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, January 24, 2017


GREEN BAY PACKERS 35 - KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 10


Prior to the post draw for the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Invitational, master of ceremonies Pete Aiello, a race caller who has come very far, very fast, introduced Frank Stronach, who has come very far over a very long period of time.

“At the beginning a lot of people asked me how come, why the Pegasus?”

“First of all,” Stronach began to explain, “I were fortunate enough to buy this racetrack.

“After we came up with the idea for a race, I started looking in books for a good name. Pegasus was a great icon. Since life is sometimes a battle of good spirits and bad spirits, we thought it was a good name.

“The horse has always served mankind. There wouldn’t have been an America without the horse in the West.

“The Breeders’ Cup does a great job for racing, and the Dubai World Cup is a great race. We thought the end of January would be a perfect time between the two. Good horses can run in this race and still make their stud dates for the year.

“We have two very good horses to start. We all must do what we can do, band together for the good of the sport.”

The Triple Crown has long been acknowledged as American racing’s best hoof forward. And the Breeders’ Cup--which had a profound effect this year as the recent Eclipse Award ceremony demonstrated--often has been described as racing’s Super Bowl because of its end-of-year championship implications.

But both events are a series of races. The Pegasus is a singular event, the world’s richest horse race, and no one, not even Stronach, Mr. Zeus himself, knows how it will all come out in the end, so appropriate for 2017.

And so a post-position draw was conducted and it turns out that one of the two very good horses will start closest to the rail, the other from the grandstand. Interesting how, given their physical attributes and style, each was given a unique obstacle to overcome.

As we watched the draw ceremonies at Frankey’s sports bar, not eponymously named but rather for Stronach’s grandson, we couldn’t help draw similarities with the inaugural running of the Marlboro Cup Invitational at Belmont Park in 1973.

That event was billed as “The Battle of Stablemates” between two champions; the 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes-winning Riva Ridge versus that year’s Triple Crown champion, the mighty Secretariat.

The handicap race had a storied and impactful history and was the first major outside-the-box sponsored event. But, alas it had a short run--not meant to Bee Bee Bee.

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Stronach in front of the icon he conjured
The inaugural Pegasus is best branded as “The Rematch” between a two-time Horse of the Year champion and his Breeders’ Cup Classic champion conqueror, the only time the two have met on a playing field.

Among the dozen Pegasus entrants is a handful of strong supporting characters and the post positions lend an added element of intrigue, also providing a slightly better chance to produce what would remain an upset of major proportions.

In a larger context, the Pegasus can be more than a great horse race. It just could represent the future, a sign of the way major racing events will be conducted long after most of us are on the wrong side of the turf course.

It could even travel the globe one day, the way Breeders’ Cup used to travel across North America. No one knows what will be, just as no one knows how it all will go on Saturday.

But make no mistake. Frank Stronach, as he often has--admittedly not always with the best results—created a unique event staged at a unique, forward-looking latter-day American racetrack.

Saturday’s racing Super Bowl doesn’t figure to be a blowout in the manner of the first meeting between the National Football League and a bastard child D.B.A. the American Football League.

For this game’s sake, the hope is that at the end of the day, the score will be as it stands right now: Pegasus 1 – Chimera 0.

b>Photo by Toni Pricci

Hallandale Beach, FL., January 24, 2017


Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, January 19, 2017


Vegas Line: Chrome 4-5; Arrogate 1-1


By Press Release

Although defeated by Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), California Chrome was listed as the 4-5 favorite for the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) when the opening line at the Wynn Las Vegas Race & Sports Book was released.

Arrogate, who finished a half-length in front of California Chrome in the Classic, their first meeting, was made the second choice at even-money for the inaugural running of the 1 1/8-mile race.

The opening lines for the remainder of the expected 12-horse field is as follows: Noble Bird (12-1); Keen Ice (20-1); Neolithic (20-1); Shaman Ghost (25-1); Breaking Lucky (25-1); Eragon (40-1); War Envoy (50-1); War Story (50-1); Ralis (50-1); and Prayer for Relief (75-1).

