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, October 30, 2015

Distaff Favorite? Not This Time

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., October, 30, 2015--The record of favorites in the Breeders' Cup Distaff is solid. For as flighty as female equines are reputed to be, dominant fillies often turn out to be more reliable than males when it comes to holding that superior form, in our view, anyway.

Having said that--juvenile turf races notwithstanding--the Distaff, especially because of the post draw and large field in which accomplished runners drew poorly, is among the most challenging handicapping puzzles of Breeders' Cup 2015.
This surmise obviously depends on what one expects from tepid early line favorite Wedding Toast (4-1), who's been dominant in New York, Belmont Park in particular, all season long.

Given the surface switch and second-turn dynamics we won't trust her at a short price, however good her record or Thoro-Graph performance figures might be, so we're looking elsewhere.

And we didn't have to look very far: We like the #1.

As well as favorites have performed in this race, three-year-olds have done very well vs. their elders, too. Of those, I'm A Chatterbox (8-1) fits this bill, even if she was a bit too aggressive early in her most recent workout.

She is a filly that has marched forward, earned her way into this race vs. Grade 1 competition, her performance pattern is forward looking and her Pricci Energy Ratings solid.

'Chatterbox' drew the pole position, is tactical and can kick on. And right now there aren't many jockeys who are performing as well as Florent Geroux, a young rider who in 2015 demonstrated he belongs on the elite level.

Timing, hands and strength, Geroux is reminiscent of a young Johnny Velazquez when that Hall of Famer first came into his own, eventually becoming Saratoga's all-time leading rider.

We believe Geroux will work out a winning trip over the 9-furlong distance his filly has handled.

[See today's Feature Race Analysis for Distaff betting strategy].

Written by John Pricci

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Monday, October 26, 2015

For This Filly, It’s Better to Be Good AND Lucky

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., October 25, 2015—Before Breeders’ Cup madness takes every ounce of focus needed to solve a 13-race puzzle over a two-day period, overnight stakes notwithstanding, some thoughts on the weekend, on and off track:

The Linda Rice outfit rolled the dice in the Iroquois Stakes on Showcase Day Saturday in New York and the result came up Filly & Mare Sprint in Lexington.

Talk about taking an old school shot: Let’s take one of the best sprinters of either sex in the country--first in 16 of 22 lifetime trips to the post--out of her speed game to see if she’ll relax and come running whenever her rider pleases.

And that’s exactly what La Verdad did in the Iroquois, forgetting for the moment she is a lady by man-handling New York-bred fillies, simply outclassing them from behind.

If she could do that, convincingly and easily, it could mean a trip to Lexington the following week for a date with her breeding-shed destiny. At 5, her next race will be her last, and the only thing missing from her impressive resume is that elusive Grade 1 win.

The Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint provides that opportunity and, given Rice’s concerns about the seven furlong trip, La Verdad first had to show that she has the right stuff.

Seven furlongs is unlikely to be her best run, she’s never raced at Keeneland and this Saturday’s rivals, while not the strongest renewal of this event, is quite salty enough, thank you.

Stonetastic is faster than fast away from the barrier; Judy’s a defending beauty who has lived most of her life in Lexington, and Cavorting is a proven G1 winner at the trip and, as a 3-year-old will even get a couple of pounds from her elders.

But La Verdad is a win machine, one that’s very lucky to be alive.

Linda Rice’s filly tested posted for Banamine after winning the G2 Honorable Miss this summer at Saratoga. The trace levels found reportedly were so high that the stress of the race could have killed her.

The New York Gaming Commission has yet to issue a ruling against Rice and there’s good reason for that: No fair-minded peer on the backside of the New York tracks believes that Rice or anyone on her staff would be so reckless. No one does.

