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 19, 2016

Saratoga 148 Gives Horseman a New Perspective

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., July 19.2016—I’m looking forward to the 148th Saratoga race meet for all the usual reasons. For gamblers, a sojourn to Saratoga Springs is a trip to Horseplayer Nirvana.

First and foremost, the quality of racing there over a sustained period of 40 days has, on balance, no equal in the world of Thoroughbred racing.

Saratoga is the place where racing’s best and brightest congregate—both the four-legged and two-legged varieties—a place to show the world what they’ve got.

For horseplayers, it’s the meet where making a score is conceivable at any moment. Given high quality and extreme competitiveness, the chances of getting value for your betting buck are disproportionately high:

Very good horses can pay off very handsomely, thank you. And Saratoga has the sizable betting pools needed to make all of that possible.

Friday will be only the third opening day we’ve missed in 46 years.

In 2007, we were flying home from Las Vegas after having given birth to idea of grassroots site for players, giving them a voice and also by acting as the sport’s conscience, daring to speak truth to power.

We missed last year’s opener, too, after having established permanent residency in South Florida. As Ray LaMontagne might sing, this year we’ll be in Saratoga a fortnight, “God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise.”

While there, we expect to give witness to Songbird stretching her speed over 10 furlongs in the Alabama, The following week, we’re hopeful to see a reprise of Nyquist vs Exaggerator vs Creator, classics winners all, in Saratoga’s Derby of Midsummer.

But I have new reason, one I’m hoping will please not only the HRI faithful but horseplayers of every stripe as we bring on board HRI’s first “trackman,” an expert in the art of race-watching and handicapping, who just happens to be a legendary horseman.

He will be stationed at simulcast outposts out West, watching as many races as is possible in one gambling session. Now retired, he will watch races and share what he sees, because no one truly tethered to Thoroughbreds can ever walk away completely.

Besides, retirement savings and social security aren’t enough these days; a man needs to make a score every once in a while. So, what makes this trainer legendary?

For one thing, he’s saddled winners at a high percentage every year from 1969 through 2016, and not always with the best stock. Often far from it. But he campaigned stakes winners, too.

For better or worse, his record in stakes races back in the day put New York winter racing on the map when the inner-track era was in its infancy.

He was the first to realize there was value in purchasing ready-made racehorses off the racetrack and get them to the next level. He did it by going to Canada to buy fresh stock, then to California, hoping to bring those SoCal speedballs back to New York.

Woody Stephens once said of him that he’d rather be on the lead than be President.

For a while, he was a “Trainer to the Stars,” saddling horses for James Caan, Don Rickles, Don Adams and Omar Sharif, among others. His success with those clients was enough to earn him two appearances on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”

Primarily as a trainer of claimers, he won a handful of New York race meets despite the fact he never had more horses than any of his peers.

One winter he went to Turfway Park with six head and $50,000 for claims and won the training title, setting a record in the process.

He saddled a horse that set stakes records in Northern California, a horse so popular locally that the San Francisco Examiner put its image on the front page, above the fold, the only equine so honored.

Of Simply Majestic, D. Wayne Lukas said at the time he was the best managed racehorse he ever saw.

Whenever a good horse shipped into New York from out of town, he was often called in for consultation.

I could go on about a man I’ve known all my adult life. He was outspoken to a fault, ruffling plenty of feathers.

When he was going through a particularly tough time, he sought counsel of his own and became a close friend of Monsignor Tom Hartman, half of television’s “God Squad” with Rabbi Marc Gellman.

Later, the trainer told me and several close friends that “Father Tom saved my life.”

Parenthetically, the “God Squad” TV program eventually won a Peabody and four Emmys.

The Brooklyn-born trainer now lives in a suburb of San Francisco near his daughter, Gabrielle, and is anxious to get started at HRI.

“This is all very new to me and I’m excited; I’m really looking forward to this.” Then trainer John Parisella added: “This will keep me focused on the game. I still love my horses.”

