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, April 08, 2016

123 WEEKEND ADVANCE: 3 Derby Preps & Grade 1 Pick 4, too

Exclusively for, reprint courtesy of

SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY—Of the four huge 2016 Kentucky Derby preps remaining, three will take place this weekend, from East to West and the Blue Grass, too. We just love the Triple Crown playoffs.

To celebrate two of them, officials in New York and Kentucky have come up with a delicious Pick 4 wager featuring four Grade 1s, the 7-furlong Madison and Carter for elder middle distance runners of either ex.

The Blue Grass and Wood Memorial for Derby-age runners are the marquee events and the Carter Handicap and Madison are about the toughest middle-distance races we’ve seen in quite some time. Maybe, in fact, on balance, the toughest Pick 4 ever.

The fields are deep, extremely competitive, and offer no highly viable means of holding costs down relative to desired returns. My kingdom for a single!

Meanwhile, here’s the skinny on the major contenders and Tote Busters for the Wood-Blue Grass Pick 4 that will attract major handle. Horses listed in post order with early odds:


CAVORTING (6-1) makes 4-year-old debut off willing tough trip 3rd in G1 LaBrea following solid-finish wide fourth in BC Distaff Sprint. Fast figures, solid workline, McLaughlin 25% profitable 90-day layoffs +. Only knock is the 1-hole; major player.

makes 5-year-old debut after winning BC Distaff Sprint. Obviously likes Keeneland; Chad Brown profitable with repeaters and 27% 90-day layoffs +. Gives weight to many.

SUNDAY RULES (8-1) Unknown at trip and Keeneland but big figures going 6-1/2 furlongs, which often translates to 7F. SoCal flyer a danger to shake loose. Serious question marks but ability is there.

DANCING HOUSE (8-1) earned excellent Pricci Energy Rating winning G2 Barbara Fritchie in February at today’s trip. Has improved on dirt, returns with good spacing, and is 1-for-1 at Keeneland.

CLOTHES FALL OFF (10-1), uncoupled McLaughlin, makes 4-year-old debut. Came into her own as late-season 3-year-old, style suits today’s dynamics and gets Lanerie in Kentucky. Tote Buster potential off maturity angle.

THIRTEEN ARROWS (30-1) earned lifetime best Energy Rating at Keeneland, at this trip, and with Geroux. Fast works for Jones but may be need-lead type. Likely a huge price.

STOPCHARGINGMARIA (7-2) just missed by half-length in this last year coming off similar layup, earning competitive figure. BC Distaff winner obviously loves surface and is 4-for-5 recently with Castellano. Very tough spot for return and post hurts.

Unbelievably competitive event is an ALL for those with deep pockets or strong opinions elsewhere.



DONEGAL MOON (5-1) showed marked improvement in rapidly run Parx allowances. Worthy (2) 1-1-0 over surface, well posted, attracts aggressive Martin Garcia. Serious contender with anything close to latest run.

CHERRY WINE (12-1) was very good, tough trip fourth in G2 Rebel off a short break and interrupted training. Owns excellent turn of foot, can kick mid-pack or from the clouds; gets Lanerie. Excellent value at early line odds.

ZULU (5-2) Showed talent and courage when second in Mohaymen’s Fountain of Youth making route debut--which may be the good news and bad news. His performance here may provide accurate Derby barometer on all Florida-based 3-year-olds.

BRODY’S CAUSE (4-1), G1 Breeders’ Futurity winner over course, exits extremely fast G2 Tampa Bay Derby in which he never lifted a hoof, making this very tough call. Would take a leap of faith even off recent, brilliant 5-furlong drill. Likely improvement, but how much?

freaked for new trainer Pletcher on Aqueduct Inner but may need the lead and this is a big leap in class. If he answers those questions affirmatively, has a puncher’s chance at huge price.

MY MAN SAM (10-1) was very good second to Matt King Coal on Aqueduct Inner and has not taken backward step on Pricci Energy scale in three-race career. Briefly freshened, training very well, but badly victimized by draw. Offers good value at this price, however.’

With so many improved or on healthy patterns, trip will be everything here.



SHAGAF (2-1), undefeated and impressive visually, he has nothing to prove but must move forward if he is to be taken very seriously in four week. Tactical speed with the class to finish the deal; worthy favorite given dynamics.

ADVENTIST (10-1) is going to be a major 3-year-old once he overcomes greenness, running in spots when he isn’t flat-out troubled. Highly competitive Thoro-Graph figures but weak on Pricci Energy scale. The value at anything near early odds.

FLEXIBILITY (8-1) has yet to make a poor effort except possibly last time when returning on short rest. Freshened, working extremely well and was tested for class at 2. Well posted and reunites with Franco.

MATT KING COAL (3-1) owns freakish speed and has the ability to stat, at least 1-1/16 miles, anyway. Never has taken a backward step, comes off new pace top, brilliant recent works and must catch him to win.

