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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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Friday, February 07, 2014


NYRA Fires Shot Heard Round the Racing World


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., February 7, 2014—The big news today took place fifteen hundred miles to the north of here and had nothing to do with frigid temps or impending storms when the New York Racing Assn. announced it will host a 13-race card with 10 added-money stakes on Belmont day worth $8 million in purse money.

"This is the premier day of racing at Belmont Park, anchored by the historic Belmont Stakes," said Martin Panza, NYRA's Senior Vice President of Racing Operations in a press release. "I see June 7 as a summer time Breeders' Cup-type event. Fans and New York horsemen deserve a day like this."

“We want to grab attention of racing fans in typically big New York style,” said NYRA President Chris Kay on a subsequent national conference call. “We want this to be a summer time championship day of racing.”

Until I read Panza’s quote, I flashed back to a time when the industry was learning that Breeders’ Cup Ltd. was intending to host a Lasix-free event in an effort to keep pace with the rest of the international racing world.

As you might imagine, that idea was not warmly received by horsemen, just as former NYRA president Charles Hayward was not pleased when the Breeders’ Cup, according to Hayward, reneged on a handshake promise to bring the event back to Belmont Park.

After Hayward was dismissed, NYRA’s then-current state of disarray was the reason Belmont Park was passed over, whispered Breeders’ Cup officials at the time.

While the furor was raging, Saratoga was ending and the return to Belmont Park that Fall prompted wealthy horse owner Mike Repole to say that if Breeders’ Cup went through with its anti-Lasix stance and continued to bypass New York, he would put up the millions needed to host an event like this personally, in direct competition with Breeders’ Cup.

It didn’t take long for media wise guys to dub the event, the Bleeders’ Cup.

Whether or not this is some trial balloon for a big Fall day in the future remains to be seen, as will Breeders’ Cup’s anti-Lasix agenda, a stance on which they caved this year when California horsemen threatened to boycott Santa Anita’s Cup entry box in November.

There are many issues that will come out of this and the good news is that if it generates any controversy, much of it will be of a positive nature. For now, it’s time to enjoy the prospects of what this means not only for Belmont Stakes day 2014 but the future of the NYRA franchise itself, which will be up for bid in the not-too-distant future.

If honeymooning President Kay and his newly minted Senior Vice-President of Racing Operations were interested in making a statement, it comes through loud and clear.

It says if we have anything to do with it, true New York racing is making a comeback with this shot heard around the racing world. No top hat and tails required.


JOCKEY CLUB TOUR ON FOX TAKES STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION: Even before the first horse enters the Gulfstream Park starting gate Sunday, kicking off “The Jockey Club Tour on Fox,” the series caught a flyer with Thursday’s announcement of the talent team the network assembled for the broadcasts.

While I’m familiar--but not very well acquainted--with the work host Greg Wolf and reporter Alyssa Ali, I do respect the fact that analyst Simon Bray learned his training craft from two of the very best ever; the legendary late Sir Henry Cecil and Hall of Famer Bill Mott.

However, I’m very familiar with the work of two fellow New York racetrackers, analyst/co-host Richard Migliore and handicapping analyst Andy Serling. In Migliore and Serling, Fox has two of the most insightful commentators as there is in the game.

As the winning rider of 4,450 races, there isn’t much Migliore can’t tell you about a race horse. It’s what happens when you start sleeping in stalls at the age of 12.

A winner of eight New York riding titles and an Eclipse Award as the top apprentice of 1981, Migliore has become a national broadcast figure with his work on HRTV and with the many hats he wears on the NYRA circuit.

What sets Migliore apart from those in a similar role is his skill as a communicator; an educator without being sophistic or patronizing. That coupled with his talent for reading equine body language and workouts should help viewers, both novice and pro alike, improve their opinions.

Opinions are something that Serling is well familiar with. He has lots of them, on a lot of subjects. As a public handicapper by trade, I have an appreciation for the art/science of handicapping and, like every horseplayer, he’s going to be wrong more than he’s right.

But this is a business that will call you genius if you’re wrong only on two of every three calls you make. Right or wrong, Serling will tell you what he thinks without hedging, is a tireless researcher, and bets his own money. No one could ask more of any handicapper.

