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 31, 2017


Pegasus Post Scripts Plus


Say What?

Bob Baffert Pre-Game: We'll give him a little break…I wouldn't take him to Dubai. We bought him for American racing… we want him to stay in America.”

Baffert Post-Game:
“…Right now, I wouldn't have any objections about running in Dubai...”

On Frank Stronach
: …Thanks to this man right here, it was his dream…I told him it took 12 million to get me off the couch...”

On Arrogate, Now and Later:His stride is just incredible and he came back and he’s really not that tired… This horse is just coming around…”

Stronach on Pegasus I
: “…It was a great race. I’m always glad to do things that benefit the sport. I want to have horse racing on a level higher…It’s should be the #1 sport in the world because it gives so many people the feeling, and they would be a winners…When you look at the crowd, at the spectators, they’re riding the horse home…And I’m Mike Smith and I’m riding. I’m riding. So it’s great when you feel like a winner. When you have only two bucks or five bucks on the horse. That’s great.”

Mike Smith:
“When they said ‘riders up,’ I said oh man, 12 million. Got a little extra jitters there, but it was a good kind to have.”

Jose Ortiz: “My horse was running really, really hard underneath of me and I couldn’t even get close.”

Victor Espinoza:
“He was empty…I just couldn’t keep up with the ones in front of me…He just shut down...he just started backing up and just wasn’t the same… Sometimes he’s going to throw in one of those races and one of those bad times was today.”

Dale Romans: “My horse is an old horse and he tried…this thing worked what Frank did…It’s one of the most enjoyable days I’ve ever participated in in horse racing.”

Mark Casse: “We did all we could…We were setting some fractions and he was just sitting there lapping.”

Todd Pletcher:
“[Arrogate] is very good…He was too good.”

It's All About the Vibe:


Belinda Stronach: “[The Pegasus] has a real Miami vibe to it.”

Baffert: “It had a Kentucky Derby feeling, a lot of vibe, young crowd, vibrant, everybody’s having a good time…”

Smith:
“It definitely had the big vibe to it, was like the Breeders’ Cup Classic times two.”

Pegasus II:

Belinda Stronach: “We’ve established a good relationship with the South Florida community. It has been such a great effort, the whole Gulfstream Park team…This was our first one…so we tried some things. We’re going to learn from it. I think next year we’ll get better and better…I think we’ve established a base, a presence today which we want to build around…so my vote would be to keep it here.”

Garrett O'Rourke [Juddmonte]
: “It’s obviously premature but this has been a very unique event.

On Arrogate's Participation at 5: “You know, everything’s on the table.”

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Pegasus gets off to flying start
Pegasus Past Post: Should Arrogate run and win the Dubai World Cup, the winner's $6 million share of the purse would boost his career earnings to approximately $17 million, besting the North American record of $14.7 million of the since retired California Chrome.

Arrogreat:
Well, there you have it, with all due credit to the Bloodhorse headline writer and columnist Steve Haskin. My turf writing colleague came up with stats to support the deserved adulation the “Best Horse in the World” is currently receiving. To wit:

In going through Arrogate’s PPs, Haskin discovered that, on his best days, Arrogate defeated 10 various and sundry Grade 1 rivals by a combined average margin of just over 16-1/2 lengths. California Chrome’s Pegasus was not included “for obvious reasons,” wrote Haskin.

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There was dancing in the streets...
High Lights, Under Card: Curlin's Approval set the tone for the supporting stakes. Finally and deservingly, she got her first grade score in G3 Hurricane Bertie; not the easiest of trips but kicked on to win as clearly best.