John’s first Race Watcher’s column, highlighting Saratoga and Del Mar, is tentatively set for Mondays and Fridays beginning July 25, the first Monday of the Saratoga meet.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, July 15, 2016


Promotional Reprint Courtesy of

Comments from July 9 PICK 4
at Belmont--winners and notable money finishers:


13-DEAUVILLE (4-1) is best of the Euros on paper given lots of Group 1 and Group 2 experience in which he was highly competitive with some of Europe’s best 3-year-olds. Jamie Spencer comes with the package, mitigating the draw somewhat, and O’Brien adding first-Lasix, of course. (won, $14.60)
4-HIGHLAND SKY (8-1) has never failed to fire in deep stretch and narrowly missed with strong finish in G3 Pennine Ridge prep for this; added distance might not suit as pedigree a little light for the trip. (2nd, $134.50 exacta)


5-EFFINEX (5-2) threw in a bad one in wide trip non-effort as the Foster favorite after solid score over Melatonin in Oaklawn ‘Cap prior; reunites with Smith and highly likely to improve on home grounds and at this trip. (won, 6.30)
7-SAMRAAT (12-1) has raced competitively in all three starts off a lengthy layup but gave no indication he’s back to top 3YO form; will be a pace factor reuniting with J Ortiz. (2nd, 56.50 exacta)


12-CATCH A GLIMPSE (2-1), a Horse to Watch since allowance winning turf debut at 2 and is now 7-for-7 on this surface, including defeat of males in G3 Penn Mile. Has more than enough gas to clear from the outside behind Geroux, the country’s leading or near-leading 2016 stakes rider. Has excellent PERs and bottom-side distance pedigree. (won, 8.80)
4-TIME AND MOTION (6-1) is undefeated in three starts at 3 on three disparate courses including today’s. Comes up to added distance the right way, has two-sided route pedigree and Johnny, aboard for the three scores, takes the re-ride. Post and style suits dynamics nicely. (2nd, 45.80 exacta)


5-A.P. INDIAN (10-1) comes off rapidly run score at the distance at Parx, beating ‘Roxbury’ by 3 open lengths handily. Delacour is 26% effective in LAY-3 situations and is having a career year—profitable at 29%. Gelded 6YO is 2-for-2 at trip and Bravo re-rides (won, 13.80).
9-MARKING (4-1) turns back to what might be a perfect distance for his style after chasing the strong Met Mile pace, finishing ahead of six rivals in his first start since disappointing in Dubai’s G2 Godolphin Mile; broke maiden here, bullet at Greentree base and Lezcano on a return call; formidable rival (2nd, 53.00 exacta).

JULY 16, 2016


1-AWESOME BOSS (20-1), racing without Lasix, by Street Boss, 19% first-time turf, draws coveted inside for turf sprint but barn not known for debut-type success; mixed signals.
2-SHE’SLIKETHEWIND (8-1) is not particularly turf bred but debuts for legendary “Mad Genius” Michael Dickinson with Johnny named; more mixed signals.
3-CONSULTING (10-1) hails from barn that’s profitable 18% effective with its turf-debut types and lone sib has won on grass. Good advance notices on first-crop sire, is working steady and attracts Lezcano; interesting.
4-BALAYAGE (6-1) by very capable turf debut sire War Front, is from mare producing no grass winners from six starts, three which have run. From top debut and ship-in connects.
5-FLY SWIFT (4-1), racing without Lasix, has both nature and nurture, debuting for Clement and from mare producing 4 turf winners from as many starters to race. Sharp blowout with Irad named; likely major player.
6-HERECOMESTHEQUEEN (15-1) is one of two in here with racing experience and barn is 26% effective with its second-time starters. Worked thrice since but was off slowly in debut and loses Irad who opted for firster.
7-LULL (5-1), racing without Lasix, also by War Front, is uncoupled Clement newcomer, a barn profitable with first-timers on grass. Attracts Franco but three straight gate works the good news and the bad news.
8-ASSCHER (2-1) was totally eliminated by poor start in well-meant debut. Todd 27% with second-timers and Javier takes a return call but pedigree a question mark for us on this surface.
9-ELUSIVE GIFT (12-1), racing without Lasix, has good pedigree on both sides for debut, making first start on turf for prodigious Maker on this surface, profitable 20% with grass-debut types. However, extreme outside can be troublesome for newcomers but early line mitigates.


