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, January 15, 2016

Eclipse Weekend Stakes Preview


By John Pricci
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As the industry and the sport’s fans await Saturday night Eclipse Award ceremonies from Gulfstream Park, wannabe champions will be on display all over the U.S. this weekend.

This being classics prep season, three year-olds will be in action from coast to coast, in NoCal for Golden Gate’s California Derby and in Nola with the LeComte, the Louisiana Derby series lid-lifter.

Down on the Bayou, meanwhile, the always entertaining Silverbulletday may provide Kentucky Oaks fodder on the first Friday in May.

Older fillies and mares go at it in the Grade 2 La Canada from Santa Anita, an all-stakes Pick 3 beginning with the sophomore preps at the Fair Grounds with older would-be handicappers meeting in the Big A’ Jazil Stakes.

But Gulfstream Park is where it’s at as the Hallandale track presents the Sunshine Millions as an opening Eclipse act, six stakes for the classiest Florida-breds in training.

Here’s a handicapping look-in on some of today’s action:


Race isn’t as cut and dry as it might appear even if betting against Rudy Rodriguez runners has been fraught with danger this meet. ‘Posse’ is coming off an impressive Claiming Crown Jewel score at Gulfstream last out, so an 8-5 early line is deserved.

But his next win on the winter track will be his first in five starts and he’s turning back off five 9-furlong routes to a trip at which he’s a modest 1-for-6 lifetime. Kid Cruz (2-1) is as fast as the favorite on the Thoro-Graph scale but has not put the winning effort together since July, 2014.

Responding to several suggestions, we’re tweaking the BETTABLES format [includes early line odds]:

WINNER: Royal Posse
VALUE: Majestic Affair (4-1)
EXOTICA: Day of Fury (8-1)


So, can these 3-year-olds be successful on the main track? Some. Handle added distance? Some. Serious divisional contenders? Doubtful.

There are two close favorites on the early line; the Hollendorfer-trained Allaboutaction (5-2) and Doug O’Neill’s Frank Conversation (2-1). So what goes on the way to the graded El Camino Real? See there are a couple of speed types and stretch-outs so pace should be solid, befitting the late-run synthetics dynamic. The race shape suits Mana Strike.

PROJECTED FAVORITE: Frank Conversation
WINNER: Frank Conversation
VALUE: Mana Strike (4-1)
EXOTICA: Canada (6-1)


A very tricky read. Will the speed of Yahilwa on paper each with a conflicting style: The speed of Taris (2-1) and Yahilwa (5-2) vs the kick of Birdatthewire (3-1).

The trick is knowing which speed filly will be in front; the fresh Yahilwa, drawn inside Taris, rates to get the lead. Further, the latter’s never been this far but is being taught to relax and it’s working; she also has plenty of bottom-side route pedigree.

Birdatthewire was a value play for us in the G1 La Brea and she came with a huge late run, showing an affinity for the surface in her SA debut. But there’s the 3,000 mile ship, the big effort and short rest. Dynamics suit her, so price will indicate her bettability.

VALUE: Birdatthewire
EXOTIC TOTE BUSTER: Honey Ride (12-1)


There’s a filly we’re very impressed with, but taking a short price on Stageplay (8-5) from her outside slip is problematical.

After two impressive wins to begin her career, she was an excellent tough trip sloppy-track second to the extremely promising Carina Mia. Curlin filly is a natural two-turn performer given her style and pedigree, Bullet work and Geroux seals the deal.

WINNER: Stageplay
EXOTICA: Annabelle (8-1), More Than Most (6-1)


Now this is an interesting bunch with several owning classics potential. Early line favorite Mo Tom (7-2) is a good colt. After winning Churchill’s Street Sense in visually impressive style, he came from 12th to finish third in the sloppy G2 Jockey Club Stakes.

Working brilliantly for his second start for Tom Amoss and reuniting with Corey Lanerie, he will be a very tough out in this spot. Fish Trappe Road (6-1) and Uncle Walter (6-1) are worthy rivals each getting six pounds from the logical favorite.

Should Tom’s Ready (5-1) draw in from the also-eligibles, he belongs in exactas given common opponent Mo Tom.

