John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com 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 MSNBC.com, 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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Wednesday, March 04, 2015


At the Sales, Luck Is What You Need


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 3, 2015—It’s not very often grizzled racetrackers get all gee whiz about watching Thoroughbreds run after training hours without watching an actual race, but that’s how the family spent Monday morning at Gulfstream Park.

On Wednesday the track held its first ever two-year-old-in-training sales, but Monday was the “breeze-up” portion of the program.

Buyers don’t need to watch the young horse workout live, as the Fasig-Tipton sales company records the trials so that video becomes a huge part of the sales pitch to future owners.

And so we all watched the first set of workouts as fans and the experience was fun, informational and educational.

We saw the first of three sets of two-year-olds breeze and late Tuesday put in a call to Bruno DeJulio; horse owner, consultant, pin-hooker and, of course, the man with a stopwatch in hand to get his impressions of what we witnessed.

And, so, how do these sales differ from the traditional yearling sales?

“It’s a completely different experience [than a traditional horse sale],” DeJulio said. And indeed, it was, especially recalling that Bayern and Dortmund were breeze-up sales graduates in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

“I look for money-ball pedigrees," DeJulio explained. "Understand that when you look at a pedigree page in a sales catalogue it’s like looking at a set of PPs; you’re not seeing the DNA that makes the pedigree what it is.”

And by watching horses race against the clock and how they move over the racetrack provides a look into the equine athlete, an insight that’s missing from a yearling sales catalogue.

image
Tote Board introduces horses to prospective buyers

“So what about saddle cloth number 105?” I asked DeJulio. “He’s a chestnut colt by Speightstown out of the Forest Wildcat mare, Stylish Wildcat," I said. He went in 10 1/5 [down a straightaway], running with abandon. I wrote down ‘scoots’ in my catalogue.”

“Actually, we teach them to do everything wrong. We don’t ask three year olds, we don’t ask five year olds, to go that fast. These are very young horses.

“You need trainers who are conscientious and know how build a good foundation. Jim Crupi and Rudy Delguidice do that.”

“The Stylish Wildcat is very fast. I got him in 10 1/5, 21 2/5 and 34 4/5. There were three sets yesterday. I clock at Gulfstream and Palm Meadows and can tell you the track was faster for the first set than it was later in the day.

‘He was one of the better gallop-outs in the first set. In that context, a tick or two can be very important…

“Let’s see what they paid for him [as a yearling], DeJulio continued. “They paid $230,000. That horse could sell anywhere from $350,000 to $500,000.”

image
Adena Springs' roan filly gallops down the
Gulfstream Park stretch

I asked “what about #133? He’s a bay by Unbridled’s Song out of Aspenglow. He went in 10 /5, looked like he had something left and I thought he had nice action.”

“He went in 10 2/5 and galloped out in 22 2/5 and 36 2/5. He was neither negative nor positive to me.

“The thing is that he’s an Unbridled Songs, and they’re known to have narrow airways, so you have to listen to them to know whether they can breathe through those airways or not.”

Clearly, buying untested race horses of any age makes handicapping turf sprints appear to be child’s play by comparison.

Finally I asked, “So who did you like?”

“I liked #147, a filly by Smart Strike. I had her in 10 1/5, 22 2/5 and 34 4/5. She’s bred to be a mile and a quarter horse in the middle of her three year old year.

“Her pedigree is balanced; she should go long or short, and should be at her best in the main meets of summer and fall.

“The last piece of the puzzle is what they paid as a yearling, $100,000, Maybe a quarter of a million gets it done for her. I thought her work was fantastic.”

“Finally, what about the half-brother to Hoppertunity and Executive Privilege, #69?”

image
Chestnut filly by Smart Strike was the star
in the first set of workouts.

“The interesting thing about him is that he’s not by a fashionable sire [Cowboy Cal] and the people who bought him for $500,000 are the same people who bought Carpe Diem for $550,000 as a yearling and sold him for $1.6 million to Stonestreet. But he was a Giant’s Causeway.

“Thing is you never know when you’re getting quality. You can buy the best horse from the best consignor, ridden by the best breeze-show rider with the best workout and everything you want in a pedigree.

“But everything has got to go right from there. What you really need is the luck.”

Now, finally, we’re getting to the crux of the matter.

Photos by Toni Pricci

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, February 28, 2015


Rain, Rain Wouldn’t Go Away


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., February 28, 2015—I scoured what turned out to be nearly empty clubhouse and none of the familiar faces I encountered could recall when a Gulfstream card was canceled halfway through the program.

I heard tell of a gate malfunction causing a race to be canceled at the original Gulfstream Park, but this is a first. The Gulfstream press staff could not confirm a previous card cancellation and an entire day, according to colleague Tom Jicha, once was lost to extremely cold weather.

Saratoga Race Course was seen laughing.

But this was bad. Sideways rain and gusting winds left the parking lot flooded in spots, the biggest problem near the racing office. Some cars were seen with standing water at tire level and streets around the Hallandale course were flooded out.

