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, June 16, 2007

The Sun Shines Bright On Foster Program

With the Triple Crown now history, racings second season began fittingly where the classics begin every year, at Churchill Downs. The day was billed as Stephen Foster Super Saturday and when you put on a show like they did yesterday in Louisville, you can call it anything you want.

The centerpiece, naturally, was the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at nine furlongs and was the penultimate leg of an all-graded-stakes Pick Six. But you cant really have a big day of racing at The Downs without a race for three-year-olds, right?

Chelokee, impressive winner of the Barbaro on the Preakness undercard following his troubled third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby in his previous start, stalked a slow pace three wide, took the lead on the final turn, was outrun in midstretch, then came again to beat Zanjero by a head. Sam P., like Zanjero a victim of Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby, finished third.

(In this crop, it seems, even Grade 3s result in stretch long battles and a camera is needed to settle the issue).

What impressed was Chelokees will to win. Racing on the pace is not his best game, yet he won both recent starts on the pace. Hes getting closer to the big boys, and girl, with every start.

The Foster pre-race storyline was whether the streaking Master Command would finally get his Grade 1 title. The winner did, but it wasnt the Foster favorite.

Flashy Bull, also a winner on the Preakness program, has come into his own as a four-year-old. He was very competitive on the classics trail last year but it looks like Kiaran McLaughlin has finally figured him out.

Master Command raced dully in a poor performance, but stablemate Magna Graduate nearly saved the day for the Pletcher crowd. However, his late run down the center of the track fell a nose short at the wire. Flashy Bull swept to command into the lane but it took all of Robby Albarados urging to get the job done.

The excellent 11-race program was an exciting and meaningful day of racing. But no-o-o-body picked six. Winners of five collected a $1,300 consolation and Sundays carryover at Churchill is $51,000-plus.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On Belmont Day, Joe Torre Dropped The Ball

When you look inside the numbers of the 139th Belmont, it was a disaster but not calamitous.

Betting was virtually flat. While handle was down compared to last year, comparing seven-horse fields with the dozen that went postward last year would be unfair. Actually, on-track handle of $9.5 million set a non-Triple Crown Belmont day record.

Attendance figures were calamitous, however. From high atop Belmont Park late last Saturday afternoon, the joint sure looked like it was jumping. There wasnt much blank space between apron standees and there were fannies in virtually every seat.

Surveying the crowd, I told some colleagues Id take over 67,000. What I missed, however, was that the famed backyard was more spacious than filled, and apparently everyone was outside and not inside Belmonts humongous grandstand and clubhouse.

Someone came up and asked my former Newsday colleague, columnist Joe Gergen, how many people do you guys have here today?

Everybody whos not at Clemens, answered Gergen.

Less than 47,000 people saw history made when Rags To Riches beat Preakness winner Curlin and the rest of the boys in the Belmont, but that wasnt the big news in New York last Saturday.

Baseball mercenary Roger Clemens, his return to pinstripes already once delayed, would finally take the mound for the Yankees in the Bronx. As far as I know, each stride he took toward the hill touched the ground before he got there.

Its true that the filly was a last minute Belmont entry and there wasnt much time for publicists to bang the drum. So until the filly reached the finish line a head in front of Curlin, the major Belmont storyline was still the absence of Kentucky Derby-winning Street Sense.

While he certainly had no obligation to do so, Yankee manager Joe Torre, whos enjoyed his share of successful high profile days at the races, could have done his other favorite sport a solid.

Torre was part owner of Sis City, winner of the 2005 Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland, and Wild Desert, winner of the $1-million Queens Plate that same year. The Queens Plate is the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

So would it have mattered all that much if Clemens started the following day against the same team? Certainly George Steinbrenner, owner of Kinsman Stable, could relate. And if Clemens had started Sunday, he still would have been ready for the Mets series this weekend. Either way, Clemens gets wall to wall coverage from the New York tabloids.

Were not saying Torre is at fault here. But he might have helped to make a positive out of a negative. Instead, as far as racetrackers are concerned, starting Clemens on Belmont day made him look clueless.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Rags to Riches, the Filly That Saved the Belmont

The seven horse field consists of two tiers, the first led by Preakness champion Curlin, the fast and consistent Hard Spun, and the filly, Rags to Riches, who could be any kind as racetrackers say. A couple of lengths separate them on performance figures after adjusting for the fillys sex allowance of five pounds. A couple of lengths is not much going a mile and a half.

The second tier consists of Tiago, seventh in the Derby but for his connections the Belmont couldnt come soon enough. Mike Smith said he learned a lot. Probably did. William Kaplan said hes been pointing Imawildandcrazyguy to this race since January. January. C P West finally had his break-through race in the Preakness. Conventionally, it was a perfect prep for the Belmont. Slews Tizzy is the only one who appears in danger of being outclassed, but has won two recent graded stakes.

Without Street Sense, a huge loss, this Belmont turned out to be as good as it could get. The second tier horses have a punchers chance, remote, but a chance nonetheless. And picking the winner from among the big three is not easy.

The good news for morning line favorite Curlin (6-5) is that hes apparently held his form very well. "Hes more chiseled now and still has that beautiful stride. It gives us a lot of confidence going into Saturday," said assistant trainer Scott Blasi at Wednesday mornings post position draw at Belmont Park.

"Ive said it for months; we may be hailing Curlin as a super-horse," said Hard Spuns trainer, Larry Jones, who was pleased by his colts final relaxed breeze over the weekend. "Were trying to confuse him," joked Jones. "If the fifty-seven-and-three [Derby workout] didnt confuse him, maybe the one-oh-three will."

Jones believes, too, that the filly has earned her shot. "I wouldnt be surprised if theyre putting [carnations] on her when its over." Rags to Riches drew the outside slip, post seven, right next to Hard Spun. It will be interesting to watch the first turn tactics unfold between Garrett Gomez on Hard Spin and Johnny Velazquez on Rags to Riches.

Should the filly win, it will be, of course, trainer Todd Pletchers first victory in a classic. How would it feel to accomplish that? "Until I win one I cant answer," Pletcher said. "But [Rags to Riches] is a good-sized filly and most good fillies Ive seen have been pretty big fillies."

And running against colts? "I might have run a two-year-old against colts, but there are so many opportunities for [older] fillies that theres no reason to try it." So why this one? "Because shes a half [sister] to Jazil, last years Belmont winner, and she has Belmont winners on both sides of her pedigree."

In fact, she has six Belmont winners in her first three generations, according to Steve Haskin of "Bloodhorse."

Its the kind of pedigree that helps make Belmont 139 so interesting. And not that easy.

Written by John Pricci

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