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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Sunday, February 05, 2017

Pardon the Interruption

Our apologies for site interruption. We are at Tampa Bay Downs covering Tampa Derby Preview Day. Will report on it Monday. Thanks once again for your patience and understanding.

Today's Feature Race is the Tampa Bay Stakes taking Coco Mon (8-1) to win at 5-1 or greater, exacta box with Kasaqui (3-1).

As the first meaningful prep day of the Kentucky Derby season, the races provided a decidedly mixed bag of results.

In Aqueduct’s Withers Stakes, El Areeb’s star status was confirmed in a completely comprehensive victory. Alas, one can't say the same for Santa Anita’s Robert B. Lewis, but Gulfstream Park's Holy Bull Stakes sent two messages; one positive, one mystifying.

What it all means, especially including the return of the 2016 juvenile champion Classic Empire, will probably require a little more time to provide conclusive Derby perspective.
Out West, the lesser known stablemate of Sham winner Gormley, Royal Mo, both trained by John Shirreffs, entered the ranks of Derby prospects with a comprehensive victory beneath Victor Espinoza in the Lewis.

The mitigating aspect, however, is that yesterday’s renewal was quite possibly the least inspiring edition ever staged. ‘Mo’ beat four rivals, three from one barn, and like the first two races we viewed on the Santa Anita card, it was won by speed type racing closest to the rail.

From his pole position, Royal Mo was sent along for the lead, set moderate splits, and never was seriously threatened at any time in the straight. The time for the 1-1/16 miles was a very solid 1:43.48 and was a worthy effort for a colt that hadn’t run since November.

It appears at this time that Gormley is targeting the San Felipe while Royal Mo may be headed to Hot Springs. The Rebel, with its obscene purse of $900,000, is a tempting target indeed, a good way to handle those separation blues.

Back East, El Areeb won his third straight by stalking from perfect position third, close up and in the clear throughout, before making his move to the lead at headstretch, leaving the overmatched group in his wake. When added to his three straight prior wins, the combined margin over those victories is a heady 29 lengths.

As Trevor McCarthy, who also happened to ride Irish War Cry to win his first victories prior to Saturday’s Holy Bull, said, the most impressive aspect of the win is that the speedster turned off, amenable to the rating tactics employed.

Nit picking, the horse he defeated for second stumbled badly at the start, was rushed to command on the first turn, and still had no serious challenger for place until the final two jumps.

Still, runnerup True Timber deserves some credit for hanging in there and show-finishing J Boys Echo was good also, racing four wide all the way around and still had punch at the finish, narrowing the place gap. But El Areeb? He was gone; a very nice colt is he.

With Mo Town expected to make his three-year-old debut, among others, in the Gotham Stakes, and with trainer Brian Lynch not wanting four preps into a possible Derby start, El Areeb is likely to skip the Gotham in favor of the 9-furlong Wood Memorial, April 8.

While McCarthy's away,
Rosario will play...

With Joel Rosario subbing for McCarthy, Irish War Cry dominated the G2 Hold Bull from flag-fall to finish by 3-3/4 lengths over strong finishing Gunnevera. Juvenile champion Classic Empire, finished five lengths farther back in third. For the champ, the race was lost well before post time.

When Classic Empire, who tends to get a little warm pre-race, was warm the first time he passed us in the walking ring. On his second pass, he began to develop a little kidney sweat.

By the time he approached the starting gate, he was completely lathered up and balked before being loaded. “Yesterday was the first time he ever had to ship and run in the same day," said Mark Casse from his Palm Meadows base Sunday morning.

“He’s shipped all the time and never fretted before... I don’t know what was going on with him. Yesterday was also the first time I ever saw him balk about going into the gate.”

Even if he had been a happy horse, he might have found it extremely difficult to defeat Irish War Cry, a very talented three-year-old who extended his undefeated career to 3-for-3. And in doing so. he checked every box, some inexperienced greenness notwithstanding.

He came from the clouds on debut to break his maiden going away by open lengths. Stretching out for an overnight stakes at Laurel second time out, he was so sharp, said trainer Graham Motion, that he broke running, set a pressured pace and still gamely prevailed in a stretch-long duel. Saturday was Irish War Cry’s two-turn debut.

