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, June 06, 2017

When Testing a Champion, Everything Matters

One day after these thumbnail sketches were posted, it was learned that Classic Empire has had a re-occurrence after the foot abscess that hampered him in Florida this winter. Consequently, he has been declared from the Belmont Stakes. Hopefully for all concerned, this turns out to be a mid-season blessing. No easy game, this...

The first big handicapping lie I can remember with respect to the Belmont Stakes is that at a mile and a half, post positions don’t matter.

My position, regardless of surface, distance, configuration—whatever the parameters may be—is that post positions always matter. Post positions determine tactics and tactics determine race shape. Period.

So, as we await the pulling of the pills for Saturday’s "Test of the Champion,"--to be streamed live at noon Wednesday at and the NYRA Now app, including the Met Mile and Woodford Reserve Turf--here are profiles of the expected entrants as of mid-afternoon Tuesday.

Horses listed alphabetically:


EPICHARIS: His head defeat to Derby jumping-jack Thunder Snow [subsequently a very good 2nd in Epsom Derby] stands between this grandson of Sunday Silence and an undefeated five-race career. A tactical speedster with a very stout pedigree, he looks seasoned enough to handle the demands of the Champion’s Test. Has appeared quite handy in morning jogs and gallops. Legitimate dark horse has targeted this for some time.

GORMLEY: Needs to put it together once and for all. Never had a chance in rough house Derby, not to mention breaking from slip #18 on the inside-speedy sloppy strip. Owns solid pedigree for the route and another with a nice blend of galloping speed and heart, as was demonstrated when chasing the Santa Anita Derby’s hot pace then sticking it out for the win. Has worked thrice since the Derby, increasing the tempo and distance coming up to Saturday’s marathon.

HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME: Even today, $200K for offspring of a new unproven sire is a sizable some, so his name might be well earned. And his form is better than it appears on paper, benefiting from class tests in Louisiana and Illinois. He overcame a slow pace to win a recent Churchill allowances, has worked crisply since, and Dallas Stewart has several examples of horses outrunning huge odds in big spots. But this is a giant leap for a horse whose breeding line is dubious at the trip.

IRISH WAR CRY: We applaud Graham Motion’s decision to enter after the Curlin chestnut “told” him to do so. He regressed badly off a lifetime best effort in the Holy Bull and bounced again off a huge Thoro-Graph top in the Wood, going from serious contender entering the Churchill far turn to empty entering the stretch. Had two in-reserve stamina builders at Fair Hill base, his 1:14 six-furlong company breeze Sunday the convincer. Rates among division’s very best.

J BOYS ECHO: His Gotham was a coming out party, a career best in which he beat subsequent Preakness-winning Cloud Computing by a comprehensive 3-1/2 lengths. Following his New York run came rough trips in both the Blue Grass and Derby, especially the latter. It didn’t take long before Dale Romans jumped off the fence and into the Belmont with both feet. His recent five furlong breeze was his best work ever, Romans said. Has the right style and pedigree for the job; improvement expected.

LOOKIN AT LEE: We understand that he hasn’t finished first since the Ellis Park Juvenile, but since stretching to two turns we’ve never seen him give a poor effort; in fact, to the contrary. A last-run finisher, he sprints home late regardless of pace, distance or surface, showing an affinity for two-turn racing against the division’s best. Half-mile blowout Sunday was excellent, finishing up as if it were a spirited gallop. Steve Asmussen reunites 2016 Belmont-winning team, tapping Irad Ortiz Jr. Pedigree won’t stop him.

MEANTIME: Cannot be too quick to dismiss a horse due to having only four career starts. After a second to Patch in a Gulfstream flat-mile debut, he turned back to finish third to highly promising sprinter Time To Travel before breaking maiden by 7-1/2 lengths in a nine-furlong, two-turn debut. Finished second to undefeated Timeline in the Peter Pan, the traditional local prep. He’s the only runner with a recent race over the track. Solid five furlongs Saturday convinced Brian Lynch to take a shot. ‘Money Mike’ Smith lands here!

MULTIPLIER: Love his progress into this as he shunned the Derby on short rest after his breakthrough Illinois Derby to run in Baltimore, showing lots of determination by beating half the field despite impeded stretch progress--after first altering course at headstretch--a better-than-it-appears running line. Peaking for Brendan Walsh who said the colt is a difficult ride and that Joel Rosario will benefit from his recent Preakness experience.

PATCH: Didn’t get enough credit for his Louisiana Derby placing as a third-time starter. Blind in his left eye, he broke from post 20 on Churchill’s sloppy, inside strip. After getting sloughed at headstretch, beating six horses was some kind of miracle. Recent company work impressed favorably and pedigree is among fields’ stoutest. Agree with Mr. Pletcher that his grinding style suits the task and the colt reunites with Johnny, aboard for lone win. Being lightly raced is a concern, but 12 furlongs often is a great equalizer.

Entered the Preakness having won three of his last four then finished boldly down the center of the strip to finish third. The fact that everyone saw it might result in a lower price than reality dictates—he was 11-1 when he won the Lexington and 31-1 in Baltimore. Stamina exists on the bottom side of his pedigree and all siblings are winners--and not necessarily early developers, so there are things to like. Does added ground mitigate his late burst? We’ll find out in four days.

TAPWRIT: Right up there with Classic Empire in suffering through horrendous trip at Churchill. How he managed to rally as well as he did to finish ahead of 14 rivals is a credit to his talent and tenacity—and he probably got nothing out of his Blue Grass. When I think about how this race might be run, I recall the bold sweep he made on the turn at Tampa and maintained his momentum to the finish, albeit at 1-1/16 miles. That gives him Belmont style. Has worked thrice since the Derby; intriguing player.

TWISTED TOM: Think Chad Brown got lucky in Baltimore with a horse who sat a garden pocket trip to win his first classic? Maybe so, but that luck was in our view the residue of design: He passed the Derby in favor of the Preakness with Cloud Computing and he’s skipping the Belmont with that one because of 12-furlong doubts--and he's been dying to run Twisted Tom a mile and a half. Undefeated in three starts since adding blinkers, he worked a strong five-eighths Saturday and gets first-time Javier. Ignore at your peril.

Written by John Pricci

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