OUTWORK (5-2) raced very well at Tampa twice so he’s legged up, was an excellent second to well-regarded mate Destin, owns fast TG figure and change-of-pace Energy Rating in last. Working well for Todd/Johnny team.

What to do? Shagaf is classy and undefeated, Matt King Coal could prove to be a freak and Outwork is fast and developing. Grass renewal.



SASSACAIA (10-1) has improved markedly for Rudy as late season 4-year-old, winning G3 Toboggan off impossible trip. Owns main track win but seven-eighths might be too far for best

MAJESTIC AFFAIR (5-2) just missed after chasing hot pace in G3 General George and briefly freshened for this since. Gets along great with Carmouche and Chad profitable returning with this type of spacing. Versatility helps chances given dynamics.

DADS CAPS (8-1) is defending Carter titlist, was speed sharpened in two preps for this, is 3-for-3 on this surface, reportedly has blinkers removed and gets switch to the Patient Irad. Will be finishing late.

GREEN GROTTO (12-1) regressed badly on short rest last out but has been briefly freshened and looms controlling speed once again; dangerous

SALUTOS AMIGOS (2-1) came from impossible last while impossibly wide in G3 Tom Fool. Worthy 3-for-5 on the Big A Main and owns two wins at the trip but best game appears 6F and gives weight to many.

was scratched from ungraded Sir Shackleton on Fla. Derby undercard in favor of this Grade 1. Good pacesetting third in GP Handicap mile and gets switch to Johnny. Todd likes his turnbacks.

CALCULATOR (6-1) owns slower figures has developed poor gate habits; made premature wide move and tired in Santa Anita’s G2 San Carlos won by last-run Kobe’s Back. LAY-3, recently turned 4-year-old is nicely drawn and picks up Alvarado. Favorable dynamics.

Dads Caps and Calculator are likely to provide fair value. As stated, an unbelievably tough P4 sequence. A safe and speedy journey to all your runners.

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

Written by John Pricci

Comments (4)


Friday, April 01, 2016

123 Saturday Advance Florida Derby Day

Reprinted via special promotional arrangement with

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., April 1, 2016—The biggest prep race ever run in the modern era?

If not, we dare our readers to come up with another. Now, if only the Florida Derby can live up to expectations as something very exciting may occur Saturday at 6:48 pm.

With eight stakes--seven of them graded and one overnighter--the suggestion is this: Bring money.

Although there will not be millions up for grabs, today’s Rainbow Six will attract lots of play with a sexy maiden allowances to start the sequence and five graded events to follow, concluding with the Showdown at the Gulfstream Corral.

The following is the skinny, our view of all major contenders in the final six races on the program, including some Tote Buster possibilities. Listed in post order and intended to augment your own opinions:


Rider’s race: Too many live horses, most with tactical speed and several live looking first-timers. Tarpys Zapper (6-1) Dale Romans having good week here but this one returns on five days rest coming off very fast 5-1/2 furlongs; have no idea what will happen here… Gold Shark (20-1) showed big improvement sans blinkers on 7F turnback…Tale of Mist (20-1) is cycling back to his best race—at today’s trip… Grand Nene (10-1) showed big improvement at trip in last two after adding blinkers; playable to win at half that price… I’m Amazing (5-1) Nicks batting very worthy 23% with debuting special-weighters. Conviction (8-1) Todd 26% with second-out 3YOs, Johnny on the re-ride… Zampara (4-1) Todd firster live on Derby day but only 12% at a mile or more… Dig Deep (3-1) very worthy, well regarded Candy Ride colt could sit garden trip with switch to Paco.


Grande Shores (4-1)
tremendous old pro (53) 14-17-7 will be running late given the turnback to seven-eighths… Defer Heaven (5-1) heaven can’t wait after going 4-for-4 since Navarro claim; 5-for-5 at GP, 3-for-5 at the trip… Anchor Down (3-1) set strong pressured pace in G2 Gulfstream Park Handicap; best figures at mile or more but getting class relief and Todd loves his turnbacks… Griff (15-1) also drops from graded company and stretches to optimal distance; betable at 10-1 or higher.


Achnaha (12-1) needed useful season’s debut prep, Weaver profitable with this spacing, Johnny on the re-ride… Suffused (4-1) first-time at 4, first-time hot Mott (24% Euro shippers), first-time Lasix, steady and solid workline, Lezcano on likely trip sitter… Photo Call (2-1) everybody’s fastest mare in here, stoutly bred for trip, short of condition behind Tepin at Tampa, Javier sticks… Quiet Kitten (8-1) course lover been racing in tough luck; tricky read for us, need ML odds or more.


