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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Tuesday, March 22, 2016


From Dubai to Derby, All That Glitters is Chrome


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 22, 2016—Let’s do the math. If California Chrome is five lengths better than he was last year--trainer Art Sherman’s surmise--then he will win this year’s Dubai World Cup by two and a quarter lengths.

Only if life were that simple…

Do you know how to tell that Saturday’s World Cup is one of the deepest ever? That’s easy. The second ranked horse in this week’s NTRA Poll, Mshawish--who received five first-place votes over the weekend—is 14-1 with most European bookmakers.

If only gambling principles were so logical…

If nothing else, horse racing more than ever has become an insider’s game; meaning only the true devoted can willingly afford to play every day.

And that’s how Frosted, second choice at 5-2 on the early line became a close second choice at 9-4 in early wagering Tuesday, according to several Internet sources.

If only following the smart money always such a smart idea…

Actually, the newly turned four-year-old has improved markedly since he’s become bi-peded, Kiaran McLaughlin training him right-handed in an effort to make him even more athletic than he already is. He’ll have to be that and more in four days. Why?

"You’re going to see a different Chrome this time,” Art Sherman promised early this week. “I've been around a lot of decent horses, and I rode a lot of decent horses, but he's something special."

Yes he is, but that’s the thing about special horses: They must keep proving the point.

“He still has a lot to prove as to being the Real McCoy,” Sherman said on Tuesday’s NTRA conference call. “But [the new owners] had a real good idea. People can see him keep running this year and they’ve sold a lot of [stallion] shares…

“If you can come back and win a race like the World Cup, beat the best horses in the world, pass Curlin’s [all-time earnings] record then look forward to the Pacific Classic and Breeders’ Cup, it’s just good for the sport…

“When he won the prep [under 132 pounds], he got a standing ovation when he came back…and there’s no betting over here, they just love the horse. But now you gotta run and show you’re not all mouth.”

Which is why we could not be happier that Chrome and Sherman are back, helping us remember why we fell in love with this story in the first place.

Speaking of huge prep races—and it had better be since there has only been one thus far for Greenpointcrusader, 7-2 second favorite for Saturday’s million-dollar Louisiana Derby. Indeed, he needed to have gotten plenty out of his season’s debut, a gritty placing in Mohaymen’s Holy Bull.

The Grade 2 lynchpin of the Fair Grounds meet, the Louisiana Derby is the first nine furlong hundred-grander point prep on the road to Louisville, and last year’s Champagne winner needs to finish 1-2 to secure a reservation in the Churchill starting gate.

To do so he must at least split the event’s other two top choices; troubled Risen Star third Mo Tom (5-2), and the bias-aided hero Gun Runner (3-1). Both sets of connections expect improvement.

“The most important thing to recognize about Mo Tom is that he’s a determined horse,” said trainer Tom Amoss. “He’s just not going to come on and pick up the pieces. He has a devastating quarter-mile kick.”

Amoss admitted he worries about all the Louisiana Derby horses and the chance of a softer pace, but acknowledged concern several other Derby colts he must meet later on, like Mohaymen [“no question he’s a brilliant horse”] and the undefeated Juvenile champion, Nyquist.

But Rebel winner Cupid also causes some uneasiness: “Many said he had it easy on the lead in the Rebel,” Amoss said. “I don’t agree. The ones that chased him all got tired at the end. That was a very impressive performance.”

David Fiske, Racing Manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, knows that repeating Gun Runner’s Risen Star victory is far from a given: “I hope he wasn’t fully cranked in the Risen Star,” said Fiske. “It’s difficult to tell how fit horses are that have good biomechanics.

“He should be fitter [Saturday]. We probably were getting a little tired in the Risen Star and Florent [Geroux] said he might have moved a little early. But there’s [Saturday’s] extra sixteenth of a mile and it’s a long stretch at the Fair Grounds.

“He’s going to have to move forward to continue down the Triple Crown trail and get faster. I hope it all works out.”

In addition to the Louisiana Derby’s big three, eight other Derby eligibles will answer the starters’ call at post time, scheduled for 6:12 p.m., EDT.

Of course, Meydan Race Course in Dubai will host the UAE Derby earlier Saturday afternoon, but it’s a race that has yet to impact the May proceedings in any meaningful way.

