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, November 08, 2014

Gulfstream Park West: Previews of a Star?

HALLANDALE BEACH--November 8, 2014--You knew that Florida Millions Preview Day had to be good; the main event, after all, is still two months away.

The Preview program was pared from eight races to seven after Daring Kathy, undefeated on the Gulfstream Park West turf course, chased away all the competition from the Filly & Mare Turf, so much so that the race never filled.

But the program didn’t lack star power, certainly not after juvenile colt Mr. Jordan remained undefeated in two starts--and was ultra impressive doing so.

Paco Lopez took the mount for trainer Eddie Plesa, apparently still on a brief post-Breeders’ Cup vacation in California and among this missing on track. But not Paco, hard at work winning races.

Did I say winning races? Make that dominating races.

By the time he finished making it into the circle with Mr. (Not To Be Confused With Michael) Jordan, he was on a triple, eventually winding up with four on the day.

Who said you can’t go home to where you first got started, in the winter of 1996-7? And this is a good way to finish a career year?

It has been a bad year for Plesa either, jockey and trainer hooking up to do excellent work together. Just call it Theirluckyyear.

The other thing about Mr. Jordan, named for one of part-owner Leon Ellman’s grandchildren, is that he’s a cool looking horse, a big strapping gray with a presence about him, and his team was very anxious to see how he would run Saturday.

Plesa told the owners that if inexperience didn’t beat him, then he’d probably win the race. And the colt actually broke a beat slow but he rushed up toward the leaders to join the fray, but not in a rank sort of way.

Lopez established position along the fence as the leaders approached the turn of the 6-½ furlong sprint. Lopez asked him, then waited, then waited some more before tipping outside and into the clear at headstretch.

He drew off impressively, Lopez allowing him to gallop out with some vigor. “Before he even ran, Paco thought he’d go two turns. I haven’t plotted that out yet.“

“I love the horse,” said Lopez. “I wanted to teach him to come from behind and get a little bit of dirt in his face. He did pretty good.”

Better than pretty good. He won by three emphatic lengths without late urging in a solid 1:18.32 for that surface. And he’s got what the good ones have: gears.

“Maybe people thought he was just a speed horse who overshadowed everybody,” said Plesa of his 6-1/2-length wire score in his Monmouth Park debut in September.

“[Today] he overcame a start, he overcame horses in front of him. You have to have guts to win races.”

And, of course, the talent that was on display Saturday.

Mr. Jordan is the promising son of the promising young stallion Kantharos, selling for three times the sire’s sales average.

“I will sit down and come up with some sort of plan for him, Plesa said, There’s a lot to look forward to.”

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, October 24, 2014

123Gaming’s Robert Earle: Born to Bet

PLANTATION, FL., October 24, 2014—This time, even if I decided that I badly wanted to hurl slings and arrows at the racing industry for the snail-like pace at which it’s proven willing to accept new ideas, I couldn’t: This time, it was my bad.

Here I had this new wagering idea staring me in the face, something novel, something that possibly could stir the imagination of young people with discretionary income looking for an exciting way to occupy their time.

It was right in front of me and I didn’t see it, couldn’t conjure up how a new interpretation of a well-known wager could spark growth by servicing an untapped resource, the demographic that is the envy of every successful business; the young adult.

I’m talking about a different kind of Pick 6, a variation on the theme, one that puts rank and file bettors up front by keeping them in the sequence right to the bitter end, no matter how much or how little they invest.

The rules governing the “123 Pick Six” make a very difficult wager less daunting. Of greater import, by making the wager more accessible, it becomes an Everyman Pick Six, putting average bettors on the same playing field with well-financed individuals and syndicates.

The man behind the 123 Pick Six is Robert Earle, unknown to me at the time but the same man I saw instructing panel members and attendees in 2009 at the Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Simulcast Conference in Saratoga Springs.

He believed then and continues to believe now that he can get more people involved in the Thoroughbred racing by wagering on it.

Betting on racehorses; what a concept!

The 45-year-old Earle was born into the racing business in Christchurch, New Zealand where, quite literally, people house horses in their own backyards which, in a certain social context, makes this harness racing hub the Saratoga of the Antipodes.

Earle’s father was a Standardbred trainer and Robert’s been around horses his entire life. He wanted to become a driver, later working as a stable hand, but he needed a job. So put his high school typing skills to good use, getting a job as a data entry clerk.

