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, November 04, 2016

Big 3 + Big 3 = 33

LAS VEGAS, November 4, 2016--Well, if my handicapping analysis of the lynchpin races that close "Filly Friday" and "Championship Saturday" that wrap a bow on Breeders' Cup 33 is correct, then the math is, too.

If it's any other than the three horses named below that will emerge winners of the Distaff and Classic, then I have no idea who it could be.

Here are those horses that were very favorably mentioned in our new Tote Busters product that launched yesterday. We're proud of the package, 20 pages of horse profiles plus the workouts we had a chance to review on replay:


1-SONGBIRD ****6-5: [Top Pricci Energy Rating: 96 on 7/24] [Thoro-Graph Top: minus 2.25 on 9/24] Toughest test of her life but for a brief instant in G1 Coaching Club Oaks--never has been seriously challenged. Daughter of Medaglia d’Oro from brilliant race mare Ivanavinalot, she’s 11-for-11 from sprints to 10-furlongs. Five-for-five at her home base, she’s training extremely well, is controlling speed and three-year-olds historically have done very well in this event.

5-STELLAR WIND ***5-2: [PER 94 on 10/1] [TGT: minus 4 on 10/1] Difficult to be underrated when you’re an Eclipse champion but that was the case until she beat Beholder for a second time in the G1 Zenyatta, a carbon copy of her gallant G1 Clement Hirsch. The 2015 G1 Santa Anita Oaks winner improved her home track record to 4-for-5 in the Zenyatta. Unlucky to lose the 2015 Distaff after troubled break and a wide run behind perfect-tripping Stopchargingmaria. She comes in fresh and in absolute top form.
8-BEHOLDER ****5-2: [PER: 95.5 on 10/1] [TGT: minus 3.25 on 8/22/15] It may appear defending older mare champion has lost a step, beaten thrice in succession, but owns PERs and recent TGT that belie this assumption. Gary Stevens has said his mare’s best go is with a target, and that’s the scenario he’s likely will get: The challenge is its highly probable he’ll be stalking Songbird, who gets three pounds her elders. Now if another rival were to keep Songbird honest, could be looking at a perfect stalking trip here.

Personally seeing this as a mini-spread in P4 among the Big Three and many will single Songbird, believing she’s the best horse, which she very well may be. Today’s race will prove that one way or another. If you’re a believer and you’re willing to take a leap of faith at short odds, she’s your single. In straight pools I will seek value elsewhere and use Songbird defensively in exotics. This is one race one need not bet to enjoy.


2-FROSTED ***5-1: [PER: 102 on 6/11] [TGT: minus-8.5 on 6/11] Stratosphere Thoro-Graph was the largest ever given in TG history according to founder Jerry Brown. Uber talented Tapit grey dominated the Met Mile by 14 lengths and to crush G1 Whitney foes after given suitable recovery time following the Met. Was victimized by overconfident handling in very-wide G1 Woodward rally. Freshened again for this, the speedy pace scenario will suit his style ideally. The question is his ability to handle a very deep and talented group. Looms potential value.

4-CALIFORNIA CHROME ****1-1: [PER: 99 on 7/23] [TGT: minus-4.5 on 8/20] While not competitive on the PER scale, Thoro-Graph tops virtually identical to his major three-year-old rival who gets four pounds on scale. It’s been a genuine treat watching this champion at 5, never looking better in his life. Victor Espinoza rides him with tremendous confidence; Art Sherman has managed racing’s richest horse brilliantly. Monster chestnut is 5-for-8 at Santa Anita and 5-for-7 at 10 furlongs. Can’t wait for 5:35 PDT on Saturday.

10-ARROGATE ****5-2: [PER: 126 on 8/27] [TGT: minus 4.75] After cakewalking through a couple of Horse-to-Watch laughers at Santa Anita and Del Mar, Baffert sophomore shipped to Saratoga and crushed the Travers by 13 lengths in 1:59 1/5, the fastest 10 furlongs in Spa history. Impossible to think he won’t regress yet he continues to train extremely impressively for the biggest test of his young life. A large, well balanced colt with a stride to match, he figures to be tracked intently by either California Chrome, Malatonin, or both. They may win that battle but lose the war. Trainer attempts unprecedented third straight Classic victory and this one is a home game. Fascinating puzzle.

