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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Wednesday, April 18, 2012


2012 Hall of Fame: One Man, Seven Votes


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 16, 2012—This year, tax deadline day and Hall of Fame ballot deadline day arrived in a dead heat. Figuring out which exercise was more difficult to deal with was as vexing as the tasks themselves.

The less said about the IRS the better, but figuring the correct way to conduct Thoroughbred Hall of Fame voting is apparently above my pay grade as well.

Since I’ve been voting, decades, several methods were tried and each failed to pass muster for one reason or another. Then why should agreement on the Hall of Fame voting process be different from any other issue facing this industry; 10 people, 10 opinions.

I understand the present system which is inclusionary, not exclusionary. Ten names are proffered, both humans and beasts. Voters are required to vote yes for any, all, or none of the candidates. The four highest vote getters are inducted. In the event of ties, both make the cut.

Like all the other methods, this one, too, is flawed, that’s if, say, four horses make it to the exclusion of any jockeys or trainers. A look at this year’s nominees suggests there is at least one worthy inclusion in each category.

It seems to me that, in years when candidates are all truly viable, at least one horse, trainer, and jockey should represent each category. But that’s just me; an apples to apples thing.

My problem is that if I choose one jockey as being the most worthy, when I believe that two are deserving of the honor, it seems that if I voted for both I’d be penalizing my top choice because the second choice is rated as equal to the first. See the dilemma.

This year’s nominated horses are Ashado, Ghostzapper, Housebuster and Xtra Heat.

The trainers are Roger Attfield and Robert Wheeler.

The riders are a virtual who’s who: Calvin Borel, Garrett Gomez, Alex Solis and John Velazquez.

Now, please, remember, we’re splitting hairs here, so some of our decisions will appear arbitrary. But that’s only because they are. None of above nominees would embarrass the Hall but, like any handicapping practitioner, I have opinions:

I did not vote Yes on Ashado, Ghostbuster and Alex Solis. I know, I know…what the hell is wrong with me?

For Ashado, I’ll blame the system. I’m a big fan Housebuster and Xtra Heat and, for me, a vote for Ashado or Ghostbuster cancels out my support for Housebuster and Xtra Heat.

Ashado compiled a lifetime slate of (21) 12-4-3, seven of those 12 victories Grade 1, with earnings of nearly $4 million. She will gain entry, probably this year but, for me, not at the expense of the old-schoolers.

Ghostzapper is one of the most brilliant horses I’ve ever seen. He was a dominant winner of nine races, four of them Grade 1. But 11 career races is just not enough of a body of work.

Housebuster, meanwhile, brings a (22) 15-3-1 record to the dance and in 1990 had one of the most productive 3-year-old seasons of the modern era, going 9-for-11 with eight graded wins, one of those defeats a neck loss while splitting older rivals, eventual Horse of the Year Criminal Type and Easy Goer, in the famed Met Mile.

Xtra Heat was a remarkably tough sprinting filly, compiling a (35) 26-5-2 lifetime mark, almost unheard of in this Millennium. She faced males on five occasions, winning only the oldest race in America, Keeneland’s Phoenix Stakes, and was third in Dubai’s G1 Golden Shaheen and G1 DeFrancis Dash and was second in Squirtle Squirt’s 2001 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

To me, Calvin Borel, Garrett Gomez and John Velazquez are first ballot Hall of Famers which shows how wrong I can be since they were also on last year’s ballot. Generally, no one gives me grief about Gomez and Velazquez, but people regard Borel as a one-track wonder.

So, in that context, was Pat Day a one-track wonder, too, since both were so dominant at Churchill Downs? Sorry, whatever he does at any Churchill race meet is not the point. Nearly 5,000 career wins and three Kentucky Derbies ends the argument for me.

OK, name another rider--Angel Cordero Jr. and Manuel Ycaza notwithstanding—that might have been able to get Mine That Bird home? The aerial shot of that race alone belongs in the Hall of Fame. I voted for all three, not having seen enough of Alex Solis in his prime to have a comfortable opinion.

I’m tired of voting for Robert Wheeler, a California legend when Charlie Whittingham was still a pup. But I voted for him again, and I voted for Roger Attfield, too, a horseman who needs no introduction.

I fearlessly predict that the four highest vote getters this year will be Ashado, Attfield, Ghostzapper and Velazquez. It’s not like I haven’t been wrong before.

Written by John Pricci

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