Poseidon: Well, it was as good as recent editions of the Donn which, by the way, deserves to be revived. There are several graded stakes for older horses that can be converted… Stanford was extremely game and extremely unlucky on the wrong side of a head-bobber. Imperative was terrific! Credit Bob Hess Jr. for getting it done the first time he saddled the girth on hard-hitting 7-year-old, and Antonio Gallardo for timing the gelding’s late kick to the split second…

Power to the Horses!
Power Alert in repeating his 2016 GP Turf Sprint score, remained perfect in Hallandale (5-for-5) while improving his lifetime slate to (30) 11-6-2…While the margin was relatively close, Suffused had too much talent, class and Jose Ortiz for the rest of the G3 L Prevoyante turf mares… Mike ‘Money’ Maker, a latter-day MacKenzie Miller, continues to demonstrate excellent handling with grass runners, getting super sharp and conditioned Taghleeb to turn back off the Jerkens Memorial turf marathon to defeat tougher in the G3 McKnight, with more than an able assist from Tyler Gaffalione.

The High Cost of Lost Generation: Ratings-wise, it’s difficult to get a line on what the future will bring for the Pegasus World Cup on network television. Overnight, the rating was just over 1 point, or roughly the same as a typical Breeders’ Cup, about 10% of the typical Kentucky Derby audience, and about 25% of what a Triple Crown-less Belmont Stakes attracts. The state of Thoroughbred racing on TV #sad

A First for Gulfstream, the Handle Monster:
The first paid attendance in the history of new Gulfstream Park was 16,653, no small accomplishment given the pricey $100 admission. Despite the tariff, there were a significant number of walk-up sales, the price later discounted to $50 for the final races on the card, including the Pegasus.

In any case, the $40.2 million handle for a new event day, not heavily promoted outside the industry, was a huge number. It smashed the old record of $32 million set on Florida Derby day last year. Gulfstream’s once singular event drew more people with its history, free gate and parking, too. Pegasus parking was two-tiered at $20 and $50.

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go Three-Year-Olds!
:
Saturday’s multi-stakes card is headed by the Holy Bull Stakes. The Grade 2 two-turner will mark the season’s debut of Eclipse Juvenile Classic Empire and Delta Jackpot blow-out winner, Gunnevera.

The connections of sensationally fast Three Rules appear to be hedging their bets and have the 7-furlong G2 Swale under consideration. If I had two votes I’d pull both levers, but since I have one [read none], I’d go old school seven-eighths. There’s plenty o’ time for stretching out.

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...and something for everyone.
Grandma Rocks: Unbelievable story out of NoFla over the weekend when great-great grandmother Sue Martin rode a longshot winner at Tampa Bay Downs. Soon to be 63, Martin rode her first winner at Idaho’s Les Bois Park the same year Secretariat was sweeping the Triple Crown, 1973. Jockeys #sports #mostunderappreciatedathletes

Bill Mooney and Clyde Rice, Racing's Loss
: Racing lost two profound practitioners last week, one a superb journalist and better person; the other a ground-breaking horseman.

I only hope that should bad fortune befall me, I handle it with the courage, grace and class of Bill Mooney, lost to cancer at 69. We did not travel in the same circles but I always looked forward to our visits whenever Bill made his semi-annual trips to Saratoga in the day His love of the game seeped from every pore; he is already missed.

I met Clyde Rice at a party in Saratoga, introduced by his daughter, Linda. A nice, sweet man, he was very proud of the children who followed in his footsteps. Not long after, his daughter became the first woman to win a Saratoga training title.

Rice is the second-most famous person born in Antigo, Wisconsin. His childhood friend, Darrell Wayne Lukas, revolutionized the modern training game; “”D Wayne off the plane” was the signal to get a bet down.

Rice, expert at handling young stock, broke yearlings and prepared young horses for Lukas who made his Thoroughbred bones with two-year-old stock, especially fillies. The elder Rice might also be called the “Father of Pinhooking” as he was among the first to realize that proven horses could be sold at a premium as two-year-olds.