Given all the scenarios in play, this appears on paper to be the best ‘match race’ in Breeders’ Cup Classic history. Not one horse in here can afford to make a single mistake and expect victory. Unbelievable finale to the 2016 championship series. Enjoy…


As with a majority of horses, we’re unfamiliar with their personalities or a.m. work habits. Obviously, there can be better workouts that come before or after the day noted, which signals the intent of what appears below. Below are horses whose works we’ve seen on video or highly touted by HRInsiders at the scene.


SONGBIRD: As easily as horses can work 1:01 3/5, looking very much more than a morning gallop than an actual timed workout. Appears to be doing extremely well.

MASOCHISTIC: Perfect blowout for the Sprint, 5 furlongs in a minute with lots of energy remaining in the tank, a very happy horse.

HOPPERPUNITY: A much improved work from the previous move, going 5 furlongs in 59 4/5 with noticeably better energy.

If interested in the rest of the Late Pick for both days, find out more at

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

From Deep Inside a Breeders’ Cup Bunker

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., October 30, 2016--Within the next 48 hours, final entries will be taken and post positions drawn for Breeders' Cup 33 on the West Coast.

While the entire world awaits its fate on the second Tuesday of next month, November's first weekend will provide a delirious diversion for horseplayers, especially those on site or 270 miles to the North and East in Las Vegas.

Mr Jicha and I already voted early in South Florida, our families dutifully canceling out the other's opinion.

But as Churchill--the man, not the talented 2016 European juvenile--reminds us; democracy isn't perfect, it's the best alternative out there, even if one candidate is blowing it all to hell. Alas, I digress.

This year, as I have always done for this event, I will go in prepared so, in the event of suffering losses, I will have no one to blame but myself. However, I expect to win, and I expect to win or lose big. The two days of Breeders' Cup is a gambling orgy for players, value virtually assured in every race, in every pool.

As promised a fortnight ago, we've created a product, Tote Busters©, as an extension of our complete thought process leading to these extremely bettable events. A sample appears below. It is only the first installment, however.

A handicapping star-ratings system will follow on the evening's preceding the next day's races with further assessments informed by post positions, race dynamics, possible biases in evidence, probable odds, etc., etc. [For an example of this, see Pricci Morning Line archives for Oct. 13, 2016].

We're still efforting the best way to disseminate this product which sells for $15 daily, or $25 for both days, including a free report Pick 5 for the Claiming Crown program which kicks off Gulfstream's championship season on Dec. 3.

Readers who have already contacted me will get the basic report for all eight Late Pick 4 races emailed on Monday.

