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, March 31, 2016


The Stronach Group Looking to Buy Parx Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 31, 2016—Alas, not all the Thoroughbred buzz in South Florida surrounds Saturday’s Florida Derby, and that could be very good news for Maryland racing and The Stronach Group’s footprint in Mid-Atlantic Racing region.

Presently, high-level executives from TSG--Tim Ritvo was notably absent at Wednesday's Florida Derby post draw--are looking at a potential deal that would have it to purchase Parx Racing from the track’s holding company, Greenwood Racing & Entertainment, HRI has learned.

This would be one of the final significant pieces to the puzzle of how revive Thoroughbred racing at tracks in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

According to a story at Philly.com, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's approval of Stadium LLC’s application approved in 2014 has been stalled as a result of an appeal by casino operator SugarHouse HSP Gaming L.L.P. and by Market East Associates which also is seeking a license to operate a casino in the Center City district of Philadelphia.

In a unanimous opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday said that the Gaming Board had failed to “adequately explore” the extent of the holders of Greenwood's primary backer, Watche "Bob" Manoukian.

Manoukian, a highly successful Lebanese businessman, owns 85.84 percent of Parx Racing under the Greenwood Racing & Entertainment franchise and his ownership interest in a second casino in Philadelphia is limited by law.

In the interim, the State Court has remanded the matter back to the Gaming and Control Board.

Like everyone tethered to the gaming industry, Manoukian has more interest in casinos than he has in owning racetracks. Enter the Stronach Group, which appears more than willing to take control of Manoukian’s interests in Parx Racing, whole or in part.

All this fits very neatly in the Stronach Group’s plans to revitalize racing in Maryland, which has been underway in recent years at Laurel Race Course.

The model for the revitalization process involves making racing in the Mid-Atlantic region viable again, not just subsistent. As everyone knows, a shortage of horses and overlapping dates has crippled Thoroughbred racing in the region.

The Stronach Group has made no secret of the fact it believes that establishing a circuit of tracks working in concert instead of in competition is essential to the sport’s survival now and in the future.

Working out a schedule among Parx, Delaware and the Maryland tracks are at the heart of this. Bringing a struggling Monmouth into the mix might only add to the stability to the game in that part of the racing world. Stay tuned.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, March 25, 2016


Dubai And Derby Fever Derailed by Jackpot Hysteria


123GAMING WEEKEND ADVANCE MARCH 25, 2016

Exclusive to http://www.123BET.COM

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 25, 2016---The HRI readers have spoken, and they’re not wrong. Everything that has been mentioned in a recent comment has the ring of truth. Excerpt from an HRI Faithful:

“Have you looked at Saturday’s PP’s?” Denny asked. Yes, we have.

“Six races with between 11 and 14 horses. Three of the races for maidens, two of which are maiden claimers. Races with first-time starters and horses coming off long layoffs.

“A cheap 16K claimer for 12 on the turf at 5 furlongs. Five of the six races on the turf. One stakes with a smaller field is left out of the P6 on purpose and carded earlier in the day.

[Edit Note: Forecast at posting; 30 percent chance of thunderstorms]

“This is an abomination. An abuse of the average horseplayer. A setup for the deep-pocketed high rollers. A money grabbing scheme at the expense of the horseplayer who has been contributing to this jackpot since January.

“All this week they’ve made the P6 easier with smaller fields to ensure the jackpot wouldn’t be hit before Saturday.

“Then they clobber you with un-handicappable races with giant fields on the last day,” he concluded.

Nothing here rings untrue and Gulfstream does it because they can, because it works, and that usually means job security for all—a worthy goal in the 1% age.

What essentially is a sucker’s play actually turns out to be a good wager Saturday because even with those “easier” sequences this week, which Denny alluded to, they weren’t all that much easier.

Due to the “free money” in Saturday’s pool, players get a chance to make a score on a relatively small investment even if favorites were to dominate the results.

Relative is the operative word here: $50 or $60 per wager is a relatively large investment for the average player, but a pittance when chasing pools like this that will double the $4.5 million jackpot carryover.

As stated, it’s “a set-up for deep-pocketed high rollers…at the expense of the horseplayer who has contributed to the jackpot since January.”

The corporate greed that’s at the heart of this is not the exclusive province of Gulfstream. Companies are considered successful only when this year’s income figures outstrip last year’s. Excellent results aren’t good enough; only record ones that fulfill projections.

But today’s Gulfstream Rainbow Jackpot should, and probably will be, in the portfolio of Saturday’s “investors” since the entire pool must be dispersed by statute. Even a sequence that chalks-out is highly likely to yield a four-figure payoff, perhaps more if just one heavily played “single” disappoints. Alas, there is not a “gimme” in the sequence.

