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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Friday, May 02, 2014

Use’m and Lose’m

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 2, 2014—It’s one of the first things they teach you in Wiseguy School: You’re not sure what to do with the fave; you’ve got a hunch and you want to bet a bunch. What to do?

“You use’m, then you lose’m,” kid.

That’s the dilemma for me in Derby 140. What do I do with California Chrome. Do I wiseguy my way out of a winner, or do I believe my lyin’ eyes?

All horses have issues, some issues are bigger, some not so much. For all his brilliance and power, California Chrome’s hind legs need treatment from time to time, conventional treatment, acupuncture, whatever it takes.

But I’m sure it’s an issue that trainer Art Sherman and his staff can deal with. That’s the way it is with fast horses sometimes; slow ones don’t run fast or hard enough to do themselves any harm.

It’s those hind end issues that occasionally cause the Derby favorite to break a half-beat slowly. This race is unkind to horses that have gate issues on race day.

But there’s more to it than that. California Chrome, breaking from post position 5, has two quick gate horses to his inside; Vicar’s In Trouble—which had better break quickly from the dreaded rail or risk running into the fence—and Uncle Sigh, which adds blinkers to make him even quicker.

On the favorite’s immediate right is another speedster, Samraat, and a couple of more stalls away is very fast Wildcat Red. The potential for a speed jam is there as is the possibility of a tardy break. And at 2-1, or thereabouts, in his first start outside SoCal?

Of course, if the Santa Anita Derby version of California Chrome shows up in Louisville, this group could be in big trouble. If not, things really open up. What to do?

Use'm and lose’m.

The problem here is that there are some many ways to go after the favorite: There’s Intense Holiday, the training star of Derby 140.

There’s his stablemate Danza, also training well, and Candy Boy, getting good right now and loving his time in the Blue Grass, and Samraat, experienced but still learning, and a throwback energizer-bunny of a horse named Medal Count, and...

There are a few others worth of mention but why bother; all have pluses, all have minuses. It’s horse racing; it’s why you gamble on it.

We’ll give this a little more thought and catch up later in the Feature Race section. Hey, anybody see that filly today?

Unbeatable Untapable

Some good favorites win and then there’s Untapable, the filly that turned the Kentucky Oaks into her own private party. And it’s likely the 1:48.68 will come up pretty good with the speed boys.

Good enough to tackle colts in the Preakness? I think we all should keep our shirts on until at least 6:24 p.m. on Saturday. But that WAS special.

Her margin was 4-1/2 lengths over a filly that won both of her previous starts going long impressively. And when Fashion Gate hopped at the start and broke behind the field, an anticipated lively pace became pretty pedestrian, an opening half-mile in 47.80.

Rosie Napravnik had My Miss Sophia and Javier Castellano in her sights throughout. You might even say that with their better position, Castellano’s filly had a first-run edge. She did but Tapiture ran right on by with little urging.

Rosie and her filly were in complete control and if her final time was indeed a regression, I’d love to see her when she's really on her game.

Untapable was a little hot leaving the paddock and in the post parade but she was a cool customer on the track, elevating her Churchill Downs slate to 3-for-3.

She won the storied Kentucky Oaks as easy as she worked the other morning for the biggest race of her career. Steve Asmussen, who had her ready a week ago, was relieved that he could keep her on the ground all week.

He was also relieved for other reasons the whole world knows about. And if they hadn’t heard about the PETA video sting, Asmussen reminded the television audience. Twice.

We thought Tapiture’s recent wins were so spectacular that he might have been vulnerable to a regression and tried to beat her with Unbridled Forever. The sixth betting choice ran well all the way to finish third, but the Oaks was a mismatch.

Tapiture just might be one of the ones.

Written by John Pricci

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My Two Cents, Plain

SARATOGA SPRINGS, May 1, 2014—With apologies to Jimmy Cannon of the late, great Journal-American, as homage to a notes column he uniquely popularized entitled “Nobody Asked Me But…”

Yeah, you get the idea, then probably so did the great Mike Lupica and his “Shooting From the Lip.” Same idea, different name. Anyway, here goes.

Rename Baffert’s Colt “Lostopportunity”

…As in unable to bet against… It truly was a great opportunity for value, a second choice with little chance to win withdrawn from Derby 140 with a foot bruise hurting value potential everywhere on the board.

From a performance figure standpoint, he was on a terrible line, as if another regression were coming, likely not having performed as many taking a positive view thought he might.

From a betting perspective, this hurts every logical contender not named California Chrome.

While I’m not sure that longer-priced, uncoupled stablemate Chitu, will get all 10 furlongs, I believe his chances are better after he drew well on Wednesday; a tactical speedster drawn outside most of, if not all, the important gas in this matchup.

The price might still be right, but now he's the only Baffert, not the "other" Baffert.

“Can You Hear Me Now?”

Rather, can you hear us now, the horseplayers of North America? Handle at Churchill Downs was off a staggering 25% on April 30 and 11% for the meet despite a good opening night--and another 18% on Thursday with one more race than last year, according to an industry watchdog.

Horseplayers no longer will be taken for granted. With many true non-believers already having abandoned the game, those that are left apparently will not be snookered, hoodwinked, bamboozled.

Pre-race price matters both on and off the tote board. It’s very early in the game but it will be interesting to see if this downward spiral continues, especially on Derby weekend.

Look, There’s a Real-Life Person Inside That Suit”

And his name is John Asher, the Vice President of Corporate Communications at Churchill Downs, honest-to-goodness racing guy.