For further information, I can be reached at


BIG SCORE [Pricci Energy Rating: 84 on 10/10] [Thoro-Graph Top: 5 on 10/10] Never has taken a backward step on the Pricci Energy Rating scale with best effort in the Zuma Beach at today’s distance, his SA course debut. Showed more versatility tracking a faster pace from closer range and still kicked clear, beating 11 rivals with authority from post 11. Major player had eye-pleasing dirt breeze on 10/27.
BOWIES HERO [PER: 80] [TGT: 10.25 on 10/10] After taking Del Mar Juvenile Turf over 12 rivals from post 11, he suffered through wide trip as Zuma Beach favorite while racing a bit dully. First foal from mare already has a stakes winner at today’s distance. Goes for D’Amato, 21% career profitable on grass from large sample. Eligible for rebound.
CHANNEL MAKER [PER: 87 on 09/18] [TGT: 9 on 9/18] Unlucky, troubled at gate when third to Good Samaritan in WO’s G2 Summer Stakes finishing gamely in his two-turn debut. Stakes-winning mare has dropped three winners from as many foals, this one taking WO restricted stakes two back. Trainer Danny Vella is profitable in all relevant categories. Price shot with exotics potential?
FAVORABLE OUTCOME [PER: 75] [TGT: 5.75] Fast enough based on high figures in sprint-winning debut and was game third in G1 Champagne despite troubled start. Of dam’s three winners, only one has won on grass and, despite the fact colt hails from turf maven Chad Brown’s shed, this is a very aggressive spot for first grass win.
GOOD SAMARITAN: [PER: 86 on 9/18] [TGT: 6.75 on 9/18] Two-for-two lifetime, both on turf and at today’s trip or longer. Ground loss and tough trips have not deterred thus far, has great spacing into this, and Mott in his corner. Trained very well on Saratoga’s Oklahoma course since winning G2 Summer Stakes and has the right style. Major player.
INTELLIGENCE CROSS: [PER: NA] [TGT: 9.5 on 6/16] Extremely well bred, O’Brien’s War Front colt from mare that has thrown five turf winners from 10 starters, including two stakes. Group 3 winner in Ireland and twice G2 placed, has the required pedigree for today’s added trip and comes into this as if pointed. A tricky read through macro prism.
KEEP QUIET: [PER: 73 on 8/6] [TGT: 9.5 on 8/31] Casse runner has five starts including G2 With Anticipation placing and courageous G3 Bourbon win at Keeneland, both on firm ground. Tactical speed could play major role in speedy lineup but must be careful not to be caught between rocks and hard places. Of foal’s nine winners, eight won on turf including two stakes. May fall between parimutuel cracks.
LANCASTER BOMBER: [PER: NA] [TGT: 7.75 on 9/24] O’Brien runner well tested in Group company and only recent disappointments came on yielding ground. Second to highly regarded Churchill thrice, including G1 Dubai Dewhurst at Newmarket last out. Career schedule well suited to today’s run. Three of dam’s four winners came on turf, three in stakes. Euro with tactical speed from these connections looms large.
MADE YOU LOOK: [PER: 71 on 8/31] [TER: 10.5 on 8/31] Showed improvement for Pletcher as distances increased, winning two of three career starts including G2 With Anticipation last out. Sold for nearly three times the sire’s average offspring and demonstrated better energy distribution at Saratoga, albeit with perfect trip.
OSCAR PERFORMANCE: [PER: 84 on 8/20] [TGT: 5.25 on 10/1] Exciting U.S. grass prospect extremely impressive winning both recent starts; a rapidly run10-length maiden breaker on firm Saratoga turf before showing class and versatility taking G3 Pilgrim on yielding Belmont grass. Brian Lynch profitable in graded stakes and 21% efficient with repeaters. Figures to love firm footing.
PLEASELETMEWIN: [PER: NA] [TGT: 8.25 on 10/22] After two failed attempts in Group company, dropped in grade and circuit and broke through at Newberry, beating 12 rivals on soft turf while turning back in distance. Short turnaround nothing unusual by European standards but hasn’t demonstrated he can be a prime time player.
RODAINI: [PER: NA] [TGT: 9.25 on 9/19] Won four straight over modest British rivals then caught wet ground he couldn’t handle at Newmarket Oct. 8, beaten off in Group 3 stakes debut. Of dam’s five winners, three have won on turf with one stakes winner. Others not selected by BC committee appear more worthy.
TICONDEROGA: [PER: 73 on 9/10] [TGT: 10.25 on 9/10] Expensive Chad Brown Tapit youngster showed marked improvement adding blinkers with comprehensive maiden breaker in one-turn Belmont mile, before finishing second with too-late rally after poor start in G3 Bourbon. Doubtlessly talented but appears in need of a bit more experience.
WELLABLED: [PER: 85 on 9/10] [TGT: 6 on 9/10] Second in lone turf start sprinting before showing affinity for synthetics, winning G3 Arlington-Washington Futurity and a Presque Isle listed stakes. Larry Rivelli effective with shippers and a 33% winner with first-time routers. Could give Oscar Performance fits in early stages. Tricky macro read.

NOTE: Comments restricted to horses whose pre-entry was accepted and has race as their first preference. Second-preference horses or those drawing in from AEs will be covered in updated final versions of Late Pick 4s on Thursday and Friday evenings prior to each race day.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Saturday in the Parks

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, October 23, 2016—Where is everybody, I wondered as I arrived at Gulfstream Park Saturday morning? Then I remembered: Laurel Park.

