untapable. But before Englehart could ship her to Santa Anita for the Oaks, owners Ron Paolucci and Christopher Dunn sent her to the barn of Bob Baffert.

Paolucci later said he wanted her on the grounds rather than be shipped from place to place, which seemed a contradiction.

Ria Antonia was a good, albeit even-paced second to Fashion Plate after removing blinkers which were back on for the Kentucky Oaks. The filly finished sixth at Churchill but now will have another new home with Tom Amoss, who trains horses for Paolucci.

Amoss will make the final decision on a Preakness run. Paolucci seems to be thinking about the Preakness as a prep before running her back in the Ohio Derby. Hopefully, events will settle down, sanity will prevail and more realistic goals will be set.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, May 06, 2014


Through a Triple Crown Notebook


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 6, 2014—Of the 18 horses that chased California Chrome home in Derby 140, only one hearty equine soul, Ride On Curlin, was willing to follow the newest California Comet to Baltimore on Sunday morning.

Bet his rivals are starting to align themselves and the entries are sure to grow before entries are taken a week from tomorrow. While he was visually impressive once again, 2:03.66 is going to look slower and slower as time goes by.

At this posting, the probables already include Kid Cruz and Dynamic Impact, winners of the Federico Tesio and Illinois Derby, respectively, Pablo Del Monte, the never-mind Derby AE, and the brilliant Social Inclusion, recent foot issues notwithstanding.

Considering a run at this stage are Tampa Bay Derby winner Ring Weekend, pending an upcoming workout after spiking a fever Derby week; Samraat, no California Chrome, please; Danza, if the owners force Todd Pletcher’s hand, and Derby Trial first finisher Bayern and the filly, Ria Antonia, for new trainer Tom Amoss.*

DERBY-140 RED BOARD, IN REVERSE ORDER:

19-VICAR’S IN TROUBLE Not even the move into slip #2 prevented him from being crushed and eliminated. I’ve decided the inside four positions are no good. The fix: Going back to a single starting gate, but those days are gone forever.

18-WILDCAT RED Hated the surface. That was apparent in his workout at Churchill and he proved that even the tighter race-day surface was not the answer. Deserves his freshening.

17-VINCEREMOS Never truly belonged in the first place; not a good year for Tampa Bay prepsters.

16-HARRY’S HOLIDAY Overmatched, but if the race were moved to Turfway? Still outclassed with these.

15-TAPITURE Peaked too soon, and probably wanted no part of 10 furlongs, anyway.

14-UNCLE SIGH Did he really need a set of blinkers? What was supposed to prevent him from showing too much early speed?

13-CANDY BOY Totally eliminated. I heard an excuse that the mile track and banked turns of Churchill couldn’t prevent Rajiv Maragh from tightening things up curling into the first turn. Wonder what the excuse was in the Belmont Stakes when he made a left into Mucho Macho Man at the start of the 2011 Belmont?

12-INTENSE HOLIDAY Bad trip, bad tactics. If there was a reason he needed to be that close to the pace and five wide down the backstretch, I’m sure I don’t know what it is.

11-GENERAL A ROD Very disappointing effort. Whether or not the blinkers are an issue with him I don’t know for sure, then perhaps neither do his connections.

10-WE MISS ARTIE Mr. Ramsey, you haven’t been wildly successful in this game by running in spots like this. You should have listened to your trainer and analyzed his final workout more closely.

9-CHITU His finish position probably was what was to be reasonably expected given his inexperience and running style. I’m sure the seedy toe didn’t help; neither did the mile and a quarter.

8-MEDAL COUNT Had the stoutest pedigree of the group and probably can handle the dirt. Looked great physically but recent racing schedule was a lot to overcome.

7-RIDE ON CURLIN Of those not totally eliminated, he probably finished in a dead-heat with Danza for the worst trip; stopped twice before angling out impossibly wide into the lane. Calvin got the Preakness boot in favor of Joel Rosario. But what was Borel supposed to do with horses stopping in my face?

6-DANCE WITH FATE Was a very pleasant dirt surprise, especially for a horse running in a race not originally on his dance card. He could turn out to be a top second-season sophomore.

5-SAMRAAT Ran very well. Had little choice but to race outside in the clear, gearing up four across the track on the turn, giving the winner a scare for about three jumps into the straight. But he’s going to have to learn changing leads if he wants to win a big one.

4-WICKED STRONG In some ways was more impressive than his Wood Memorial victory. He overcame crowd skittishness, a stumbling start, the regression pattern and stretch blockage in a lights out performance. Grinder type well suited to the Belmont Stakes dynamic.

3-DANZA Showed amazing courage. Was bumped as hard as any horse ever in the opening furlong, was steadied awaiting room in upper stretch, was bumped again—his bad, this time—then finished very professionally for such an inexperienced runner.

2-COMMANDING CURVE His Louisiana Derby 3rd was a promise of things to come. Had clear sailing, yes, but was very wide and finished better than anyone in the field. Good work by Dallas Stewart--with his Oaks filly, too.

1-CALIFORNIA CHROME Brilliance, high class, and a freakish love of running is what separates the good from the great race horse. On his way to showing he could be one of the ones. When he leaves the barrier on time, he makes his own perfect trip. But nobody’s going to hand him a Woodlawn Vase just for showing up.

NATIONAL HANDLE TRENDING DOWN, AGAIN

Despite a strong final round of serious Derby preps and moderating, albeit not great, weather, betting handle slipped a significant 6.07 percent in April, and has fallen to 3.08 percent year over year.

While the number of races has declined 2.07 percent compared to 2013, handle for the year stands at $3.370 billion, compared to $3.477 billion one year ago.

THE LONGEST DAY

The live, 12-race Belmont Park program on Kentucky Derby Saturday began at noon and ended at 7:38 p.m.

No wonder the morale of New York Racing Association workers is at an all-time low.

The day’s sixth race went off at 2:54 p.m., reasonable enough. A race day at Belmont always is a bit longer because of its size, taking more back-and-forth time to go from barn area to paddock, for jockeys to weigh in, change silks, walk to back to the paddock for the next race, etc., etc.

Besides, the day should be relaxed at “the American Longchamp.” But this was a day when on-track “guests” should have been treated to a hammock giveaway.

Post times from races 6 to 7; 7 to 8; 8 to 9 and 9 to 10 were 43 minutes, 47, 43 and 45, respectively. The 11th race, which followed the Derby simulcast, came one hour and 14 minutes after Belmont’s 10th. The finale came 34 minutes later.

The Derby day attendance at Belmont Park was good at 9,609. I wonder how many Derby Day newcomers returned Sunday when there were 3,071 paying customers in the house?

ROCK THE TOTE

In the last five minutes of Derby wagering, keen observer Vinman noted that the odds on Commanding Curve rose from 31-1 to 35-1; Harry’s Holiday from 38 to 41; Uncle Sigh from 26-29; We Miss Artie from 22 to 26 and, in the last minute or so, California Chrome from 2-1 to 5-2.

While those odds were rising, Candy Boy held firm at 16-1. But in the very final flash, Candy Boy closed at 9.40-1. I would have taken more than a million dollars to put the Kentucky Derby tote board on tilt.

That indicates that one syndicate or individual raised batch betting to a new level. So, California Chrome fans, enjoy your $7 mutuel.

*updated May 7


Written by John Pricci

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