CHROME: A Sunday Kind of Love

By John Pricci

It was the morning after his penultimate workout for the ultimate race of his life. America's richest race horse ever*, preparing for the world's richest race ever.

After a routine five-furlong breeze Saturday morning before a larger than usual breakfast crowd at Gulfstream Park, California Chrome was relaxing, which was hard for a newcomer to know because he's just so focused, with a "what's next?" look about him.

We're not anthropomorphizing here. I've been on the other side of the webbing of plenty of race horses and, as horsemen like to say about the great ones, this horse actually looks like he is breathing different air.

He never stops moving. We were there at lunch time, 10:14 a.m. Sunday, and Chrome shows that he loves the equine version of surf and turf: Some oats from the lunch bucket out front then a little parry and thrust with his hay rack; especially thrust. He attacks the damn thing.

In between he's constant motion, moving head from side to side, ears going every which way. Nothing escapes his attention. He's so fun to watch, even when he's not racing. He looks restive but not in an edgy or agitated way, just quietly intense. "It's his way," his personal security person, Jorge Gonzalez, informs us. "He has his routines."

California Chrome is loving life right now and it shows, whether it's on the racetrack or in his stall. He's a remarkable animal.

The Pegasus World Cup Invitational is 13 days hence. And we can't wait to see what his game face looks like for real.

image
Tell Arrogate I'm Looking for Him

*****

Multiple graded stakes winning Arles, pictured here on the outside, gets the best of her stablemate Tuesday morning on the Palm Meadows training center grass course.

Owned by Barry Irwin et al, she currently is being pointed to the Grade 3 La Prevoyante later this month at Gulfstream Park.


image

* * * * *
What Bellavais lacks in size she makes up for in heart. She proved that when she won Saturday's Ginger Brew Stakes, overcoming some tight quarters, bulling her way between rivals and drew off late demonstrating a high turn of foot.

All that after altering stride in midstretch, first being inadvertently struck by a rival's whip, getting her so angry that she jumped up a second time while trying to savage her rival inside.

Johnny Velazquez finally got her mind right and the attractive chestnut exploded straight to the wire. Gulfstream's G3 Herecomesthebride in March is the most likely target.

image

Photos by Toni Pricci

*correction made 012017

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, January 08, 2017


Oaklawn Park, a Track That Gets It


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., January 8, 2017—In an attempt to make their on-track fans happier than they already are, Oaklawn Park, which opens this Friday, is offering a bonus on winning show bets.

Read lower takeout here: And the track is doing it the right way!

The new Show Bet Bonus will increase the winning payout by 7 percent, according to Oaklawn official Bobby Geiger. Why? Because show wagering is very popular there, accounting for over 12 percent of on-track handle in a typical year.

Oaklawn takeout on straight wagers is set at 17 percent across the board. With the bonus, the show rake will be 10 percent. a seven percent bonus for winning show bettors.

The different payoff levels, to be displayed on the track's infield tote boards, will show one price for simulcast customers and what is paid on track, so everyone can see the difference.

I’m officially jealous and disappointed that I cannot take advantage of the opportunity. My personal betting rules re: straight pools is generally win and place at 5-1 or lower; win and show at higher odds, using exactas as a “place bet.”

Many, myself included, thanks to my late friend Cary Fotias, and now California racing activist Andy Asaro, have supported lower takeout and breakage elimination for years as a means of creating new fans and bring old ones back to the track.

Every track executive, and every horseman, should support the "Oaklawn Plan" with marketing that emphasizes simpler, straight wagers with lower takeout to increase churn.

Reduced takeout worked in New York long term on an experimental basis decades ago, but current, short-sighted practitioners everywhere are unwilling to accept short term revenue declines. As the Bloviater-Elect might tweet, #stupid!

The purpose of the bonus is not only to draw newbies but to keep the average player liquid, encouraging all to keep it simple and not constantly chase lottery-type scores that requiring big bankrolls where wins are few and far between. Some perspective:

The chances against winning a trifecta in a 12-horse field are 1,320-to-1. Keying one horse for third costs $55 for a 50-Cent bet. Of course, if that horse wins or finishes second, you lose your $55.