Many players fit my profile: Show up with a couple or three hundred bucks and try to turn that bankroll into four figures, not a totally unrealistic goal.

So I took a handicapping look at the three maiden-claimers, a totally inscrutable optional claimer, and a bottom-level claimer for sprinters going five furlongs on turf and an overnight handicap.

Even the nominal feature, the Sanibel Island, is wide open due to the fact several stakes-quality types are making their seasonal debuts for a pittance of a $75,000 pot.

Whenever a good horse is entered in one of these events, the trainer will generally say one of two things; that “he/she is training very well and we’re looking forward to Saturday’s race,” or “this looked like the right spot to get him/her started.”

Thanks for the insight. However, in full disclosure, I’m not sure I can promise anything better. I’ve looked at the last six races from Gulfstream and short of buying the rack, requiring a second mortgage, I’ve narrowed it down to a 6x4x3x8x6x4.

That’s a $2,764.80 investment at 20-Cents per rattle--if all the AEs draw in--with absolutely no guarantee of success: This is another definition of insanity having nothing to do with events that repeat themselves over and over.

However, due to an unprecedented $4M-plus Jackpot, today’s pool demands an affordable wager--again, the hope being that the sequence plays out formfully and a small investment could yield at least a low four-figure payout.

We’ve isolated runners that are on a positive line, on the Pricci Energy or Thoro-Graph scales or both, including of course the requisite number of breeding/trainer/dynamics angles, etc., etc. In post-position order:

Race 7: Ekati Wildcat (15-1) boasts hot connections and Roger Attfield is strong going synth to turf. Love and Care (12-1) is a mystery, a firster from Mott who has two in here and struck with several tur-route debut types at Saratoga last summer Horner Man (6-1) jumped up first time turf and Brian Lynch having a career winter. Sir Dudley Digges (9-5), consistently fastest, will be a single for smaller bankrolls. Mighty Mo (6-1) excellent figure to builder on in juvenile debut; goes from Pletcher to Mott here and Uncle Mo’s act very well on turf. AE-Derby Champagne (8-1) meets tougher but jumped up in good-figure turf debut over course, excellent to build on, and Rusty Arnold having big winter. Knocks are wide draw and up in class.

Race 8:
Great Attack (2-1) earned good-figure score winning at this level last time; can 9YO do this back-to-back? Noble Prince (4-1) drops into open claimer and has top back-figures from this course/distance last year. Red Fever (5-1) excellent last out figure; proper spacing and 5YO gelding may be coming into his own now. Frankie’s Tiger (8-1) on forwardly progressing line and Saffie Barn has a knack with sprinters and is often successful with Rios in the boot.

RACE 9: Prime Time Tommy (2-1) made excellent progression from 3 to 4 on March 23, earning field’s best figure, and trainer Dwoskin 24% effective hooking up with Castro; single material. World Leader (8-1) raced evenly in turf debut two classes higher two back, returns with excellent spacing (Nagle 23%) and horses have been outrunning their odds in recent months. Mr. Coupons (7-2) showed notable improvement when dropped to this level last out and turn-back could help further; Kaplan profitable with Paco and also with his cut-backs.

Race 10: McFly (5-1) broke maiden going against weaker and shorter but returned to 2YO top. Gio Niko (12-1) has never taken backward step on grass but also up in class and distance. El Ciclon (9-2) just missed with rough-trip placing at this level last out. Copingaway 12-1) disregard last on dirt; little development but competitive and getting class relief. Bibbo (8-1) earned best figure under identical conditions in debut; good spacing, stable rider aloft. Parmel Landing (8-1) slower but also meets weaker and going forwardly. Favorite Heir (4-1) sharp beating weaker and may be another sharp claim by Vitali. Decisionsdecisions (6-1) appeared in need of turf debut, drops, and attracts Saez.

This will be an ALL race for larger bankrolls, with many of the above within a length of two of each other going a mile on turf; trip rules.

Race 11 Sanibel Island Handicap:
Harmonize (5-2) demonstrated high class at 2, gives weight to all, a question of intent. Sky My Sky (8-1) was impressive maiden turf winner over course. Lira (2-1) placed gamely in G3 over course; very logical favorite. Hold On Momma (30-1) fast sprint figures on dirt; angles abound for connections in turf debut. Pancake (8-1) toughened at Fair Grounds, good figures and keeps marching forward. Shake Down Baby (10-1) earned top turf figure winning grass debut over course; first-time Clement.

