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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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Gulfstream Championship Season: Its All Relevant

BOYNTON BEACH, FL, January 26, 2016—The "Championship Meet" officially began in early December, and the Claiming Crown and Eclipse-prelude Sunshine Millions programs featured highly competitive racing and great betting opportunities.

But in five days the Championship Meet is on for real: Five stakes, four graded, but of greater significance two spots for 3-year-old colts, including the first serious for Kentucky Derby of 2016, the Grade 2 1-1/16 miles Holy Bull. The other, the G3 Swale at 7 furlongs, is a worthy bridge to next month's G2 Fountain of Youth.

The fillies will be going after it, too. The South Florida road to the Kentucky Oaks begins with the G2 Forward Gal at seven-eighths of a mile, while sophomore turf fillies show how they transitioned from 2 to 3 in the G3 Sweetest Chant.

The Holy Bull will feature a battle between two of the most proven high class juveniles of 2015; undefeated Remsen Stakes winner Mohaymen and Champagne Stakes victor/troubled BC Juvenile favorite, Greenpointcrusader.

But this is more than a match race featuring rival three-year-olds in a supporting role. Conquest Big E, with a proven affinity for Churchill Downs, and Cherry Wine, a most impressive allowance winner here, are serious Derby colts at this juncture.

And no one is making any excuses going in:

“He worked great,” confirmed trainer Kiaran McLaughlin after protem Derby favorite Mohaymen worked five furlongs in 59 1/5 on Sunday morning. “We’re a week away and we’re all set. All systems are go.”

“He’s 100 percent fit,” trainer Dominic Schettino said when asked about Greenpointcrusader on a warm, sunny morning at the Palm Meadows training center.

“Anything is possible with young horses after a layoff but we’re very happy with him. We have no excuses.”

“We’ve been waiting to find out where he fits,” said top assistant Norman Casse of Conquest Big E, while his dad Mark was in Ocala for the annual high-purse, non-betting Ocala Sales stakes card. “He’s seasoned and he’s ready; no excuses.”

Dominic Schettino looks forward to
Greenpointcrusader's seasonal debut.

Mark Casse's top
assistant, son Norman

As stated, Cherry Wine won a recent Gulfstream allowance two-turner authoritatively by going from last to first with an electric, anti-track-profile middle move. Dale Romans’ colt is the only one of the Big Four with a race over the track.

Being undefeated after three starts, McLaughlin never has had to make excused for the $2.2 million Mohaymen, but Schettino had a more than plausible explanation as to why Juvenile favorite Greenpointcrusader was so disappointing.

“It’s true, he didn’t make his usual run” Schettino said. “But when he got back his right eye was completely shut. It [getting hit with kickback] probably happened somewhere on the first turn.”

Jockey Joe Bravo had him in the clear the rest of the way, entered the stretch extremely wide but Greenpointcrusader still made a flat performance. Was his final half-mile workout in 46-flat too fast and too close to the race?

“It was too fast but Joe said he saw a horse about a furlong up the track and locked in on him. He set sail after him…it wasn’t planned.”

Conquest Big E was tested for class last year with mixed results, finishing eighth in the Juvenile but followed that with an impressive allowance win over the Derby track.

Greenpointcrusader conserves
energy for the big day

Conquest Big E seeks a
passing grade in the Holy Bull

Casse Sr. thinks his colt has underachieved thus far and that’s what Saturday’s race is all about for the barn.

Conversely, we already know that Cherry Wine has made the transition to 3 fine, his recent 6-length win a resounding encore to his 9-1/4 length Churchill maiden breaker. Obviously, ‘Wine’ is the “now horse” of this talented quartet.

It's All Relevant, 'Crusader's'
talented stablemate.

Schettino realizes this is as salty a first step as one can take. He’s planning on a two-prep path to Louisville. After Saturday he’ll consider his options, stretching out another sixteenth in either the April 2 Florida Derby or the Wood Memorial back in New York a week later.

F&M Turf Champion Tepin
hangs out in Barn 21, Stall 1

“That’s a real good horse,” Schettino said respectfully of expected Holy Bull favorite Mohaymen. One can beat the bushes here or in Palm Beach or on the backside in Hallandale, but it’s highly doubtful anyone would disagree.

Whichever colt takes this successful first step, he’ll have to earn it. There will be no backing in--not with this kind of talent signed on.

The winner will need to bring it, quickly and safely. Entries for all five Saturday stakes, the first true championship card of the Gulfstream season, will be drawn on Wednesday.

Photos by Toni Pricci

Written by John Pricci

Comments (9)


Friday, January 22, 2016

Weekend Stakes Preview

Exclusive to, reprinted via special promotional consideration with

HALLANDALE BEACH, January 22, 2016—This Saturday is the day that many major racetracks are paying a reckoning price for creating mega-stakes, handle-attracting programs.

Today at Fair Grounds, for instance, there are no races on the card to which a name—any name—is attached.

Gulfstream Park offers the non-graded H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at two miles on the turf. Given the nature of marathon turf racing, why not just require competing jockeys to have a foot race once around the grass course?

The thing that makes the Jerkens worth winning is the esteem all trainers have for “the Chief,” who passed on March 18 last year. Every horseman would be proud to have that trophy on their mantle.

So said Todd Pletcher when he won the inaugural last year with Unitarian and reaffirmed Wednesday that he’d very much like to repeat this year with Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s marathon specialist, Charming Kitten.

