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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Saturday, May 02, 2015

Oaks Lessons for Derby Players

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., May 1, 2015—Witnessed by the largest crowd ever to attend the running of the storied Kentucky Oaks, Johnny Velazquez was asked post-race to describe his trip aboard sixth place finisher Angela Renee.

“Down the lane the first time she was perfect,” he said. “The way she was running around there, I was thinking they were going to have to run hard to pass her. But at the quarter pole, she just didn’t fire. It was bizarre."

Bizarre, which was kind of the way the whole day played out for some of us. The Churchill Downs surface appeared a little quirky yesterday. Speed did well, the inside seemed better than the outside, yet it was demanding.

Stalkers were in the best position to win throughout the afternoon, and if the winner did come from off the pace, it had to make a mid-race move, saving ground at some point along the way. Wide trippers just seemed to flounder out there.

And apparently, the kickback was vicious as the fast surface cupped out beneath the hooves of the horses. Trips are almost always important; on Oaks day it was everything.

Ultimately, Angela Renee didn’t stay the entire eight furlongs, shortening stride perceptibly in the final hundred yards. But not Lovely Maria. She ran great, showing her preference for the surface with a quick blowout for the most important race of her life.

Her victory who old hat for Larry Jones as he took his third Kentucky Oaks and seems to be working in earnest on a Hall of Fame resume. He saddled the third finisher, too, I’m A Chatterbox, a tough tripper that did well to finish as close as she did.

Speaking of bad trips, and a little questionable handling, too, favorite Stellar Wind got jammed up at the break, racing wide into the first turn, victimized at the draw when she drew the#12 slip.

Trainer John Sadler was very unhappy that she was as far back as she was early on, given the speed-kind going, and she never seemed to get into any rhythm going down the backside.

“I tried to stay up to the horse next to me but we were getting outrun,” explained Victor Espinoza, who will also ride the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. “Then when we went into the first turn and the dirt was flying back, she started jumping up and down. It wasn’t her day.”

Sadler saw it differently: “You can’t be that far back today. She was way too far back. She was last around the first turn and the winners were all up close all day so she never had any position. Sometimes you get a bad trip, there’s nothing you can really do.”

Dale Romans, who saddled second favorite, Birdatthewire, was more philosophical: “It was a good bunch of fillies and she didn’t get beat very far. I think the best filly won.”

For Oceanwave, it wasn’t the surface as much as the trip: “Rafael [Bejarano] said she wouldn’t run between horses. When he wanted her to go, she got intimidated and put on the brakes,” explained trainer Wayne Catalano.

But the surface and position were responsible for Puca’s poor performance: “The post didn’t help us,” said trainer Bill Mott.

“We were hung up a little wide going into the first turn and he didn’t have enough to go on with it and it wasn’t easy to get back [in the race]. Junior [Alvarado] thought she might be spinning her wheels.” Alvarado confirmed: ‘I don’t think she was comfortable today.”

What the Derby horses will be in for Saturday likely will be more of the same, with atmospherics expected to identical with Oaks day: Clear, fast, pleasant temperatures. It will be interesting to see if the surface tightens up with some manicuring from track maintenance.

We shall see if after two defections, American Pharoah will be helped by moving a little more insider, into the 16th slip but from the 17th post positions as the rail horse, Ocho Ocho Ocho, is expected to leave one stall over from the pole position.

As for the cupping out surface and stinging kickback, I wonder if Mr. Baffert will entertain the idea of having a little chat with track management who might mention something to the track maintenance department. It’s not like trainers of the big horse haven’t done things like that before.

We see a number of things that could happen by what’s known going in. If the American Pharoah of the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, particularly the latter, shows up, his brilliance, despite the pedigree and soft-prep regimen, will win the day.

But good horse doesn’t mean good bet. At the close of advance Derby betting Friday, the early line favorite was 5-2 in real time. Conversely, his undefeated, tested stablemate, leaving from a better position is a square price at 9-2.

We thought the very wide draw would be a big hindrance to Upstart. And while he’ll be at least half this price ante post, 32-1 on Upstart is astonishing. Equally, 6-1 odds on Mubtaahij is seriously undervalued.

There appear to be two wise guy horses that many fancy and that enthusiasm was seen early on; Firing Line was 10-1 at end of betting Friday; Frosted, 9-1.

Moment of truth: We think the steam on Frosted is well warranted. Taking Kiaran McLaughlin’s brand spanking new Wood-winning gray to repeat in thoroughbred racing’s most prominent world class event.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Is It Post Time Yet?

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., April 30, 2015—For the most part, the avalanche of information and storylines has abated, but then news never takes a holiday, does it?

Stanford is leaving Dodge and headed to Baltimore for the Preakness; Frammento is leaving the Also-Eligibles and entering the Churchill Downs starting gate.

Goodbye speed, hello closer; goodbye LA, hello Louisville for Mr. Nakatani.

However, we feel we owe the HRI faithful a very quick look at the Derby field after the draw, so, here goes:

1-Ocho Ocho Ocho (50-1): Should be named Seis, Seis, Seis, given a hell of a post draw. Was up against it before. Now? Fuhgedaboudit.

2-Carpe Diem (8-1): Johnny’s going to need all his skills to extricate himself and his colt from this mess; draw forces the issue and does him absolutely no favors.

3-Materiality (12-1): At least he has excellent gate speed when warranted, but still must be hustled out of there from the jump. Apollo with two Ls, right?

4-Tendendur (30-1): Developing rapidly but this looks like too much, too soon. Superfecta filler?

5-Danzig Moon (30-1): On the improve but still has a way to go.

6-Mubtaahij (20-1): Lots of talent; lots of obstacles.

