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, September 25, 2007

Hard Spun Will Upset Street Sense On Saturday

This final weekend of September will feature the last prep appearance of the likely morning line favorite for the Breeders Cup Classic, the new and very much improved Lawyer Ron, in Sundays Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.

Just as anticipated, however, will be the day before at Turfway Park, showcasing the first two finishers of this years Kentucky Derby; Street Sense and Hard Spun, in the G2 Kentucky Cup Classic.

The racing office in Florence will be scrambling all week to get as many as three or four hardy equine souls to meet the big two, even if they have older rivals to fill the bill.

This spot makes sense for Carl Nafzgers colt. No traveling to Chicago or New York from his Churchill Downs base in. Just a short van ride instead. No 10-furlong gut-wrencher. And past performances that include two top-flight scores in major spots following a Polytrack prep.

But it might be easier for Hard Spun to beat him at nine furlongs at Turfway than it will be for Lawyer Ron to beat Street Sense at Monmouth Park going 10 furlongs.

The most obvious reason is that while hes OK on artificial surfaces, Street Sense is much better on dirt. And, of course, this isnt the main goal. That will come four weeks later, so those screws won't be fastened tightly. Finally, its a speed-friendlier nine furlongs; not a demanding, class-defining mile and a quarter.

Then theres Hard Spuns talent, and the fact he does well when stretching out from one turn to two. He was an impressive winner on Polytrack this spring. He looms the controlling speed and comes off a new pace top on the Equiform scale, a positive pattern.

What this all means from a handicapping perspective is that Hard Spun has the edge and should loom a narrow favorite. But the public loves Derby winners, Travers-winning Derby winners at that. Street Sense will be the favorite. Which makes Hard Spun the upset play in the Kentucky Cup Classic.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

On Any Given Saturday, Rider Can Get Best Horse Beat

On Any Given Saturday, favorites in major races can and will be beaten. Like Grasshopper in the Super Derby. But you were warned on that one.

Remember Saturdays blog? If Grasshopper doesnt get the job done, trainer Neil Howard will be past the point of going ballistic.

But maybe he should go ballistic. On Robbie Albarado.

Its not like Albarado didnt have a good day. Looks like he lined up a couple of mounts for the Juvenile Filly and Colt Turf, respectively, if he wants.

Albarado waited until the last moment to spring Zee Zee loose for Bill Mott and she took off like a big bird to win the Happy Ticket impressively. That was after he did virtually the same thing aboard Cherokee Triangle for Michael Maker in the Sunday Silence.

Both youngsters impressed, especially the colt. It will be interesting to see how the American turf juveniles fair against the Europeans, most likely our best vs. their second string. But you never know, the Euros might take those two races more seriously than we think.

Back to Albarado. On the main track, aboard heavy favorites, he tends to be overcautious. Several years ago aboard a future Horse of the Year, he moved wide and prematurely and blew a chance to win the Grade 1 Stephen Foster.

Not that he was beating Any Given Saturday in the Haskell, but he seemed a little too cautious aboard Curlin. In the Super Derby, he didnt go for the lead, didnt take back, just stayed out there, stalking three wide throughout.

Then he put Grasshopper into a hard drive while still wide on the final turn, did all the dirty work, but the tack allowed Going Ballistic to make the final strong run down the center of the track to get the money.

It was a good result for me. I was very lucky it came out that way, especially because the price was so fair. But thats beside the point. As the race was run, Grasshopper was probably the best horse. Whether he goes on to the Jersey Shore, well have to wait and see.

Now back to Any Given Saturday. He punched his ticket to Eatontown with a professional score in the Brooklyn, nine furlongs in 1:48.31, stalking a lively pace from well off the pace in second.

The Classic stage is set for this three-year-old. He won the Haskell decisively off a one-turn prep at Belmont, a pattern hell repeat in five weeks.

Given his affinity for Monmouth Park and its speed-favoring nature, hell be a very strong contender. Hell get weight from his elders, too, but the waters will get much deeper. Then theres the matter of that pesky extra furlong.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Plenty of Smoke and Fire in Kentucky Drug Cases

Once upon a time, the Commonwealth of Kentucky was the most abusive racing jurisdiction in the land when it came to lax permissive medication rules.

Given recent events thats no longer true.

Dr. Rodney Stewart was suspended a total of five years when it was discovered he was in possession of banned substances found in his vehicle and in a search of trainer Patrick Biancones three barns at Keeneland Race Course.

Four of the five years was for possession of cobra venom; one for possession of Carbidopa and Levodopa. When used in combination, these two agents increase the level of dopamine in the brain.

In tablet form, the combination of agents have extended-release properties. They are commonly used for treatment of Parkinsons Disease in humans, but there is no evidence of it ever having been used in racehorses.

This is a ground-breaking, possibly milestone case. Not only for the duration of Stewarts suspension but for the message it sends. Encouraging, too, was that the ruling was issued in Kentucky where new rules were instituted two years ago, patterned after guidelines set by the Association of Racing Commissioners International.

One can only speculate that the duration of this suspension was perhaps cumulative. Stewart previously had been suspended for failing to cooperate in a prior Kentucky Horse Racing Authority investigation. Further, he has been cited for improper labeling of medications and failing to report violations of medication rules.

According to his attorney, the medications found in the vehicle and a refrigerator in one of Biancones barns were for use elsewhere, not on racehorses. It was cobra venom that was found in Biancones barn, along with dog and cat vaccines.

It is alleged Stewart used the refrigerator for storage only and that he had no intention of using, nor did he use, the banned substances.

The Biancone case is separate. Yesterday he ended a 15-day suspension for a violation when a horse he saddled at Churchill Downs on May 3rd tested positive for caffeine and theophylline, used primarily as an asthma medication in humans for their broncodilatory properties.

Theophylline had been banned in Islamabad earlier this month and the FDA ordered it off the market in this country in 1998.

There is a long way to go in the process, obviously. But circumstantial evidence keeps piling up. In addition to the recent suspension at Churchill Downs, Biancone was recently fined for an infraction in California last January.

Biancone moved to this country after he was found guilty of violating drug rules in Hong Kong in 1999. A native of France, he previously had established a reputation as a world class horseman in Europe before moving his operation to the Far East.

A hearing on the discovery of cobra venom, a powerful pain-killer, has been scheduled by the KHRA, although no date was officially announced. An entire industry, and their fans, will be watching.

All this underscores how useful, and important, a deterrent it might be if the names of a trainers attending veterinarians were listed on the official track program. At the very least, horseplayers would be able to factor that information into their handicapping.

In a data-based game, transparency is never a bad thing, especially if theres nothing to hide.

If its too much trouble to list the vets names--since some trainers use more than one--it could be noted after the fact who the veterinarian of record was for that days winning horses. That way track program and past performance publications could list the winning percentages of veterinarians.

Hey, like trainers and jockeys, some might just be better than others. Or playing within the rules.

Written by John Pricci

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