Pinnacle Peak (8-1) won its FG debut for the hot Michael Stidham after getting Geroux last out and Tiznoble’s (10-1) future may be on turf, but talented Joe Sharp trainee won a recent off-turfer here on a sealed, good track.

VALUE: Uncle Walter
EXOTICA: Fish Trappe Road


Marty Wolfson-trained turf mare Lori’s Store (2-1) is a six-time winner on grass, three at Gulfstream, and most recently was a good, late-finish third from a wide draw at 7-1/2 furlongs to Tuttipaesi, a good second subsequently in last weekend’s G3 Marshua’s River.

Added ground, a switch to Johnny and a strong work for this—a half-mile breeze around the dogs in 47 3/5 at GP; seventh fastest of 135 members in her peer group this week.

WINNER: Lori’s Store
VALUE: Unbridled Courage (4-1)
EXOTICA: Pink Poppy (6-1)


Extremely competitive, as we left six of the 10 starters open. Five appear obviously pointed to this: Sr Quisqueyano (4-1), third off a layup for Peter Walder (34%); Mr. Jordan (7-2), back in a week following a G3 Hal’s Hope non-effort and Mexicoma (9-2), with ideal spacing and much improved in the Dilger barn.

And there’s Saraguaro (5-1), reserved for this and seeking third straight beneath Eddie Castro and Catholic Cowboy (12-1), the Claiming Crown Jewel winner here last winter. Might as well include Walder’s second entrant, the extremely sharp Runs With Bulls (6-1), as well.

WINNER: Mexikoma
VALUE: Saraguaro

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, January 08, 2016

Lots to Analyze on Stakes Schedule this Weekend

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HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., January 8, 2016—Next weekend, the industry will be handing out racing’s ultimate honor in recognition of recent achievement and historical context.

This weekend, however, tracks will distribute significant pieces of hardware from coast to coast to winners of three graded stakes in South Florida, two in Southern California, notwithstanding several grade-quality fields masquerading as listed stakes.

El Nino may have a significant effect on how things will shake out in the West while in the Southwest the forecast is favorable--a good thing considering two of the three graded offerings at Gulfstream Park are scheduled on turf.

The other matches Mshawish (8-5) vs. Matrooh (9-5), and a likely supporting cast, in the G3 Hal’s Hope; think Donn prep here.

The big story, of course, is the return of 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome (4-5) in the G2 San Pascual sans Dortmund but with Hoppertunity (5-2) in the role of obligatory Bob Baffert trainee.

Three-year-olds out West will start their distance programs with the G3 Sham while five hours north of Hallandale via Alligator Alley, turf sprinters will do their thing in the Turf Dash at Tampa Bay.

New York’s Interborough for older filly and mare sprinters features the season’s debut of 2015 F & M Sprint finalist La Verdad (1/1). Let’s take a deeper look:


So, what to do with La Verdad? Flat vs. males in the Fall Highweight coming off an enervating BC Sprint placing, is the brief freshening since and class relief enough to get her back in top form? Consider the upcoming Barbara Fritchie is the career-ending target.

I don’t have an answer here and am not that curious given the early line odds. Four of the remaining six fillies have a chance to upset.

Won’t know which way to go until opening odds are posted. Room for Me (5-2), the second fastest filly on the Thoro-Graph and Pricci Energy scales, is the logical danger. But two slower price shots intrigue: Willet (12-1), 3-for-4 on the winter track and a remarkable (12) 7-3-2 at the trip; and forward-marching Dancing House (8-1), 3-for-5 including a nose defeat since adding Lasix, is returning for Kiaran McLaughlin, 25% profitable with 90-days+ returnees.


Successful runners in these races have one thing in common: They are specialists. Four of the 10 entrants; Power Alert (5-2), filly Richies Sweetheart (5-1), Beantown Saint (6-1) and Successful Native (6-1) are a combined 18-for-30 lifetime. Considering all the trips and traps in large fields, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Having said that, Power Alert (5-2) is a solid favorite--not despite the layoff but because of it. His career best effort on the Thoro-Graph scale came following a 268-day layup.

