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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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Pegasus Fever: Catch It

The television commercials have been rolling for two weeks now and, finally, Pegasus World Cup Invitational week has arrived: Post time minus six days.

As one would expect, all the major workouts have been completed, with the exception of a short blowout at Gulfstream Park Monday morning. Expected 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner will get his final workout for the world's richest horse race. Gun Runner has never raced in South Florida.

Yesterday, however, there were three workers at Gulfstream Park West, none more impressive than Sharp Azteca; going five-eighths of a mile in 58.40 like breaking so many sticks, followed by an ultra-strong gallop out.

XBTV analyst Richard Migliore said it was the best workout he’s seen in four decades on the racetrack. A winner of 4,400 races, he knows what he’s looking at.

Then all the major horses have been working extremely well for Saturday's race. While 12 entrants would be the magic number, we’ll take the under—not by much—with no special knowledge of what will happen at Wednesday's post draw. The people who do know are not talking.

Getting the first five finishers from the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic is a big deal, the Pegasus now has attracted the Classic winner in its first two installments.

Bob Baffert, who won last year’s inaugural, is bringing two horses to replace one Arrogate, which seems about right.

While the inaugural had star power appeal, the renewal features America’s top race horse, and he will be ready for the fight. In his last official work as a 4-year-old in preparation for his 5-year-old debut and career finale, Gun Runner worked six furlongs in 1:10 3/5 at Fair Grounds.

But that's only the half of it: Steve Asmussen does not work his horses fast, but he knows his horse will need to be at his absolute best in a much deeper group than Arrogate had to defeat in 2017, an over-the-top California Chrome notwithstanding. This race is loaded with quality speed and all must be ready to encounter rapid fractions.

To ensure staying power, the gleaming chestnut was allowed to gallop out seven furlongs in 1:24.60, and double-gallop-out a mile around two turns in 1:39.20. When assessing Asmussen’s remarks, the feeling is he may believe his horse is not getting the kind of respect reserved for great horses.

If Asmussen is right about how special Gun Runner is, then we may be treated to something quite extraordinary come Saturday. Given the talent level of at least a half-dozen Pegasus runners, victory will require nothing less than a great effort...

Collected can narrow the gap of his Classic defeat, given a furlong less to work with, nine furlongs suiting him better than the Classic's 10. In West Coast, expected to be named 2017 3-year-old champion, Baffert is also bringing a laudably versatile performer with 4-year-old maturity to the fray.

In case no one has noticed, Chad Brown doesn’t gush. Always forthright, his words always are carefully measured--when he’s in the mood to share.

But Brown has been very, very impressed [note the extra very] with filly Stellar Wind, who likely will revert to the late-running tactics of her early career--not that she would be expected to match early strides with the male speed signed on. But she's been working with speed and power.

The feet-rattling nature of the Gulfstream layout should be to her liking, and Joel Rosario’s flare for saddle dramatics might just suit her perfectly. Her presence, with a let-it-all hangout and no downside, is intriguing to say the least.

The feeling remains, however, that Asmussen wants to send a message to the Thoroughbred world, especially with a stud career looming. Highly consistent but not flashy early in his 3-year-old career, there’s no doubt that Gun Runner has grown into an equine man.

Whichever horse wins Pegasus II, it will be one helluva horse race as all the elements are in place. Can’t wait!

BETS N’ PIECES: The draw for post positions in big races always carries with it a small modicum of drama. Not this time; the draw matters because of the way the speed horses will line up in relation to each other. And since only two horses have won from post 12 since 2008, there’s that…

Seek Video Highlights from Simulcast Saturday: Amy’s Challenge remained undefeated in three starts with a hard fought victory over favorite Mia Mischief after overcoming a bobbling break in Oaklawn’s Dixie Belle Stakes.

The sprint turned into an exciting speed-match as the team raced head to head through the final three furlongs. Great theater..!