RIP, gentlemen.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, January 27, 2017


A Tote Busters Look at Saturday’s McKnight at Gulfstream


Knowing that most you are likely go two deep in the last leg of whichever horizontal wager is your preference, a look at Saturday's 11th race from Gulfstream, the McKnight turf marathon:

1 - ***TAGHLEEB (6-1) Pricci Energy Rating: 68 [extremely slow pace]
Certainly has needed conditioning coming off a win in the Allen Jerkens Marathon, finishing up with a sharp turn of foot home under excellent handling from Tyler G. But course lover turns back with tougher set here and will need a very good trip to repeat for McLaughlin, despite his gaudy 25% record with repeaters. Super sharp ‘now horse’.

2 - *MONTCLAIR (10-1) PER: 67 [@10 F]
Another who received brilliant handling [Prado] when second in the Jerkens, saved ground all the way in a bulky field. Shifts inside and might get to use some tactical speed to gain better position. Gelded 7YO has improved since claimed by sharp connects. Current trainer De la Cerda is 4-for-12 at the graded level.

3 – DIAMOND BACHELOR (30-1) PER: 49 [@9 F]
His best game is speed, which is always a challenge rounding three turns despite what usually turns out to be soft fractions. But doesn’t necessarily have to shake loose with these either unless he’s on the dead send.

4 – ****DANISH DYNAFORMER (5-1) PER: 92
Pointed to this by the legendary Attfield. A two-time winner at the trip and victorious in one of two local starts, does own tactical speed and late kick, comes in fresh and off a strong workline at PMM base. Gets reacquainted with hot-riding Lezcano here, is certainly fast enough, and appears to be peaking as early-season 5YO.

5 - APPLICATOR (50-1) PER: 63
Set pressed pace in two mile Jerkens marathon, tiring late, then returned with middle-move going 7-1/2 furlongs in what appears an attempt to sharpen him up. Did win on course and at trip but not against this kind.

6 – ***CHARMING KITTEN (9-2) PER: 91 [@2 miles]
Won two straight last season for Todd then Ramseys went looking for bigger game in Ireland, failing badly in the St. Leger Trial. Recycled by Maker, he sports purposeful and strong workline in return to favorite venue (8) 4-2-0 and has two exacta finishes at the trip, including a win. Magic Mike named; think he’s live?

7 – ****TWILIGHT ECLIPSE (4-1) PER: 96
Lots of seconds and third on his card but he’s been competing effectively his entire career at the highest levels, compiling a (37) 8-5-11 slate worth over $2 million in earnings. Certainly has excellent figures on anyone’s scale, likes this course (6) 2-1-1, winning twice at the trip, now goes first-time Jose Ortiz. Very well spotted here.

8 – *GENEROUS KITTEN (15-1) PER: 85
Uncoupled Ramsey/Maker entrant has won over this course but not at the trip, goes second off the layup (Maker 23% effective), given a conditioning run when a willing in the Jerkens off two month break now switches to Geroux. Not as accomplished as mate but not without money prospects.

9 – PATTERSON CROSS (20-1) PER: 62 [@11 F, extremely slow pace]
In top hands with Mott/Lezcano team, likes this course (2) 1-1-0 and has enough pedigree for the trip. Mott a worthy 24% effective with repeaters, but waters are much deeper here.

10 – ***MR MAYBE (6-1) PER: 94 [@13 F]
Winner of the 13-furlongs Glens Falls at the Spa so trip not an issue. Third in G2 MacDiarmida in 2016 here, Chad has come back firing where he left off in his Eclipse season, is 26% effective with this type of spacing and picks up Javier. This one owns powerful late turn of foot but move must be perfectly timed.

11 – *SADLER’S JOY (8-1) PER: 69 [@11 F, extremely slow pace]
Moves way up in company here but is the “now horse” seeking his fourth straight. Won his only start at the trip, his figures on both scales are straight forward, Albertrani has been live at meet but he loses Javier to Mr Maybe.

12 – *HUNTER O’RILEY (15-1) PER: 77 [@9.5 F]
Continued on very gamely for third after chasing the pace 3-wide throughout the two-mile Jerkens--no easy task. Toner has sharpened him up with two recent shorter drills, Johnny takes the re-ride but does cut back with better.

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

Written by John Pricci

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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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