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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Friday, December 11, 2015

Diversity the Buy-Word on Saturday Stakes Docket

HALLANDALE BEACH, DECEMBER 11, 2015—Call it Simulcast Potpourri or, to put it in conventional terms, there’s something for every handicapping taste all around the USA this Saturday.

Start anywhere you wish: The first graded stakes of the Gulfstream Park championship season? Check: the Grade 3 Rampart for fillies and mares going a flat mile.

Like state-breds? We’ve got those from coast to coast. Down NOLA way, it’s Louisiana Champions Day for all those foaled in Bayou Country, not just Cajun-breds.

On the Left Coast, Cal-bred colts will be in action in the King Glorious Stakes at Los Alamitos, only the first half of a stakes double into the day’s lone Grade 1, the Starlet for juvenile fillies.

The boys are going a two-turn mile, incidentally, the girls an extra sixteenth if they want to earn a Grade 1 title and the major share of a $300,000 pot.

At the Big A by the Sea, New York-bred ladies are getting together for a two-turner, the Bay Ridge, at a mile and a sixteenth, the first added money event on the Aqueduct winter track this season.

Not knowing where to begin ourselves, we’ll begin with the letter ‘A’.


Clearly, there’s something here I’m not getting. How does Temper Mint Patty rate to be the early line 2-1 choice? Yes, she’s G3 placed and this is a restricted event and, after all, Todd Pletcher and Manny Franco are 3 for their last 5 through Wednesday’s races.

But she had to be urged just to grab the early lead in the G3 Comely last time before finishing 7th of 10, beaten 16 lengths. I’ve drawn lines through many races but I’m not as forgiving with chalk types.

Now Sheriffa is co-highweight beneath 124 pounds and Cornelio Velasquez, but she’s earned that assignment having won four of her last six, including the New York Stallion in her 7-furlong main track finale last time out.

Further, she’s 2-for-3 on this surface and 2-for-4 at this longer and trip and 6-1 is too inviting. Stallion runnerup Saythreehailmary’s and Flipcup, back from Canada, are logical dangers. Storied Lady at 20-1 has super-exotics appeal switching to Kendrick Carmouche; she’s 4-for-8 on this ground and 0-for-13 everywhere else.

BETTABLES: We’re taking Sheriffa--3-1 would be fair odds in this spot—and hoping to hit the board with Storied Lady.


In all, there are eight state-bred stakes at disparate distances, surfaces and purses—and that doesn’t include three G2s for Quarter Horses on a 13-race program. Parenthetically, I never knew Q-H races were graded; one never stops learning in this game…

LOUISIANA CHAMPIONS TURF: The 1-1/16 miles for 3YOs & up is interesting simply because String King (8-5) is in it. The gelded 7YO owns a lifetime slate of (38) 18-9-3, is a six-time winner over the course and loves the trip, having won 9 of 16 attempts.

Two things intrigue us about him: First, he was bred, owned and trained by the same man, Charles C Smith, and he’s made Mr Smith an almost millionaire with earnings of over $980K.

Secondly, he’s giving Well’s Gold (6-1) six pounds, a horse he was all out to beat in September. The likely controlling speed is well drawn and clearly was prepped for this on dirt at Delta Nov. 14. He’s improved for trainer Dewaine Loy; how much we will see.

BETTABLES: We can’t beat the early favorite here and won’t try, but we will try to get McGehee’s Mercy (15-1) into the exotics. She’s shown an affinity for FG and switches to Robby Albarado.

Tom Amoss saddles early line favorite Heitai (7-5) who appears to be far from unbeatable. Top Cat Boogie beat him last time and is back again; the neck victory costing him a mere pound on the scale.

The interesting challenger is Jockamo’s Song (10-1) who’s done his best when the white hot Michael Stidham [(23) 9-5-4 here through Wednesday] tightens the girth. Last out, blinkers were removed and the gelded 3YO won off by 6-3/4s. Mitch Murrill re-rides.

We’ll try to get both of the above in the number but are torn between Too Dim (6-1) and Skip the Pinot (8-1) for the win spot. At anything close to early line odds, we could bet both to win and key them in multiples; can’t decide just yet.

LOUISIANA CHAMPIONS CLASSIC: The linemaker has this a two-horse affair between Mobile Bay (9-5) and The Pickett Factor (2-1) but One Man’s King (9-2) is interesting.

