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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Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Dirt Mile Could Prove Last Chance for Wise Dan to Trump #1 Game On Dude


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, Sept 17, 2013—There’s no question that Wise Dan is a great turf miler, which does not in any way disparage his laudable versatility.

And it doesn’t matter that the Woodbine turf course was unusually glib on Sunday but the 2012 Horse of the Year can really, really run.

The Woodbine Mile was timed in one minute, thirty-one, and seventy-five one hundredths. Yikes! All that while Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez sat still, more passenger than pilot.

Behind him were a couple of nice turf horses, Za Approval and Trade Storm. And while track announcers can deliver eye-rolling calls by ratcheting up excitement in the wake of a great performance, albeit lacking competitive drama, it was a neck-hair raising effort to be sure.

Once again, however, his connections, led by an 83-year-old owner who’s been racing Thoroughbreds for over four decades, refused to take the champion out of his niche, but were rewarded when $579,540 was deposited into Morton Fink’s purse account.

At what point does business become sport and sport become business?

Two years ago I had a cup of coffee as a horse owner. My little claiming filly was a break-even experience during the short time she raced.

As might be surmised, my financial circumstances were much different than Fink’s. But the point here is that there is nothing more exciting in racing than watching your horse race—and win!

And that comes from an owner who, on occasion, had the opportunity to earn more money winning a bet than Dubai’s Connection ever could have earned by winning a race at her level of competition.

There is talk that the gelded Wise Dan could race again in 2014 as a seven-year-old which is a lovely sporting gesture.

But there is a test that doesn’t take Wise Dan out of his comfort zone that’s a little more challenging.

Now no one will ever confuse the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with many of the original events on the Breeders’ Cup program including the Mile on turf.

But at least it’s on dirt, and with the three-year-old Verrazano pointing toward that end-of-year event, this would be a worthy and most interesting test.

Most observers agree that Verrazano would make a top class miler. Wise Dan, proven on all surfaces, is a proven great miler. Verrazano has a speed edge; Wise Dan a battle-tested experience edge. Santa Anita dirt is neutral territory; the weights are at scale. There’s no Game On Dude and no top class European turf miler to contend with.

Verrazano’s trainer Todd Pletcher, while choosing spots wisely, doesn’t back down from a challenge. Pletcher would see the upside immediately.

This would also be a way for Morton Fink to not tackle Game On Dude on his home field, create the kind of buzz that might even upstage the Classic; in short, giving something back to the game.


Is Cigar Mile Incentive Bonus Really Necessary?


Last week, the New York Racing Association announced two purse incentives that, if criteria are met, could double the value of the Grade 1 $500,000 Cigar Mile Handicap.

Under the revised conditions, any previous Grade 1 winner who competes in the Cigar would race for a gross purse of $750,000. Should a winner of any Breeders' Cup race, from any year, compete, that horse would run for a purse of $1 million.

Is it good horsemen’s relations to give the rich incentive to get richer? Can’t a half-million dollar Grade 1 in New York stand on its own?

The purse for the 2012 was $350,000, so it’s already worth $150,000 more.

Last year's Cigar Mile attracted the 2012 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Groupie Doll which, with a victory, might have earned the filly Horse of the Year honors. Credit the Bradleys et al for not only extending their filly's distance capacity in a Grade versus males.

The victory by Stay Thirsty, the second Grade 1 of his career, certainly could not have hurt his stud value. Having been increased significantly, the race already has intrinsic value.

Last year’s renewal attracted a certain sprint champion because their sporting connections wanted a chance to have it all. It turned out to be a stomach-punching nose defeat.

If the association is willing to spend an additional half-million dollars, why not use it to create five restricted stakes at a $100,000 apiece to go along with the four graded events on the program. It would be a card to rival Wood or Belmont or Travers day.

The NYRA then could promote their big 2013 championship-sealing events beginning Breeders’ Cup weekend, early enough before promising good horses begin shipping to warmer climes.

Written by John Pricci

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