1-FORCE THE PASS (3-5) was good second behind loose leader and classy miler Obviously in Grade 3 last out and was very willing third in G3 Appleton 4YO debut prior. Big time class relief here and reunites with Johnny; formidable fave looms likely single.
2-TAPITATION (4-1) won recent state-bred Kingston Stakes following wide-trip 4th from extreme outside in GP two-turn 5YO debut. Two-for-two at trip and beneath Castellano and (4) 3-1-0 on Belmont green. Potential value at early line odds.
3-LUBASH (10-1) has given indications he’s lost a step as 9-year-old but merits respect as 9-time Belmont course winner. Has four works for this and Alvarado takes the re-ride.
4-KING KREESA (7-2), another redoubtable state-bred, is 7-time Belmont grass winner with exacta finishes, including 5 wins, in 14 starts at the trip. Might shake loose as potential loose leader.
5-BRICKYARD KITTEN (20-1) on form looks like race filler in this spot but won his last and attracts Lezcano; still…

RACE 9 $12, 500 CLAIMING 3 & UP 1 MILE

is 2-for-13 at the trip and 3-for-30 all other distances, reunites with Castellano, and goes turf to dirt for barn that’s 16% efficient given that dynamic; looks live in this spot..
2-PRIVATE TALE (12-1) stretches out to mile, where he’s 3-for-12, as opposed to 4-for-32 at all others. Drops a notch and 7-pound apprentice has some talent but barn has been 0-for-16 on the stretchout and winless in 2016.
3-CLASSIC GIACAROLL (5-1) lost last out as fave, was claimed, now makes first start with claiming price cut in half and switches to Franco for barn not known for first-start-claim success; mixed signals for us.
4-POINT HOPE (7-2), blinkers back on for barn that’s recently 4-for-12 in that scenario with two money finishers and switches back to Irad. Barn in slump this meet but class dropper goes for major client; guesswork at short early line odds.
5-LIDERIS (6-1) drops into beaten claimer for first time for Jacobson, dropping from $62,500 to 12,500 level; makes third start off the layup with switch to strong-finishing Dylan Davis.
6-SATURDAY APPEAL (15-1) returns to Belmont at proper level after failed attempt in FL allowances switching to Alvarado; low profile outfit capable of upset price shot here.
7-SEA PREACHER (20-1) dueled in fast fractions in SA two-turner vs. similar in 2016 debut; crafty outfit is profitable 26% returning in this time frame and makes switch to Lezcano; live price shot.
8-CHARITABLE (30-1) is 2-for-6 at Belmont and 1for-25 everywhere else but hails from underachieving connects and has been badly beaten at long odds vs similar of late.
9-STREET CHIEF (5-2) drops from the $40,000 level for barn that’s 25% profitable with shippers and 29% profitable with its routers. Super-trainer Cox is currently 0-for-8 at BEL; mixed signals.
10-LUCKBOX SAM (10-1) showed some improvement dropping to this level in first start off claim. Nevin 23% in CLAIM-2 scenarios and gets switch to Johnny; excellent value on early line.


1-DOUBLE MANE (20-1)
showed much improved head-to-head speed when third last out but steps up to meet tougher and rates to be pressured throughout from pole position.
2-MARSHMELLOWMADDNES (8-1) had troubled started then chased the pace from wide post going longer; turns back to suitable shorter trip at which she was effective in debut.
3-MARY’S IN UTOPIA (20-1) raced dully in last going 6 furlongs now stretches out to best distance with rider switch and should be in this throughout from cozy insider draw; price shot potential.
4-LOVE BLUES (8-1) showed some improvement in second start and benefits from turnback (barn 18% long to short) and switch back to Widener course. Arroyo sticks for Schettino profitable with its maiden claimers; wakeup potential here.
5-SUBTLE LADY (7-2) lost rider in season’s debut when dropping to this level now makes second start for Rice, 22% in LAY-2 scenario, and gets switch to Johnny.
6-IRISH ANCHOR (4-1), 30% blinkers on for uncoupled Rice entrant, has been rallying too late going three-quarters now should be a pace factor switching to Lezcano for barn 25% effective with LAY-3 runners.
7-CELTIC SERENADE (8-1) lost rider in lone turf start at 2 now makes first start off long layup with Franco; an act of faith here.
8-ELECTRIFIED (5-2) makes first start in over a year dropping into claimer for first time; barn capable with layups but not particularly well known for successful layup runners; underlay on early line.
9-THAT WARRIOR GIRL (30-1) hails from very capable price shot outfit but has been beaten off in all recent starts at long odds.
10-NIGHT NIGHT KITTY (50-1) ditto, and jock, unknown to us, is 0-for-22 this season through Wednesday.
11-HIGH BARBAREE (30-1) is yet another that’s been beaten off at long odds in both turf starts.
12-SPLASH OF SASS (12-1), blinkers off after showing speed on main track last out, returns to grass where she’s not been competitive in three starts on turf.