Mobile Bay is the most accomplished, having won the G2 Super Derby followed by a show finish in the G3 Ohio Derby. Freshened two months, he returned to win the Zia Park Derby, all wins beneath Edgar Prado, taking a return call here. He rates to be the favorite despite a wide draw.

The Pickett Factor chased the pace throughout before tiring in the Super Derby, his only defeat in four starts rounding two turns. Also freshened, he returned to win the state-bred Gold Cup at Delta. He’s likely to sit a good trip off a contested pace and get first run on the favorite.

One Man’s King improved off Joe Sharp’s claim for Ken Ramsey last fall, who also entered Know You Now (30-1), likely to be employed as a rabbit for his late running mate. ‘King’ was also cross-entered in the Turf; take note.

BETTABLES: The only horse we’d consider to win is Mobile Bay; any price near the early line is acceptable. Along with the two mentioned above, we’re adding Stormdriver (6-1) to the exotics mix.


There are four hundred-granders on the Hallandale docket Saturday afternoon of which the Rampart is the first, going as Race 3.

Trainer Marty Wolfson seems to have this flat mile surrounded with three of eight mares entered: recent returnees Cali Star (3-1) and Curlin’s Princess (12-1), who finished third to ‘Star’ in a Nov. 18 GPW allowances, and Best Behavior (5-2), back from a July layup.

Cali Star is very sharp, winning her mile return by 5, albeit rounding two turns. Curlin’s Princess appears the type who will benefit from her effort. Both her lifetime wins have come at GP, including a sloppy one-turn mile two back, and she gets a new rider in Luis Saez.

BETTABLES: Best Behavior has run well when fresh in the past and she’s been working bullets over this surface since October for her return and Johnny Velazquez gets the call. Her Thoro-Graph figures point the way here, but we’d like to get 2-1 or greater for our money.

The outsiders we’re using in Kathleen O’Connell trainee Legal Laura (8-1). She comes off a sharp Florida-bred stakes score at and also Stiffed (6-1), who returns with good spacing and Paco with an affinity for this surface..


This should be a good betting race. At first glance we left six of the 11 entered open but the most intriguing are Found Money (7-2), Record Highs (5-1) and Viviendo El Sueno (5-1).

Found Money is the early favorite and he may have found his ideal level here. He won a short open-company stakes at SA this spring and placed in two state-bred stakes at Del Mar this summer.

Last out, the long-striding colt ate a lot of muddy dirt in the G3 Delta Jackpot before making a good inside-out run on the turn that carried him wide into the lane. He finished with interest [see replay] to earn fourth money. Fast footing and the two-turn Los Al dynamics should fit perfectly.

The other two exit the same fast sprint won by speed-stalker Xingontothebone, who will not get that scenario here. Record Highs appears ready to stretch out off a wide, late rally try that looked very much like a distance prep. Rafael Bejarano, aboard for the first time that day, rides him back for Carla Gaines.

BETTABLES: We’ll take Record Highs to win, needing 4-1, and exacta box with Found Money, and keying those two in exotics with aforementioned Viviendo El Sueno and Tough It Out (4-1), going turf to dirt for Los Al boss Philip D’Amato.

G1 STARLET STAKES: Nine were entered in this with Bob Baffert, Philip D’Amato and Jerry Hollendorfer each dropping in a pair. The major players are Stays in Vegas (7-2), Pacific Heat (3-1), Surfside Tiara (6-1) and Street Fancy (5-1) in another interesting betting affair.

Stay in Vegas is 4-for-5 lifetime including her two recent wins on grass but note that Hollendorfer is a profitable 25% going turf to dirt. Perhaps a score here will take a modicum of sting out of the loss of Shared Belief for Jungle Racing et al.

Impossible to knock Pacific Heat who won her two lifetime starts by a combined 18-1/4 lengths, showing versatility on Pricci Energy Ratings and excellent paired figures on the TG scale. Joe Talamo rides back for Peter Eurton.

Hollendorfer’s other filly, Surfside Tiara, is interesting. She came from far back following a slow start, finishing fourth, beaten a scant length in the Desi Arnaz beneath Bejarano. Hall of Fame Hollendorfer is also 25% profitable stretching out of consecutive sprints.

Street Fancy endured a troubled break in that same event, finishing well too late under Mike Smith who rides distance-meant filly back for Eurton, profitable (26%) when stretching out off back-to-back sprints.

