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, June 25, 2017


Cheery Bye to Royal Ascot’s Jolly Good Show


It was just past 8:30 a.m. Sunday when I clicked on the keyboard and turned on the NBC Sports Network only to find that Royal Ascot race meet from Berkshire, which I now know is in the English countryside 26 miles west of London, is no more until June, 2018.

For the previous five days, it was, as the saying goes, as much fun as you can have with your clothes on even without America-style past performances and lacking the time to study video--where and if you could find it—but I did come up with a decent attack plan.

Start with high-profile, pointing connections, say the lads of Ballydoyle vs. the Royal Blue of Godolphin--Aidan O’Brien vs. Charlie Appleby et al—scan blue-blooded pedigrees, and horses with an affinity for the course and distance. and proper spacing.

The proper-spacing angle of the handicapping equation was more complex however as the Euros tend to run their horses back more quickly than trainers in the New World. In that case, we looked for a break between the last and penultimate races, etc., etc.

Loyal to Xpressbet who have been loyal to us since HRI’s inception in 2007, I decided my mode of play would be exactas since the ADW was offering a special promotion—winning Ascot exactas at 0% takeout. I wondered how that was possible so I read further.

I didn’t understand the 33% bonus on winning exacta plays minus the 25% takeout-- which we assumed was the track’s cut plus signal fees, et al. Common sense dictates this was the equivalent of an 8% ‘rebate’ but then math never was my best game.

However, I was willing to find out how it would shake out in four days, the first time any bonuses would be paid. Either way, a bunch of three- or four- or five-horse boxes at a $1 minimum was affordable and would keep me in the game starting Tuesday morning.

On opening day I had a provincial interest in Miss Temple City in the Group 1 Queen Anne, and the great Lady Aurelia—yes, even at this early stage—in the G1 King’s Stand. Further, I would bet to see highly touted Euro Churchill in the G1 St. James Palace Stakes.

As it turned out, Miss Temple City has yet to recapture her best form but she may be unsuited by the straight one-mile turf course, as both her G1 wins over U.S. males came rounding two turns. But Lady Aurelia didn’t disappoint. In fact, she raised her game.

With Johnny Velazquez replacing injured Frankie Dettori, Wesley Ward, the Washington Yankee in Queen Elizabeth’s Court who started this whole U.S.-Royal Ascot love affair in 2009, had her set for best, and was she ever!

Johnny just let her bound away from there, settled her into stride, moved her to the center of the course to see competition, started riding in earnest just inside the 2F marker and she rolled away powerfully, missing the course record by .01 of a second.

As for Churchill, we didn’t care for his schedule into the St. James Palace but it wouldn’t have mattered, not after seeing Barney Roy enter the course. He looked like an animated version of the Breeders’ Cup Torrie horse:

Regal in appearance, his creases had creases, he was glowing in HD and had a not-too-high strut to his stuff. ‘Barney’ dug down deep and powered away late to win the Palace with a tad in reserve as he crossed the finish line. Four starts and already two Gr1 wins.

There were so many highlights over the five days: The expected dominance of Godolphin for a bevy of trainers and Ballydoyle under O’Brien’s direction; a great swan song for recently deceased Scat Daddy, one of the most prolific turf sires we’ve seen, who had four winners in five days.

The rating-ride and clearly Race of the Meet had to be the Gr1 Gold Cup. James Doyle’s effort aboard the speedy Big Orange, who will run as fast and as far as they write races, was brilliant, holding off a flying and deserving odds-on favorite, Order Of St. George.

Ryan Moore was the meet’s leading rider, out-nodding William Buick, but Doyle impressed, too, and good to see a couple of Breeders’ Cup vets, Jamie Spencer and Olivier Peslier, use the late-run skills to best advantage. Young Kieran Shoemark shows great promise.

Other big-effort highlights included Le Brivido in the G3 Jersey, amazing Highland Reel in the G1 Prince of Wales; Atty Persse taking a Class 2 Handicap at 1-1/2 miles; the O’Brien pair of Caravaggio and Winter.

Finally, Permian, a grinder type that can sprint away late even at a mile and a half, who the G2 King Edward with authority. Will be looking forward to seeing any or all of these horses at Del Mar come November: It’s not too early to keep Breeders’ Cup stable notes.

As it turned out, I cashed enough winning $1 multi-horse exacta boxes that on Friday morning, a C-note appeared in my account that wasn’t there when I powered down on Thursday night. Cool.

On a personal note, my wife Toni accompanies me everywhere whenever she can, whether it be big race days, taking photos for this website, or on early backstretch mornings for bacon, eggs, coffee and workouts. But betting and watching races on TV, not so much.

But she was with me every morning for virtual Ascot—I beat her for a buck head-to-head when I took the Queen and the color blue for Thursday’s Royal procession—loving all the pomp and circumstance the pre-game had to offer; fashion, color spectacle and the like.

God willing, we will celebrate our 50th anniversary at Royal Ascot in 2019. I spoke with my daughters Friday night, suggesting that they start saving their money now.

Written by John Pricci

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