Apparently, so were plenty of other folks. Over 21,000, in fact, and many of them brought money, not only to the revitalized building but the simulcasts, too, more than $4.4 million, 18% more than last year.

Tell you what, though. Twitter trolls surely aren’t cutting the NYRA any slack these days and some of the criticism is unfair.

Were they down from last year? Yes, and by a lot, 32%, the difference between $14.2 million and $9.6. But maybe many bettors—at least 32 percent—did what I did.

I walked into Silks, GP’s simulcast theater, armed with PPs from Belmont, Keeneland and Laurel. But when I saw Jason Blewitt all bundled up on the top floor in Elmont with the words sealed sloppy and off-turf, I put the Belmont PPs back in my shoulder bag.\

Won’t need these anymore: “Dark day, don’t play.” Oh, there was plenty of wet track form to go around: Quezon ($2.50), Weekend Hideaway (2nd at 2-5), Bar of Gold ($3.70)—by 18 lengths!—and Governor Malibu (2nd at 6-5 to Royal Posse).

But who needed that? Two things I said to myself following Governor Malibu’s Empire Classic placing: He’s just not that great and, when win-machine Royal Posse opened an insurmountable mid-stretch lead, why isn’t Rudy Rodriguez sitting on the sidelines next to Ramon Preciado?

Friends in high places, I guess.

At Keeneland, there were two stretch runs worthy of high praise and Julien Leparoux partnered both.

The first came from turf-and-race debuting juvenile filly Tamit, who finished with a whoosh to win by 3-3/4 drawing away lengths; check it out.

The second was Lightstream in the Grade 2 Raven’s Run. In fact, she moved so rapidly on the turn off a table-setting contested pace that her momentum carried her 7 wide into the lane. But her rally turned out to be relentless and she will be a 4YO to reckon with in 2017.

Horse to Watch note:
Curlin’s Approval had all the worst of it with a between horses all the way battle on the pace, tired late to finish fourth, but a final quarter-mile in 24.51 showed her courage and promise. Can’t wait to see her back here in South Florida.

But Maryland, Jim McKay’s Maryland, was where it was happening. Numbers aside, the racing was very competitive, formful but with some money-finishing surprises.

Admirals War Chest
ran huge in a speed-dominating performances, in control of the Maryland Million Classic throughout and never threatened in the lane.

And that was a good job by trainer Corby Caiazzo as was that of legendary Marylander Rodney Jenkins, preparing Phlash Phelps to take the Maryland Million Turf for the second straight year.

And there is at least one honorable mention from Santa Anita. Mastery ($2.60), who came with big advance notices by virtue of a workout in which he defeated stablemate, stakes-winning Klimt, justified all that confidence.

Opening at 1-9, he didn’t drift up much from there and handily defeated Sheer Flattery, who had run well previously, by 4-1/4 lengths in 1:09.56. At the end it appeared as if he was just getting started.

* * *

Tote Busters© at the Breeders’ Cup

What Is It, What Do I Get and How Will I get it? The example below from Belmont Park’s Oct. 15 Pebbles Stakes is an abbreviated sample of what to expect from a Breeders’ Cup handicapping horse profile product, a.k.a. Tote Busters.

Its creation, and name, is an upshot of something that Cary Fotias and I had planned to publish before his untimely passing several years ago. I have not forgotten its genesis and core principles, just as I will never forget my dear friend.

Regulars at are already familiar with the concept but it will be enhanced and improved for the 2016 Breeders’ Cup.

If it is well received, Tote Busters© will be available each weekend and on big race days starting Dec. 5 with Gulfstream Park’s Claiming Crown program, an event which jumpstarts the track’s Championship Meet season.

Tote Busters© at Breeders’ Cup 33 will be handicapping profiles of every horse competing in Friday’s and Saturday’s Late Pick 5 events which conclude with the Distaff and Classic on their respective days.

On Monday of Breeders’ Cup week, handicappers will receive an analytical overview of each horse’s strengths and weaknesses, along with those of the trainer and jockey.

Tote Busters is programmed to flesh out and enhance traditional past performances data available via, Daily Racing Form or Equibase product lines. Viewed side-by-side, Tote Busters provides an insightful look into past performances with no buttons to push or links to click on.