A recent private purchase put his seven rivals in a World of Trouble in Tampa Bay Downs’ 7F Pasco Stakes. Going first time for Michael Dubb and trainer Jason Servis, Kantharos colt ran off to score by an eased-late 13-3/4 lengths in a record 1:21.52…

Tampa has been playing faster this season, but still, World of Trouble ($3.80) left the seasonal debuting impressive Tremont winner, He Hate Me (2-1), in his wake, Horacio DePaz runner 3-1/2 lengths in front to show finisher Mind Trappe

Todd Pletcher unleashed yet another winning maiden 3-year-old, debuting Gleason (4.00), who raced seven-eighths in 1:23.60, winning by 5-1/2 lengths beneath Manny Franco despite racing greenly…

At Gulfstream Park, the Ortiz brothers put on a good show in the Sunshine Millions Turf as Galleon Mast (4.60) beneath a contemptuously confident Irad nailed Jose’s very game Our Way by a head at the line…

Irad, told that his mount waits on rivals after hitting the front, still didn’t ask the David Fawkes-trained until inside the final sixteenth to edge out his younger brother in the final stride…

Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory…Mr. Jordan appeared to be home-Jerome in the Sunshine Millions Classic, but trainer Eddie Plesa’s worst fears about the favorite’s ability to stay nine furlongs proved correct.

After opening a clear lead approaching the sixteenth pole, Mr. Jordan drifted, ears flicked straight up, and shorted stride perceptible as frontrunner Jay’s Way, kept to task by Emisael Jaramillo, prevailed by a half-length for Midwest Thoroughbreds and trainer Armando De la Cerda

X Y Jet’s (3.60) comeback continued in impressive style, taking the lead soon after the start as the 123-pound Sunshine Millions Sprint highweight by 5-1/2 lengths in 1:09.86…

Starship Jubilee (4.00) made a strong late rally to defeat loose-leading Daddy’s Boo in deep stretch to win the Sunshine Millions F & M Turf by a length for trainer Kevin Attard as Canadian-based runners have continued to run well, not always the case in SoFla…

HRI will be on national teleconference conference hosted by the NTRA scheduled for Monday. Scheduled guests include Steve Asmussen, Mike Smith, Dallas Stewart and Stronach Group COO Tim Ritvo.

Speaking of activism, regular HRI contributor TopTurfTeddy reported that I Will Score, winner of Saturday's 3rd race at Santa Anita, was 3-1 entering the starting gate, gained a clear lead into the first turn, plummeting to 2-1, then 7-5 as the field entered the backstretch.

These late flashes, the result of computer-betting arbitrageurs, no longer should be allowed to stand. Rank and file bettors must be given time to react to heavy late wagers: Just lock the computer bets at “0” minutes, then drag post time all you want.

Not only is it unfair to all non-computer loyal customers, 99% if the population, it sends the wrong message, especially when late flashes come on runners that have secured loose, easy leads!

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, January 21, 2018

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hard Work Being a Weekend Warrior

Damn, there’s just no down time in this game. Maybe a Christmas fortnight to New Year’s, but then there’s the December 26 Santa Anita opener. What’s a weary horseplayer to do?

I mention this because while at Gulfstream Park playing their program yesterday, my head was on a swivel as if I were auditioning for a role in “The Exorcist, Part IV.”

Rival CDI, meanwhile, put on a great card for their Grade 3 LeComte program, an obvious first stop on the N’Orleans road to Louisville. More on that later, and the Silverbulletday, too.

But then there were look those interesting races at Oaklawn; don’t normally look until Monday’s Smarty Jones. Tampa Bay, one of my favorites, especially races over that magnificent grass course, wasn’t even on the radar yesterday.

Neither was the G2 La Canada—and that was my bad, and my loss--in more ways than one. Coming out, of that race, I decided that I have a new favorite filly to root for: Mended.

Earlier at the Gulfstream winter meet, this girl embarrassed a group of her peers in the Glass Slipper on Claiming Crown day, winning her 10th straight by a dominating 6-3/4 lengths.

After the race, trainer John Martin told HRI’s Tom Jicha he would do everything he could to protect her winning streak. Instead, Martin shipped her 3,000 miles and risked it all in the two-turn Grade 2 against the toughest competition she would meet in her life.

Setting her customary early pace, she was pressured throughout. Mopotism who finished well behind Unique Bella and Paradise Woods in the G1 La Brea last time, was tracking comfortably and made was appeared to be a certain winning move at headstretch.

But after getting the lead inside the furlong pole, Mended (7-1) battled back, coming again to take the slimmest of leads a jump before the wire, but lost a head-bobber to Mopotism (2-1) in a three-way photo. The exacta was a generous $49.60: Damn, Part II.