The Technology age was about to break wide open and he seized that opportunity, honing his technical acumen while working for AT&T Global Information Solutions, but his love of racing was too strong.

Earle took two decades of IT expertise with him to Addington Raceway, where he was Raceway Director until 2006 until striking out on his current career path: Horse owner, Standardbred breeder, amateur harness driver, and founder/CEO of

To say that he was ahead of his time is to understate the point. In 1999 he made a tech presentation in front of Frank Stronach and later that year created racing’s first social network website,

Seven years later he signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Scientific Games which was not marketing orientated but when they were subsequently bought by Sportech, that enabled to go online and the company began to take root.

For almost eight years now, Earle’s 123racing has supplied online handicapping tournaments to more than a few U.S. racetracks, including Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands, as well Woodbine north of the border.

Handicapping contests and games based on the fantasy-sports model is one of horse racing’s few growth areas, which is exactly what Earle’s vision of the “123 Pick Six” can and should be.

But it hasn’t been easy getting Earle’s dream to fruition. It has taken five years to build the wager, get it approved, licensed, tested, and approved again, this time by the Model Rules Committee of American Racing Commissioners International.

Minus Thoroughbred racing’s Big Three, the 123 Pick Six is available at 30 racetracks worldwide, including Keeneland, Hawthorne and Parx Racing in the U.S.; Dubai Racing, Japan Racing and British and Irish Racing worldwide.

“We had good talks with NYRA at Saratoga and at Santa Anita before I arrived here [two weeks ago],” Earle said this week by phone from his native New Zealand. “We’ve spoken with Churchill Downs and they also have expressed some interest.”

Earle is focused on new customer creation and building new wagers for a marketplace that in part still believes that a cross-country daily double can be a viable new bet.

His vision is to grow an interactive and social handicapping experience via a leaderboard-based parimutuel wager integrated across all tote platforms including brick-and-mortar betting windows and self-service terminals, online wagering and mobile applications.

Ideally, Earle wants to stimulate interest in mainstream and traditional wagering products through innovating technology, simplicity and interaction. When coupled with entertainment initiatives, he believes it will be the most effective means of attracting newer, younger players. He’s investing his own money to prove it.

Unlike conventional Pick Six with carryover, there’s a guaranteed 123 Pick Six contest pool winner every day. A bettor can take down the entire pot without picking a winner because first, second and third-place race finishers all count in determining winning contest players.

The top three handicappers daily—eight contest tracks are being offered at this writing--share the entire net pool: 60% to the winner, 30% to the runnerup and 10% to the third-place point earner. Points consist of the sum of win, place and show payoffs in six races, to wit:

A race winner paying $9.00, $6.00 and $3.00 across-the-board earns 18 points for the handicapper picking the winner of that race. If another bettor chooses a longshot that finishes second, paying $12.00 to place and $8.00 to show, he will have amassed 20 points and won this mythical one-race contest.

In the event two handicappers finish in a points dead-heat, the first and second points pool are combined so that the dead-heaters will share 90% of the stakes, with the show finisher collecting 10%.

The post-time favorite will be substituted in the event of a late scratch. If a race is declared “no contest,” or a field is reduced to four or less entrants, the remaining five races will determine the contest winner.

A businessman, Earle chooses to share the wealth with competitors by trying to grow the game: “Three months ago we began offering our free 123 Pick Six and have converted 15% of those registered into customers,” he said. “We’d like to help other ADWs better monetize their platforms.”

New registrations receive $50 in free wagers and the site currently is offering a Bet $300-Get $300 sign-up promotion. [See the advertising-promotion on Earle also will be providing commentary on the site in the near future].

The contest Pick 6 costs $2, just like most Pick Six pools, and the takeout rate is determined by rates approved by the state in which a racetrack operates. “I am sensitive to concerns about takeout and right now our guarantees are costing us money,” he said. “One day I’d like to create a wager with zero takeout.”

As crazy as that sounds, I wouldn’t bet against him.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Seven Sophomores for Seven Elders

PLANTATION, FL., October 22, 2014—Considering the effect that the event has had on traditional Fall calendar of major stakes races, the Breeders’ Cup championships has come under closer scrutiny this year.

Prior to the advent of the event 30 years ago, races such as Belmont Park’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, Champagne and Frizette--to name just three noted Eastern-based fixtures-- would have been the conquests that would have helped define championships.

Races like these still help to decide which horses are worthy of best-in-show honors in their respective divisions, but since 1984 they no longer are the final word.