These handicapping sketches will be made available via email in a PDF format to facilitate easy printing and viewing. But, as the cliché goes, wait, there’s more: Updated information and ratings after the post draw, reflecting final assignments, latest workouts and medication information.

Thus, on Thursday and Friday, 24 hours in advance of each race day, you will receive critical updates that include adjusted star ratings, bias influences, the most recent workout culled from video, race shape descriptions based on post-position assessment, late changes re medication, late trainer/jockey trends-- in short, a valuation of all predictive handicapping variables.


All wagering depends on an individual’s tolerance for loss and bankroll size. We have found the best use for the categories described below is that in no instance should contenders jump up more than one level.

Depending on circumstances, a *** contender can become ****, but a ** cannot, late scratches notwithstanding. Likewise, a ** can become a *** etc., etc.

Based on the individual rankings, each bettor determines the merit and strength of the play. Two wagering “rules” that are difficult to maintain at a gambling session are a consistent approach within the diversity of possibilities and the character to stay within a comfortable betting zone: Avoid “going on tilt.”

As a daily bettor of my Feature Race Analysis which appears at, I raise the stakes on big-event days--especially the Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown races--when betting volume and value-potential are at their highest. Fierce competition creates chaos; chaos creates overlays.

Additionally, there’s a modicum of “square money” in play on these high-volume days that no longer exists on a daily basis because today’s day-to-day horseplayers are the “sharps”-- and that group grows smaller by the day.

Tote Busters, then, is not a “do-this-and-do-that-and-it-will-make-you-rich. Because of the difficult of this game, a highly nuanced learning curve and understand, and parimutuel takeout, winning at the races is a grind even for the smartest, well-funded player.

But life-changing results occur virtually every day.

Understand that there will be more losing days than winning ones or as my dear friend, the late, great Cary Fotias always counseled: “most good bets lose.” With that in mind, you must get paid properly when you win.

I expect, indeed sincerely hope, that you will find our Tote-Busters product to be an indispensable guide to your handicapping arsenal, a true value-added enhancement that will have a positive effect at the bottom line regardless of one’s personal approach.


1-Enjoy Yourself (30-1) Showed some promise early in turf career but really hasn’t developed since. Has won at the trip but not over the course and her figures are lacking. Pricci Energy Rating: 66. Thoro-Graph Top Figure: 8.75. A very tall order.
2-Believe in Bertie (10-1) ** Turns back to winning distance [albeit one turn] and is on a bounce-rebound pattern. Appears best on firm footing and has excellent early speed with inside position. Three sharp blowouts following game placing in an Indiana listed stakes. PER: 79. TGT: 6. Exotics price potential. [4th at 4-1]
3-Wild About Harry (15-1)* PERs have been improving incrementally and is (3) 1-1-0 at the trip; (4) 2-1-0 on Belmont turf. Beat state-breds going one mile two back, followed by an open company sprint. Has excellent kick but this spot saltier than she’s used to. PER: 80. TGT: 6.5. Perhaps bottom of supers.
4-Ancient Secret (3-1)** Won Grade 2 Lake George at Saratoga then shipped to WO for G3 mile off a short break, but lost all chance with very-wide turn rally. Can easily rebound to form that led to four straight scores; 3-for-3 at Belmont, has Chad-Irad team, but poor value on early line. PER: 78. TGT: 5.25. [3rd at 2-1]
5-Ultra Brat (12-1)*** Seeks third straight win while moving up in class and distance, winning her course and turf debut off a break last out. Motion’s old partner Edgar in for the assignment and barn's white hot. Bullet blowout at Fair Hill base, bred for added ground and three sibs have won on turf. PER: 82. TGT: 8. Excellent value on early line.
6-Baciama Piccola (30-1) Figures have improved since adding Lasix but has not shown she’s up to this level of competition since winning a Grade 3 at Tampa last winter. Tyler Gaffalione shipping in to take the call. PER: 69. TGT: 8.25. Very tall order here.
7-Welcoming (10-1) ** Finished well too late vs. weaker in 7-furlong course return, showing affinity for Belmont turf despite (3) 0-0-3 slate. Has competitive figures but this is a tough spot to break turf maiden after three failed attempts. Surging Manny Franco lands here. PER: 82. TGT: 6. Has some price shot potential.
8-Insta Emma (6-1)*** Comes off impressive win over course--her second Belmont score--and now makes suitable stretch-out for Mott-- 21% effective in non-graded stakes and 24% efficient with potential repeaters. Switch to Lezcano augurs well for this barn. PER: 81. TGT: 4.75. Solid contender.
9-Stella Rose (5-1) ** Fast-finish second and narrowly beaten in turf and course debut at this trip despite bobbling at the break. Chased the pace while wide throughout in G3 Commonwealth Oaks and stayed on very well late, now reunites with winning partner Rosario. PER: 79. TGT: 6.75
10-Louisville First (20-1) *** Earned field’s best last-out PER, grinding out a sprint score over state-breds in course return. Both lifetime wins on Belmont turf and talented New Yorker goes well for Cancel. May provide value on class rise into opens. PER: 84. TGT: 5.25. Offers value at early line odds.
11-Thundering Sky (8-1) ** Unlucky to lose Wild Applause under today’s exact dynamics in June [see replay] before racing very wide in Lake George. She then returned with a game third in a Canadian Grade 3 coming off short rest. Right back to NY today with switch to Gallardo. PER: 76. TGT: 8.25. [WON: $33.80]
12-She Doesn’t Mind (7-2) *** Regressed in last following career best when third here to On Leave—who subsequently beat her again. She returns fresh with strong and steady work-line for Chad and Javier sticks. Rebound potential for barn that’s profitable with this spacing. PER: 81. TGT: 9.25.
13-AE-Mom’s On Strike (20-1) Salty spot for winning turf debut. PER: [NA]. TGT: 6. [2ND at 51-1]
14-Mo d’Amour (8-5) MAIN TRACK ONLY PER: [NA]. TGT: 3.75.

