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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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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Saturday, February 21, 2015


Projected Energy Performance Figures: A Contrarian Approach


How will my horse run today?

Since August, 2013, most of my time has been spent trying to re-evaluate the answer to that question.

In the immediate aftermath of the loss of my good friend and business partner, Cary Fotias, I’ve been searching for a new methodology that I could have confidence in.

Without Cary’s daily, hand-crafted Equiform Performance Figures, the X-TRAs, I was lost.

Going back to Handicapping 101 principles, while ever timeless, simply was not going to be an option. The variables of class, speed, pace and trainer methodology, as they pertain to the modern Thoroughbred, requires something more.

My handicapping had become dependent upon a new approach to this art-science learned while working with Cary. But without his relentless pursuit of daily performance-figure accuracy, I lacked the most reliable implement in my handicapping toolbox.

In my view, there was nothing out there that even came close to his figures because of the relationships he mastered with respect to how, in the final analysis, pace relates not only to final time but, more significantly, to Thoroughbred condition and development.

There was no getting around it: I needed to go back to the future, come up with my own set of figures, based initially on Quirin speed points, but combined with the principles that worked so well when Cary and I worked in tandem on many successful handicapping projects, including several unique product lines.

After much trial and error, mostly error, I found an approach: My own Energy Ratings combined with time-honored principles and statistical analysis of lessons learned in nearly five decades of public handicapping experience. I place more emphasis on what I believe to be the most significant aspects of a horse's past performance lines.

And so I pooled the new Energy Rankings with traditional tenets, statistical analysis of human variables, but weighting those statistics as they relate to condition and development; in short, the creation of a self-contained complete handicapping package reduced to one number yielding a Projected Performance Profile.

As the beta-testing progressed, my confidence level recovered and the process began to morph into something I could call my own. I learned that I could rely with some certitude on a methodology that sense in the uncertain world of Thoroughbred handicapping.

At last, I had a way to codify a personal approach that combines these new Energy Ratings with sound, traditional principles that informs my approach with Fotias’ creative and unique method.

My decades of backstretch experience and empirical data assessment were added to this new handicapping equation yielding a value-laden contrarian approach to disparate horse racing puzzles. Finally, I had found my way. Again.

My approach incorporates Fotias' handicapping principles that drove his success as a professional horseplayer with a new way of looking at running lines, using the “Turf Decline Line,” or the “New Pace Top,” the “Plunge Line” and “Reversal;” fused to make an all-inclusive Projected Performance Profile.

After nearly 18 months of study that included countless hours of nuanced modification and further beta-testing, I created a Projected Performance figure that answered the question that intrigues all handicappers: How will my horse run today?

And so here are the very first Pricci Performance Projections--an amalgam of original Energy Ratings; Fotias principles; surface and distance suitability; trainer and jockey tendencies and race shape, post position, bias study and all the rest.

Of course, results causation and betting expectancy are worlds apart: Long term profitability is more dependent on price than it is on horse--another Fotias truism.

As with every successful gambling endeavor, players are advised to proceed with caution and stay within themselves, remain in their personal comfort zone with respect to which wagers and betting levels are right for them, thus making the handicapping process and betting experience more enjoyable. Horseplayers must heed those subconscious clues.

I’m confident that "Pricci Performance Projections" eventually, hopefully, will become the most relevant device in your handicapping arsenal. The data was designed to complement your own handicapping, sitting alongside your past performances, or as a stand-alone product with no additional analysis necessary.

Consistent interpretation of Performance Projections will eliminate much of the noise in the handicapping process and ultimately prove the key to personal wagering success.

Cary's passing left me with two choices: lead or follow. It turns out I'm not very good at getting out of the way.

A (somewhat crude) debut example of the product format is demonstrated in today's Feature Race Analysis of the Fountain of Youth Stakes.

Written by John Pricci

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