Celestine (8-1) T-G lifetime top in 4YO debut sign of good development, the longer Mott, likes course [5] 2-2-0 and trip [3] 2-0-1, tactical speed, kick and inside draw… Sandiva (9-5 just missed in this last year, course lover [4] 3-1-0, would have been retired to breed but keeps racing well—this might be career finale… Tammy the Torpedo (7-2) moved forward in 4YO debut for Chad, 2-for-2 this course, purposeful works since last, turf ace Bravo aloft… Lady Lara (5-2) defending Honey Fox titlist, fastest races this trip, very solid second to Tepin at Tampa, Lezcano’s choice of Mott mares… A Little Bit Sassy (12-1) hard trier lacks killer instinct but owns good, consistent figures, switch to stable rider Saez, late runner gets her share of this.


Kaigun (3-1)
comes off four straight seconds but was reaching winner late in shorter Mac Diarmida prep, pole sitting with Bravo, sharp subsequent work following last… Jay Gatsby (10-1) developing nicely as 4YO, both starts here were good, Jerkens profitable with beaten favorites (33%) and in graded company, gets weight, Paco and inside draw… Grand Tito (4-1) tripped out to win MacDiarmida and might again picking up Javier, loves course [16] 5-3-2… Wake Forest (5-2) first-time Chad (profitable at 31%), Euro Group winner beaten 5-1/2 in 2015 Arlington Million, Chad 27% with 90-days + layups, first-time Johnny, the looming class of the group… Seeking Alpha (6-1), the longer Chad developing nicely at 4, 2-for-2 this course, trip a concern and Castellano off.


Fellowship (15-1) is a budding millionaire once he gets away from top two; likely coming to a flyover track near you… Nyquist (2-1), thrice a G1 winner, was coming here from the day after the BC Juvenile, they’ve known who was waiting for three months, they’re racing for $1.6 million, they get first run and Uncle Mo proven, stubborn, stretch foe. Game On..! Takeittotheedge (20-1) was visually impressive a very fast maiden winner at 7 furlongs; looks crazy on paper but who knows—“I may open up 2 and they might forget about me,”--Romans said to us at the draw. Third money equivalent to winning $250K stakes… Mohaymen (1-1) I can’t define “look of eagles” but this guy has amazing presence, record speaks for itself, excellent development on Thoro-Graph and Pricci Energy scales. At this stage, more impressive than American Pharoah. Now all he has to do is prove it… Isofass (30-1) Michael Phelps’ charge jumps into deep end of the pool (pun intended) but, you know, he may be slow but is on a healthy line and gets first-Lasix with Julien on the re-ride; Super Tote Buster.

See Saturday's Feature Racing Analysis for On-the-Record Selections

Written by John Pricci

Comments (19)


Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Stronach Group Looking to Buy Parx Racing

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 31, 2016—Alas, not all the Thoroughbred buzz in South Florida surrounds Saturday’s Florida Derby, and that could be very good news for Maryland racing and The Stronach Group’s footprint in Mid-Atlantic Racing region.

Presently, high-level executives from TSG--Tim Ritvo was notably absent at Wednesday's Florida Derby post draw--are looking at a potential deal that would have it to purchase Parx Racing from the track’s holding company, Greenwood Racing & Entertainment, HRI has learned.

This would be one of the final significant pieces to the puzzle of how revive Thoroughbred racing at tracks in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

According to a story at, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's approval of Stadium LLC’s application approved in 2014 has been stalled as a result of an appeal by casino operator SugarHouse HSP Gaming L.L.P. and by Market East Associates which also is seeking a license to operate a casino in the Center City district of Philadelphia.

In a unanimous opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday said that the Gaming Board had failed to “adequately explore” the extent of the holders of Greenwood's primary backer, Watche "Bob" Manoukian.

Manoukian, a highly successful Lebanese businessman, owns 85.84 percent of Parx Racing under the Greenwood Racing & Entertainment franchise and his ownership interest in a second casino in Philadelphia is limited by law.

In the interim, the State Court has remanded the matter back to the Gaming and Control Board.

Like everyone tethered to the gaming industry, Manoukian has more interest in casinos than he has in owning racetracks. Enter the Stronach Group, which appears more than willing to take control of Manoukian’s interests in Parx Racing, whole or in part.

All this fits very neatly in the Stronach Group’s plans to revitalize racing in Maryland, which has been underway in recent years at Laurel Race Course.

The model for the revitalization process involves making racing in the Mid-Atlantic region viable again, not just subsistent. As everyone knows, a shortage of horses and overlapping dates has crippled Thoroughbred racing in the region.

The Stronach Group has made no secret of the fact it believes that establishing a circuit of tracks working in concert instead of in competition is essential to the sport’s survival now and in the future.

Working out a schedule among Parx, Delaware and the Maryland tracks are at the heart of this. Bringing a struggling Monmouth into the mix might only add to the stability to the game in that part of the racing world. Stay tuned.

Written by John Pricci

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