7-El Kabeir (30-1): Just doesn’t get his due; throw out at your peril.

8-Dortmund (3-1): Indeed, he does lack a great turn of foot. But so what?

9-Bolo (30-1): His SA Derby was better than I originally thought but still might be looking over his left shoulder at the Matt Winn turf course.

10-Firing Line (10-1): If I were Gary Stevens, I’d be smiling, too.

11-Stanford (30-1): Cooler heads prevailed; Todd hasn’t won seven Eclipses by making big mistakes.

12-International Star (20-1): You just know Ken Ramsey’s going to get a piece of this, right?

13-Itsaknockout (30-1): Has fallen out of favor; very tall order.

14-Keen Ice (50-1): Romans’ been waiting since January for a mile and a quarter. Superfecta.

15-Frosted (15-1): Has his admirers, me among them.

16-War Story (50-1): Add nose band; subtract blinkers.

17-Mr. Z (50-1): zzzzzzzzzzz

18-American Pharoah (5-2): Let’s see what you really got!

19-Upstart (15-1): Has had outside posts all year, why should Derby be different? Tough draw for very talented stalker type.

20-Far Right (50-1): Going to be far back early anyway. Two 50-1 Derby winners for oney Mike?

21-Fammento (50-1): You got your wish, Nick. Go for it.

22-Tale of Verve (50-1): The last AE standing.

Check Saturday’s Feature Race Analysis for Derby Betting profile

Holy (Sm)Oaks: Compared to the Derby each year, except when the occasional Rachel Alexandra shows up, fillies are the three-year-old division’s red-headed step-daughter.

Friday’s edition has been aptly, correctly described as an open race. But in this case that’s no euphemism for “who cares, it’s a large field and a good betting race.”

But there’s talent in here, too. Condo Commando, Stellar Wind and Birdatthewire might not be American Pharoah, Dortmund and Carpe Diem but they’re damn good fillies.

And Eskenforthemoney and I’m a Chatterbox are good, too, and true stakes class doesn’t with these two, either: Truly looking forward to Friday, 5:49 PM.

The draw doesn’t help Birdatthewire’s chances any, but might bump up the price a bit. There’s plenty of speed to set the table for her late punch and she’s as game a three-year-old filly as we’ve seen in some time.

Today’s her toughest test, but you could say that for any of them.

A betting profile for the Oaks will be up on Feature Race Analysis by 12:01 AM, Friday

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Less Becomes Much More in Rainbow 6

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., April 26, 2015—Good luck is never a bad thing. Gulfstream was fortunate that the rains didn’t come until well after Saturday's program had begun and because of the way the simulcast schedule fell out.

With Keeneland closed and Churchill not set to open the meet until 6 p.m., Aqueduct and Gulfstream had the major-track Saturday landscape virtually to themselves.

Otherwise, the mandatory Rainbow 6 jackpot likely never would have reached a record pool of $7.1 million as bettors put up $5.6 million chasing $1.4 million in “free money.”

The heavy rains that developed after the sequence began kept fields intact, obviously, and the bettors themselves got lucky when nearly universal single Discreet Marq was declared, her role ably filled in by a talented post time favorite, Baffle Me.

It’s rare when a post time favorite has a clear class edge on the group; Discreet Marq still would have had Baffle Me to beat in the overnight Powder Break had they both run.

“I was obviously happy to see Discreet Marq come out,” said winning trainer Mark Hennig. “I don’t think she would have if it didn’t rain.”

The jackpot pool and fresh money resulted in multiple winners of $14,592, a tidy sum considering three very short-priced potential singles paying $4.60 or less, a morning line second choice, and two extreme longshots; one usable, the other impossible.

(For the record, we had five of six, which gets you nothing, eliminated when One Proud Dude took the first leg of the sequence at 27-1).

The previous record occurred in 2011 when $3.5 million was spent chasing an identical $1.4 million jackpot.

BETS ‘N PIECES: There were three added money events offered yesterday, including the G3 Miami Mile won by 21-1 Rerun, shipping down from Ocala for the occasion.

Interestingly, in terms of yesterday Rainbow 6 sequence, the Tarpon Stakes was included due to the presence of 3-10, newly blinkered Mr. Jordan, who bore out badly despite right-handed pressure.

The talented gray finished first by a head but was disqualified for interfering with Royal Squeeze nearing the finish; a correct call by the much maligned Gulfstream stewards…

The longer, uncoupled entry-mate, seemingly on a tear at all venues recently, got the money again yesterday in Aqueduct’s G3 Excelsior, New York-bred Effinex getting the money with heralded stablemate Wicked Strong a dull, one-paced third at 3-5…

Cinco Charlie beneath Ricardo Santana Jr. won the inaugural William Walker Stakes on opening night at Churchill Downs Saturday. It was the sixth stakes win for the Churchill maiden breaker, surviving a three-ply battle then hanging on for the win.

Odds-on favorite Blofeld appeared in need of the effort, while making his return from a lengthy layoff, finished third.

Both Upstart, very difficult to pull up after the drill, and Frosted, both having their final Kentucky Derby timed workouts, went very well according to reports from the Palm Meadows training facility Saturday morning.

Likely Derby favorite American Pharoah zipped around Churchill yesterday in 58.20, like breaking so many sticks.

Social Inclusion, the 2014 Preakness’ third-place finisher, makes his season’s debut for new trainer Chad Brown in today’s third race at Gulfstream Park. He hasn’t started since finishing unplaced in last year’s Haskell.

The long winter of New York racing’s discontent ends today; Belmont Park opens Wednesday for the first of 59 days. The inaugural Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, June 5-6-7, features 17 stakes worth over $10 million.

Written by John Pricci

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