And betting man does not live on California Chrome-Greenpointcrusader parlays alone.

There are four million reasons why bettors should devote some attention elsewhere, to Gulfstream Park, where the Rainbow Jackpot carryover must be dispersed Saturday come hell or high payouts.

Per usual, inscrutability will rule the Hallandale card and the last six races will be as tough as handicapping gets. The Saturday program will be drawn Wednesday morning.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, March 18, 2016


Rebellion in Hot Springs


123BET.com SATURDAY STAKES PREVIEW MARCH 19, 2016

Exclusively for 123GAMING.com


By John Pricci


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 18, 2016—He’s a Rebel--and will he really, really be, very good?

With a mea culpa to the Crystals—who should really, really apologize to the Blossoms for being credited as having recorded the Gene Pitney written/Phil Spector produced rock n’ roll classic—the question applies to Suddenbreakingnews, the impressive fly-by winner of the Southwest Stakes one month ago.

He had to beat 13 of his peers in that Grade 3 at today’s 1-1/16 miles trip must do the exact same thing again—from post 14, yet—to prove that he truly belongs with Mohaymen, Nyquist and a handful of others atop the sophomore division. Worse news for the Mineshaft gelding is that this group is deeper from a talent perspective.

For one thing, Bob Baffert’s coming to town and he kinda, sorta owns these Arkansas-based Kentucky Derby preps. Remember horses called American Pharoah, Hoppertunity, Secret Circle, The Factor and Lookin’ at Lucky? If it weren’t for Wayne Lukas and Will Take Charge, Bullet Bob would be going for six straight. This time he brings ultra- impressive two-turn maiden winner Cupid to the dance.

But handicapping man does not live by three-year-olds alone. Supporting the $900,000 Grade 2—imagine that; why not raise the G1 Arkansas Derby to a million as long as you’re givin’ it away in Hot Springs?—is the G2 Azeri, featuring the return of 2014 Eclipse champion Untapable, and the G3 Razorback, including the four-year-old debut of Upstart, a dual Derby prep winner last winter, one controversial DQ notwithstanding.

Filling out the rest of our Saturday bracket will be three from Gulfstream Park--where the super-duper Rainbow jackpot is up to about half a gazillion—including two of the trio which contains the Spectacular Bid, a nominal feature, but also the Inside Information, a Grade 2 for fillies and mares sprinting seven furlongs. Now for a handicapping look-in:
HANDICAPPERS PLEASE NOTE: The number appearing next to each horse’s name in the analyses is the Pricci Performance Profile. More than a performance figure, it is an energy-based rating that integrates traditional handicapping factors to produce a final-figure projection. (In route races, [s] indicates PPP figures that were earned sprinting).
A difference of 10 points between the top two point-getters in any race yields an extremely high win rate, according to more than a year of beta-testing of Saturday feature races at North American racetracks, including national events such as the Triple Crown, Breeders’ Cup, the Saratoga session, etc.
Comments, questions or information about these ratings can be sent to our e-mail address by going to the HorseRaceInsider.com website and follow instructions on how to send personal e-mail requests. Now, the races:



OAKLAWN PARK

GRADE 2 AZERI F & M 1-1/16 MILES

THE HANDICAPPING SKINNY: Last year, defending champion Untapable appeared to lose her winning edge, grasping defeat from apparent victory on more than one occasion. Will the freshening turn her around as a five-year-old? Will it matter, given the skill set of these particular Grade 2 mares? Maybe to the first question; can’t see how to the second.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: UNTAPABLE—193 (1-1)
THE VALUE PLAY: None
EXOTICA: STREAMLINE—171 (6-1), CALL PAT—160 (3-1)
TOTE BUSTER: KYRIAKI—177 (10-1)


GRADE 3 RAZORBACK HANDICAP 1-1/16 MILES


THE SKINNY: More questions. Is Upstart ready for tops in his four-year-old debut? After a successful prep season at Gulfstream, was his classics chance overrated thereafter? And how tight will he be wound as this is an intended prep for the $G2 750,000 Oaklawn Handicap?