At Gulfstream, Graham Motion’s well prepared Ultra Brat won the G3 Marshua’s River at a very square 4-1, with season-debuting favorite Dream Dancing a good-finish second. She should be at top next out, better at least Heavily-backed Gianna’s Dream was awful.

When the gritty Heart to Heart missed the break in the G2 Fort Lauderdale, it left Shining Copper on a soft lead, enabling for his come-again victory over longshot One Go All Go. Mike Maker’s charge was a 5-1 overlay.

Worthy of note here is that had third-finishing Channel Cat--the 8-1 part of the uncoupled Todd Pletcher entry won the finale--a single ticket would have been worth $2.3 million.

As it was, multiple tickets that included Pletcher’s winning favorite, Maraud, returned $104,000. For those inclined, there’s $1.8 million worth of leftovers for today’s Rainbow 6 sequence.

At Oaklawn, interesting to note that Team Lukas/Stevens (Winning Colors, among many others) won a pair of three-year-old races in Hot Springs. Cool; Hall of Fame is as Hall of Fame does.

Farrell made a successful return in the 1-1/16 miles Pippin Stakes, holding off both Steve Asmussen favorite Terra Promessa and his uncoupled Ever So Clever (5-1).

The Pippin was Farrell’s fifth win without defeat at the trip. Terra Promessa backed up badly in late stretch but was effectively done by the quarter-pole. It was her first start since Saratoga and note she has rebounded big-time off poor efforts in the past.

In New Orleans, Wonder Gadot did all the dirty work but last-run longshot (McPeek/Geroux) got the money in the Silverbulletday. ‘Gadot’ virtually on a hard-chase throughout—not an easy thing, especially at Fair Grounds—yielded grudgingly. Very nice Oaks quality filly.

In the LeComte, it was a case of I’ll see your three Asmussens and raise you one Hollendorfer.

West Coast ship-in Instilled Regard, toughened recently in battles at Los Alamitos and Santa Anita, did knock back down from an early scrum into the first turn. Javier Castellano insisted on good early position so he took it.

In being aggressive, Castellano forced formerly undefeated Principe Guilherme even wider, Florent Geroux electing to allow the favorite to drop farther back than expected before relaunching. It was an excellent runnerup finish from which he should benefit.

Asmussen finished 2-3-4, his Snapper Sinclair an excellent used-throughout third. In fact, the fourth finisher, late running Zing Zang, finished very well after the fact and appears looking for more ground to eat up.

But Instilled Regard was in a class of his own in the LeComte, galloping out way ahead of the group. He might indeed have Derby talent but this is awfully early for a peak effort. Very interesting to see how he bounces out of this, and where Hollendorfer goes with him next.

They finally ran the Jerome at the Big A and Firenze Fire, who has had his training interrupted by the inclement New York winter, showed his class to wear down Seven Trumpets nearing the wire over a sealed wet track, strong handling from Manny Franco.

Wish the Pegasus were next Saturday instead of one week later. Following one track exclusively would be light work compared to Saturday’s simulcast circus.

Made myself a day’s pay. When I left the track, however, I found myself asking, no one in particular: “Did you want fries with that?”

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, January 07, 2018

Monsters Unmasked from Coast to Coast

On Cross-Country-Saturday, the rich just kept getting richer. At Santa Anita, McKinzie, saddled by 2017 Eclipse Award finalist Bob Baffert, made short work of the Sham Stakes field, cruising to victory in the West Coast’s first stop on the Kentucky Derby trail.

At Gulfstream Park, Mask, saddled by 2017 Eclipse Award finalist Chad Brown, crushed the competition in the Mucho Macho Man, South Florida’s first step on the road to Kentucky.

Both horsemen have colts among the three finalists for the 2017 Juvenile championship, neither of which are named McKinzie or Mask.

Rating kindly beneath 2017 Eclipse finalist Mike Smith, McKinzie showed emphatically that he don’t want--and he don’t need--no stinking blinkers.

Settling into a wide 3-path throughout off the speed of even-pace setting All Out Blitz, it was Smith who came wide a blitz on the far turn, his momentum carrying his mount into the lead at headstretch before drawing off without need of pressure.

All Out Blitz proved easily second best, staying on after McKinzie took the lead and galloping out with energy after the finish in a good speed performance.

