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, November 07, 2017

A WINNING HORSEPLAYER’S THREE KEYS: Education, Effort, Effective Money Management

The following was culled from a thread recently posted by a member of the HRI Faithful, Dennis McDonald:

“I was actually getting tired of watching [Breeders' Cup]. So many races. I didn’t cash a ticket for two days until the finish of the Classic was posted official. I ended up catching both days’ doubles and making a hundred-plus when all was said and done.

“I had the exacta picked cold in race 11 (even written down), as well as the 10-cent super box but never placed either bet. My losses were piling up at that point and I opted for a few late doubles keying on Talismanic instead.

“I’m thinking the 10-cent super box in race 11 paid like $250 for a dime. Crazy game. I got my butt kicked for two days but found a door out at the very end of the card. Lucky and glad it is over. Exhausted.”

From one professional handicapper’s frame of reference, this generally is what the game is all about, especially when applied to the Breeders’ Cup betting concept en toto. Many times, in fact, this is exactly what happens.

In order to do well, of course, you must be right when it really counts. And the results of the Turf certainly qualifies as being right when it mattered most to McDonald.

The straight payout of $30.20 on Talismanic was generous for a live price shot, especially considering the team of legendary horseman Andre Fabre and Mickael Barzalona, ranked outside the U.S. as the world’s best rider.

Add freshness and the #1 post position and the risk was totally mitigated by the possible reward. In context—and TJ will back me on this as he read a hard copy of my Tote Busters Pick 4 analysis—the $259.20 Dime Super was a gift.

But don’t feel badly, Dennis. I didn’t have it either. I did not make a conscious decision not to play it as you did but you made the right decision given your bankroll limitations: Always protect your stake.

Personally, I increase my loss tolerance on these big days because money-making opportunities abound. I designate a fixed amount per race so that I won’t "get caught in the switches,” as they say.

The reason why I didn’t have the Super was loss of focus, a factor that beats me more than any other in this game. I’m well aware that it exists but, alas, we’re only human. Of course, as a veteran horseplayer, I never run out of excuses:

When the amateurishly handled Bolt d’Oro was defeated, I lost three solid price-shot contenders from my Pick 4 ticket in the Turf: Talismanic, Decorated Knight and Sadler’s Joy. The first two horses were upgraded and added to the mix after Ulysses was scratched.

On my only backup ticket behind the Bolt d’Oro single were Good Magic and Solomini, the eventual 1-2 finishers in the Juvenile. But my prime Pick 4 was left with only Beach Patrol and Highland Reel for Turf coverage.

I did have the presence of mind to “save” the live Pick 4 by using the three horses I lost when Bolt d’Oro was defeated in rolling doubles with Arrogate, Gun Runner and West Coast, extra tickets with Gun Runner. (The Turf-Classic double returned a worthy $104 per 2 ticket).

However, I never gave the Turf superfecta a thought. Routinely, my Dime play would have been to key firm-loving Sadler’s Joy--3-for-5 at 12 furlongs and a “win-and-in” starter who used the Joe Hirsch as strictly a bridge race.

One doesn’t realize many $259 returns on an investment of $9.60. Focus!

With respect to bankrolls, especially on Breeders' Cup days when interest and payouts skew higher, players should write out basic plays for every race, add up the total and see what’s left for real-time mixing and matching.

As Denny suggested in one of his threads, straight win betting is the best way to go. There’s no getting caught in the switches. Just set your personal odds line for each race—no underlays, please—and bet to win only.

But the modern game generally is not played this way. Today’s horseplayers are in many pools simultaneously and if your “knowledge” is superior and bankroll is adequate, you can take advantage of the crowd, even the most sophisticated opinions.

Of course, at some point you’ll hear some know-it-all wiseguy say “straight win betting is boring.” While it’s true that win betting is not as sexy as taking heavily promoted Pick 4-5-6 moonshots, there is a fail-safe tonic for win-bet tedium: Make bigger bets.