So, was this another false positive from New York’s testing labs? For that answer you’d have to ask Bill Mott’s Lawyer, Drew Mollica, who said at the time allegations of Mott’s Lasix overage first came to light, “this doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Or you could ask Rick Dutrow about his Butorphanol positive. Oh, that’s right, you can’t. Racing officials conspired to throw him out of the game and that’s exactly what they did, feeding the betting lions some raw meet for appearances sake. But I digress.

Rice has employed the same two trusted assistants for close to two decades and only one is permitted to administer medication. The problem with Banamine is that it can be dispensed orally, meaning anyone with barn access can do it; licensed or not.

As we spoke about this situation across from Rice’s barn on Nelson Ave. during Travers week after we first heard the whispers, she said “take a look at the gate, look at those people walking out, do they all have [NYRA issued] badges?”

Actually, many didn’t, which brings up the difficult issue of security, a subject for another day.

Presently, officials continue to be at a loss as to the best way to adjudicate this issue. Although we couldn’t find anyone who would speak for the record, no one I encountered believed that the barn was guilty of wrongdoing in this case.

Taking a chance like this to win a Saratoga Grade 2 stakes for La Verdad’s Lady Sheila Stable, owners who have entrusted Rice with millions of dollars to purchase six-figure yearlings and two-year-olds at auction, simply doesn’t make sense. Rice has a theory possibly concerning the actions of certain vendors.

Last weekend, Rice, a third generation horsewoman who also won the Hudson Handicap Saturday with the venerable sprinter Palace, trusted her instincts with La Verdad and experimented with a change of tactics. It worked and in a big way.

“I guess I don’t have to go to the lead every time,” said winning jockey Jose Ortiz after the Iroquois. “Linda will have to decide what she wants to do with her, but it was pretty easy today. I tried to take care of her the best I could.”

Ortiz did that, just as Rice has done, guiding La Verdad’s racing fortunes the past four years. The record speaks for itself. Should Rice ultimately decide to go all the way and lead her over there Saturday in Lexington, it would be a page right out of her old school handbook.


How can it be, as much money as it accepts from its share of takeout on the world’s most popular racing signal, that New York State would consider a plan to pull funding from conducting post-race tests on all claimed horses?

On October 26, the NYS Gaming Commission is set to adopt a rule that would make it the responsibility of the claimant to conduct post-race urine or blood tests. If the proposal passes, the measure could be adopted by year’s end following a public comment period.

Let me be the first to comment to the state: You’re kidding, right?

You’ve already pulled funding from Cornell’s testing labs which has led to positive-finding fiascos in recent years. You are saying that small owners, who don’t have Todd Pletcher or Bob Baffert on speed dial, really don’t count, that filling races year-round isn’t that critical?

What about the millions of sales-tax dollars that flow from those claims, or the administrative costs owners already pay the state? Many smaller owners make their way by cashing the occasional winning bet, bets that pay Gaming Commission salaries.

And isn’t the real takeaway here that you can’t get drug testing right and will take an incremental first step back from the process altogether?

“The purpose of this proposal is to eliminate burdensome state expense of testing every claimed horse," stated a board meeting staff document. Not surprisingly, an agency spokesperson failed to comment on specifics.

Most states hold that a claim can be voided if a horse tests positive for a banned substance. “Many claimants do not elect to void a claim even if the sample tests positive,” according to the staff document.

If the latter is a routine occurrence, the surmise is that many of the positives are overages for permitted medication, not illegal drugs.

Then how would the state know that a particular trainer is taking an edge because many small-stable owners can’t always afford to step up to the plate?

Actions such as the latest proposal to de-fund the testing of claimed horses in New York, or anywhere for that matter, makes independent oversight more of a priority than ever.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Can’t Win for Tryin’

HALLANDALE BEACH, October 18, 2015—My guess is that first impressions last forever. Otherwise, I would have a hard time understanding why the Stronach Group never seems to get its due even while trying to do the right thing in recent years.

Now I fully understand the ire of Santa Anita fans and bettors in California, where racing is conducted as if on an island where the California Horse Racing Board acts in a manner that is out of touch with its fan base.