Taking Surfside Tiara to win at 7-2 or greater, keying her exotically with her main rivals above.

This blog was written exclusively for and is reprinted here through special promotional arrangement

For the record, see Saturday's Feature Race Analysis

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, December 06, 2015

Back To The Present

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., December 6, 2015---According to the calendar, the racing year that never ends is winding down, but you wouldn’t know it by watching the races of late.

Last week at Aqueduct, Tonalist took the Cigar Mile, New York’s final Grade 1 of 2015, with an electrifying finish when all appeared lost three furlongs from home.

And that herculean run came only two hours after Kiaran McLaughlin showed that he had another top Kentucky Derby prospect in Mohaymen, who raced nine furlongs in a take-notice 1:50.56.

Recall that fillies generally mature faster than the boys, so when Lewis Bay took 1:53.41 to win the Demoiselle an hour earlier, Mohaymen’s clocking should have been typed in bold.

Better yet, his re-break, sprint finish through deep stretch revealed a dimension not usually seen in youngsters, especially going this far and around two turns for the first time.

Because of its timing and distance, the Remsen should be more a barometer of Derby success than it is, but this Shadwell colt, now on Lasix after he “trickled” while winning his second start, could change recent Remsen/Derby history.

Nothing excites quite like an undefeated two-year-old. Mohaymen shipped to Florida the day after the Remsen and McLaughlin noted post-race that there were 60 days until Gulfstream Park’s Holy Bull Stakes.

Mark January 30 on your calendars.

When Tonalist fell back on the turn following a half-mile in a pokey 48.50 despite the urging of Johnny Velazquez, all appeared lost.

But after watching him fly through the final sixteenth to win the Cigar by a neck over stablemate Red Vine, it called to mind Jack Buck’s post-Kirk Gibson call; “I don’t believe what I just saw.”
Good news is that Tonalist will return for another season of racing; thank you for that, Mr. Evans. That takes a modicum of sting out of the fact we no longer will be able to enjoy Shared Belief.

A gelding, we were looking forward to several years of potential great performances. This is one tough game.

As a minority owner in Lucky Mathieu, a winner of the 1991 Palisades Breeders’ Cup Stakes at The Meadowlands and Grade 3 placed at Belmont Park, I know how it feels to experience this kind of loss. It’s a feeling that never leaves you; regrets to all the connections.

Claiming Crown Finds a Good Home

There’s something about successful events that brings a special kind of energy to racetracks. The Gulfstream Park Championship Meet that began Saturday played out in a three-dimensional setting that veteran New York horseplayers would call an Aqueduct day.

The atmosphere may have been dark, dank and dreary, but the people in the building brought good energy to the day even as most often were forced to seek shelter from the gusting winds and sometimes pelting rain.

Still, the sealed main track was in good shape and, while wet tracks generally produce a bias favoring speed, the surface played fairly for the most part, albeit more tiring as the day progressed.

And wouldn’t you know it? Todd Pletcher started where he left off the last 12 years, winning the lid-lifter with Stradivari, a soon-to-be three-year-old that won by a short pole after stalking the leader throughout.

This Medaglia d‘Oro was bred for distance and a wet track but his bottom side in not particularly strong. But he will bear watching under dry conditions whenever he shows up next.

Not to be outdone by, well, himself, Pletcher won the only other race on the otherwise all-Claiming Crown card with the debuting Zulu, a $900,000 two-year-old purchase by the Coolmore team in March.

Zulu turns out to be a Bernardini colt with speed, and he drops from a mare that has produced 8 winners from 9 starters, including two stakes winners.

And he can sprint, stopping the timer in 1:10.08, shading 25 in the final quarter-mile after being pressured throughout.

But it was another human star who stole the show, defending riding champion Javier Castellano winning four of the nine Claiming Crown events, including the centerpiece Crown Jewel with Royal Posse, reveling in the slop for Rudy Rodriguez who also saddled runnerup Mr. Palmer.

Peter Walder won two Claiming Crown events with new acquisitions for Loooch Racing. The only surprise in this regard is that Ken and Sarah Ramsey, the all-time leading Claiming Crown owners, failed to win a race despite a half-dozen chances.

The four-year contract governing the Claiming Crown, the brainchild of Canterbury Downs, has expired and we can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be renewed here. Thus far, it’s been a win-win-win; for horsemen, venue and bettors alike.