Early Election Day Results

The following is what one NTRA Poll ballot looked like when e-mailed Monday morning:

8. ROY H

The following is the final tally from 40 National Turf Writers and Broadcasters who voted in the final poll of 2017:

1 GUN RUNNER (unanimous)

Written by John Pricci

Comments (20)


Tuesday, October 31, 2017


If you watch workouts on the new TGS network, XBTV, some clichés just come to life. Good horses work good and most look good doing it. Some trainers start works from different poles, some preferring horses to gallop out on the their own after the first furlongs beyond the finish line.

Other, like Bob Baffert, want more. He wants strong energy gallop outs, so that some of his five or six furlong works are more like seven-eighths or one mile. Chad Brown, like Tood Pletcher, try to do almost all works in company, making those matchups important.

All this is, of course, fascinating to handicappers. Watching well-shot video is in many ways clocking horses live from a press box but is, of course, easier. You’re focused on one horse where a team of clockers are catching what they can when there are 50 or 60 horses on the track.

They have to know the habits of trainers, what they want, or even the weight of the exercise riders. Most riders are probably in the 130-140 pound range; jockeys 115-120; former rider turned exercise legend Tammy Fox is probably 100 pounds soaking wet.

Workouts, good and bad, are in the eye of the beholder, and it helps to know the horse in question. Generally, is it a generous work horse, or one that has to be asked for its best? Is the workout intended to be for needed fitness or sharpness?

Watching works is part of my Breeders’ Cup preparation for the Tote Busters© Late Pick 4 prodct that we sell and for my own wagering come NOV 3 and 4.

It doesn’t become the be-all and end-all, but it breaks an awful lot of ties, often turning “leans” into strong plays. Mubtaahhij was a recent example of this as he prepared for the Awesome Again, which he won at 3-1. He was the “other Baffert” on the day.

Anyway, below are my impressions through Sunday and the list is far from complete; real life often gets in the way. The times stated are “official” published workouts, the observations are mine. Credit to colleague Mark Berner for Gun Runner’s mile gallop-out after working 6 furlongs in 1:11.80 on OCT 23.

Works are listed in chronological order. Miss dates are missing or may be incorrect, albeit by a day or two either way. Hope this helps:

