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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Friday, March 06, 2015

Shared Belief, Undefeated Three-Year-Olds Not a Bad Saturday Parlay

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 6, 2015—Some good action at the Betting Bays By the Beach but tomorrow is the day where racing will be celebrated big time in Arcadia and Oldsmar.

Saturday’s Big ‘Cap day at Santa Anita Park, a.k.a. the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, a.k.a. the first ever “hundred grander” in the U.S. There’s always a “big hoss” in it and this weekend is no exception.

OK, so real handicap racing is a bygone era but as long as they card these race, someone has to be the highweight: Say hello to Shared Belief (3-5), toting 125 pounds.

Oddly, this impost was a pound more had he had been assigned in the weaker (Grade 2), shorter, and less prestigious Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Forgot to mention, the tougher Gulfstream Park Handicap. Let that sink in for a moment.
So, tell me what would have been tougher? Meeting 12 rivals for a cool million in your home state at 10 furlongs after just having beaten the 2014 Horse of the Year vs. the Moreno (6-1), one of three G1 winners but 0-for-6 at the trip, and Bronzo (10-1), a G1 winner in Chile and 10-furlong winner of an overnight handicap there?

Or shipping 3,000 miles to meet Private Zone, Honor Code and Wicked Strong going a flat mile for $300K?


But sometimes the Big ‘Cap turns out funny, not ha-ha funny, for the favorite or one of 12 rivals just might get in the way and impede his progress. That’s happened before you may recall.

However, running flat out against two horses that just might be at their best at a mile and a seasonal debutter from the very excellent 2014 three-year-old crop in no day at Hallandale Beach.

Throw in the G1 Kilroe (turf) Mile and the G2 San Felipe and that’s quite a day at the races.

Meanwhile, in Northern Florida, the always entertaining Hillsborough and Florida Oaks are good table setters for the Tampa Derby in which Stonestreet Stables will battle itself; the seasonal-debuting 2014 juvenile talent Carpe Diem (8-5) vs. undefeated, freaking Ocean Knight (2-1).

The plan was to go to the Gotham with Ocean Knight but the owners didn’t wish to roll the weather dice; that decision looks pretty good considering that Aqueduct canceled racing Friday.

On the Left Coast, while awaiting the Big One, it will be a battle of undefeateds; the 4-for-4 uber game come-again winner of the San Felipe, Dortmund (8-5), vs. the 3-for-3 Ocho Ocho Ocho (4-1), away since winning his 2014 two-turn debut, the Delta Jackpot.

Say this for Triple Eights: To date, he’s been faster on our Energy Ratings scale, by a significant margin, is training super well, and gets Mike Smith, who seems to secure a call on every good horse he’d like to ride these days.

Should the Northeast thaw out in time for Gotham’s Gotham, it will feature a battle of disappointing Withers colts, El Kabeir (8-5) and Classy Class (7-2).

If the heavily campaigned (by 2015 standards) El Kabeir has any high-test left in the equine tank, he lays over the group. If not, Classy Class could beat him, taken to improve along developmental lines and the promise of rating tactics on Saturday.

The Gotham boasts a legitimate dark horse of the kind one seldom sees anymore, a colt named Tiz Shea D (15-1).

He won his only start in very fast time. But just does one translate 5-1/2 furlongs at Parx into a mile and a sixteenth Grade 2 in New York?

Damned if I know; maybe trainer Bill Mott does.

Here, meanwhile, the dynamic and circumstances appear all wrong for Wicked Strong to make a winning return; but Private Zone vs. Honor Code might be worth the price of admission which, if you’re in the neighborhood, is free!

Written by John Pricci

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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.

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.”

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?”

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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