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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Thursday, October 23, 2014


Seven Sophomores for Seven Elders


PLANTATION, FL., October 22, 2014—Considering the effect that the event has had on traditional Fall calendar of major stakes races, the Breeders’ Cup championships has come under closer scrutiny this year.

Prior to the advent of the event 30 years ago, races such as Belmont Park’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, Champagne and Frizette--to name just three noted Eastern-based fixtures-- would have been the conquests that would have helped define championships.

Races like these still help to decide which horses are worthy of best-in-show honors in their respective divisions, but since 1984 they no longer are the final word.

Presently, thanks to the vision of John Gaines and John Nerud, a little re-branding from Breeders’ Cup Ltd. and the growth of international racing, Thoroughbred’s crowning event continues to grow in stature and appeal.

Despite carding two less races and absent three injured champions that were expected to defend their titles, a record 201 horses, 61 Grade or Group 1 winners, including five in defense of their titles, were pre-entered Wednesday in Breeders’ Cup XXXI.

Final entries will be drawn Monday with 13 races scheduled for next Friday and Saturday; four on Friday and nine on championship Saturday.

The centerpiece Classic, expected to crown the 2014 Horse of the Year, will be broadcast in prime time Saturday on the NBC network starting at 8 p.m. ET.

All remaining races will be cablecast on the NBC Sports Network over the two-day span, and the HRTV racing network will broadcast every Breeders’ Cup race. As they say in TV land, check local times and listings.

Dubbed racing’s crowning event, this year’s Classic is appropriately named. What happens at 8:35 p.m. ET Saturday will determine not only three-year-old championship honors but a Horse of the Year title as well.

It is a race in which three-year-olds hold a decidedly strong hand with four major contenders: among them undefeated expected favorite Shared Belief, dual classics winner California Chrome, Triple Crown and Jockey Club Gold Cup spoiler Tonalist and the sensationally fast, multiple G1 winning Bayern.

A victory by any of the older pre-entrants, including an also-eligible Big Cazanova, could earn the sidelined Wise Dan a Horse of the Year three-peat. The defending champ is 4-for-4 this year including three Grade 1s and a Grade 2.

If the Classic falls apart and voters decide that they want to “punish” the champion since three of his victories came as a mile turf specialist, there’s another grass runner to consider for which there is Horse of the Year precedent: Main Sequence.

A Breeders’ Cup Turf victory would be his fourth this year without a blemish on his card and another championship level event to go along with longer, tradition-laden fixtures as the United Nations, Sword Dancer and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. The win would have to include seven vanquished well regarded Europeans.

As for the three-year-old class, three others are scheduled to enter the Santa Anita starting gate.

Travers winner V.E. Day, perhaps in the absence of his sidelined stablemate, Wicked Strong; Candy Boy, who has five money finishes behind either Shared Belief or Wicked Strong this season, and Pacific Classic runnerup Toast of New York, making his first lifetime start on dirt.

So is there an A.P. Indy, an Unbridled, a Tiznow, Curlin or Sunday Silence among them? Is there even a sophomoric upsetter such like Proud Truth in this group?

Maybe Shared Belief, California Chrome, Bayern and Tonalist turn out to be the Medaglia d’Oro, Bernardini or Fusaichi Pegasus of their generation.

Bill Mott, who knows what it’s like to win with a Classic favorite, Cigar, and an upsetter, Drosselmeyer, is ever dangerous with peaking late developer. He has Cigar Street in this fray and think his horse “has to step up, but I’m anxious to give him a chance.”

“But one thing [Cigar Street’s] got going is that he’s a fresh horse,” he said to an NTRA teleconference audience Wednesday, “going in the right direction, he’s coming out of a good race at Churchill, he’s won at a mile and three-sixteenths and it’s his third start off a layoff. Hopefully it will be a big one.”

A three-year-old looking to upset Shared Belief is the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, and his trainer is anxious to see what happens.

“The Parx race was disappointing,” admitted Art Sherman, “I would have liked a little strong race. Even the horse was pissed off.”

“He came back to the barn fine, took two sips of water, just wasn’t himself after the race, seemed to be wondering what the race was all about.

“He was in a pocket for three-quarters of a mile [but] I don’t blame the jocks for that--I rode for 23 years--he [had] a target on his back.”

Was he upset with his rider’s strategy?

“I had a little talk with Victor [Espinoza]. “He won six straight races on him, he just has to give [the horse] a chance, get him in the clear, he likes to run outside. I wish he was the kind of horse you could check behind horses.

“It’s going to be a jockeys’ race. All I know is in the last two races you haven’t seen the Chrome I know. It’s going to be a great bettin’ race.”

How great? “I think he’ll be 5-1.”

Imagine the possibilities had Palace Malice, Mucho Macho Man, Game On Dude, Will Take Charge, Lea, Moonshine Mullin and Itsmyluckyday been able to make it to the dance?

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, October 19, 2014


Perfect 10 Success a Longshot


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., October 19, 2014—Betting’s been in the news in recent days; all kinds of news, all kinds of bets, in all kinds of places. Let’s start here, or should I say west of here in Miami Gardens.

Gulfstream management is calling it the Perfect 10: 10 races, 10 winners, 10 percent takeout—10 winners, not 4, not 5, not 6, but 10?