ARROGATE 9/23: Had some energy but not same monster gallop out pre-Dubai, but head was down aardvark-like on the backside, which is him. 10/10: Improved energy but still lacking that great extension galloping out. 10/16: Pressed workmate in hand, much better extension but not quite all the way back. 10/23: 7F in 1:25.40, showed good energy, needed prompting late but with another improved gallop out…
MOR SPIRIT (reportedly poor worker) 10/22: Went OK but needed to be asked to finish and gallop out, only oout half-way up backstretch. 10/23: Much better this time, asked on outside going head to head from gate in 1:13…
MOONSHINE MEMORIES 10/10: 48.40 easy 4F, never asked, rider straight up, galloped out well still going easily. 10/29: 47.20, great lead change, finished strongly not asked, rider standing up throughout, excellent blowout…
DREFONG 10/9: Much best in company, never asked, good extension on gallop out. 10/16: Company with Mor Spirit, restrained speed head to head on inside throughout, handily held lead, 1:12 1/5 from gate [Mor Spirit, driving, couldn’t keop pace]. When Mor Spirit asked on gallop out Drefong re-engaged on own, wouldn’t let him by. 10/23: 4F in 46.80, a motorcycle…!
STELLAR WIND 10/14: Broke off five lengths behind mate, asked on turn, ridden out at finish, good extention but under urging. 10/29: Typical work for her, but was in drive to finish up…
CHAMPAGNE ROOM 10/13: Broke sharply from pole! Effortless stride turn, good energy showing speed throughout… 10/27 5F in 59.60 never asked, almost in a gallop!
ABEL TASMAN: 10/9: 48.60, in 3-4 path throughout work [by design?] had good energy striding out well at finish, no gallop out [also by design?] 10/27 finished up nicely at wire but with prompting…
UNIQUE BELLA 10/18: 47.20 blowout from gate (broke slowly in return) eased before finish, nipping bad habit in the bud? (Date?) Effortlessly in subsequent final work…
TAKAFUL 10/19: Ran off early but good finish, good gallop out, needed stout restraint to be pulled up…
BATTLE OF MIDWAY 10/18: Worked outside mate 1:14.60, very good move, cruised to lead outside late stretch, good energy galloping out…
HUNT 10/22: Excellent work way out on course, gliding over firm SA ground, good speed to finish under a pull, great energy [dogs out 20-30 feet?]…
MR ROARY 10/22: 5F in 1:00 around dogs, lug in stretch, very green…
CAMBODIA 10/22: 5F in 1:00, good energy! dogs out! 10/29 nice blowout, good action over course, energetic gallop out…
SEPARATIONOFPOWERS 10/22: inside of workmate, 48.44 showing hard-held speed head to head all, great work…!
WEST COAST 10/22: outside mate in 1:12.40, pushed to reach mate at 5/16s, asked late and on gallop out! [note subsequent work] 10/29 galloped to the lead 3-wide catching mate entering lane…
BOLT D’ORO 10/22: 1:01.40, restrained speed 2-path all, very efficient lead change, energetic gallop out; forget time impressive mover…
WAR FLAG 10/22: 48.89 working outside mate, skips along, good solid work, should like firm DMR, improving…
LADY AURELIA 10/22?: Stoutly restrained speed throughout going head to head inside mate, never let her by, head bowed…
CAPLA TEMPTRESS: 10/22? [reportedly not great work horse] quickened nicely late working inside mate, good move. 10/29: quick, energetic breeze over course!
TAP DADDY 10/22?: 1:01.80 not asked at all, appeared to gallop all the way. 10/29: stoutly restrained speed backside, restrained speed turn, great energy! pulled up after finish presumably left something in tank.
SNAPPER SINCLAIR 10/22?: Skipped along throughout with good energy. 10/29 left lead all the way!
MUBTAAHIJ & CUPID in company 10/23: 1:13 under some pressure late to maintain even terms on inside. CUPID (outside) always looked stronger of team after reaching even terms, good gallop-out…
GUN RUNNER 10/23: 6F in 1:11.80 machine like! (Mark Berner caught mile gallop-out in 1:38.10). 10/29 galloped 2 miles with great energy, great action…
HEART TO HEART 10/23?: 49.20 good, restrained speed throughout, dogs way out at KEE, finished on own, strong gallop out…
OSCAR PERFORMANCE: 10/22: 51.40 ran turn very well so tight DMR should suit, dogs way out, good strong gallop out…
ALLURING STAR: 10/23 1:26.60 Broke off 5 lengths behind mate, asked to finish up…
AVENGE: 10/21?: Restrained speed head to head outside mate turn, restrained head to head outside stretch, strong action…
PARADISE WOODS 10/20?: 1:14 Restrained speed going easily throughout, headstrong filly relaxed nicely…! Great gallop on 10/27 with draw reins
HEAVENLY LOVE 10/27: Stoutly restrained speed outside head to head stretch, strong move… (Mate FLAMEAWAY ket pace nicely head to head inside despite being turf horse)…
RUSHING FALL 10/27: 47.80 KEE Rider motionless, climbing action on dirt by turf runner no knock. Very energetic gallop-out…
IRON FIST 10/29: pretty work, restrained speed 3-path all…
MIDNIGHT STORM 10/29: had good energy all the way including gallop out! Very fluid…
CUPID 10/29: very sharp, finished fast while just skipping along.
SHARP AZTECA 10/27: Fast work 58 3/5 but ridden out all the way, good gallop out but excitable horse, tough read…
MOON DASH 10/27: big long striding filly 50.20 turf dogs at KEE, finishes well late, strong. (style hindered by DMR and large field)?
ELATE 10/28: great gallop, looked extremely good physically second straight day
PIEDI BIANCHI 10/27: good speed inside company work “won” the work, ears pinned competitive filly but on own, generous gallop out, good ½ mile breeze time (?)