The gelded 6-year-old is 2-for-2 fresh, a graded winner getting class relief, has versatility and top connections; owner-trainer Brian Lynch and Tampa leading rider, the gifted Antonio Gallardo.

We think Power Alert is any price to key this and will include two of the three above, ‘Beantown’ and ‘Successful’, in exactas. We are desperate to get significantly slower Gallery (20-1) into the number. In his lone turf sprint, Saratoga’s Quick Call, he chased an extremely fast pace while racing very wide, was in contention at headstretch and battled gamely until tiring in the final sixteenth. He turns back off a series of routes for Michael Dini, profitable when going route to sprint.


I’ll see your Pletcher and raise you a Clement, a Mott, Matz and two Browns. In other words, this is a beauty--a stepping stone to bigger and better for sure--but still a graded opportunity for one of the nine entrants, three MTOs notwithstanding.

Todd Pletcher’s Sandiva (9-5) that will take a whole lot of beating. Pole sitting with tactical speed and Javier, newly turned 5-year-old has been working bullets at the deep Palm Beach training center, is graded placed thrice including a win, and returns with excellent spacing to a course over which she’s (3) 2-1-0 lifetime.

BETTABLES: While there are some very capable mares in here, we can’t get past the fave. We’re looking at three exotics players: Partisan Politics (4-1) returning for Chad Brown and profitable with this spacing; Tuttipaesi (6-1), a sharp prep winner stretching to her optimal distance [2-for-2], and price shot A Little Bit Sassy (15-1), who developed late last year and working strongly at Palm Meadows for her return.


While some undoubtedly are using this race as a first stop to the G1 GP Turf Handicap, it’s an important South Florida fixture and a coveted prize.

Lochte (3-1) is one of those rags-to-riches trainees for Marcus Vitali, who this time named Javier Castellano to ride at time of entry.

The course lover has won six of 11 starts and his recent 3F Palm Meadows blowout was the fastest of the week. He’s pole sitting and is ready to rock but will have to be. This 11-horse scrum is highly competitive. The problem is the alternatives are hard to separate.

BETTABLES: Lochte rates strongly to win this despite the 123-pound assignment. After that, we’re considering possible upsetters War Correspondent (4-1), a course lover training steadily for Christophe Clement at Payson Park since early November and “now horse” Heart to Heart (6-1), a four-time graded winner as a 2015 4YO and breezing well for Brian Lynch at PMM. He’s 3-for-4 beneath Leparoux who re-rides here.


Three of the eight entrants expected to attract most of the parimutuel support have compelling records; the issue is those triumphs came on turf, not over anticipated-sloppy two-turn dirt. What to do?

Good question: Three of the runners are Doug O’Neill’s, two are Bob Baffert’s, and another comes via Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer. Even without unknown conditions, we’d have left five of the nine open. Consider:

Rare Candy, very well bred for wet, made one start on dirt, beaten 7 lengths by presumptive champion Nyquist. That’s worthy of respect in today’s Grade 3. Dressed in Hermes impressed on Del Mar turf and has enough wet-track pedigree and Mike Smith.

There’s Found Money, 1-for-1 at the trip and 2-for-2 on the strip; I’malreadythere, twice graded placed on dirt, including the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity behind Mor Spirit; and Baffert’s pair of Collected, second to ‘Hermes’ in the grassy G3 DeMille, and Let’s Meet in Rio, who jumped up first time going long and has two-sided wet breeding.

A pair of 6-1 shots are interesting as potential win plays; Rare Candy and recent maiden breaker Let’s Meet in Rio, the “other” Baffert. We’re most likely to go there since the Flatter colt jumped up first-time long at Los Al. Probably prudent to complete exacta box with Baffert early favorite Collected (3-1). Price is a big win key here.


Expectations are high that the track will be under water by late afternoon according to Racing Secretary Rick Hammerle Thursday morning.

As the world knows, California Chrome is an extremely popular dual classics Horse of the Year champion making his first start since last year’s Dubai World Cup and who’s never run on a wet track.