Doubtlessly aided by the late scratch of a fast and talented Fact Finding, Motion wasn’t surprised that his horse made the lead and was allowed to get away soft in 24.14 and 47.92, leaving the competition with a lot to do.

Runners-up get a birds-eye view...

Despite racing greenly into the stretch, Irish War Cry maintained his daylight margin and never was seriously threatened. Delta Jackpot winner Gunnevera finished very well in late stretch in a promising three-year-old debut. But the day belonged for Irish War Cry.

“He’s a really nice horse and I was obviously really high on him, but when you’re running against the juvenile champion, you have reservations,” Motion said post-race Saturday. “There’s nothing quite like being involved in these three-year-old races,” he added. “It’s a great atmosphere here today. It’s pretty exciting.”

As for the champion, he will live to fight another day. “He’s fine today,” Casse added, before saying he has not decided on what’s next. “I would say more than likely you won’t see him back at Gulfstream but wherever it is, it will be somewhere he will train a little bit there before he runs.

“Yesterday came as a complete surprise to us, but the battle is far from over.”

No plans have been made for Irish War Cry’s next start either. “I really haven’t gotten beyond this race, Motion said. “I don’t know if I want to run in every race [at Gulfstream] but we’ll figure it out.” Apparently, the horse came out of the race well and is giving Motion added confidence.

Motion tells Acacia Courtney
about Irish War Cry's trip...

“We’ll see how things go, said Motion Sunday morning. “I just feel like I’ve thrown a lot at this horse in a short period of time and that is the only reason that I have some reservations about both races. We’ll keep him in Florida because it makes sense. We’re not going to get too clever about it. I see no reason to go anywhere else.”

BETS ‘N PIECES: Favorable Outcome was very good winning his three-year-old debut, the 7-furlong G2 Swale Stakes, for Chad Brown, running down Three Rules in the shadow of the wire... “About three weeks ago I just started breezing him and he was much fitter than I thought,” explained ground, who said that Favorable Outcome had only five works prior to the Swale. “I figured let’s run him in here and if he wins that would be great knowing that he is not even a 100% fit and it should set up well for him and we can build on it. He ran terrific; he should get a lot out of it...” So will the runnerup. Three Rules chased the pace while rating three-wide throughout. He gained the lead into the stretch and appeared as if he’d make it to the wire first but Favorable Outcome was resolute, snatching victory away from the apparent winner... All that Three Rules lost Saturday was a horse race. The effort looked like a great building block for what comes next... Rymska unleashed a powerful turn of foot to take the G3 Sweetest Chant for three-year-old turf fillies in the final strides from the promising Compelled, giving Brown his second stakes on the day. Both fillies, certainly Rymska, are Grade 1 fillies in the making... Pretty City Dancer, making her season’s debut for the Casse barn was a very good second in the G2 Forward Gal. It looked as if she would get up then finished one-paced, as if in need of the race; another good race to build on... Tequilita was very good for Michael Matz in the upset beneath hot-riding Luis Saez. A scopey, good-looking filly, two turns appears well within her scope... On the heels of a $40-million handle day for the inaugural Pegasus program, Gulfstream Park handled $19.7 million on Saturday’s Holy Bull card, smashing last year’s prior record for that day of $17 million as it continues to defy all U.S. wagering trends.

Hallandale Beach, FL, February 5

Photos by Toni Pricci

Written by John Pricci

Comments (9)


Friday, February 03, 2017

Gulfstream To Offer 50-Cent Pick 3s

Starting Wednesday, February 8, Gulfstream Park will offer a 50-Cent Pick 3 wager.

"We've found that every time we lowered our minimums, bettors responded and handle went up," said Gulfstream Park President and Stronach Group COO Tim Ritvo.

"We also learned that when handle increased because of the lower minimums, churn increased and none of the other pools were cannibalized...they all responded favorably."

Currently, the Pick 3 is offered in $1 increments.

Written by John Pricci

Comments (7)


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…”

“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.”

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.

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.

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.

...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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