The Answer: Too many questions to accept 5-2 on the early line favorite and tack lover Fair Right (5) 3-2-0 is primed and ready for this and Irad Ortiz Jr. takes the call.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: FAR RIGHT—182 (3-1)
THE VALUE PLAY: FAR RIGHT
EXOTICA: CARVE—181 (4-1), DOMAIN’S RAP—180 (6-1), UPSTART—172
TOTE BUSTER: LA MACCHINA—161 (8-1)


GRADE 2 REBEL STAKES 3YO 1-1/16 MILES

THE SKINNY: Arguably, Suddenbreakingnews’ victory in the Southwest was the prep performance of the 2016 season. But with his new found big-kick style and extreme outside drawn, excuse us if we need to see that kind of performance one more time. We’ll need at least 4-1 to entertain a bet and must look elsewhere.

Considering Whitmore ran poorly on a wet track in his two-turn debut at Delta Downs at 2, the fact he was an excellent second to ‘News’ in his route return off a single sprint prep, he has the right to go forward and gets five pounds from his conqueror and a slightly better post. With Mike Smith likely committed to Santa Anita-based Danzing Candy, Irad Ortiz Jr. will be a more than able replacement.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS—160
THE VALUE PLAY: WHITMORE—169 (7-2)
TOTE BUSTER PLAY: DISCREETNESS—158 (12-1)
EXOTICA: CUPID—167 (7-2), MADCAP/CREATOR entry—152/150 (6-1)


GULFSTREAM PARK

ANY LIMIT STAKES 3YO FILLIES 6 FURLONGS

THE SKINNY: How good is Caren, who never has taken a backward step but is not only making her season’s debut but first start ever on dirt? There’s no question she has ability, but can she deal with the zip of track loving Ballet Diva first time out of the box. At 9-5 on the early line, we’re not willing to pay to find out.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER
: CAREN—170
THE VALUE PLAY: BALLET DIVA—171 (2-1)
EXOTICA: PUT DA BLAME ON ME—165 (5-2)
TOTE BUSTER: SILENT PRAYER—160 (10-1)


SPECTACULAR BID STAKES 3YO 6-1/2 FURLONGS

THE SKINNY: Trainer Keith Nations, who has proven adept with his shippers and is profitable in non-graded stakes, is looking prescient for scratching Morning Fire from last weekend’s Tampa Bay Derby after having finished third in the G3 Sam F. Davis. Otherwise, his lifetime record sprinting is (9) 3-3-2--off the board via the Delaware stewards.

Epic Journey, meanwhile, who had finished second to ‘Fire’ in the 7F Pasco, has been patiently awaiting this, is nicely drawn outside, gets four pounds, and regular partner Pablo Morales is also taking the ride south of Alligator Alley.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: MORNING FIRE—194 (5-2)
THE VALUE PLAY: EPIC JOURNEY-190 (3-1)
EXOTICA: TIGER BLOOD—185 (7-2)
TOTE BUSTER: BULLET GONE ASTRAY—180 (12-1)


GRADE 2 INSIDE INFORMATION 3 & UP F & M 7 FURLONGS

THE SKINNY: At 5, is the extremely fast Stonetastic (8-5) capable of putting together two big efforts back-to-back? She likes Gulfstream well enough and while she has run well at this trip, she’s clearly more effective going shorter. Should she repeat her recent score, she’ll beat me.

If Bar of Gold is ready to fire her best shot, she will win this. Twice second at this trip to Cavorting at 3, she’s four times graded-stakes placed while facing, on balance, better rivals. She’s been working brilliantly at her Palm Meadows base and gets regular partner Jose Lezcano.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: STONETASTIC—201
THE VALUE PLAY: BAR OF GOLD—199
EXOTICA: YOU BOUGHT HER—191 (6-1), BEST BEHAVIOR—191 (5-1)
TOTE BUSTER: FLUTTERBY—188 (15-1)

LEGEND:

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: Generally the class or sharpest member of the field and in most cases will be favored by the betting public.

BEST VALUE: Almost always a non-favorite and in many instances is preferred over the likely winner. Long term success is about price, not about horse.

EXOTICA: Most often best used as exacta/trifecta filler, but in highly competitive races these horses merit inclusion in box bets with preferred choices.

TOTE BUSTER: Geared to blow up mutuel prices in money positions beneath preferred choices, generally in third or fourth slots, but differ from exotica when, at grossly inflated value, merit at least token win wagers

.