I understand why Gulfstream is doing this. The Rainbow 6 proved such a promotionally successful, financial windfall that there may be more gold in them there multi-race hills.

And it was successful even after the minimum was raised to 20 cents, even the increase chased many rank and file players until the carryover reached such proportions that they felt compelled to jump back in, lured by four-figure consolations after the dead-money pool had reached seven figures.

This latest variation on the life-changing-score theme appears to be a trial balloon to see whether there’s another mother lode of handle out there.

Further, it’s offered on dark Mondays when there’s precious little competition and the pool has been seeded with $25,000 starting tomorrow.

The carryover split on the wager is 60-40, with the same payout rules as the Rainbow 6—jackpot goes to a lone winner, but there’s no “force out” provision until the final of four Mondays, the length of the trial.

Knocks are easy to find. The entire 10-race card must be done before the first race--and that’s a lot of work. The final selections and wager must be placed approximately 90 minutes after scratch time, more deadline pressure on the player.

Mondays are the good news and the bad news. It’s a quiet day, yes, but there hasn’t been Monday racing at Calder…err GPW, in years, holidays notwithstanding.

While 10% takeout is attractive, picking 10 winners is on the impossible side of daunting; California’s Place Nine is plenty difficult enough.

And it won’t be cheap, even at a dime. Using two horses in each race, e.g., would cost $102.40.

Even if I were tempted, handicapping 10 races following busy wagering weekends is especially unattractive, and betting is a part of how I support myself. Picking A winner is difficult enough some days.

My thoughts on this probably fall in line with a majority of bettors, even those who are attracted to this type of wager; I’m inclined to wait for Week 4.

Either way, I’ll be surprised if this bet will be available same time next year.

UNLIKE CASINOS, SPORTS BETTING CAN PROVIDE HELP IN THE LONG TERM

Call him a flip-flopper if you wish, but it appears Gov. Chris Christie did his homework and now he’s betting that will win the legal challenges sure to come, first by the sports leagues then the courts, once sports betting comes to New Jersey next weekend.

Philosophically, we favor legalized sports betting because we believe there will be crossover between horseplayers and sports bettors, the common denominator being handicapping.

Besides, I don’t know a single horseplayer who doesn’t bet on sports, at least occasionally.

It might not turn out to be the savior of the remaining casinos in Atlantic City but anything that brings people to Monmouth Park or the New Meadowlands can’t be a bad thing; people already bet on horses and sports online. Why not try to get a legal piece of the sports action?

New Jersey citizens approved legalized sports betting at the state-s racetracks and casinos three years ago. What was needed was legal machinery that repeals the ban on sports wagering in the state; Christie’s signature on bill S2460 does that.

Once casino operators learned that putting on a racing product was far more expensive than running a casino, they have tried to walk back their commitment to the racing, the other side of the racino sword.

On its face, sports betting at the tracks won’t produce a similar result. They need to establish their own ADWs to attract online sports action to their own coffers.

In addition, sports betting can provide an opportunity for the tracks to create new fans for racing through cross-promotion activity. At least this gives racetracks a chance to grow revenues, or at least stem the tide of red ink.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, October 11, 2014


Cigar Smoked in Moderation, Winning Races One at a Time


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., October 11, 2014—My first recollection of Cigar, the horse that would become a present day Thoroughbred legend, is best described as a holy excrement moment.

After all, this was a well-bred underachieving turf runner, eligible for non-winners of 2 in his 14th start--back when secondary allowances actually filled—making his return to dirt, a surface over which he had broken his maiden in his second career race.

Switching to an up-and-coming rider named Mike Smith, Cigar led the flat-mile throughout with a half-mile gambit of 44.76 en route to an 8 length romp in 1:35.78; very impressive, indeed. But who could have known there would be 15 more to follow?

Fifteen, in a row, 12 of them Grade 1. And he didn’t just win those races; he dominated them, trackmen around the country underscoring that assessment, describing eight of those wins this way:

“Drew off.” “Dueled; drew off.” “As rider pleased.” “Much best.” “Cruised in hand.” “Easily.” “Gamely.” “Handily.”

Then came the hot-paced pressure in the Pacific Classic, a little SoCal home cookin’, and here comes Dare and Go.

And there goes the streak.

Citation just never allowed Cigar to take an undisputed lead on his legendary run, no matter how unconquerable, invincible and unbeatable he was over a dirt-course career that spanned two days shy of two full years.

Returning home to his Belmont Park digs after the Pacific Classic, Cigar rebounded to win the 1996 Woodward but a fissure in his armor was beginning to open when he was narrowly beaten in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in his next start.

This time the trackman’s short comment read: “Drifted late, game,” as he lost by a head to the mighty, younger Skip Away.

When horses begin running east-west instead of north-south, something might be amiss, or the warrior might be wearing down, having fought one too many battles.

In his next start, Cigar failed to defend his Classic triumph of the previous year, finishing third by a head to Alphabet Soup and Louis Quatorze.

“Bid, hung,” the trackman showing no mercy despite the world class competition; no compassion: “Bid, hung,” a description one normally associates with selling platers, not great champions.

But it’s the first time you see a horse do something extraordinary that excites the imagination, when it shows the kind of ability that promises exciting things to come, memorable things: The uncompromising, unwavering, unbelievable Cigar.

Rest in peace, champ.

Written by John Pricci

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