Race 12: English Mahaveer (5-1) consistent, competitive figures; class relief, hot barn and well posted. Appa (10-1) god foundation figure to build on, drops one notch. AE-Partagas Way (12-1) jumped up in recent local turf debut when game third; entered right back. AE-Gateway Arch (10-1) set pressured pace going longer in return to Joe Sharp; benefits from turn-back and barn profitable with Saez.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016


From Dubai to Derby, All That Glitters Is Chrome


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 25, 2016—Let’s do the math. If California Chrome is five lengths better than he was last year--trainer Art Sherman’s surmise--then he will win this year’s Dubai World Cup by two and a quarter lengths.

Only if life were that simple…

Do you know how to tell that Saturday’s World Cup is one of the deepest ever? That’s easy. The second ranked horse in this week’s NTRA Poll, Mshawish--who received five first-place votes over the weekend—is 14-1 with most European bookmakers.

If only handicapping principles were so logical…

If nothing else, horse racing more than ever has become an insider’s game; meaning only the true devoted can willingly afford to play every day.

And that’s how Frosted, second choice at 5-2 on the early line became a close second choice at 9-4 in early wagering Tuesday, according to several Internet sources.
If only following the smart money always such a smart idea…

Actually, the newly turned four-year-old has improved markedly since he’s become bi-peded, Kiaran McLaughlin training him right-handed in an effort to make him even more athletic than he already is. He’ll have to be that and more in four days. Why?

"You’re going to see a different Chrome this time,” Art Sherman promised early this week. “I've been around a lot of decent horses, and I rode a lot of decent horses, but he's something special."

Yes he is, but that’s the thing about special horses: They must keep proving the point.

“He still has a lot to prove as to being the Real McCoy,” Sherman said on Tuesday’s NTRA conference call. “But [the new owners] had a real good idea. People can see him keep running this year and they’ve sold a lot of [stallion] shares…

“If you can come back and win a race like the World Cup, beat the best horses in the world, pass Curlin’s [all-time earnings] record then look forward to the Pacific Classic and Breeders’ Cup, it’s just good for the sport…

“When he won the prep [under 132 pounds], he got a standing ovation when he came back…and there’s no betting over here, they just love the horse. But now you gotta run and show you’re not all mouth.”

Which is why we could not be happier that Chrome and Sherman are back, helping us remember why we fell in love with this story in the first place.

Speaking of huge prep races—and it had better be since there has only been one thus far for Greenpointcrusader, 7-2 second favorite for Saturday’s million-dollar Louisiana Derby. Indeed, he needed to have gotten plenty out of his season’s debut, a gritty placing in Mohaymen’s Holy Bull.

The Grade 2 lynchpin of the Fair Grounds meet, the Louisiana Derby is the first nine furlong hundred-grander point prep on the road to Louisville, and last year’s Champagne winner needs to finish 1-2 to secure a reservation in the Churchill starting gate.

To do so he must at least split the event’s other two top choices; troubled Risen Star third Mo Tom (5-2), and the bias-aided hero Gun Runner (3-1). Both sets of connections expect improvement.

“The most important thing to recognize about Mo Tom is that he’s a determined horse,” said trainer Tom Amoss. “He’s just not going to come on and pick up the pieces. He has a devastating quarter-mile kick.”

Amoss admitted he worries about all the Louisiana Derby horses and the chance of a softer pace, but acknowledged concern several other Derby colts he must meet later on, like Mohaymen [“no question he’s a brilliant horse”] and the undefeated Juvenile champion, Nyquist.

But Rebel winner Cupid also causes some uneasiness: “Many said he had it easy on the lead in the Rebel,” Amoss said. “I don’t agree. The ones that chased him all got tired at the end. That was a very impressive performance.”

David Fiske, Racing Manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, knows that repeating Gun Runner’s Risen Star victory is far from a given: “I hope he wasn’t fully cranked in the Risen Star,” said Fiske. “It’s difficult to tell how fit horses are that have good biomechanics.

“He should be fitter [Saturday]. We probably were getting a little tired in the Risen Star and Florent [Geroux] said he might have moved a little early. But there’s [Saturday’s] extra sixteenth of a mile and it’s a long stretch at the Fair Grounds.

“He’s going to have to move forward to continue down the Triple Crown trail and get faster. I hope it all works out.”

In addition to the Louisiana Derby’s big three, eight other Derby eligibles will answer the starters’ call at post time, scheduled for 6:12 p.m., EDT.

Of course, Meydan Race Course in Dubai will host the UAE Derby earlier Saturday afternoon, but it’s a race that has yet to impact the May proceedings in any meaningful way.

And betting man does not live on California Chrome-Greenpointcrusader parlays alone.

There are four million reasons why bettors should devote some attention elsewhere, to Gulfstream Park, where the Rainbow Jackpot carryover must be dispersed Saturday come hell or high payouts.

Per usual, inscrutability will rule the Hallandale card and the last six races will be as tough as handicapping gets. The Saturday program will be drawn Wednesday morning.

Written by John Pricci

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