Conversely, betting an 8-5 winning favorite to show in a 12-horse field with a 10% rake could pay, conservatively, about $3.20. Even with dime breakage, that’s gets bettors a 60% return on their money. The odds against winning a show bet are much more favorable, three chances from 36 opportunites.

Most bettors, even whales, have a low tolerance for bankroll depletion, even if they can afford the costly wagers. But today’s older, average fan, many of whom rely on a fixed income, simply can’t afford very high risk, whatever the reward.

Of course, Oaklawn is positioned uniquely. Not only do they have a form of alt-wagering dole available, they essentially are the only wheel in town. The Hot Springs, Arkansas track draws live fans in a five-state radius.

But this is a lesson all tracks could easily replicate. How about designating one damn race per day, hopefully with a large field of good formful horses, with a “WPS Show On-Track Bonus,” a chance for average bettors to return home with some money and sharpshooters with an opportunity to possibly even grind out a living.

Oaklawn’s innovation also presents an opportunity, with programming help, to make on-track show parlays, a less risky way to produce windfalls from relatively small investments.

I know that chasing rainbows are fun and often very rewarding. But it’s not the best economic interests of the average bettor.

Like typical corporations, success is measured only at the bottom line, which is why current marketing target’s the greed factor to courting betting's 1%.

Is that really the best way to go for an industry with image issues?

BETS N’ PIECES:

Can’t Make the Grade: For the second consecutive week, a graded stakes failed to fill at Gulfstream Park. Saturday’s issue is understandable as there were two one turn races for three-year-olds, the G3 Hutcheson at 6 furlongs and the listed Mucho Macho Man at one mile.

Each race is meant to serve disparate masters; one for trainers looking for a sprint, obviously, the other for those seeking a possible stating point toward the Classics, as such, a possible prep for the Holy Bull, Feb. 4.

“No one wanted to run against Navarro and Pletcher,” said Racing Vice-President P J Campo. Last week, Jorge Navarro held a very strong hand going into the G3 Mr. Prospector; similarly Todd Pletcher yesterday with Sonic Mule in the G3 Hutcheson.

However, Pletcher opted for the longer Mucho Macho Man and very gamely won the one-turn mile, holding an impressive looker State of Honor, making his dirt debut off a game placing in a restricted stakes over Woodbine’s Tapeta surface.

Post-race, Pletcher indicated he thinks the colt is more the sprint type and that the 7-furlong Swale is a likely future target.

Yesterday’s two one-turners worked at cross purposes. Recruiting Ready also preferred the Hutcheson and was compelled to run in the MMM. He tired badly after setting the pace to headstretch.

But graded stakes must go, even with smaller fields. They are too important to the potential reputation and value of a horse. It can’t always be about handle.

SoCal Classics 3YOs Are No Sham: That was quite a show put on by BC Juvenile disappointment Gormley and the inexperienced but extremely promising American Anthem.

With the latter making his stakes and two-turn debut in his second lifetime start, he set the pace as the favorite, was stalked by Gormley throughout and the battle was joined approaching headstretch.

Head to head and fetlock to fetlock they raced, a team with Gormley prevailing from the outside by a head in 1:35.89 over a sealed, sloppy track. It was 13 lengths back to show finisher Big Hit. Clearly, American Anthem will benefit from the experience. See replay.

Take That? No, I’ll Take the Money Instead: Not a trapped on the rail trip, knifing through and making contact with Beach Patrol in search of stretch running, 3-year-old filly Bellavais would not be denied in the Ginger Brew, not even after Leonel Reyes’ whip inadvertently struck the filly as she was set to roll by.

Eventually, she did, impressing her partner, Javier Castellano, in the manner she drew away in the final strides. “And I was really impressed with the way she finished,” said Castellano.

While technically a winner, this was the first time she finished ahead of all her rivals as she was awarded victory via disqualification last out. A tough, Tapit filly with a strong turn of foot, she appears to have an excellent future. See this replay, too.

Written by John Pricci

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