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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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Daze at the Races

Ever have one of “those days” at the track? If you’ve been in the game long enough, of course you have. Had one of those Saturday; I left Gulfstream an $11 winner. Sorry but no, that’s not better than losing, given the possibilities.

Well, maybe a little better. But I’m an only child with no sister to kiss.

When you walk into a racetrack, a betting parlor, or fire up the computer, the possibilities are infinite. And that’s why we can’t give up this ghost, even though we’re often played like marks and for the countless times that the horses beat you. Check that; you beat yourself.

Of one the greatest sins a horseplayer can commit are those of omission, not commission. If you have a decent opinion, you probably expect to lose about seven of every 10, depending on how your luck is running or however many stupid pills you washed down with your morning coffee.

Good horseplayers beat themselves up, and deservedly so, after committing these crimes of omission. My friend Cary always believed that, but it was a lesson I had already learned, taught to me by a sharpster, a whale who befriended me while I was gigging at Suffolk County OTB.

That was before he lost all his money. He stayed in action by “borrowing” from his mother’s trust fund and wound up in jail. Nothing serious mind you because, when it comes to family, seven figures is a mere bag of shells. So, so long Mercedes, so long gated community, hello bullshit.

I walked into Gulfstream armed with three sets of past performances with Thoro-Graph sheets to match and my video notes, ready to conquer the world. I have no idea why I look at three tracks. I lack the mental bandwidth to do it effectively--even when post drags can be your new BFF.

In truth, Saturday was more like a two-track day. Liked only one horse at Aqueduct; J.J’s Dreaming (6-1). I knew the price would be fair. His TG figures were highly competitive, his pattern healthy. He was back at a flat mile with two-turn conditioning, a favorable outside post; perfect.

But victory was not in the stars. Horoscope figured to be lone speed and was also first-time Rudy Rod. I was hoping that breaking from rail at a flat mile and the fact that he’d been away since April, 2017 was in my favor. What is it they say? Speed is always dangerous?

Beneath Jose Lezcano, Horoscope broke like a rocket and appeared comfortable throughout while under some pressure. My jock, Trevor McCarthy, rode a perfect race, stalking three across, hoping the horse in between would apply more pressure, but he didn’t.

J.J’s Pleasure made a serious challenge at the three-sixteenths pole, was cutting into the leader’s margin, then Horoscope re-broke. It’s hard to catch a fresh leader when he rattles home in 25.08 seconds, clocking a mile in a snappy 1:34.64.

At 7-1, win-place was the proper play: $6.90 to place was good but a $47 exacta would have been better. The idea that this was beatable favorite ($4.90) was wrong, even if the play was high-percentage correct. We turned the page.

I started Keeneland with the third race, skipping the first two claiming races. At Gulfstream, I looked at every race from my balcony perch, hoping that some horse would call to me in the post parade. That was after closed-circuit paddock inspection while I kept the other eye on Keeneland.

Speaking of possible exacta scores, I looked for some “easy money” in the sixth at Keeneland. The odds-on Mike Maker-trained turfer, Love Sick Kitten, looked virtually unbeatable off her last race. There was no reason for her not to duplicate that effort, hence easy money.

Of the four horses I left open with exotics in mind, Nobrag Justfact, who I liked a bit better than the rest, was hanging at around 11-1 from her 5-1 morning line, a clear overlay. It was an easy decision:

Bet Nobrag Justfact to win, an exacta box with the favorite, and trifectas using the other three exotics horses for third; bomber Burning Delight (25-1) and both of Brian Lynch’s uncoupled pair, End of Spirits (10-1) and Teryn It up (6-1). I also used those for second, a chance at a score or to avoid a balcony swan dive should one of them split my exacta.

You know how this ends, right?

Love Sick Kitten (3-5) sat a perfect pocket trip under Jose Ortiz but was as empty as my pockets after the race. I did cash my win bet: ‘Nobrag’ was 11-1 entering the gate, 7-1 at the wire. The Lynch horses ran 2-3, completing a $1 TRI at $582. I made a profit but was sick to my stomach.

With the Keeneland karma having turned, given this result, I decided to concentrate on what was in front of me at Gulfstream.

Maiden fillies entered the paddock for Race 7 and as the camera scanned the area, I caught a glimpse of trainer John Kimmel. Hey, what’s he doing here, isn’t he supposed to be back in New York by now?

Yet, here he was saddling Nightstrings, turning back from two-turn turf route into a dirt sprint—her best game to date. She was sitting up there at 18-1. Her figures weren’t fast but they were forward looking. She had the look of a live price shot.

Nightstrings looked great in the post parade; controlled energy and had underrated Jose Batista in the boot. At the price, a small win play and TRIs were in order:

In the gimmick I used Chad Summers and Jonathan Thomas first-time starters and the best of those that had run, Bonterra and Bulgrats. What, no effing Ralph Nicks first-timers?

What’s the matter? Hasn’t he broken enough maidens on debut? And doesn’t he usually do so with Tyler, who’s had a sensational week and is always aboard a live Nicks newcomer? You know how this ends, too, yes?

Nicks firster Sighted, with Gaffalione up, wins at 9-2. Nightstrings mounts a furious late rally to finish second, 2-1/4 lengths in front of Bonterra. No $13.60 to place; no $1 TRI at $556.50. I poured myself another virgin iced tea, made it a double. Rip, err, turn another page.

Hey, what’s Jim Bond doing here I wondered? Shouldn’t he be back in his palatial private barn in Saratoga by now?

Look at this, 007 has a firster going 1-1/16 on the turf. He made his bones back in the day with debuting three-year-olds at Gulfstream—on the dirt, yet! And Prioritize is owned by longtime client Bill Clifton, and Tizway is a capable first-out sire, and even better as a first-time-turf sire.

Prioritize was 8-1 on the morning line but 18-1 as the horses entered the gate. Nah, the way this day is going, I’m going to guess? No way. Nik Juarez gave him a perfect rail trip: $37.80 to win.

Happy for one of the game’s good guys but unhappy with me, I packed my data and headed down to the paddock for the feature. I figured I’d watch the race in the press office, hard by the exit.

The featured Game Face for 3YO fillies looked like a two-filly affair on paper and they both paddocked well. I couldn’t pick between them. But the crowd didn’t see it the same way and nearing post time Alter Moon was odds-on and Starcloud 9-2. An exacta box was in order.

When Alter Moon missed the break, Eddie Perez wisely quarter-horsed Starcloud to a clear lead and had more than enough in reserve to repel the favorite. The exacta returned a solid $21.80, the profit for the day was $11.

I walked down the horse path toward the exit and leaning against the railing was Jim Bond, who was watching the feature race fillies come back. I greeted him with “here’s a man who has his priorities straight!” We exchanged pleasantries and I asked when he was leaving.

“At 4 am tomorrow. Rita and I and the dogs are getting in the car and driving north,” Bond said, adding with a smile, “We got some shipping money today.” Yes, Jim, I know that.

Me? I can’t wait for this Saturday. Three days later, Toni and I leave for Vegas and we’ll watch and bet the Derby with our friend Paul Cornman. Who knows? Saturday might be my turn to get some shipping money.

Written by John Pricci

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