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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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Sunday, April 15, 2012


Sorry, No Tailgaiting


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 15, 2012--The events both before, during and after Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland certainly must have had Dr. Kendall Hansen, owner of his family’s namesake, feeling, well, a little blue.

Good taste notwithstanding, I get don’t get the rule against altering a horse’s outside appearance. Altering what’s happening inside a horse seems to have more relevance, don’t you think?

So, is it because these herd animals would be so transfixed staring at a rival leader’s hind-end that it won’t keep its mind on its own business?

But there must be something to this appearance thing since it’s the rule in most racing states. However, this incident could have been more than just a quaint distraction.

Remember when so much was made regarding the use of a pre-race detention barn, that upsetting a horse’s normal routine could adversely affect performance?

Well, before noon on Saturday, Hansen had his near white tail colored blue but after the Keeneland stewards got wind of it, they made it known they wouldn’t buying any of Dr. Hansen’s tail spin.

It is good that any proceeds gained from Hansen’s unique appearance would have gone to charity, and the notion that young children might get interested in the sport because of this cool, white horse with a blue tail also is well intentioned. Arguments that if the Keeneland stewards made an exception, creating some Pandora’s coloring box in the future, made sense, too. Besides, no one person should be bigger than the game.

But the fact that the NYRA stewards, and those at Turfway Park, failed to allow it, and that Dr. Hansen was advised not to do so but had the tail colored Saturday morning anyway, could have resulted in a formal hearing and a fine. Fearing that his horse might be ordered scratched, the blue tail was restored to its natural color.

Trainer Mike Maker, whose horses, Hansen and Gung Ho, finished second and third, respectively, did not sound especially pleased by the events of the afternoon, telling the Louisville Courier-Journal after the race:

“My job is to bring the horse over ready for the race and I did my job,” adding that the effect on the horse was “probably minor.” Then Maker said this:

“It wasn’t something that you wanted, to keep going in [the stall] and aggravating the horse. And that’s what happened. You want him to get out and do his job and leave him alone. But that’s just me.”

Would Dullahan have run Hansen down anyway, given the strong Polytrack fractions set by the eventual runnerup? More than likely.

But you would hope that any 6-5 Blue Grass favorite would have a quiet afternoon before running in its final Derby prep. And Hansen’s afternoon apparently was anything but routine.

Records the Residue of Design

Apparently the pre-Blue Grass hoopla worked as Keeneland set attendance and handle records. The 40,617 in attendance were nearly 7,000 more than the previous record set in 2007. All-sources wagering of $21,647,378.17 was nearly $2.5 million higher than the former mark. Big numbers.

“We are fortunate to have the greatest fan base in the world and they came out in droves to enjoy the high-quality racing,” said Keeneland President and CEO, Nick Nicholson. “We want to thank everyone who helped make this day special.”

Nicholson should thank his executives and himself, too. A few decades ago, the track was so staid and uppity that they thought having someone call the races there was so bourgeois. Then along came simulcasting and competition for the affections of bettors.

Keeneland embraced the challenge and the horseplayers. First came someone to call the races, then the institution some of the friendliest takeout rates in the country, broadcasting in high definition, Trakus, fractional betting in multi-race pools and exotics and, this year, for the first time on any American racetrack, fractional wagers in every pool on track.

Keeneland tries harder and their customers obviously appreciate it. The only change the betting public didn’t appreciate was the installation of a synthetic racetrack that produced results so random that the best boutique race meet in the United States was falling out of favor. It got so that horseplayers would look at turf races only and eschew Polytrack events.

But rather than change back to conventional dirt, they tried to help the player instead. In addition to the usual handicapping information tracks provide bettors, they went further. They established a database dedicated to Polytrack handicapping and provide a Trakus ground loss system that converts wide trips into lengths, bringing some science to the art of trip handicapping.

Wind measurements are precise, including data on average speed, gusts and direction in degrees, the amount of rainfall in the last 15 minutes, and precise track maintenance schedules. From the Keeneland’s website on Sunday:

“The Gallop Master will be used once after training with the tines set at 4, and once with the tines set at 3.5 inches. It will be used again after races 2, 3, 5, 7, and 8 with the tines set at 3.5 inches. The grass height is 5.5 inches and the rail is down,” etc, etc.

Good product and customer service; that's the bottom line.

Written by John Pricci

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