See Saturday's Feature Race Analysis for On-the-Record Selections

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

And Now, from the World of Sports…

Last week in this space, we reprinted Dr. Steven Roman's long goodbye to Thoroughbred Racing.

It started a dialogue--not always on message but useful for conveying a worthwhile theme--inspired thoughts from the messenger himself.

I've done a little work in front of television cameras in my life so I think I know a little about the medium.

What I think I know from what you're about to read appears not to be something that Dale Hanson, sports reporter for WFAA in Dallas, scripted and read off a teleprompter. He appeared to be speaking extemporaneously.

Considering the dispassionate manner in which he described what it was like to be working last Thursday night in Dallas when all hell broke loose in the most vicious, calculating way, Hanson deserves an Emmy for his instant, no-time-to-mull-it-over commentary.

This is not meant to be a slight on the subject matter; quite the opposite, in fact. It is meant to shine a light on current day life, on what we have come to expect, how we react to tragic news in this country.

There is an underlying message to all of us here. All Americans across this already great country have lost their way, myself among them.

Maybe what's been happening is all the karma being paid for strapping black men and women below decks in cargo holds 300 years ago to do the bidding of people with money looking for the cheapest labor possible.

If you think this is reprint from the news station's website is borne from some notion of "white guilt," that would be the wrong takeaway. If any guilt is involved--and there's plenty of that to go around--it is guilt about the human condition.

Sports are like a candy store on a block full of commercial buildings, a tonic providing entertainment and escape following a hard day's work.

If it's escapism you seek in this space, the next installment will be an all-entrants analysis of Saturday's Late Pick 4 at Belmont Park to be posted Friday.

If, however, it's food for thought that helps in some small way to consider what life in America has become for all of us then, please, read on...

The following is a transcript from Hanson's late sports report in Dallas, Thursday, July 9:

"The Rangers are losing tonight and I'm almost embarrassed to tell you that I know that...

"I'm in my office, watching the game, and then all hell breaks loose in our city. Reporters in our newsroom were scrambling. Producers were yelling. We turned off the lights, just in case... and I kept watching the game.

"It was another shooting in America. It was in our city this time and police officers were being killed, but it was a couple of blocks away and the Rangers were being shut out.This is what I have become.

"This is what too many of us have been for a long time now. We'll fly our flags at half-mast, we'll say all the right things, we'll make promises we won't keep, and then, nothing will change. Our lives will go on, while the lives of so many others won't because we expect it now, and we accept it.

"It wasn't this way when I was a boy, but it is life in America now. Shooting a police officer is not the answer to a problem that too many people deny: Police officers are not like you and me -- they're better.

"They run into the darkened alley where we won't go. They run into the buildings we run from. They look for the person we try to hide from.

"But they're not allowed to make the human mistakes that we all make because they have the power of God strapped to their hip and the authority to use it.

"When we talk about blindly supporting the blue and when we try to show our support for these brave men and women, we fail to realize we can't defend them all and we shouldn't defend them all.

"A white man in America doesn't die for selling cigarettes on a street corner, he gets a ticket. A white man in America doesn't die for driving with a broken tail light, he gets a ticket, too. And the officers who abuse the badge and the power they have should be punished, but too many times they are not.

"But what possible purpose does opening fire on the streets of Dallas do to right the wrongs too many people deal with every day? As one of those on the city streets last night told a reporter, the shooter might have killed the good cops.

"A person of color has always hated to be painted with a broad brush -- to suffer the indignity of the stereotype so many people claim as fact. And then that killer last night did exactly the same thing -- shooting at anyone in blue, because don't we all really know, they're all the same?

"America's problem has come to Dallas now and our lieutenant governor blames the peaceful protestors, because our lieutenant governor is a fool.

"It was not just an attack on the Dallas police, it was an attack on our basic humanity and the common decency we used to cherish in America. But that's all gone now -- we lost that a long time ago.

"The Rangers lost Thursday night, 10 to 1. And I'm almost embarrassed to tell you I know that.

Written by John Pricci

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