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, July 18, 2017

Time for Del Mar and Saratoga Boutique Shopping--and Betting

Are your bags packed? Are you ready to go?

It’s here; boutique meet time, no more waiting. If you live out West, you need to go out and buy a new hat: Tomorrow, Wednesday, is opening day at Del Mar.

For the turf and surf venue, it will be a season like no other. First, they get to feature the Horse of the World on its opening Saturday in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap. Of course, that horse is the planet traveling Arrogate.

The San Diego is, of course, the bridge race to the next month’s G1 Pacific Classic. But what makes Del Mar 2017 so special is that it will host its first ever Breeders’ Cup event on November’s first Saturday.

But if you live east of the Mississippi, the world’s best extended race meet, the one held in Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, begins its storied session on Friday.

Indeed, it’s the time of year in New York when a Scribner gets to reprise that wonderful line written by the late, great Red Smith. “Take the Northway to Exit 14, turn right, and go back a hundred years.”

Actually, it’s more like 154 years since John Morrissey founded the first meeting at the Race Course on Union Avenue, across the street from the present site, just over there in “Oklahoma” somewhere. The year was 1863.

Now, however, let the official ‘Midsummer Derby’ hype machine begin: If all present elite three-year-olds run well in their preps and remain healthy, Travers 148 will be the deepest and most contentious in the modern era.

While we don’t expect to see another blow-your-doors-off sub two-minute clocking, we do expect so see the man who engineered last year’s record breaker to return with a horse named, ironically enough, West Coast. And he might bring a stablemate or two with him.

As I conjure all this, I wonder, does Bob Baffert lose any important races he ships to anymore? This year, it feels like the answer should be a resounding no.

Maybe we’ll get a clue this weekend when Kentucky Oaks and Acorn winning Abel Tasman ships in for the Coaching Club American Oaks.

Apparently, she, like Arrogate, has met Bullet Bob’s personal workout “standards.” Go ahead, you argue with him. I tried to beat West Coast at Los Alamitos. Instead, he won going away despite having to overcome freakishly awful trip dynamics.

As stated here Sunday, and while we anxiously await the passing of the next 72 hours, West Coast will be joining the winners of all three Triple Crown races, along with the Jim Dandy and Haskell winners and prepsters and, highly likely, a Baffert to be named later.

Races for Friday opening program will be drawn today, Tuesday. The past performances for tomorrow’s Del Mar lid lifter have been available for days.

Consequently, I’ve given the traditional opening day feature, the Oceanside Stakes for three year turf milers, a cursory look and have left eight of the 14 entrants open for further review.

In the interests of full disclosure, we’ve come close but never have we divined the winner of the Oceanside: It was only fair for me to admit this. This renewal is a skullbuster. End of disclaimer.

With truly no disrespect to Del Mar intended, on balance the day-to-day fare there is routinely outclassed by its Saratoga brothers and sisters.

Of course, this does not mean that western horses won’t continue to clean eastern clocks when they ship in, simply because the play the game at a much faster pace. Advantage to speed, always; it’s racing’s universal bias, turf notwithstanding.

(We took a little break before we resumed this, returned to the Oceanside PPs and now have whittled the race down to a workable four or five contenders. Per usual, our findings will be posted in Feature Race Analysis).

The Saratoga race meet will get off fast with five graded stakes opening weekend. The traditional Schuylerville for juvenile fillies opens the lid, to be followed closely by the Lake George for three-year-old turf fillies. Both races are Grade 3.

A big field is expected for the latter but it’s most likely that Chad Brown’s Fifty Five and Dale Romans’ Sweeping Paddy will attract the most betting action.

Saturday warriors will also get treated to a graded double bill; the Sanford for juvenile colts, and the Diana, an always coveted Grade 1 prize for turf fillies and mares.

Abel Tasman will be a strong favorite to win Sunday’s Grade 1 Coaching Club Oaks and deservedly so, but perhaps Salty, who showed she might be something special in Florida this winter, will make a good race of it.

Thus far, Salty has been unable to live up to her promise for one reason or another, but if she can finally put it all together for Mark Casse…

We’re planning to visit the Spa from the Whitney through Travers. Can’t wait to get back to the old stomping grounds. Happy handicapping, y’all.

With appreciation for the confidence and support provided by Xpressbet, a loyal HRI advertiser since our launch in 2007, you will be able to hear our analysis of the Saratoga feature race with timely updates and more.

As racing analyst for Rodger Wyland’s Big Board Sports talk show on ESPN radio, 104.5-FM The Team, and WNYT-13, NBC-TV’s Albany affiliate at the 11 pm hour prior to every racing day, we’ll take an in-depth look at that day’s featured event.

The selection will be presented in HRI’s daily Feature Race Analysis, per usual, with an important wrinkle. But you’ll have to stream it to get the play.

Xpressbet has given us a $100 daily bankroll and we’ll be betting it all in that day’s feature; straight wagers and exotics, too.

You can listen live at Our handicapping segment begins promptly at 11:15 a.m. each weekday, dark Tuesdays notwithstanding.

HALLANDALE, FL., July 18, 2017

Written by John Pricci

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