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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Saturday, May 16, 2009


Triple Crown Battle of the Sexes Will Continue at Belmont Park


ALBANY, NY, May 16, 2009--In the much ballyhooed battle of the girl vs. the boys, you always knew that one of the boys would win. The question was just how many legs would the boy have, four or two?

As it turns out, it was the two legged boy--and the four legged girl. And here comes the Derby winner on the far outside! Are you kidding me?

Could it possibly have gotten any better than this?

Rachel Alexandra, validating the confidence of her rider, future Hall of Famer Calvin Borel, her sporting new connections, the horsemanship of her former trainer, Hal Wiggins and, mostly, her own ability, made winning the storied Preakness on two weeks rest look almost too easy.

Here’s something else: Rachel Alexandra still might not be Ruffian but she accomplished something that not even the great black beauty could--beat males.

And beat them in a classic, too.

The 134th running of the Preakness Stakes at a Pimlico Race Course, a racetrack that struggles to stay alive in a struggling industry, trapped inside a struggling economy.

And the industry can breathe a huge sigh of relief now, too. They all got around there safely, and the all came home the same way.

The Triple Crown’s middle jewel belonged to this beautifully striding and well endowed miss after the opening furlong was complete.

Rachel Alexandra and Calvin Borel took the race to them into the first turn, galloping alongside a quality speed colt like the breaking of so many sticks.

And Calvin said she wasn’t really handling the track well; couldn’t get into that longer galloper’s stride comfortably. And Borel doesn’t engage in worn out jockey speak.

"No sir."

So, despite her inability to comfortably grab the surface, she dictated the scenario all the way.

The extreme outside was perfect for her. Calvin let out a notch on the far turn, opening just a little more ground, but was still under a rating hold until straightening into the lane.

From the aerial view, she opened ground so quickly leaving the quarter pole that the move was eerily reminiscent of Big Brown’s crushing of his Preakness field last year.

But for the first time, Borel had to offer left-handled encouragement. Musket Man was running his usual good race, but who was that on the far outside?
It’s the Derby winner! What’s he doing on the far outside? He was coming and coming and, for a brief instant, could it be? How much did the filly really have left in the tank?

More than enough, as it turned out, and in sports moral victory doesn’t mean all that much. But this little heart of gold enveloped in a small brown wrapper, looking every bit the part of a $9,500 yearling, is no damn one-track pony.

He just loves to run, and his pick-up rider, a Hall of Famer named Mike Smith, did an excellent job compensating when rivals came out into his face at headstretch, indeed forcing him even wider down the center of the Old Hilltop course.

Noted for her speed, Rachel Alexandra didn’t steal her classic; she earned it. Eyeballing Big Drama who unfortunately was a little rough to handle at the break, she stared him down in fractions of :23.13 and :46.71--racehorse time going the Preakness distance.

She was timed the entire mile and three-sixteenths in 1:55.08.

And so no rider has ever taken off a Derby winner to ride the winner of the Preakness and the two-legged boy is the only one coming into Belmont Park with a chance to win a Triple Crown.

It will be the mother of all rubber matches.

Between the Oaks/Preakness winner and the Derby winner, plus a handful of promising new shooters, this year’s Belmont Stakes is coming up Triple Crown big, only different.

And for a change, the sport might be better off because of it. Viva la difference.

Written by John Pricci

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Rachel Alexandra in DeNile


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 15, 2009--Speed closest to the rail was very good Friday at Pimlico, but it’s hard to know what to expect this afternoon given an iffy forecast.

Weather handicappers are calling for a 30-40 percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms. It can get awfully humid on May afternoons up on Old Hilltop.

A sealed, sloppy track generally is speed favoring, but a drying track is another animal all together. Just ask many of the Derby horses that left their best efforts in the barn.

Pimlico dries out fairly fast but not as quickly as Churchill Downs. Going to school on the early races is never a bad idea, especially given these circumstances.

For the record, we believe that Pioneerof The Nile is the most logical winner, followed by the Oaks and Derby winners, Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird, respectively.

The filly has the most talent and could win this easily. If this were the Belmont field three weeks from now, she would be the top selection. We’re just not buying today’s scenario.