PR Disaster Avoided By “Corrected” Hi-5 Rollover Wager

The Hi-5 “new twist” rollover wager, the only bet in the game’s history that would have featured a 100 percent takeout, has been modified.

Originally, the wager would only be paid off to a single winner, akin to Gulfstream’s popular jackpot wager, the Rainbow 6.

Whereas multiple winners of Rainbow 6 share in the spoils, the “new twist” Hi-5 would carry over to the next race despite having been won by multiple players, which would have breathed life into the old Abbott and Costello racetrack gag: “They’re Off, You Lose.”

Like myself, many dislike this wager, and raising the cost from 50-Cents during the “Calder” experiment to $1 at Gulfstream will prove counterproductive, in our view. In order to create a jackpot, you first need seed money.

Not all Hi-5 pool figures were available in Saturday’s BRIS result charts, but from what we could glean, total handle on the Hi-5 for 11 Saturday races was a mere $22,477.

This rings true since we were watching handle figures throughout the day. With “0” minutes remaining to post, handle totals from six of the races we charted were $1,085, $1,919, $1,652, $2,289, $2,192 and $1,704.

The largest jackpot carryover we noted was just over $5,600 prior to the 8th race.

Now, all winners of Hi-5 will share in the pool but there are no consolations. Bettors no longer will be paid off on, e.g., a 1-2-3-all-all combination. The entire pool will carry over to the next race. The takeout rate is 18%.

Adding a second 50-Cent Pick 5 beginning with the first race should be a winner at the bottom since it gives sequential players a chance to bet the sequence they believe gives them their best chance.

Gulfstream has given up on the $5 quinella that was offered on the GPW final race. How about this experiment? How about a $5Q on the feature race of the day at a significantly reduced takeout rate, or with a bonus to winners?

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, December 04, 2015

New York to South Florida: A Prime Time Shift

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., December 4, 2015—One door closes and another opens. So goes the sport of Thoroughbred racing. Call it the rites of winter passage in the game that never sleeps.

With the regular season winding down as New York readies for its winter session on Wednesday, Gulfstream Park opens its Championship Meet Saturday—with help from much of the quality stock that keeps New York racing at the top of the pyramid.

Last week, the Cigar Mile brought down the prime New York season emphatically with an ultra-dramatic renewal of that one-turn Grade 1 event when Tonalist went from no-chance to up-in-the-final-strides hero.

So, who do you like in the Garland of Roses?

It is, however, the South Florida oval, home of the best sustained race meet America has to offer, that will command much of the nation’s attention from this weekend through the meet’s penultimate racing day, the stakes-stuffed Florida Derby program on April 2.

The only bad news regarding Saturday’s lid-lifter is a forecast calling for 70% chance of rain as a low pressure system has stalled over the bottom half of the peninsula. While most of precipitation will intensify in Dade, it does appear there will be plenty to go around.

We dislike wagering on wet tracks unless there’s a friendly bias at play, in which case all are aware, anyway. So will the track be sealed, opened, and when will that be? What’s worse than betting on wet tracks is handicapping for unknown conditions?

Resultantly, we’ll look only at the centerpiece event, the Claiming Crown Jewel, a nine furlong route for three-year-olds and up that has attracted a gateful of 12 runners.

And it’s truly too bad about the weather in another regard. Since shifting to the South Florida venue four years ago, Claiming Crown day has been one of the best betting events of the session; extraordinarily competitive races with large fields.

Picking winners will be challenging to say the least; the good news is that when you win, you likely will be rewarded in kind. It will be interesting to see how atmospherics affect Saturday's racing.

Weather forecasters are predicting clear skies in the Northeast and so we will look at New York’s final Pick 3 and the feature from Parx Racing, the Nursery Stakes for two-year-old males which attracted a dozen Pa-breds going seven furlongs.


Forty-eight hours in advance, we have left seven of the runners open. Of those, three leave us with imponderables to deal with:

Will Market Blaster (12-1) handle a wet track, over which he owns a (7) 1-0-1 slate and has never raced here? Will surface loving Rich Daddy (6-1), beneath 124 pounds, get the trip? His pedigree does not inspire confidence that he will. What about Mal Guapo’s (6-1) 9F ability? And will it matter considering trainer Brad Cox is tightening the girth?