Hallandale Beach, FL, OCT 31, 2017

Written by John Pricci

Comments (7)


Sunday, October 22, 2017

In Need of HRI Faithful Feedback on Possible New Product for 2018

I didn’t intend to go public with these results but since I’m always looking to earn by creating useful new products, I thought it was time to try something different and frankly, can use your input.

I have a Horses to Watch betting methodology that has worked well for over four decades and, in a vast majority of this years, has yielded profitable results. I thought, why not share?

Needless to say this takes time and dedication to produce and I’m not giving “expertise” away for free. So I’m begging your indulgence and will explain further.

If you are personally interested, great. If not, your opinions would still be invaluable to me. My teeth aren’t getting any shorter. I don’t have time to waste.

I was one of the original trip handicappers in the early 1970s. It helped land me a job as Newsday’s first Thoroughbred racing handicapper, that and a Sunday column of which Horses to Watch were a popular segment.

I prided myself on knowing how to watch races, insights gleaned from countless harness racing nights at Roosevelt and Yonkers Raceways. It was my life back then and trips were everything.

In the day, I remembered all that I saw. Now, observations must go into a computer file, on convenient work sheets or handy scraps of paper, old school style. Either way, the process is all too familiar:

Write down the name, the trip note, in short-hand symbols provided me by a professional gambler from Manhattan, Paul Mellos, who also taught me about the nuances of pace.

Any horses that made the list I bet back three times regardless of how they looked on past performances. You read that correctly; blind betting on past observations, no handicapping required.

Horses were given three strikes before being stricken from the list. Once a horse won within those three starts, it also came off the list: Mission Accomplished. (But the memory lingers, feeling you know something about a particular horse no one else does).

This, of course, was at a time when replays were not available unless you went to the racetrack the next day and watched all nine races from the previous day, pan shots only; no slow-motion stretch runs.

Now, replays are ubiquitous. Consequently, very impressive visual performances and obvious trouble horses most often return as underlays. Today, good trip handicapping requires more nuance but, to be honest, nothing get passed true wise-guys.

So, thinking about a new product to go with the Tote Busters© Late Pick 4—available at on event and special race-days only—I began writing my stable-mail horses in a calendar book this summer and began keeping score.

Many of the winners came in its very next start; others coming within the three-start deadline, exactly which start went unnoted.

(Some of those will be apparent where names appear more than once. We did not start noting off-odds for non-winners until later in the process).

The Horses to Watch that follow were culled from sources listed above including table mail [the editor takes no responsibility for misspellings from the scrunched printing in my tiny calendar book—have since procured a larger one].

Again, the following horses were either coming off impressive, development-likely wins; very troubled trips; horses given a run; extraordinary workout videos and back-of-the-pack finishers that galloped out strongly:

JUNE 2017

ANTONOL, LRL: won on 6/10, $8.10
GONE AWAY, LRL: won on 6/10, $3.20
UNCLE MOJO, BEL: placed on 6/11 @ 8-1
EL ZEAL, BEL(?): won on 6/11, $3.40
BALLAGH ROCKS, BEL: won on 6/18, $8.20
DEARIE, BEL: out on 6/22 @ 80-1
RINCE TAPAIGH, WO(?): won via DQ on 6/24, $14.00


UNMOORED, ELLIS: 2nd on 7/3 @ 2-1
AMERICAN SPARROW, ELLIS: out on 7/7 @ 12-1
GONE AWAY, DEL: 3rd on 7/8 @ 10-1
BLACKTYPE, BEL: 3RD on 7/14, (odds?)
GRAND JETE, BEL: won on 7/14, $2.70
WEST COAST, LOS AL, won on 7/15, $2.70
DEARIE, BEL: out on 7/16 at 80-1
UNCLE MOJO, SAR: won on 7/16, $7.20
GIFTED LADY, SAR: out on 7/24 @ 3-1
GREELEY AND BEN, ELLIS: won on 7/29, $26.80
PAINTER’S RAGS, SAR: out on 7/29 at 6-1
EL DEAL, SAR: won on 7/29, $7.80
COMPLETELY BONKERS, ELLIS: 2nd at 1-1 on 7/29


