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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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.


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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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Of Betting Bonuses, Beauties, Mega Race Days and New Foals

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., February 14, 2015--Considering last weekend’s $68 Cross Country Pick 4 payoff coupling three short-priced favorites (2-1 or less) and a 5-2 second favorite for 50 cents, HRI promises that the next time Xpressbet guarantees a $500,000 pool minimum on a sequence involving graded stakes from Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita you can forget about having another $27,000 shortfall.

Four-hundred eighty-two thousand dollars is quite an impressive debut on relatively short notice, even if the bet was well promoted locally and online.

Now the hook, in addition to California Chrome vs. Shared Belief as the final leg of the P4 sequence supported by national cablecast on FoxSports1 was a bonus offered by Xpressbet that effectively eliminated takeout.

Lamentably, Xpressbet in all media, including live reads on the Stronach Group’s HRTV racing network, promoted the bet as “zero takeout” which, by definition, it wasn’t. What it was was a bonus on winnings, a capped bonus in fact, and it sure was impressive when the bonus was credited to my account.

As stated, the $68 payoff, in light of the individual win payoffs and the well promoted horses and races involved, was generous but when my account was credited, the $68 became $89. The purpose of promoting this fact is to stress the negative effects of takeout.

Of course, zero takeout would be an impossible non-starter for obvious reasons and, yes, takeout—discerning bettors who avoid the usurious takeout rates in certain states/tracks notwithstanding—only matters when you win.

Well, you can choose to believe this or not. When making straight wagers I’m a base bet + Square root of the profits type. When my return goes up, my personal betting handle goes up. Legislators of America--especially those appointed or elected by the good people of Pennsylvania--this is the concept known as churn.

Allow me to win more and my personal handle will grow accordingly, and so will those of the racetrack. When used properly, this means more money for education, for the states, for the people putting on the show and, most importantly, for the bettors, without whom a sport will continue to be marginalized out of existence.

Merry Meadow Good and Getting Better: The Hurricane Bertie Stakes, named for a sweetheart of a prolific sprinting mare, is merely a Grade 3 at 6-1/2 furlongs for horses of the female persuasion but somehow the race always seems to deliver either a very good filly or a very good performance.

It was a race in which the wonderful Groupie Doll exited the racing stage in high style last Valentine’s Day and this year was turned into at playhouse for this good-looking well-balanced daughter of Henny Hughes five year old who just loves the game.

A lifetime slate that now reads (26) 8-10-5 speaks to that as does prize money approaching the $700,000 mark, most of it seemingly earned a dollar at a time. And on Saturday, she had to be taken out of her comfort zone to do it.

If the mare and her connections had their way, Merry Meadow would always be a stretch-running sprinter. But when Wildcat Lily was scratched the morning of the race, this highly likely left the very quick More Than a Party loose on the lead.

Javier Castellano didn’t need to be instructed about the potential urgency of the situation. “We didn’t discuss [strategy] at all,” explained winning trainer Mark Hennig post-race. “I know Javier and he always does his homework.”

And the rider executed his game plan perfectly. He would have to bring the battle to the Eddie Broome trainee, in the talented and aggressive hands of Paco Lopez. Castellano put the pressure on right from the start and when he was read, took command leaving the turn before drawing off in what was, in our view, a career performance.

“She’s such an honest filly and right now she just wants to win. She’s really gotten professional as she’s gotten older. She’s better than she’s ever been,” said Hennig when asked about the early move to the lead. “I’m sorry, I needed to stay close,” Javier said upon pulling up. “I told him he did it exactly right,” the trainer said.

And so did Hennig, who will enjoy Saturday’s performance then decide what to do next.

BETS ‘N PIECES: In the sub-featured Copper City overnight handicap, 120-pound I’m Already Sexy spotted six rivals [after scratches] one to six pounds and was all out to win the one-mile turf event, giving Castellano a sweep of the Saturday stakes and fourth win of the afternoon…

“This is a real progressive colt,” said Golden Gate Fields track announcer Michael Wrona of the “towering performance” Metaboss crossed finish line drawing away to win the G3 El Camino Real Derby with nine furlongs in 149.92 after a dawdling pace, getting his final eighth in a very worthy 11.86 for trainer Jeff Bonde under perfect inside-out handling from Alex Solis.

Metaboss was a recent maiden graduate at nine furlongs on turf but was outrun in his lone start in an off-the-turf event sprinting 6-1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita. Was it the distance or the dirt that was inappropriate that afternoon? Whether the connections have Kentucky Derby aspirations, sooner or later they’re going to have to answer the question…

For those who lament the high takeout rate associated with Gulfstream’s Rainbow Pick 6, consider this is not a life-changing bet that’s the exclusive province of the deep-pocketed rebate crowd. Thursday’s $133,000 jackpot was bought with a $4 ticket.

That was the third time an astute horseplayer had his life changed for the better: According to the Gulfstream media department, a $12.80 ticket was worth $242,000 on Dec. 19 and $317,000 was returned for a $33.60 risk two weeks later...

Too Much of a Good Thing: We are a believer in the Oaks-Derby business model in which the modern approach is to put many special events in one big stakes-day basket. The thinking is that three or four big-handle days per meet, while treading water the rest of the way, is better for business.

Nothing gets a bettor’s juices flowing more than a card full of top-quality large fields. But next Saturday’s stakes laden program at Gulfstream, one that likely will attract close to $20 million in handle, is too much of a good thing in our view.

Eight stakes, seven graded, including the headline-grabbing Fountain of Youth Stakes, is a veritable feast for racing fans. But how many top performances and top horses will get lost in the promotional shuffle? Saturday also marks the return of Horse of the Year finalist Main Sequence in the Mac Diarmida Stakes, prepping for the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic.

And Now for Something Completely Different: My daughter Jennifer sent me an email photo of Horse of the Year Havre De Grace with her new foal by War Front. She wanted to brainstorm on a name for the foal. We came up with the name Grace Under Fire.

Got a better idea? Submit it, the decision of the judges, Jen and me, will be final whatever name the eventual owners go with. First prize will be a choice of a morning on the Saratoga backstretch, breakfast afterward; or a day at the races with me in the Gulfstream press box, weekdays only, lunch included. Second prize is, of course, two mornings or afternoons. (BTW: That’s an LOL).

However, I am serious about our little HRI contest; let’s have some fun. Toni will be brought in to break any ties.

Written by John Pricci

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