The series will feature the Grade 1 Donn Handicap Sunday which includes the return of 2013 three year old champion Will Take Charge vs. 10 rivals, and also the final career run of the popular filly and mare sprint champion, Groupie Doll, in the G3 Hurricane Bertie.

The next stop on the tour will be the Dubai World Cup on March 29, a.k.a Florida Derby day.

BUSINESS NOT AS BRISK AS WINTER WEATHER: Exiting last year with flat wagering handle after a positive start, it was not too encouraging a start for the Thoroughbred industry in 2014 with handle off slightly at about $2-million year over year, a small percentage loss of 0.23.

But there’s something counter-intuitive going on with the numbers: How can purse increases of 1.35 percent be justified when handle decreases? Further, why should national handle drop at all when the number of racing days increased by 4.45 percent, from 292 in 2013 to 301 this year?

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, February 01, 2014


Traffic Building on Derby Trail


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 1, 2014—The Grade 3 Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park took on an international flavor when Wildcat Red drew off with authority to win the 7-furlong sprint by 4-3/4 widening lengths in 1:22.21, taking his first steps on the Derby trail.

Owner Salvatore Delfino color coordinated with his silks as Jose Garoffalo leads Wildcat Red to the winners circle
Photo by Toni Pricci
Owner Salvatore Delfino color coordinated with his silks as Jose Garoffalo leads Wildcat Red to the winners circle
“Hopefully, the Fountain of Youth is the next step,” Garoffalo said, “especially since [impressive Holy Bull winner] Cairo Prince will not run in the race. Today I think [Wildcat Red] proved he can run long. Horses are more relaxed running longer.”

“He can rate and you can put him anywhere you want,” said winning rider Javier Castellano, who was Garoffalo’s first choice for the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day but Castellano had a prior commitment. He was open for the Hutcheson and after working him last week—“I was very impressed”--accepted the call.

Wildcat Red, narrowly beaten in the GP Derby, was to go long for the first time in the Holy Bull, but a throat infection and some respiratory distress kept him in the barn. “It wasn’t a big deal but we just didn’t want to take a chance.”

The Fountain of Youth was supposed to attract Cairo Prince, who now will train up to the Florida Derby. Honor Code will miss the race with ankle issues behind, and the brilliant Havana has taken longer than expected to come to hand and will opt for the Swale instead. Without the Holy Bull winner, the Grade 2 route isn’t as daunting as it first appeared.

However, the likely participation of impressive allowance winner Top Billing, and Commissioner, who had beaten Top Billing previously, will insure the Fountain of Youth will be far from a walkover.

Both Garoffalo and Delfino are from Venezuela and Wildcat Red is only the second horse Delfino has owned. Now both men are living the American dream. “I think all owners and trainers think about winning the Kentucky Derby,” the trainer said.

Samraat Stays Undefeated in G3 Withers: It’s not very often when a pair of New York-breds make their open company debuts in the same stakes, then go out and put on a dramatic show down the Aqueduct home straight.

There they were, Uncle Sigh, a 14-length maiden winner sprinting with his own kind last out, on the inside, and Samraat, a 16-length victor in the state-bred Damon Runyon Stakes, on the outside, throwing it down stride for stride until the very end. Both horses ran exceptionally well.

Nearing the finish, however, Samraat edged away and extended his undefeated career to four straight victories that began at Belmont Park, moved to the Aqueduct main track before taking his winter-track and two-turn debut by storm, widening his margin without being asked by regular rider Jose Ortiz.

Trainer Jose Garoffalo is pointing Wildcat Red to the Fountain of Youth
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Trainer Jose Garoffalo is pointing Wildcat Red to the Fountain of Youth
The interesting note about the Noble Causeway colt from the Indian Charlie mare, Little Indian Girl, is that he shipped down from New York to Palm Meadows with trainer Rick Violette’s Florida string then shipped back to Gotham for the Withers.

And speaking of Gotham, it would make sense for the colt to run in the race of the same name, the Gotham Stakes being a very good spot for Wood Memorial hopefuls, although he could train up to the Wood.

Either way, the waters will get a lot deeper next time, especially if he runs back in the Gotham, where Honor Code likely to make his season’s debut. That mile and a sixteenth will be the next stop for gallant runner-up Uncle Sigh.

Now it starts to get a little more interesting.