HARKNESS, SAR: won on 8/2, $14.80
TIZZELE, SAR: 2ND on 8/4 at 6-5
FLY E DUBAI, LRL: out on 8/5 @ 24-1
YOUR LOVE, SAR: out on 8/5 @ 5-1
TRICKSTER, DEL: 3rd on 8/9 @ 6-1
UNMOORED, ELLIS: won on 8/11, $6.00
SPANISH RIVER, WO, out at 24-1 on 8/12
CONQUEST CLASSIC, ARL, out at 26-1 on 8/13
TAPERGE, SAR: won on 8/17, $5.20 (made note to bet back again next time)
PAINTER’S RAGS, SAR: 2nd on 8/18 at 5-2


GRAND PRIX, PARX: won on 9/2, $5.20
FLY E DUBAI, LRL: 3rd at 34-1 on 9/30


MAISIE, TRACK (?): out on (date?) @ 40-1(?)
HELOOKSTHEPART, BEL: won on 10/7, $11.60
TIZ MISCHIEF, KEE: won on 10/7, $8.00
LONE SAILOR, KEE: 3rd on 10/7 @ 14-1 [Breeders’ Futurity]
LIONITE, KEE: 4th on 10/7 @ 20-1 [Breeders’ Futurity] [note: Horse to Watch again]
FREE DROP BILLY, KEE: won on 10/7 at $5 [Breeders’ Futurity] (Dime Super $976.95)
TAP DADDY, KEE: 2nd on 10/8 @ 3-1
FLY E DUBAI, LRL: 3RD on 10/13 @ 10-1
AWESTRUCK, KEE: 2nd on 10/13 @ 5-2
GIFTED LADY, BEL: out on 10/14 at 5-1
ENGLISH DANCER, KEE: out on 10/14 @ 12-1 [note: improved, soft ground, bet back]
SPANISH RIVER, WO: out on 10/18 (odds?)
SANAVI, HAW: won on 10/21, paid $4.50
TIZZELLE, BEL: out on 10/21 @ 3-1--note: 3-4 wide all, too soon lead, wants 2 turns?

I made required bets on all the horses listed—without benefit of past performances analysis, a standard $20 wager, odds dependent:
At early line odds of 4-1 or less, straight to win.
At early line odds from 4-1 to 8-1, straight and place.
At early line odds of 10-1 or greater, straight and show.
I then open the past performances, handicap the race, and press accordingly, or not. (This list was compiled on 10/21/17).


From JUN 10 through yesterday I placed 54 $20 wagers, or $1,080. The return was $1,444 for a positive ROI of $364 based on visual research with no handicapping.

The price shots listed above that did not win filled out several handsome vertical payouts. (The Dime Super in the Breeders’ Futurity was a nice surprise but certainly not shocking).

It doesn’t sound like much money unless one considers what the average player loses over the course of five months.

What will all this “video genius” cost? I’m thinking $2 per horse--and if it doesn’t win within three starts, the $2 will be refunded.

The way it would be handled--since there’s no telling when these horses will race—is that fans/bettors would express their interest at, a “free subscription” if you will.

I then will send players the Horses to Watch to watch via personal email in advance. Each client would be billed on the last day of the month. Payments can be made by check or through PayPal at

The e-mailing would begin starting JAN 1, 2018. It will include the horse's name and complete trip note.

So there it is. Whether you’re interested in a product like this or not, I would value your input and any positive criticism accompanied by some helpful suggestion.

Written by John Pricci

Comments (24)


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