Saturday is Tampa Bay’s day in the sunshine, so to speak. The Oldsmar track is offering three stakes, two for 3-year-old, colts and fillies, at 7 furlongs, the Pasco and Gasparilla, respectively. Some interesting stock in both events and potentially great betting races.

The third stakes is the Wayward Lass for older fillies and mares going two turns. Both 3-year-old sprints are bridges to Tampa Bay Derby Preview card next month. All are listed events.

In Hot Springs, Oaklawn Park hosts the American Beauty for filly and mare sprinters going three-quarters of a mile.

The only graded stakes among the majors on the Saturday docket is Santa Anita’s G2 7-furlong Santa Monica. Let’s take a handicapping look-see at some of the more interesting puzzles:

[Analysis presented as aids in decision making. Per usual, price rules except where dominant figures/angles apply]


Handicapping Storyline: Charming Kitten against the world. Taking projected odds-on is only decision to be made.
Pletcher wants to win this race in honor of the great horseman and owner Ken Ramsey just wants to win, period. Charming Kitten (6-5) is the only runner to win at the distance--the only one who has gone this far. Tactical with Johnny pole sitting, he should handle the impost and recently troubled rival, Roccia d’Oro.

Most Probable Favorite/Winner
: Charming Kitten
Best Value: Roccio d’Oro (4-1)
Exotic Filler/Tote Busters: St. Albans Boy (7-2); Morning Calm (10-1); Xaverian (12-1)


Storyline: If this race holds together, and if we’re prescient, we can take some money out of this contest.

Of the 10 entrants, we left three contenders open for the win and three others with exotics potential. The top three are R Girls a Charmer (5-2), Cosmic Girl (4-1) and Hidden Treat (5-1).

Most Probable Favorite/Winner: R Girls a Charmer
Potential Value Plays: Cosmic Girl or Hidden Treat
Exotics Filler and Potential Price Shot Winner: Valuable Charmer (9-2); Conflate (15-1)


Storyline: Which uncoupled Keith Nations do you prefer, early favorite Morning Fire (3-1) or price shot Flashy Kyem (12-1)? Actually, we wish it were that easy.

In this skullbuster, we must consider Epic Journey (4-1) and his excellent Pricci Energy Ratings; fast and T-G forward Formal Summation (5-1); Ian Wilkes boom CD graduate first-time-dirt Hand of Power (7-2) and fast-closing Ness/Gallardo Inaugural third, Jay’s Way (5-1).

Probable Favorite: Morning Fire
Probable Winner: Hand of Power
Best Value: Formal Summation
Exotics Fillers//Tote Buster: Epic Journey; Jay’s Way//Flashy Kyem


Storyline: Do you prefer one of Todd’s uncoupled two or Tom Proctor’s split entry? How about the pair from Eoin Harty? Instead, we’ll get right to it:

Savings Account is a deserving favorite based on her solid-finish third behind the great Beholder in the G1 Zenyatta two back. Tiger Moth was visually impressive, earning an excellent Pricci Energy Rating in her 3YO finale going a flat mile at Gulfstream; the further they ran, the stronger she finished.

Street Song was a narrowly beaten second in her Tampa debut after moving a tad prematurely to the lead and her pedigree she wants today’s added trip and more. Innovative Idea goes turf to dirt for Harty, a laudable 18% scenario, has Tampa experience and loves the trip, based on her (5) 2-1-1 slate.

Probable Favorite: Savings Account (3-1)
Probable Winner: Tiger Moth (4-1)
Best Value: Street Song (6-1)
Exotics Tote Buster: Innovative Idea (10-1)


Storyline: Not many will argue that Sarah Sis (9-5) is the best horse as a multiple graded stakes winner dropping into a listed event. But she excels at 7F and farther. How cranked can she be for this, her 4YO debut?

We prefer others: Super Saks (3-1) is very sharp and “the Coach” reaches for long time Oaklawn partner Terry Thompson.

Spring Included gets eight pounds from both favorites, her style and position suits the race shape very nicely, Joe Rocco Jr. is her regular partner and she just loves the Hot Springs ground (3) 2-1-0. Haveyougoneaway is also suited by dynamics, most always fires (19) 6-2-6, with two wins on this ground, at this trip.

Probable Favorites: Sarah Sis/Super Saks
Probable Winner: Spring Included
Best Value: Spring Included
Exotics Filler: Haveyougoneaway (5-1)


Storyline: This event features a West Coast surface lover vs. an East Coast surface lover: Ben’s Duchess (5-2) v Room for Me (3-1)

The ‘Duchess’ has won half her six SA runs and is on the bounce-rebound having taken the G3 LA Woman two back. Improved since John Sadler added blinkers last spring, Talamo rides her like he own her.

Room for Me is also class tested, graded-stakes placed, was beaten less than six lengths after poor start and extremely wide entering the BC F&M Sprint stretch, and showed late interest behind champion La Verdad in the recent Interborough. And this is a Filly-for-Course homecoming as her (4) 3-1-0 SA indicates.

Probable Favorite: Ben Duchess
Probable Winner/Best Value: Room for Me
Exotics Tote Buster: Kiss At Midnight (12-1)

For wagers on today's races, see Saturday's Feature Race Analysis section

Written by John Pricci

Comments (3)


Friday, January 15, 2016

Eclipse Weekend Stakes Preview


By John Pricci
Exclusive to

Reprinted via special promotional consideration with

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

Comments (5)


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