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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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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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Two Racetrack Lifers Finally Win One

The clich is that the wheels of justice grind slowly. Not so in the states case against two NYRA clerks of the scales, one of whom just happened to ride a Kentucky Derby winner and was inducted into Racing's Hall of Fame 31 years ago.

In their case, those wheels crept and crawled and lurched and went nowhere.

It was as if as long as Braulio Baeza and Mario Sclafani were out there as examples, somehow corruption was being rooted out. The state ordered monitor raided Aqueduct while conducting an investigation of alleged wrongdoing at the New York Racing Association. While high level executives left town aboard parachutes made of gold, investigators had their sacrificial lambs.

NYRA was found guilty of knowingly allowing two handsful of mutuel clerks to use horseplayer's betting money for their personal needs. Subsequently, the clerks were found guilty of tax evasion and money laundering. Prosecution of NYRA in this case was deferred.

But not in the case of Baeza and Sclafani, who lost their jobs three years ago, not long after they were charged on 291 felony counts of allowing jockeys to ride from seven to 15 pounds overweight, by definition, tampering with a sporting event.

Yesterday those charges were dropped for lack of evidence. A representative of the Toledo Scale Co. testified that scales were calibrated only up to 115 pounds, with a margin of error of one pound. Consequently, Saratoga County Court Judge Jerry Scarano agreed that the state failed to prove its case.

Sclafani has been working part time since the charges were first made. Baeza has been unemployed, although his son, Braulio Jr., who works for the NYRA, was promoted from an internal departmental job to the steward's stand. Many found this to be not coincidental.

These men now can get on with their lives. But the last three years are gone to them forever. So, what happened to the man in the state attorney generals office who originally leveled those charges? In case you havent been following this story, that man became governor of New York State.

Written by John Pricci

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