Second favorite Shivermetimbers clearly disappointed, stalking the pace after breaking a bit flat-footed and could not match strides with the first two finishers after being asked to do so on the final turn.

McKinzie’s final quarter-mile was a highly respectable 24.41, stopping the timer in 1:36.58 for the two-turn mile. Said Baffert post race:

"He just broke, got into good position, (and) didn't get rank with the blinkers off," Baffert said. "He was good, and when horses come to him, he really gets into the bridle. He got a lot out of this,” indicating that the March 10 San Felipe could be next.

At Gulfstream, the normally all-business Chad Brown was smiling widely in the winners’ circle, pleased but not necessarily surprised that his colt wound up on the lead, or in the winners' circle, for that matter.

“We had a good post and figured he’d break better in his second start,” said Brown following his colt’s sophomore debut at a flat mile. And break better he did.

Mask, whose stablemate Good Magic is an Eclipse finalist in the Juvenile category, broke sharply and inherited a clear lead in moderate fractions, a pace greatly moderated by a strong westerly wind that had the infield flags saluting crisply all afternoon.

The Mucho Macho Man was billed as a showdown: Mask, a second-time starter heavily bet from the bell, versus undefeated Dak Attack, 2-for-2 in Kentucky for Dale Romans, who had to adapt the colt’s training owing to shin issues that is so common with babies.

The Romans colt broke sharply and was but was taken in hand by Robby Albarado, in for the ride, but forced to race between horses down the long backstretch run. Those tough circumstances, plus some feel-good histrionics in the ring pre-race, could not have helped.

Despite that, nothing that he or any of Mask’s rivals could have done differently would have made a bit of difference. The $685,000 purchase who probably gets his speed from the Yonaguska mare, Hidden Expression, opened ground on his own at the turn and was not much more than knuckled-on by Javier Castellano into the lane.

Mask, an Embarrassment of Riches for Chad Brown
Photo Credit: Lauren King
In the straight it was all Mask, and we mean all Mask. Castellano sat motionless through the final furlong and eased his mount a sixteenth of a mile from the wire while increasing the margin.

The vastly experienced Bal Harbour rallied nicely on the fence through the lane to secure the place as Dak Attack remained one-paced to the end, holding the show in an effort sure to move him forward.

So while Mask didn’t necessarily prove anything by 12-clipping his field to death, coming his final quarter mile in 24:72, his future seems boundless, if he goes from start two to start three the same way he went from sprint debut to Mucho Macho Man, timed in 1:37.65.

While Brown remained noncommittal as to where the colt will run next, it seems unlikely it will be the Holy Bull and more likely the Fountain of Youth, unless he decides he wants more time between races leading up to the Florida Derby.

Showing an affinity for Gulfstream, it doesn’t make much sense to do anything but leave him in SoFla and allow him to develop at Palm Meadows. Apparently, those company works with Stellar Wind paid dividends.

As for stablemate Good Magic, he could take the New York or Lexington route to Louisville. Love this time of year, even as the rich get richer.

Speaking of Three-Year-Olds…

Too bad that Bolt D’Oro, who might hold a slight exit-poll edge over Good Magic in Eclipse voting, has had his three-year-old debut delayed after apparently getting cast in his stall. The March 2 San Felipe seems to make the most sense for his belated debut.

The Jerome, a flat mile for three-year-olds in New York that was lost to the intemperate weather, has been rescheduled and will be run on Saturday. The race will be redrawn from the original nominees, though there could be supplemental noms.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Derby lid-lifter, the Lecomte at a mile 70 yards, has been drawn—love, love, love that Fair Grounds draws entries this far in advance!—and it has drawn a better than limit field; 14 in the body plus an also-eligible.

Three of those are legitimate headliners: Principe Guilherme, 2-for-2 by an aggregate 17-1/4 lengths; Instilled Regard placed second in G1 Los Al Derby last time and getting first-time Castellano, and the filly Wonder Gadot, also cross-entered in the Silverbulletday, with Velazquez.

Meanwhile, her stablemate Flameaway was a very game winner of the Kitten's Joy, setting the pace under pressure and repelling a host of stretch challengers, adding a turf victory to his prior scores on synthetic and dirt surfaces. Very nice colt!

Written by John Pricci

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