They always seem to champion the plight of the upper-dog, while horsemen's groups with too much clout make decisions resulting in policies that most often appear to be anti-player.

Indeed, thanks in large part to Thoroughbred Owners of California leadership, it's permissible to think inflated exacta takeout rates here, the dissatisfaction with seemingly began to register with bettors this summer where the turf meets the surf at old Del Mar.

While one swallow doesn’t make a flock, the only comment that surfaced beneath today's announcement that Saturday's 30th edition of the Jim McKay Maryland Million resulted in year over year increases in handle and attendance of 37 percent and 17 percent, respectively, was a cheeky: “it only took them 20 years to figure it out.”

Based on yearly business comparisons for the highly successful second Gulfstream Park summer, however, this early morning comment is only the most recent example of how the Stronach organization doesn't get it, even though Gulfstream Park and now Laurel Park is trending in the opposite direction of most of the rest of the industry.

SoCal critics like to include what’s happening in NoCal which, of course, is another issue symptomatic of the state of racing affairs in California, where the byword among practitioners always seems to each the same philosophical conclusion: Me-Give-My-Mine.

The Stronach Group, like anyone in this game, including the media, traditional and in the blogosphere, is far from perfect. But it’s useful to recall the current owners of Laurel haven’t been in charge for two full decades. In fact, TSG acquired 58 percent of the Maryland Jockey Club facility in 2002 and an additional 20 percent in 2007.

The late, great sportscaster’s brainchild saw 11 races run yesterday with a million dollars in purses spread over 11 races. Seven of the races had six-figure purses, the highest being $150,000 for the centerpiece Maryland Million Classic.

One-hundred and one horses were entered overnight, a figure that would have been larger except for a quarantine at Parx Racing which, according to a press release, could have affected the number of entrants by as much as 20 Maryland-bred sired runners.

Laurel attracted a guesstimated crowd 19,119 who bet $545,129 on track (dubious per cap figure to be sure) but there was $3.78 million from all sources while competing in a simulcast market that included Keeneland, Belmont Park and Santa Anita. [See for complete Maryland Million racing coverage].

Meanwhile, HRI insiders were impressed with the $21 million in renovations, readily apparent as you enter the first-floor clubhouse. A new restaurant, new interior designs accentuating sightlines to the racetrack, HD TVs, et al, all made favorable impressions.

The grandstand, however, is still very much a work in progress. Plans are in the works but the work will not come cheaply. But it's a step in the right direction for an organization that never got the casino dole it was hoping for. So, what the hell are they doing that's so wrong?


The news that Flintshire will forsake a chance to make amends for his disappointing loss in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Turf to run in the November 29 Japan Cup was personally disappointing. I’ve been looking forward to his U.S. return since his Sword Dancer course record blitz at Saratoga.

The official reason cited in a Blood-Horse story was in regard to the West Nile Virus vaccine, making it impossible to run in both races because Japanese quarantine rules require a two-week post-vaccination European stay for any horse that previously competed in the U.S. within 60 days of shipping to the Orient.

Further, imported Japan Cup runners must on the grounds by November 19, according to Japan Racing Association rule.

We can’t help think that the spacing to late November is better for a horse that made a strenuous effort when second to the remarkable Golden Horn in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp just one week ago Sunday.

We’re sure a herd of American horsemen with runners pointed to the Turf are breathing a bit easier given this development, but still will likely have the Arc, multi-Group 1 winner to deal with.

With Golden Horn scheduled to enter stud in 2016, and with owner Anthony Oppenheim anxious to run in the Turf, [Golden Horn’s PPs in pre-pre entries are now available], American runners, despite the poor record of Arc winners in the Turf, will have their hooves full with this guy.

Also factoring into the decision by Flintshire’s people to favor a trip to the Far East just might be the Breeders’ Cup intentions of the world’s leading grass runner.

Written by John Pricci

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