Traffic was re-routed in the area with cars traversing the wrong side of the streets in order to proceed forward. The Herecomesthebride was run on the sloppy main track. It was won by favorite Devine Aida, who likely would have gone favorite on turf as well.

The canceled Grade 2 Swale and G3 Palm Beach will be brought back next Saturday along with the regularly scheduled Gulfstream Park Handicap.

How this affects the Kentucky Derby aspirations of Champagne Stakes winner Daredevil, entered to make his season’s debut in the Swale, is anyone’s guess.

Preakness anyone?

"The rain just didn't stop and for the safety of our customers, jockeys, horsemen and employees, we felt it best to cancel the races for the remainder of the day," said Gulfstream Park General Manager P.J. Campo.

There likely could have been an economic component to the decision as well. There was a $385,000 Rainbow 6 jackpot carryover, with Saturday’s pool guaranteed at $600,000.

Between a bevy of late scratches, surface switches. and uncertainty surrounding both variables, it seemed doubtful that bettors would have ponied up $215,000 needed to reach the guaranteed pot.

There will be the same $385,000 available in Sunday’s pool, but there will be no guaranteed dollar amount in the pool.

A 12-race card is on tap for Sunday, with the Rainbow 6 starting with the day’s seventh race.

However, there will be a $100,000 guaranteed pool for the late Pick 4 and $50,000 for the Pick 5 covering races 8 through 12.

Bets n’ Pieces: to follow…

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, February 26, 2015


From WHOA to GO


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., February 26, 2015—One hears the cliché all the time: Age is just a number.

But not as far as John Nerud is concerned. As I celebrated a birthday on Tuesday, I really appreciate the fact that spending 102 years on this planet is no trifling achievement. And to be as sound and cogent as Mr. John is at this stage, is nothing short of remarkable.

Salute!

I was reminded of his age when it was announced that Nerud became the 1000th racing practitioner--of whom there are nearly 700 are owners, breeders, trainers and jockeys--to join WHOA, the Water, Hay and Oats Alliance.

This group is an amalgam of the industry’s best, brightest, and most influential, media types and racing fans, and the time has come for the group to break out into the open with its plans.

Now we understand that in order to accomplish things on a political level, a quiet approach is the best tactic and I’m sure members of the group are working some of the back-channels in earnest.

However, as the world’s most famous horse race is fast approaching, and given that the group has more than its share of 1 percenters, it’s time for influential individuals to step up in defense of the sport, explaining why and how they will restore public confidence.

It’s time for this group to use their influence to brand horse racing in a new way with the general public, first by acknowledging that there is a problem and that the resulting perception that all apples must be rotten is not only unfair but untrue.

It’s imperative that racing addresses the poor perception problem because, as everyone knows, apples rot from the inside-out?

As America gets set to pay attention to the sport, as it does every spring and seemingly for about only those six weeks each year, it’s time for racing’s most powerful players to say it proud and say it loud:

You have no idea what you’re missing and we’re working hard to bring you back.

Said the Hall of Famer this week, a horseman since 1937 and co-creator of Breeders’ Cup with John Gaines: “When they allowed Lasix they opened the door to a lot of trouble. I don’t approve of its use because it gives racing a bad image.

“The introduction of growth hormone and steroids has set the horse industry back many years because it has weakened the breed.

“The Breeders’ Cup is in a lot of trouble. It was originated for one reason, to market racing. They have lost their way.”

There are many reasons for the loss of focus, of course. The modern Breeders’ Cup has become more about betting handle, hence a second day and many more races. The competition is unquestionably great; the event, on balance, American racing’s best.

But it’s not as quality-laden as it once was. Europeans and other foreign interests have learned that, for the most part, they can win some of America’s most prestigious Grade 1s with their Grade 2 stock.

And that’s because world class horses are being bred everywhere in the world now, not just in the Commonwealth of Kentucky or in other major American Thoroughbred breeding jurisdictions.

Yes, 40 years ago, the Europeans, Japanese, then Middle Eastern interests, raided the U.S., bought and brought much of our best bloodstock home.

But now even that part of the sales market has grown soft because European buyers outwardly admit they’re not sure whether it’s the bloodlines or better-racing-through-chemistry that’s producing all those American Grade 1 studs.

Add the increased number of international racing events available in late fall and it’s readily understood why the Breeders’ Cup no longer attracts the best foreign talent, especially now that mega-purse events have become so commonplace worldwide.

While horse racing has become less of a sporting event and more of a huge business venture, decisions based on bottom-line considerations have led to short cuts; therapeutic medication and improved surgical technique trumping a preferred alternative, equine R & R.

There is no substitute for helping horses to recuperate from most injuries better than time at the farm just being a horse.

But like most things in the modern era, horse racing has become more about fast food fixes than several well considered courses in a family environment.

The time has come to get back to basics before it’s too late. Just ask John Nerud.

Written by John Pricci

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