Pletcher 1-2 in the Sam F. Davis: Veteran handicappers are never surprised when trainer Todd Pletcher accomplishes the unusual, such as finishing one-two in a stakes that figures to be prologue for something a little more important next month.

But what bettors might consider shocking is that the nose winner, Vinceramos, who was cross-entered in the Hutcheson but opted to leave Hallandale Beach in favor of a longer prep in Oldsmar, would return 13-1.

But that was the case when the Winstar colt shot up the fence beneath Edgar Prado, who gave up five mounts on the Gulfstream card to ride in Vinceramos at Tampa Bay Downs, holding safe his fast-closing, higher regarded stablemate, Harpoon with Luis Saez.

When Javier Castellano asked Wildcat Red for his best, ''he took off.''
Photo by: Toni Pricci
When Javier Castellano asked Wildcat Red for his best, ''he took off.''
Contextually, it’s hard to know what to make of the two Pletcher runners as they are only two of 40 other Pletcher Triple Crown nominees—that’s right; a record 42 nominations or roughly 10 percent of all Triple Crown eligibles—and because it’s hard to evaluate the quality behind them at this juncture.

That answer will have to wait until the Tampa Bay Derby is contested Mar. 8. Barring the unforeseen, it appears to be a safe bet that both Vinceramos and Harpoon will be shipping north from Boynton Beach again.

Hey, it’s not easy keeping 42 potential Kentucky Derby starters separated.

Will Take Charge Donn Highweight: Champion three year old Will Take Charge is on his way Southeast from Oaklawn Park and will start as the 123-pound highweight in Sunday’s Grade 1 Donn Handicap, kicking off the Jockey Club Tour on Fox, a series of races the austere body hopes will play a part in reversing a trend.

The Donn will be the four-year-old’s first start since defeating Game On Due in the Clark, clinching the Eclipse title.* The first meaningful handicap of the year is quite a salty affair.

Multiple stakes winner Revolutionary, who made an excellent return from a layoff in an allowance race earlier at the meet, is rated second in the weights at 119. Alpha and Private Zone are next at 118, but Alpha is expected to run on the turf instead.

Next in line is Lea (117), who was very sharp winning the Hal’s Hope in his first start for trainer Bill Mott. In at 116 is Long River, who’s been beating up on New York’s weak handicap division; Neck N’ Neck, who prepped well with a strong-finish third over the surface, and River Seven, who showed an electric turn of foot while recording a track record score in the Harlan’s Holiday in December.

*correction made 11:16 a.m. on 020214

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, January 30, 2014


I’m A Bettor


I know this bettor, in fact, I know a lot of them; past, present, but not so sure about the future, only because nobody listens.

Oh, they hear, but they never listen. Listening takes understanding, caring, dare I say even compassion.

But, no, this view will probably be ignored "because it's too negative," the industry tells me, when they're not ostracizing, or shooting messengers completely.

They think they care because they have skin in the game; as owners, breeders, trainers, riders. They are the game. In fact, there would be no one to put on the show without them.

As if people with a gambling jones wouldn't just walk down the street in towns that have casinos in their neighborhoods.

Isn't that the goal and role of state government--not the feds--the states, that would love casinos and lottery tickets available on every street corner?

And some of us foolishly think that the Pick Six is too hard.

You know what horseplayers really want? They just really want a little respect beyond lip service, appreciation not defined as a T-Shirt giveaway.

They want a good product at a fair price, clean facilities, good affordable food. That's all they really need when betting at the track, or in their pajamas.

And what does the industry want from those of us who are not owners, breeders, trainers and jockeys?

They want the bettors to suffer in silence because once they were the only game in town, and all they needed were the doors to a racetrack; open them and they will come. And they want independent media, what's left of it, to be extensions of their marketing departments:

Speak softly and throw away those sticks.

What they don't get is that we care more than they know, and that by shining a light on fixable issues we're trying to be part of a solution, not schadenfreude types sitting on the sidelines, but lovers of the game trying to affect positive change from the front lines.

All any of us want is to continue to be willing participants in the horse racing industry. Here then, the voice of the North American horseplayer that speaks for us all.

The Horseplayers Association of North America, despite what some perceive as their shortcomings, is the best thing that's happened for the future good of racing in the modern era. But HANA is not just a disgruntled grassroots group of horseplayers, it is all of us; horseplayers, owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys and backstretch workers.




