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, August 20, 2007

HRI Exclusive - NYRA Fires Starter Over Gate Flaps

By John Pricci

Saratoga Springs, NY, Aug. 20, 2007--In the wake of a series of incidents in the Saratoga starting gate, resulting in last-minute scratches that cost the New York Racing Association over $2 million in betting handle and lost purse-earning opportunities for owners, the association has fired its head starter Richard Brosseau, HorseRaceInsider has learned.

Brosseau had replaced long time head starter Bob Duncan, widely regarded as the industry's best at his position. Duncan is still active and often is called in by some of the world's leading racetracks as a special consultant prior to its most important events.

Brosseau is expected to be replaced by his number one assistant, veteran assistant starter Roy Williamson, possibly as soon as later this week.

NYRA officials had appeared in the press box earlier at the meeting to discuss the situation, placing the cause on a lack of communication in the gate between the starting gate crew and the jockeys in the moments before the start, but did not elaborate specifics.

HRI also learned that those issues were likely the result of new protocols instituted by Brosseau. There has been too much chatter in the gate just prior to the start of a race due to the elimination of a microphone, the confusion often causing the kind of chaos upsetting to highly strung thoroughbreds.

Resultantly, some horses at this meet were in the grasp of an assistant starter and were severely compromised at the break. The NYRA has led the way in protecting the public by ordering refunds when these types of incidents occur.

The increased noise level was also upsetting to the horses, exacerbated by the fact there are many races carded at Saratoga for un-raced two-year-olds and other young horses light on experience.

Under Duncan's direction, chatter was limited to the time just before the break when he would give his crew a heads-up that the start was about to commence. All would know, including fans, that a start was upcoming when they heard Duncan's words: "OK, let's get tied on."

Brosseau had also shortened the distance between his observation perch and the starting gate, from 75 feet to 45 feet, hindering depth perception and the ability to view the activity of horses leaving from outside positions.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

What Will Saratoga Bring?

Octave, whose timing could have been better in terms of her standing within her own barn, much less the three-year-old filly division, won her second consecutive Grade 1 of the session yesterday, a small footnote given stablemate Rags To Riches 102-yearold historical achievement earlier in the meet.

Both fillies are now on a collision course as each is being considered for Saratogas storied Alabama Stakes, although one of them should run in the Travers. But more on that later. Were just glad the Belmont winner has gotten over the sniffles and is back in training full time.

The effort by Johnny Velazquez was a thing of beauty on the Pletcher favorite at Belmont Saturday. He simply didnt allow lone speedster Folk to get away, then timed Octaves winning move perfectly, opening just enough ground to hold off Lears Princess late.

And wasnt Lears Princess good in her real dirt debut? She has a lot of quality but probably will prove better on grass. At least now her connections know they have options.

Folk was good, too. While she had to work just a tad to secure a clear lead, she battled back gamely despite making her first start in four months and while going a mile and a quarter for the first time.

It was Octaves stablemate, however, that made this Belmont meet memorable: First the stumbling start and brilliant recovery by filly and rider. Then her trip. Its one thing to like it out there in the clear; its quite another to fire wider off the turn and widest into the stretch before withstanding the resurgence of a brilliant classic winner.

It makes you wonder whether Rags To Riches might be the best three-year-old in the country over any distance. Her pedigree was her edge in the Belmont, no question. But her talent and obvious class make her, to use a much overused and abused description, something truly special.

At this point, it cant only be about the money for her connections. The career of Rags To Riches, in the recent past, present and future, is now about historical context every time she races. Anything less would do the filly a disservice.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Can’t Anyone Here Monitor This Game?

I never got into this issue before; I was between web-sites at the time.

It has to do with NYRAs cutting off certain off-shore rebate shops and the constructing of detention barns.

These steps ostensibly were taken to satisfy the states monitor so the association could avoid prosecution and show they were good, upstanding citizens.

But I always felt this had more to do with trotting out dogs and ponies than anything resembling real reform.

I dont believe what lawmakers, the New York Times, the Albany Times Union--or any reputable newspaper for that matter--say regarding these two issues or why the actions taken by the NYRA were necessary.

To stop money laundering? Deter organized crime?


This all began because unscrupulous trainer with questionable ties was caught putting over a favorite,an odds-on favorite, at Aqueduct and bet that horse off-shore.

When the story broke, the authorities acted as if they just caught the entire Corleone family. But organized crime media stories sell papers and help get politicians elected.

Does anyone care that one of the most reputable and successful off-shore rebate shops, RGS, one that caters to some of the games largest bettors, pays higher fees than a majority of simulcast outlets? And that their handle is co-mingled with track pools?

So then why did the bankrupt NYRA hurt their own business and the taxpayers of New York State by cutting off RGS among others? For appearances sake?

Everyone knows that anytime some group in this country declares a war on anything like, say, The War On Drugs, it has failed for a lack of execution, commitment and funding.

The detention barn as a deterrent to cheaters? Sounds good. Sounds like a reasonable idea. But drug suspensions, many involving the biggest names in the game, keep getting meted out in New York. Why?

The term juice remains as relevant in New York racing circles as discussions involving Barry Bonds assault on Hank Aarons home run record are in every American city outside San Francisco.

Of course, drugs are a huge problem, in every strata of society. But detention barns on NYRAs backstretch? Talking points, little more.

When well meaning lovers of thoroughbred racing in Saratoga wonder why the racing office cards so many races for New York-breds, maybe they should look at the detention barn for the declining number of shippers.

Yes, VLT-infused purses elsewhere makes shipping to Saratoga unnecessary for many outfits. But so does the extreme and costly inconvenience of shipping into the detention barn.

John Sherriffs, trainer of the late developing Tiago, cited the detention barn and not the presence of Street Sense and Curlin as the reason hes seriously considering remaining in California to run against older horses in the Pacific Classic instead of the Travers.

New York, and every racing jurisdiction in the country, has a responsibility to increase vigilance if they truly want to deter the use of illegal drugs via use of the latest technologies or funding for needed testing research.

Solutions such as the barring of a handful of bet takers and the use of detention barns may satisfy headline writers and politicians. But they accomplish little else except to inconvenience the customers and horsemen they purport to help.

Written by John Pricci

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