We’re comfortable that these following will run well, surface notwithstanding. African Fighter (10-1) is not as fast as most of these but comes up to this perfectly for Todd Pletcher. Indycott (8-1) has been ultra-consistent, gets the trip and has the right connections.

Royal Posse (4-1) and his uncoupled mate, Mr Palmer (10-1), like all others mentioned here, are Gulfstream virgins but are coming into this in top form for Rudy Rodriguez, taking no chances by naming Javier Castellano and Joel Rosario, respectively, on the duo.

And if Lieutenant Seany O runs back to his last from the pole with Jose Ortiz, all might be in trouble. Great race; tote watching is the imperative here.


At first blush, this 12-juvenile males scramble looks like a match between early favorite Morning Fire (5-2) and his recently vanquished rival Bird of Trey (7-2). In fact, the finish probably will end that way, only with the order of a Sept. 26 open allowances reversed.

There is the matter of a five-pound shift in the latter’s favor, the fact he comes into this a bit fresher than his main rival, is getting a favorable switch to Joshua Navarro (riding at 23% this meet) and a 5 furlong breeze that was 2nd fastest of 27 peers to work last weekend in Bensalem.

We wouldn’t Balk (6-1) to vociferously if you considered upsetting the probable faves, as the Ron Potts-trainee is advantageously drawn outside his principal rivals. But today rates to be Bird of Trey’s day.


Six of the dozen in the body here have some kind of chance but we’ll concentrate on four, from the inside out, New York Chrome (8-1), Dettifoss (5-1), Indiana Stones (6-1) and Black Tide (3-1).

New York Chrome makes his first start since May for profitable long-layup connections and attracts Eric Cancel. His Thoro-Graph figure while breaking maiden in his second start is competitive and any maturity improvement can take this at a square price.

Dettifoss earned excellent figures back-to-back then regressed in his Belmont finale. Bruce Brown wisely gave him six weeks to recover subsequently and is eligible to rebound in this spot.

Indiana Stones is not as fast as these on the performance figure scale but is fresh and is sitting on a big effort. Low profile outfit has been live in recent months.

Black Tide is making his second start since returning to dirt for Michelle Nevin. He mid-moved as the pace was heating and tired late, beaten a 3/4s of a length for all of it last out. Irad Ortiz replaces his brother, Jose. Can’t take lower than the early line quote, however.

But let’s keep in mind, too, that Saint Joseph makes his second start off a lengthy layoff for Jeremiah Englehart. Pole sitter owns good back figures and the barn is a profitable 32% effective with second-time acquisitions.


Three of the seven entrants, favorites all, are the key players. Room for Me (6-5) gets huge class relief dropping out of a series of G1 and G2 events. She turns back for David Jacobson to a trip at which she’s 4-for-6 lifetime and owns the fastest figures.

Princess Violet (7-2) returns in Mike Hushion’s care following her poorest career effort in the G1 Phipps in June. Previously, she was second in the G2 Ruffian; both starts going long. She turns back to three-quarters here where she’s (3) 1-1-0 and returns to Aqueduct, where she’s (2) 1-1-0. Her last win came beneath Junior Alvarado, who re-rides here.

Classic Point (5-2) returns to the Big A (1-for-1) for white hot Jimmy Jerkens who’s profitable in all relevant categories. With ‘Violet’, she’s co-highweight at 123 pounds, but her best runs have come at Gulfstream.

The big question here is whether Gary Contessa recently claimed lightning in a bottle with the huge-figure surface winner Nuffsaid Nuffsaid. At 20-1 on the early line, it may be worth finding out.

RACE 9: Maiden Claiming 1-1/16 Miles TURF

While I concede she can easily win, not terribly interested in early line choice Touch of Paradise (5-2) who’s had five recent chances at this level, finishing third four times and will use her defensively at best. We’re interested in Junger (3-1) and Street Fightin Man (4-1).

John Hertler is very effective dropping in with maiden claimers. His Junger is nicely drawn, well suited by dynamics, has versatile style, and attracts Kendrick Carmouche. He has developed nicely as a late-season four year old.

Street Fightin Man was a good third over the course last out and has improved Pricci Energy Ratings since Nick Esler added blinkers three starts back. Further, his TG figures are surging forward and he should continue marching here. We require at least 3-1 given the dynamics.

The preceding Morning Line blog was written exclusively for and reprinted here via special promotional consideration

Click on Feature Race Analysis for Saturday's Featured Race Plays after Midnight

Written by John Pricci

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