By The HANA Blog

Hi, you know me. I’m a bettor..

"I rush up to the windows with zero minutes to post to get my bet down, fumble with my selections, get sneered at for messing up by Mr. Teller, and learn that I still had another six minutes to get my bet in. “They do that at Tampa Bay” someone tells me.
I’m a bettor.

I was at the track and noticed a trainer who was suspended in a state, but was racing in another state. “What should I do” I asked. One of my friends said I should not bet because he is not “using the juice” there. Another told me that they are watching him for milkshakes so I should not bet. I don’t even know what a milkshake is, so I bet. He ran up the track. Maybe they were right.

I’m a bettor.

I watch the races on a Saturday and get confused so easily. “Why do all the races that I want to bet go off at the same time” I ask. “That’s what they do here”, someone tells me.

I’m a bettor.

A while back I was at the track. My horse looked to be bumped by another horse and I came second. Everyone said they would take a look at it, so I waited. Someone said “it’s the last race of the day so the judges want to go home.” Someone else said that the judges were watching a football game like they were at the Breeders’ Cup a couple of years ago. Someone else said that one of the judges probably bet the winner. I don’t know.

All I know is no one told us anything, they put up the prices and I lost.

I’m a bettor.

I was reading a story on one of the industry websites a couple of years ago and they told me that I should sign up for an Internet betting account because it was pretty cool. I looked into it and found one. They were right!
This account gave me great service, free video and they even gave me a nice break on my takeout. Instead of losing a lot of money, I was only losing a little bit of money now. I was having fun.

Then one day I got a letter saying that because I lived in New York I could not be a customer anymore. “That happened to me in Texas” said a friend. “Me too in Pennsylvania,” said another. Ditto in Virginia someone told me. Why did they tell me to sign up when they were going to not allow me to be a customer of them?

Someone told me it’s because tracks and horsemen all need more money so they raised some sort of fee. But I found that strange; I did not just fall off the turnip truck. Billions of dollars have come from slots in some of these states. They have money. Why do they have to hurt us?

“Maybe I will just go to the track again” I said, but a friend told me they were raising the price of parking and admission too. I don’t know what to do.

I’m a bettor.

I was playing the races one day and the field was scratched from five horses to four horses. A professional gambler said I was stupid to bet a five horse field with high takeout, but I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then he told me that in the four horse field the track was still offering trifecta wagering. He said that was “criminal”. I don’t know much about math, but it does sound a little silly to have a trifecta in a four horse field.

I have to watch these guys at this track, I said to myself.

I’m a bettor.

I like to wake up Saturday and get my email from horse racing. Every Saturday someone is trying to get me to bet a pick 6. I try and try and try but I never hit them. I get mails for a “Rainbow Six” and people like Andy Beyer tell me that’s even worse.

Why do they always want me to bet something that I will never win? It seems mean.

I’m a bettor.

In Illinois they need more money, so they added a “surcharge”. I don’t know what that is, but I figure it’s going to screw me somehow. Why can’t horse racing pay for things themselves when they mess up? It’s complicated, someone tells me.

I’m a bettor.

I’ve lived through it my whole life. Others “put on the show” and I don’t mean much.

I should bet, even when the price goes too high, or they close down my online account, or they don’t show how an inquiry is handled, or when a trainer who is suspended in one place is not suspended in another or when they raise my parking prices. I’ve been through pick 6 scandals, and frog juice and signal fee hikes. I’ve been through supertrainers, and takeout hikes.

Through all that, I and people like me, have bet and paid for purses so everyone can earn a living. Those who breed and ride and train and groom and shoe horses, among others. I have not complained. I was doing my job.

I’m a bettor.

Last week I walked through my local track. I had not been there in quite some time. A racing executive said “I have not seen you in awhile”.

"No, I haven't been betting much" I replied.

He asked, “Why, is it because our purses are too low, or is it alternative gaming taking you away? Is it because of the bad weather?”

“You probably wouldn’t understand”, I said.

I have not supported the industry for awhile, but I’m still a bettor.

However, for all of you reading who are ex-bettors - the silent thousands who have left the sport forever the past ten years - let me say that I understand why you left. I understand completely.

Written by John Pricci

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