But he trained well on it said straight-shooting Art Sherman and we’re taking that to the bank. If you haven’t viewed it yet; find his most recent workout at Santa Anita; six furlongs in 1:10.03 with a strong gallop out.

If this is as advertised, a prep for a return to Dubai, it needs to be a strong effort to go against the world’s best at 10 furlongs off a single race. He’ll probably be 80-90% fit but the plus is handled Meydan dirt very well. He has a strong wet pedigree and may be controlling speed.

: If he handles the conditions, this one could be over early with the classy returnee setting or stalking the pace and in control. Because of the unknown and the layup, early line 4-5 odds may be available ante post; those are fair odds. Exacta possibilities are obviously Hoppertunity (5-2) and two price shots; strong-working slop winner Point Piper (10-1) and successful wet-tracker Mystery Train (30-1) getting Mike Smith.

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Written by John Pricci

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Friday, January 01, 2016

On Gettin the New Money

EXCLUSIVELY for, reprinted via special promotional arrangement

By John Pricci

Three things: Happy Birthday Thoroughbreds! Turn the page; you’re even! The Derby prep season is on!

Of course, it’s all well and good to rejoice and enjoy the sport but, to be honest, it’s better when you win.

So let’s celebrate all the above by starting with the prep season and more at Gulfstream where two sophomore stepping stones are offered Saturday; the Hutcheson and Mucho Macho Man, and in New York where three-year-olds take center ring in the Jerome.

Not only those but there are three more events on the five-stakes Hallandale docket, so we’ll stay on the East Coast.

The prototypical Saturday card at Gulfstream at this time of year, the program features five maiden races--four maiden allowances and a claimer on turf—to go along with those five added-money events.

Three of the Gulfstream stakes are graded, the six furlong G3 Hutcheson; the G3 Old Hat for fillies at the same trip and the G3 Dania Beach for 3YO turf colts. Also featured is the listed Mucho Macho Man at one mile. At the Big A, it’s the G3 Jerome.



A bit of a Rubik’s cube, with Awesome Banner (7-2), Full Salute (9-2), Noholdingback Bear (3-1) and Sheikh of Sheiks (9-5), all capable in this seven-horse lineup. Awesome Banner just might be a freak.

After breaking maiden in his 4-1/2 furlong track record debut in June, today will be start #2. Why no races in between? A small knee chip was removed after that race but it was not, according to connects, a huge issue. He’s ready to run, but this is a big leap.

Full Salute is also getting a class test but he’s long on experience; a 7-time starter that has three wins and seconds including two listed stakes. The speedy race shape will suit.

But ‘Bear’ and ‘Sheikh’ are the two that impress as possible “best horses.” ‘Sheikh’ won the BC Juvenile Sprint at Keeneland last out, defeating ‘Bear’ who was making his dirt debut off an impressive synthetic introduction. Both are coming in off New Pace Tops.

BETTABLES: Honestly, we don’t know what to do. The one that interests us most is Noholdingback Bear who could surge forward in a big way here, now with two races and dirt track experience. At 3-1 or less, will key in exotics; we’d bet to win at 7-2 or more.


This one’s interesting even for a short field. The fastest horses on any scale are My Dear Valenzuela (15-1) and Lucy N Ethel (8-5) but there are issues with both. Ballet Diva (9-5) belongs here, too, but will she be pressured from the pole or just scoot away?

Will a fast 5-1/2 furlongs translate into six in the case of ‘Valenzuela’? No idea. Is the latter, a filly shipping into this off short rest, capable of a repeat effort? However, she is trained by the super Ramon Preciado so that question could be moot.

Catira Rock (6-1) intrigues at a price. She’s won two over the track and at today’s trip, her last race here was a solid move forward and she should be able to continue progressing. Whatever. It’s the race shape and switch to Zayas that seals this deal for us.

BETTABLES: As it almost always is, horizontals notwithstanding, it’s about price, and we must get 9-2 or more since ‘Rock’ is going from 25K sellers into a Grade 3. We are talking young, fast developers so the tote rules. We will key ‘Rock’ in all positions with her two rivals above and include the very fast Ballet Diva (9-5) in the exotics mix.