LEGEND: Horses sub-divided into four categories:

**** POTENTIAL SINGLES/BEST BET KEYS are horses that are so strong as to be an extremely probable winner or, in some instances, represents excellent value potential in chaos races, where anything can happen. In chaos races, these “singles” should be viewed as an alternative to the ALL button, an acknowledgment that all bankrolls, whatever their size, are finite. There never will be more than two **** in any one race. In this instance, those two runners should be used exclusively in that sequence.
*** PRIME CONTENDERS are horses that constitute the basic, prime ticket. These can be singles, doubles, or any number of runners in chaos scenarios. Prime contenders, as in all categories, are based on traditionally pertinent handicapping data—speed, pace, class, connections, etc.--or are horses with significant value-potential. Hopefully, both.
**-SOLID CONTENDERS are for deeper bankrolls that under different circumstances would be *** contenders. Our method dictates that their use is highly recommended, budgetary considerations notwithstanding, and are “must-include” horses on sub tickets. View them as “must-include” when potential for better-than-odds—true value—is present.
*-EXOTICS and/or PRICE SHOT WIN CONTENDERS do not fit neatly into any one category and are best suited to the deepest bankrolls. They can be price plays that blow up payouts but, conversely, projected underlays. Additionally, they could be horses that send out mixed signals. Preferred plays, based on superior ability and/or value, are those listed above.


**** Best Bets or Best Value plays are must-use keys first and second in some cases
*** Are best win plays and must-use key runners in exotics.
** Are best used in exacta-boxes or as saver wagers in straight pools, W-P-S.
* Are exotics wildcards either as overlays or underlays.

As an introduction, the cost for each day is $15 complete-- that’s two mailings for each racing day including updates, and a discounted $25 for both Friday and Saturday will be made available. Those who commit early will receive Gulfstream’s Late Pick 5 for the Dec. 5 Claiming Crown program as a free bonus for purchasing the Tote Busters Breeders’ Cup two-day package.

We believe this price point is fair, commensurate with the workload, and the quality of information contained therein. For further information or to pledge your commitment, please contact me at my personal email address at HRI. The comments section is reserved for questions re the race example cited above.

Written by John Pricci

Comments (26)


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