For on-the record-selections, see Saturday's Feature Race Analysis section


Written by John Pricci

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Friday, March 11, 2016


Great Derby Preps for Bettors & Fans Alike


123BET.com WEEKEND STAKES PREVIEW March 12. 2015

Exclusively for 123GAMING.com

Reprinted via special promotional arrangement with 123GAMING.com


OLDSMAR, FL.—Three seems to be the number this Saturday, as in number of three-year-old preps, number of venues hosting the events, third round of the Kentucky Derby Futures pool and number of graded stakes at Tampa Bay Downs topped by their signature Tampa Bay Derby.

And you guessed it: That Grade 2 event features three top contenders and season’s debut of a top Derby contender, Brody’s Cause.

While Tampa Bay Downs is the big dog in the East, it’s Big ‘Cap day out West but the highlight there is Santa Anita’s penultimate Derby prep, the F2 San Felipe, at the same 1-1/16 miles as the Tampa Derby.

At Turfway Park, meanwhile, the Battaglia Memorial, a prep for its rich Spiral Stakes, will try to provide a stepping stone for 14 synthetic specialists. Here’s our traditional handicapping six pack, with four races from Northern Florida and the big two from Southern California.

HANDICAPPERS PLEASE NOTE: The number appearing next to each horse’s name in the analyses is the Pricci Performance Profile. More than a performance figure, it is an energy-based rating that integrates traditional handicapping factors to produce a final-figure projection. (In route races, [s] indicates PPP figures that were earned sprinting).
A difference of 10 points between the top two point-getters in any race yields an extremely high win rate, according to more than a year of beta-testing oF Saturday feature races at North American racetracks, including national events such as the Triple Crown, Breeders’ Cup, the Saratoga session, etc.
Comments, questions or information about these ratings can be sent to our e-mail address by going to the HorseRaceInsider.com website and follow instructions on how to send personal e-mail requests. Now, the races:


TAMPA BAY DOWNS
CHALLENGER STAKES 4 & UP 1-1/16 MILES


HANDICAPPING SKINNY: NECK ‘n NECK (2-1) has proven the most accomplished and likes the Oldsmar surface, but Ian Wilkes’ charges often need a run to show their best. This particular horse, a 7YO and a millionaire, is a tricky read for us.

We acknowledge his class but likely will bet against if fair odds are available on OUTLASH (4-1), a recent sharp winner of a preliminary allowances at Gulfstream Park and tactical speedster is pole sitting here for Team Pletcher/Velazquez. Willing to accept 2-1 or more.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: NECK ‘N NECK—190
BEST VALUE: OUTLASH—185
EXOTICA: ADIRONDACK KING—183 (5-1), GHOST HUNTER—175 (7-2)

***

GRADE 3 FLORIDA OAKS 3YO FILLIES 1-1/16 MILES TURF

THE SKINNY: Limit field of 14 on a very good grass course which we’ve managed to narrow down to six, sort of. Landed on SPINAMISS (6-1), coming off a very game effort in G2 Sweetest Chant and there figures to be more pace on in this spot, aiding her task.

A good draw and Castellano doesn’t hurt her chances but trip, per usual, will determine the outcome. Whatever filly you land on in this extremely contentious group, demand some place in the 4-1 neighborhood.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: SPINAMSS—165
BEST VALUE: ENJOY YOURSELF—159 (6-1)
TOTE BUSTER: CONQUEST BEBOP—160 (8-1)
EXOTICA: GAMBLER’S GHOST—164 (6-1), FAMILY WEDDING—163 (3-1), AVA’S KITTEN—161 (7-2)

***

GRADE 2 HILLSBOROUGH STAKES F & M 1-1/8 MILES TURF

THE SKINNY:
The task of nine older fillies and mares is to beat the champion, TEPIN (1-1). On paper, this cannot be done, even if her best game is eight furlongs and not nine, a mere head-bob in Saratoga’s G1 Diana the difference between victory and defeat at today’s trip. Her class and recent extremely sharp course score should get today’s job done.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: TEPIN—202
BEST VALUE: ISABELLA SINGS---193 (8-1)
TOTE BUSTER: RAINHA DA BATIERA—183 (10-1)
EXOTICA: BUTTON DOWN—187 (8-1)

***

GRADE 2 TAMPA BAY DERBY 3YO 1-1/16 MILES

THE SKINNY: Ready or not, here comes BRODY’S CAUSE (5-2). Trainer Dale Romans has him where he needs to be, but does not mean a season-debuting victory or first stop on the road to Louisville. Clearly the most accomplished, he’s been working bullets at GP in preparation for this.

