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, July 14, 2013


NYRA Business as Usual as Saratoga 150 Awaits


ELMONT, NY, July 14, 2013--It’s all over but the waiting. There are no stakes races slated for today’s closing of the Belmont Park spring-summer meet. Saratoga 150 gets underway Friday.

Entries for opening day will be drawn Tuesday and will be taken on a 72-hour basis, a minimum standard that should be made universal at all racetracks.

If racing officials were compelled to bet on races, I digress, tracks probably would be on a 96-hour entry basis; after all, there often isn’t enough time for handicapping several tracks in a brave new simulcasting world.

I had hoped that the upcoming sesquicentennial race meet would be accompanied by changes beneficial to horseplayers and fans of the sport. But that’s not going to happen.

The reason? Consider last year’s Saratoga past performances and recall that fans needed two tin cans and a string to hear Tom Durkin’s race calls--if they were standing in just the right spot, that is. It took several days to get it right.

The association is taking no such chances this time. Last year, the culprit was the installation of High Definition capability, a task that was not given sufficient preparation time to complete on a timely manner.

Taking no chances this year, HRI has learned that the highly anticipated Trakus technology won’t be installed until racing returns to Belmont in the fall, at best.

It’s a massive undertaking that might not be completed until racing returns to Aqueduct.

We haven’t heard anything as to when NYRA will make a low takeout 50-Cent Pick 5 available, a wager that has been exceptionally successful everywhere it’s been launched.

Delaying this process might come down to pending New York State Gaming Board approval.

Don’t know what the politics are now, but when the governing body was called the State Racing and Wagering Board, it always seemed that some form of quid pro quo was required before NYRA initiatives ultimately were approved, even those directly benefiting the state.

I can’t remember the issue specifically, but I do recall that the trade off NYRA needed to acquiesce to was raising the parimutuel takeout. It might have been OTB related but can’t say for certain.

The surmise is that nothing much has changed. And that’s too bad in because Saratoga would have been the perfect venue to launch a first-race, low-cost Pick 5. Bettors from all over the country would come out with bankrolls blazing.

Other changes have occurred more rapidly. On Wednesday, Simulcast Vice President Liz Bracken announced her resignation, leaving the post to teach at the University of Arizona’s Racetrack Industry Program.

Recall that it was Bracken who informed former NYRA President Charles Hayward that the super-exotic takeout rate increase had sunset.

After failing to act on this information, costing bettors upwards of $8 million, Hayward and NYRA legal counsel Patrick Kehoe subsequently were fired.

Hayward is said to be currently working on launching an industry-related website, the nature of which is guarded while negotiations with racing organizations continue. Ashley Harriman recently left the NYRA press office to act as the site‘s webmaster.

Meanwhile, Bracken already has been replaced by Scott Finley, who was named Simulcast Director on Saturday. He will assume those duties beginning August 2 at Saratoga according to sources.

Finley, with a long history in simulcasting, including bringing international signals into the U.S., is eminently qualified and an excellent hire to replace Bracken.

Meanwhile, the Belmont spring-summer meet came to a graded-stakes conclusion on Saturday in Grade 1-style with the renewal of the storied Man o’ War Stakes for grass marathoners.

And so the six-year-old Boisterous finally got his Grade 1 victory. “I’m going to smile on this one because this horse deserves to win a Grade 1,“ said trainer Shug McGaughey. “I’m tickled to death not for me but for the horse.”

“[The race] set up perfect,” said winning rider John Velazquez. “He deserves it.”

Maybe the Test of the Champion didn’t work out all that well for Orb’s connections, but they certainly ended this stand on a high note:

The assumption now is that Orb will rebound to win the Travers, for which he either will prep in the Jim Dandy or train up to the race.

Orb and Boisterous recently had been some R & R at the Fair Hill Training Center; so it’s one down and one to go for the Phipps team. Orb’s task was made somewhat easier after it was learned Normandy Invasion, specifically pointed to Travers, will now miss the race with an injury.

Written by John Pricci

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