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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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Truth Can Be Overrated

ELMONT, NY, June 1, 2011--There’s nothing like a Saturday at the races. I’d like to say the following isn’t true but it is. I have let almost everyone in my life know not to plan events such as barbecues or birthday parties on a Saturday afternoon.

If you do, I’m not likely to be there. I’m not proud of this kind of selfishness, but I’m just trying to shoot straight here. Weighty matters like weddings and funerals were the exception.

I bring this up is because Indulto made a request yesterday in a comment on the post about my first day at a Thoroughbred Race Track; Memorial Day, 1961. It was Kelso against the racing secretary and nine equine rivals. Kelso outclassed them all, per usual.

Wrote Indulto: “Please keep writing these feel-good racing fan stories. We need to remember why we stay with this game.” Well, I remember more. So Indulto, Toyota or not, you asked for it, you got it.

Fellow HRI loyalists Gary Walker, Tobasco (sic) Cat and EasyGoer had similar ideas and thoughts. So I‘m just following everyone’s lead here.

Cat reminded that he wasn’t “as old as [me]” and that a fellow Long Islander and Newsday subscriber “grew up with [my] racing columns and picks. Harness and flats, right?”

Not completely. I pulled double handicapping duty on my first gig with the New York Daily Mirror, a tabloid that made a brief comeback after a lawyer named Bob Farrell noted that the New York Daily News mistakenly let the rights to the Mirror brand name they had purchased to lapse.

Farrell bought the name, put a few investors together, hired a four-man sports staff, a handful of city-side reporters, and some production people. We had some distribution problems with the union drivers. Go figure.

We went to few live events and depended heavily on the reporting of the Associated Press and United Press International wire services. We covered stories on TV, tried to make it work and it did for a while.

The printing was done in what was called “cold type,” a photographic cut and paste process, as opposed to the hot lead of a printing press. Sometimes the print came out smudged, and it didn’t feel like a real paper on some days. But it was the newspaper business, and it was 1971.

I was Newsday’s first Thoroughbred handicapper but harness racing was covered by Tony Sisti, a big, soft spoken hulk of a man who picked more winners at Roosevelt and Yonkers than Russ Harris did in the afternoons. Both were prodigious in the art of picking winners, but between Sisti and me Newsday had the tallest Italian handicapping team in America.

Mark Berner, a friend and Newsday colleague, took a great picture of Kelso the day he was paraded at Belmont Park with Forego. He framed it and gave it to me as a Christmas present. I still have it displayed in my home office. It never fails to make me smile.

I believe Kelso was 26 on that day but when he entered the track, with his neck was arched and slightly up on his toes; no kidding. Had tears in my eyes. Like Jack Buck, I couldn’t believe what I just saw.

The following day, Kelso was vanned back to Mrs. DuPont’s Bohemia Farm in Delaware and two days later he was gone. Apparently, the van ride and the adrenaline surge was too much for even a heart as great as his.

I’d like to think he knew the trip was his last hurrah and that there was nothing left for him in this dimension. The occasion was the 1983 Jockey Club Gold Cup, a race he won five years running when it was contested at two miles, its rightful distance.

And that’s a record that ranks right up there with Woody’s five Belmonts and, like DiMaggio’s 56 straight, it will never be equaled.

I loved Roosevelt’s International Trot, a race that attracted the best diagonally gaited horses from around the world. I’d like to say that I saw the inaugural in 1959. I didn’t but did see the second, won by 9-year-old Hairos II of Germany.

It was my first visit to a racetrack of any kind.

I wish I were there to see the great French trotting mare Jamin win, a female with a fondness for artichokes. Some funny things about that story.

A brilliant publicity agent who had Roosevelt as a client, Joey Goldstein, took out adds in the New York Times asking Americans to help Jamin by sending artichokes to the French mare care of Roosevelt Raceway.

It seems Jamin’s shipment of artichokes was impounded then misplaced at Idlewild Airport by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. She was off her feed and was losing weight. Eventually Jamin got her artichokes and won the mile and a half, the event contested in heats. Roosevelt got 45,000 fans and a great event.

My parents, aunt and uncle took me to Roosevelt for the second running. We were part of a record crowd of 54,861 that saw Hairos beat the Italian trotter Crevalcore, with American favorite Silver Song--which I believe was a Stanley Dancer trainee--checking in third.

The storyline for that race was that the winner’s trainer-driver, Willem Geersen, weighed in at 290 pounds, making him almost three George Sholty’s. The artichokes might have been a stunt but this guy was huge. So, he did the only thing he could. He raced his trotter on the rim throughout, European fashion, and outfinished them all.

I can’t tell you who won the feature at Delaware yesterday but I do remember the names, and the prices, of the first horses I ever bet on.

My father gave me $6, enough for three $2 win bets. I sat in the back of our green and white 1954 four-door Buick Special and stared at the newspaper.

Prophetically, it was a copy of the Daily Mirror and I didn’t take my eyes off the racing page from Corona all the way to Westbury. Naturally, my gaze gravitated to the names of horses in the consensus box typed in bold.

Garnet Queen, a trotter, won and paid $4.90. The pacers Speedy Pick and Count Pick also won, paying 3.20 and 2.90, respectively. I turned my father’s $6 into $11 I could keep. From that day forward, I knew this was an easy game.

The rest of the yarn tomorrow. Bad news can wait another day. No shortage of those kind of stories, either.

Written by John Pricci

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