Presently, thanks to the vision of John Gaines and John Nerud, a little re-branding from Breeders’ Cup Ltd. and the growth of international racing, Thoroughbred’s crowning event continues to grow in stature and appeal.

Despite carding two less races and absent three injured champions that were expected to defend their titles, a record 201 horses, 61 Grade or Group 1 winners, including five in defense of their titles, were pre-entered Wednesday in Breeders’ Cup XXXI.

Final entries will be drawn Monday with 13 races scheduled for next Friday and Saturday; four on Friday and nine on championship Saturday.

The centerpiece Classic, expected to crown the 2014 Horse of the Year, will be broadcast in prime time Saturday on the NBC network starting at 8 p.m. ET.

All remaining races will be cablecast on the NBC Sports Network over the two-day span, and the HRTV racing network will broadcast every Breeders’ Cup race. As they say in TV land, check local times and listings.

Dubbed racing’s crowning event, this year’s Classic is appropriately named. What happens at 8:35 p.m. ET Saturday will determine not only three-year-old championship honors but a Horse of the Year title as well.

It is a race in which three-year-olds hold a decidedly strong hand with four major contenders: among them undefeated expected favorite Shared Belief, dual classics winner California Chrome, Triple Crown and Jockey Club Gold Cup spoiler Tonalist and the sensationally fast, multiple G1 winning Bayern.

A victory by any of the older pre-entrants, including an also-eligible Big Cazanova, could earn the sidelined Wise Dan a Horse of the Year three-peat. The defending champ is 4-for-4 this year including three Grade 1s and a Grade 2.

If the Classic falls apart and voters decide that they want to “punish” the champion since three of his victories came as a mile turf specialist, there’s another grass runner to consider for which there is Horse of the Year precedent: Main Sequence.

A Breeders’ Cup Turf victory would be his fourth this year without a blemish on his card and another championship level event to go along with longer, tradition-laden fixtures as the United Nations, Sword Dancer and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. The win would have to include seven vanquished well regarded Europeans.

As for the three-year-old class, three others are scheduled to enter the Santa Anita starting gate.

Travers winner V.E. Day, perhaps in the absence of his sidelined stablemate, Wicked Strong; Candy Boy, who has five money finishes behind either Shared Belief or Wicked Strong this season, and Pacific Classic runnerup Toast of New York, making his first lifetime start on dirt.

So is there an A.P. Indy, an Unbridled, a Tiznow, Curlin or Sunday Silence among them? Is there even a sophomoric upsetter such like Proud Truth in this group?

Maybe Shared Belief, California Chrome, Bayern and Tonalist turn out to be the Medaglia d’Oro, Bernardini or Fusaichi Pegasus of their generation.

Bill Mott, who knows what it’s like to win with a Classic favorite, Cigar, and an upsetter, Drosselmeyer, is ever dangerous with peaking late developer. He has Cigar Street in this fray and think his horse “has to step up, but I’m anxious to give him a chance.”

“But one thing [Cigar Street’s] got going is that he’s a fresh horse,” he said to an NTRA teleconference audience Wednesday, “going in the right direction, he’s coming out of a good race at Churchill, he’s won at a mile and three-sixteenths and it’s his third start off a layoff. Hopefully it will be a big one.”

A three-year-old looking to upset Shared Belief is the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, and his trainer is anxious to see what happens.

“The Parx race was disappointing,” admitted Art Sherman, “I would have liked a little strong race. Even the horse was pissed off.”

“He came back to the barn fine, took two sips of water, just wasn’t himself after the race, seemed to be wondering what the race was all about.

“He was in a pocket for three-quarters of a mile [but] I don’t blame the jocks for that--I rode for 23 years--he [had] a target on his back.”

Was he upset with his rider’s strategy?

“I had a little talk with Victor [Espinoza]. “He won six straight races on him, he just has to give [the horse] a chance, get him in the clear, he likes to run outside. I wish he was the kind of horse you could check behind horses.

“It’s going to be a jockeys’ race. All I know is in the last two races you haven’t seen the Chrome I know. It’s going to be a great bettin’ race.”

How great? “I think he’ll be 5-1.”

Imagine the possibilities had Palace Malice, Mucho Macho Man, Game On Dude, Will Take Charge, Lea, Moonshine Mullin and Itsmyluckyday been able to make it to the dance?

Written by John Pricci

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