Asher wasn’t exactly Adam Silver, then he doesn’t have the big chair, but you had to feel for him as he tried to explain away a snub of Ron Turcotte by Churchill Downs for a third consecutive year.

Turcotte is a man’s man, one who never has uttered the words; poor me. He’s thankful for the opportunities that life gave him, and he wears his love of the game on his sleeve.

And here was poor Asher trying to explain this whole flap away and it was obvious how badly he felt, and embarrassed, too. I still can’t get over the fact that it cost a Canadian film crew $500 to get Turcotte a handicapped parking space inside Churchill Downs.

Sadly, CDI is not alone in this. Hall of Famers also have had a tough time getting into Saratoga on some afternoons following the annual induction ceremonies.

These are not overt snubs, of course, but those in charge drop the ball when they fail to instruct admissions and security personnel the proper protocol for treating celebrities.

No, red-carpet types seldom have trouble getting on the grounds on Oaks and Derby day. It’s racing’s celebrities who often get short shrift.

“Can We All Bow Our Heads and Pray for Poor ‘Injun’ Chuck’?”

It was inevitable, a matter of time before Ed Musselman buried himself. And it's about time someone caught on. He's gone too far before but it wasn’t until he maligned an entire ethnic group before the industry finally pulled him up.

(If you’re interested in his awful iterations, see the April 26 edition of Indian Charlie in the archives section of the website of the same name).

Guess it was too bad for Chuck that Donald Sterling came along during the same week. Chuck’s message wasn’t as bad as Sterling’s but it was bad enough..

Every racetracker has a good natured laugh with references to Dead Duck Darnell or Ken McPeeked and all the rest. The backstretch never has been confused with church.

But Musselman has made anti-Semitic remarks, too, about two Daily Racing Form staffers and never paid a price for those comments. Now he has, with Keeneland, Churchill and Stronach Group tracks pulling their advertising form his publication and barring its distribution on racetrack property.

“Exotically Speaking, Happy Oaks Day”

Sorry, but Untapable appears Unbeatable in today’s Kentucky Oaks, post 13 and all. Her blowout for this was frightening; had to feel a little concerned for the exercise rider who was tasked to keep her from launching herself into space, she was so out of her mind with run.

Mortgages are not paid at 4-5. So, if you must, check today’s Feature Race Analysis for some alternative wagers.

Written by John Pricci

Comments (18)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

GUEST EDIITORIAL: Horseplayers to Churchill Downs and Industry: Wake Up!

By Andy Asaro, Horseplayer Advocate

At the end of the day, will you be able to say you did everything you could to make a difference and help a sport that like-minded people love?

The recent abusive takeout hike at Churchill Downs took everyone by surprise. Wagers on Win, Place, and Show were raised from 16% takeout to 17.5% takeout. On exotic wagers, the takeout increased from 19% to 22%.

The only message bet-takers understand is the one that ends at the bottom line. The boycott of Santa Anita was successful three years ago; this one will be, too.

Anyone interested in participating in the Churchill Downs boycott this Saturday, one only needs to bet less than usual or, ideally, not at all.

Oaks and Derby Day are huge events and the amount of play in the horizontal pools could mean the difference between profit and loss for Churchill Downs Inc. Stakes races often comprise most, if not all, the Pick 6 or Pick 4 sequences.

If everyone reduced the size of their wagers--playing smarter, not higher--handle can be impacted dramatically, perhaps 15% or more on opening night and at least 5% on Oaks and Derby Day.

The boycott isn't only about the egregious takeout increase. This is about an industry that refuses to listen intently to what their customers are saying. It happens time and again.

This is about an industry that's still stuck in the 1980s when it comes to eliminating breakage, or timing races more meaningfully and upgrading coding of the tote system so that the information you see is what you get in real time and not after a race has begun.

Horse Racing 2014 style is still being played on eight-track cassettes, as if there were no such thing as the digital age. Haven’t you had enough?

There will be no official leader of this grassroots action. It will be led by the collective “we,’ all of us. The boycott will consist of fans, bettors and other practitioners of the sport.

It’s up to each individual conscience, and every outlet, to do their utmost to spread the word. If we allow this moment in time pass without a strong response, we deserve the industry we get.

Further, if you believe that the industry should have adequate backstretch surveillance and security. Send the message to Churchill Downs by betting less, if at all. Does the Oaks and Derby have 72-hour security? What about the other graded stakes?

If you believe this industry should have uniform medication rules with consistent penalties for violators, then you might want to send a message to the industry by boycotting the Churchill Downs meet.

If you believe that minor injuries require time off and not more medication, then you might want to send a message to the industry by boycotting Churchill Downs.

If you believe that Horse Racing is the greatest gambling game of skill ever devised, then you might want to send a message to the industry by boycotting Churchill Downs because raising takeout is symptomatic of a troubling big picture.

If interested in executive salaries at CDI Inc. that have risen 240.57 %, see N>

If interested in how the state of Louisiana is dealing with the troubling care given to its flagship racetrack Fair Grounds by the CDI parent company, read mmission-defers-churchill>

I will be partnering with to spread the word about the Churchill Downs boycott. The website will be continually updated beginning Thursday, April

You can also follow us on twitter at Players Boycott @playersboycott or Andy Asaro @racetrackandy, for he latest boycott information.

Thanks for reading this and good luck to all.

Thanks to John Pricci, executive editor at, for allowing this guest editorial to be posted. John and Horseraceinsider always seem to have the best interests of racing in mind. It doesn't get any better than that.

Written by John Pricci

Comments (15)

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