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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Monday, April 23, 2007

The Pletcher Three-Year-Olds Work Weekends

Soaring By's disappointing effort in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes notwithstanding, Todd Pletchers Derby (and Oaks) three-year-olds had a useful working weekend at Keeneland.

The Polytrack surface continues to play fast in the mornings even though running times dont always reflect that in the afternoons, especially in races around two turns.

The weekend began with Illinois Derby winner Cowtown Cat ripping through five furlongs in :58 4/5. Without a clear-cut speed type signed on for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby, the move seemed to indicate that Pletcher would be content to take the front-end if its available.

With most of the major contenders in stalking mode, keeping an eye on one another, the Cat could steal away to a relatively easy lead. Much will depend, of course, on which horses make the final cat as well as the draw for post positions.

Any Given Saturday appears to have all his energy back, working Sunday morning in the same :58 4/5 beneath Garrett Gomez, his Derby partner. He galloped out a crisp six furlongs in 1:11 2/5.

Scat Daddy, with regular rider Edgar Prado in the boot, worked a deliberate five furlongs in 1:00 4/5. His out time was a useful 1:15 for three-quarters of a mile, observers commenting to Insider that Prado sat motionless, allowing his mount to coast home on his own terms.

Circular Quay, of course, needs to be trained hard since he will start in the Derby off an eight-week respite. As he often does, Pletcher worked the horse in company with another good horse, the filly Rags To Riches, the overwhelming Kentucky Oaks favorite.

The team worked in 1:00 1/5 and galloped out another furlong in a strong :12 4/5. Its the second time these highly talented three-year-olds worked in company, showing the confidence Pletcher has in both to handle pressure applied by a high-class work-mate.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Saturday Form Takes A Beating at Keeneland, Big A

As tough is this game is, trainers usually are content the morning after they win a race. But dont show up Sunday morning expecting to find Allen Jerkens and Patrick Biancone wearing ear-to-ear smiles.

Biancone won two races prior to the Grade 2 Lexington Stakes, the last major race of the Kentucky Derby pre season. Both those winners were coming off lengthy layups, as was Biancones Lexington favorite, Belgravia.

The three-year-old was awful. He stalked comfortably in predictable Polytrack fractions but had nothing to offer when the real running came, where it always comes these days at the new Keeneland; in the lane. Slews Tizzy was close up but he fired, drawing off with shocking ease.

Is Tizzy a serious Derby contender? Lets put it this way; I dont think winning jockey Robbie Albarado Jr. will give up the Derby mount on Curlin for Gregory Foxs upstart. But credit Fox for pointing to the Lexington and being correct at 40-1. Tizzy will win his share if not spotted too ambitiously.

Jerkens, meanwhile, had a virtual lock on the Bed o Roses at Aqueduct. He had the lead covered with the sudden Any Limit, and the rear locked up with distance specialist Swap Fliperoo. As it turned out, Any Limit left her best form in Florida and Swap Fliperoo was d-u-l-l, a very hard-ridden third. Any Limit, odds-on, finished off the board.

Carmandia got good this winter. She stayed good yesterday, coming from last, up the fence, beneath Mike Luzzi as the well meant second favorite. She ran her race; Jerkens fillies didnt. Magnolia Jackson stayed gamely for place after racing Any Limit into defeat.

Meanwhile, it wasnt a wasted trip for Any Limits rider, Rafael Bejarano. He won the nightcap for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who was winning with the third of his last five Florida shippers.

Written by John Pricci

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Committees Decision To Deny Grade 1 Status Disingenuous

Americas graded stakes committee, in charge of America's Graded Stakes Committee, whose job it is to separate the stakes wheat from the chaff, this week denied the three new Breeders Cup races Grade 1 status. Expected? Yes. Disappointing? Of course. Striking a blow for tradition? Whoa, not so fast!

Without question, the GSC followed precedent by not assigning a grade; according to guideline, a race must exist for a minimum of two years. But when Breeders Cup debuted in 1984 all races were Grade 1, again when the Filly & Mare Turf was instituted 15 years later. All Breeders Cup were anticipated to be of world class. That assessment proved resoundingly correct.

No one argues that the new Filly & Mare Sprint deserves instant Grade 1 status for reasons obvious to even the most casual fan. But when Breeders Cup officials made their presentation, they took an all-or-nothing-at-all posture. After all, no event calling itself world championship wants any race to be regarded as less-than.

So, a dirt miler doesnt have a formal Eclipse category? But until that becomes a reality, cant Americas best miler be a sprint or handicap champion, even Horse of the Year? The answer: highly unusual but, of course, it could. The Juvenile Turf superfluous and meaningless? Wasnt turf specialist Wait A While the open three-year-old filly champion of 2006?

This is horse racing. Eclipse Award voters dont follow hard, fast rules because there arent any. Anything can happen and often does.

This does not denigrate the committees decision in this matter but grades have been changed in the past for less, more as a function of power politics and geography. After that, the game is to follow the money. Too many graded stakes exist already. But then there wouldnt be all that black type cluttering up the pages of a sales catalogue.

Written by John Pricci

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