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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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Churchill and Keeneland, Rivals No More

Money, money, money, money…money.

As it turns out, when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of the people in the Commonwealth and the perception of leadership both real and imagined, long-time rivals Churchill Downs and Keeneland are willing to put bragging rights aside when it comes to scooping up every betting dollar within its borders by opening two satellite tracks in the Kentucky hinterlands.

Not only would the proposed joint venture add to their respective bottom lines, but it has the added benefit of sticking a dagger into the hearts of both Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs, especially the latter, whose popularity with bettors went through the roof with its recently concluded record-setting boutique meet.

In America, everyone has a right to make a living and Churchill Downs Inc. has a mandated responsibility to grow its revenue as a publicly traded company. Keeneland, meanwhile, for which no one has ever suggested an interest in creating a fund-me page, is pulling out all stops mainly because it can.

And if sticking a knife into the heart of Kentucky Downs, which has basked in the national spotlight this month with its highly popular five-day session of unique turf racing and fan-friendly tax rates, that’s an added bonus.

Now we know the real reason for the outrageous takeout increase slated to begin at the Keeneland Fall meet: A homogeneous, maxed-out, tax-on-horseplayer-winnings that not only puts it in line with what CDI charges but sets the same high-rate table it would charge at the new facilities.

To paraphrase Bukowski, “dividends for all my friends!”

According to a story in the Louisville Courier-Journal, dollars and cents notwithstanding, the joint announcement by two industry giants may have other political ambitions that will apply to the bottom lines of both.

The threat of building new tracks in Corbin and Oak Grove may be meant to “apply pressure to a state commission that has unambiguously discouraged applications for new licenses,” according to the newspaper report.

Either way, the announcement was not well received in Franklin, Ky.

“It makes no sense to put a new track in an existing track’s market,” said Kentucky Downs President Corey Johnsen in a statement released Friday. “We are disappointed in the plans to pursue a racetrack license in Oak Grove… a short drive from Nashville, Kentucky Downs’ primary market.”

Kentucky Horse Racing Commission chairman Frank Kling and vice chairman John Roach stated publicly “we have informed Kentucky’s race tracks that we would not consider any applications for new race track facilities in Kentucky…Despite that communication, Churchill and Keeneland have chosen to submit an application for new facilities.”

The tracks are hoping that officials in the Commonwealth’s government have not yet figured a politically expedient way to wet their beaks and add to the state’s coffers.

No statements from Ellis Park were forthcoming. President Ron Geary was unavailable for comment this weekend despite repeated attempts.

Churchill Opens Road of Kentucky Derby and Oaks

Like election campaigns, it’s never too early to consider the following year’s Classics. And if you don’t think the result of Saturday’s Iroquois Stakes has significance on the first Saturday in May of 2018, consider this:

Lookin at Lee, the longshot runnerup to Derby-winning Always Dreaming this year, made the qualifying-points cut into the race by utilizing every one of the four points he earned with his second-place finish to ill-fated Not This Time in last year’s Iroquois.

The winner of last year’s renewal never made it to the starting gate for trainer Dale Romans, but perhaps Saturday’s Iroquois runnerup, Hollywood Star, also trained by Romans, might make it into the Churchill starting gate in 2018. Surely racing’s fickle gods owe him that much.

Time will measure the quality of Saturday’s money finishers but, on its face, the top three finishers all appear to be nice, promising horses. None of them takes your breath away but thus far each has been honest and has hit hard.

Winning The Tabulator is now 3-for-3 lifetime, including wins on three different surfaces and disparate distances, including an all-weather debut and two-turn score in yesterday’s G3 mile and a sixteenth.

With speed to secure a comfortable attending position after breaking from the outside, he separated himself from his main rivals leaving headstretch and never was seriously threatened for the win. Trainer Larry Rivelli continues his excellent work with ship-ins, this one from Prairie Meadows.

Favored Hollywood Star ran well in defeat, finishing second, as he had in the G2 Saratoga Special, and he cut into the winner’s margin late while going very well through the finish post. It looked like a good progression for him.

Third finisher Ten City made a strong wide rally for third, making a 4-wide turn-move that carried him 6 wide into the lane. He closed resolutely through the stretch to the finish after losing contact with the field in the early running.

Frankly, don’t know what to make of G2 Pocahontas winner Patrona Margarita, but the surmise is that there were several disappointing performances behind her, her three-race experience helped her cause but she clearly has a strong affinity for the Kentucky Oaks surface.

NYRA Goes Cross-Country

We love the new NYRA trend of partnering with tracks across the country, and now across the border to wall-less Canada, when it offered an all-turf Pick five including four graded stakes, one from New York and three from our neighbor to the north, including G1s Native Dancer and Ricoh Mile.

What was particularly attractive yesterday was the 15% takeout and a 20-Cent entrance wager, the exotics minimum at Woodbine. The New York tracks use these bets and their own 15% late Pick Five to promote the NYRABets ADW.

By any measure it was very successful. The handle despite the low buy-in was $307,000, and the 20-Cent payoff was worth $289. Individual prices? How about $2.80, 20.20, 6.70, 3.60 and 4.70. The association is onto something with this wager.

But before anyone gets the idea this was a NYRA original, remember the “Stronach Pick 5” from various tracks a decade or so ago? Maybe that didn’t continue beyond a few years because there was no fractional wagering at that time. Happy that NYRA revived it and looking forward to more.

…And Speaking of The Stronach Group

Enjoyed returning to Gulfstream yesterday. There was some tree damage, the canopied seating area at the top of the stretch was bare and lacking both seats and shade, and the South parking lot was closed; Gulfstream was a Florida Power and Light staging area during Hurricane Irma.

Thankfully, the rest of the grounds and, more importantly, all backstretch personnel and the animals went unscathed. Seven hundred horses shipped north to Palm Meadows from Gulfstream but even those in the Gulfstream and “Calder” barn areas survived without incident.

At Laurel, meanwhile, their Fall Festival program, featuring the G3 DeFrancis Dash won by Chublicious, with 1-2 Whitmore third, had a good day despite stiff competition, booking over $3.7 million in bets.

Written by John Pricci

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