Not only is he giving away recency, he’s spotting his main rivals, DESTIN (9-2) and RAFTING (6-1), experience over the sometimes quirky Oldsmar oval. And what’s with Stanley Gold shipping AWESOME BANNER (8-1), who failed to pick up his feet in his two-turn debut Fountain of Youth, two weeks later and handing the reins over to leading rider Antonio Gallardo?

Gold is not a man known for making many mistakes and spotting his horses over-ambitiously. Colt’s presence from extreme outside adds another measure of excitement and unknown variable to the event. Can’t wait to see this one.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: DESTIN--185 (9-2)
BEST VALUE: RAFTING—179 (6-1)
TOTE BUSTERS: OUTWORK—178 [S] (12-1), AWESOME BANNER—196 [S]
EXOTICA: BRODY’S CAUSE—176 (5-2), ECONOMIC MODEL—181 [S] (5-1), MORNING FIRE—178 (15-1)

***

SANTA ANITA
GRADE 2 SAN FELIPE STAKES 3YO 1-1/16 MILES


THE SKINNY: Love MOR SPIRIT (2-1) as a serious Kentucky Derby contender and thought his victory in the G3 Lewis Memorial was a lot more facile than it appears. But we thought Gray Stevens rode with extreme confidence and, while under urging, nonetheless measured off the win. Lots of speed signed on enhance his chances.

The problem is that we loved Exaggerator’s (5-2) San Vicente placing just as much, a great 7F prep to build on. He’s held his own against the likes of Nyquist and Brody’s cause, has excellent foundation and hails from the Keith Desormeaux barn, profitable when stretching from sprint to route. But this is far from a two-horse contest.

From the inside out, DANZING CANDY (4-1) and SMOKEY IMAGE (4-1) both seek to make their bones in top company. Like the Tampa Derby, there are interesting dynamics at play fraught with possibilities.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: MOR SPIRIT—192
BEST VALUE: EXAGGERATOR—195
EXOTICA: DANZING CANDY—185 (4-1) SMOKEY IMAGE—184 (4-1) UNCLE LINO—183 (8-1)
TOTE BUSTER: CUPID—182 (20-1)

***

G1 SANTA ANITA HANDICAP 4 & UP 1-1/4 MILES

THE SKINNY:
With most of the star power of the handicap division bedded down 8,330 miles to the far Middle East, underappreciated EFFINEX (2-1), who chased American Pharoah home in the 2015 BC Classic then returned to win the G1 Clark, is easily the most accomplished of those assembled. With Mike Smith, he rates as the best on paper, but he is making both his seasonal and SA debut.

Not so newly turned 4YO DONWORTH (3-1), a horse we’ve liked ever since his debut at 3 last March at Gulfstream Park. Purchased privately and given time to recuperate from an injury, he was an extremely game third after doing most of the dirty work in G2 San Antonio, intended as a prep for this. He should benefit and has more than enough pedigree for the task.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: EFFINEX---194
BEST VALUE: DONWORTH—192
EXOTICA: GENERAL A ROD—188 (4-1), IMPERATIVE—180 (3-1)
TOTE BUSTERS: CYRUS ALEXANDER—184 (20-1), MELATONIN—182 (20-1)

LEGEND:

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: Generally the class or sharpest member of the field and in most cases will be favored by the betting public.
BEST VALUE: Almost always a non-favorite and in many instances is preferred over the likely winner. Long term success is about price, not about horse.
EXOTICA: Most often best used as exacta/trifecta filler, but in highly competitive races these horses merit inclusion in box bets with preferred choices.
TOTE BUSTER: Geared to blow up mutuel prices in money positions beneath preferred choices, generally in third or fourth slots, but differ from exotica when, at grossly inflated value, merit at least token win wagers.

See Saturday's Feature Race Analysis section for on-the-record selections

Written by John Pricci

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