The only safe prediction we’ll make is that three, four, or more of the 10 entrants will race in Grade 1 company before 2016 ends. We will look at four of them here; Isotherm (6-1), Mountain Music Man (7-2), Life Imitates Art (4-1) and Ray’s The Bar (3-1).

‘Ray’s’ is the unluckiest trip runner in the field not named Isotherm. The former was eliminated completely at the quarter-pole in the BC Juvenile Turf and many thought his trip was the difference between winning and losing the G3 Pilgrim. So there’s that and Javier; that makes him 3-1.

Isotherm is the kind that always will be compromised by a deep-closing style. And that makes it between the uncoupled Chad Brown ‘Life’ and Todd Pletcher’s ‘Music Man’. Both will gets lots of tote attention, of course. We’ll shade Todd’s runner because he’s handier and is well posted with Johnny.

BETTABLES: We’re looking to bet Mountain Music Man to win, minimum of 3-1, and an exacta box with Life Imitates Art. Isotherm and Ray’s The Bar are included in our super-exotics mix.


For our money, it’s the ship-in vs. the local, and the interloper is from the Mid-Atlantic, not New York or Kentucky.

As racetrackers say, Awesome Speed (9-5) could be any kind. After a clunker debut, he was a stylish winner over 11 Laurel rivals and returned to win the James F. Lewis there despite being pressed throughout. Clearly fastest on the Thoro-Graph scale, he’s working strongly at Palm Meadows for Alan Goldberg-profitable with shippers and in 2015 overall, and gets Joel Rosario here.

But we love the racehorse Fellowship (5-2). This hard knocker is (7) 2-3-0 in life and showed huge kick winning the In Reality here around two turns. This is a flat mile but he showed versatility when second in a subsequent sprint before placing again in the Smooth Air, a GPW two-turner. But both wins came here and today’s strong pace will suit nicely.

BETTABLES: At early line odds, neither Awesome Speed nor Fellowship are particularly attractive win plays even if they are most likely to succeed. We’d require at least early line odds on the former and a tad higher on Fellowship. Given early odds, recent maiden breaker Aggressive Driver is interesting at 6-1 early odds picking up JR.



There are some nice potential kings running in Queens this weekend and perhaps a very legitimate Derby contender: Flexibility (1-1).

Donegal Moon (15-1) is the obligatory Pletcher entrant who, after breaking maiden around two turns at Keeneland, set the G2 Remsen pace but tired abruptly.

Bird of Trey (10-1) is the most interesting of the price shots. He has the most experience and comes off an energy-distribution Reversal on the Pricci Energy scale, apropos of Birdstone progeny. He should stretch nicely off his 7-1/4 length Penn Nursery score; Kendrick Carmouche rides for John Servis.

Flexibility is developing beautifully on the Thoro-Graph scale; a series of fast races on a tight pattern. Irad Ortiz Jr. rides for Chad Brown. The bay Bluegrass Cat colt was second twice to undefeated Mohaymen, including the Remsen.

BETTABLES: You won’t get rich…unless. Flexibility is a deserving favorite and likely to be even money or less. Will include Bird of Prey in two-way exactas and may add last-out maiden breaker In Equality (20-1) to super-exotics; needing 12-1 minimum to do so.


As you might surmise, wide open is what one expects from a large field of turf sprinters. Not sure if it will be a trip or a trap at this juncture but I confess that I likely will break one personal handicapping “rule.”

Generally, in a field of proven turf runners, we let grass-debut types beat us. Not willing to do that today as this looks like the perfect breakthrough spot for Bayerd (9-2).

Class relief, speedy race shape, outside post, mini-turnback and a switch to 25% FG rider Florent Geroux points the way. Of those that have run on turf, Reflector (12-1) is on a healthy line and is an overlay at early line odds.

BETTABLES: May make two win bets here, price dependent. Certainly will shade Bayerd but demanding in the neighborhood of 3-1. Reflector will get a win play for sure; 6-1 to 8-1 seems fair enough. Either way, will include both in the exotics mix.

See today's Feature Race Analysis section for selections

Written by John Pricci

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