The following is the basic structure for what my multiple pool wagers will look like:

TOP Tier: PIONEEROF THE NILE

SECOND Tier: RACHEL ALEXANDRA, MINE THAT BIRD, FRIESAN FIRE, BIG DRAMA

THIRD Tier: TAKE THE POINTS

FOURTH or FIFTH Tier: FLYING PRIVATE, MUSKET MAN, PAPA CLEM

Rules of Play: A horse cannot move up more than one level. In that case, Flying Private can be used on the third tier, not the second; Take The Points can be on the second level but not the top. All horses may be used in any lowered-tiered position.

If early line odds hold, I will key box Pioneerof The Nile first and second with the four horses on the second tier in trifectas and superfectas. I will also switch the second and third levels with each other, and the third and fourth levels with each other.

I will also make a five-horse exacta box of the first and second tier horses. If the filly doesn’t finish first or second, the payoffs will blow up exponentially. I will add Take The Points to the bottom of the exacta.

Horses considered for win wagering; value only. Pioneerof The Nile, a minimum of 5-1. I would need 8-1 or greater on Friesan Fire. At least 5-1 or Mine That Bird.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, May 08, 2009


Racing’s Problems the Same All Over


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 7, 2009--Friday, May 8 was the deadline set by New York Gov. David Patterson for firms seeking the Aqueduct gaming contract to submit their bids. That day has come.

Now what? Shall we wait another eight years?

The good news is that it probably no longer will cost New York taxpayers a million dollars a day in revenue from the non-existent VLT machines at Aqueduct Racetrack. Why?

Because the projected wins per machine can’t be nearly as high as those who want the machines in place--virtually everyone--estimates it will be. That was then; potential over-saturation is now.

“We can’t wait to get Aqueduct going,” the state’s Lottery Director, Gordon Medenica, told the local Saratogian newspaper last week.

“We think it will be a tremendously successful facility. We think it will generate revenue for the state on par with Yonkers [Raceway]. Yonkers generates as much revenue as the other [racetrack-VLT] facilities combined.”

And this, from informal remarks made by Medenica after a recent meeting of the Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee:

“From the perspective of Lottery, being co-located with horse racing doesn’t do anything for our profitability.” And more.

“VLTs are almost completely independent of the horse racing business. We see no interaction between the two,” Medenica told reporter Paul Post.

Except, of course, that the VLTs wouldn’t legally exist unless the tracks that house them were there in the first place.

But everyone has a job to do and there’s much pressure to raise revenues on the state level. So here’s an idea, Mr. Medenica. Why not cut some of Lottery’s administrative costs and raise the takeout to 60 percent?

And given the penchant of lawmakers to raisie the parimutuel takeout on horse racing, getting this rubber-stamped should be easy.

In today’s political environment is anyone surprised that Medenica would try to dial back his remarks categorized as being informal?

But having no appreciation for the intent of the original legislation: to boost all horse racing in the state, a billion dollar agri-business that employs tens of thousands, is inexcusable.

The impetus for Medenica’s remarks apparently was that net wins from racinos for the fiscal year rose over 10 percent but overall profits fell nine percent because of the drain racing puts on the VLT side.

When making comparisons like this, shouldn’t apples be kept with the apples?

Obviously, putting on a racing program is more expensive, requires a sizable parcel of real estate, the construction of barns, racing surface, lights, maintenance, security, service employees, etc., etc.

So the tracks provided the property, bore startup costs and the daily operating expenses. Then along comes Lottery to install the machines, hand out plastic cups, provide a stool and that’s where their obligation ends. Nice work if you can get it.

Sadly, some track executives are beginning to think like Lottery types. In California, where racing is on serious life support, Hollywood Park president Jack Liebau recently said he’s confident California racing would survive but wasn’t sure at what level.

Liebau thinks that racing must change; get away from its intellectual problem-solving roots and create more no-brainer bets such as the odd/even wager that he likens to roulette.

What Liebau failed to acknowledge was that a roulette wheel spins every minute while racing fans must wait a minimum 20 minutes between races. Who needs that?

Further, an “evens” longshot might pay 6-5. Conversely I can’t remember the last time I saw double zeros on a saddle cloth. Horse racing in California, even in its present condition, is currently is a $4-billion a year business employing almost 60,000 people.

Fortunately, elected officials from many counties around New York State attended the Gaming and Wagering meeting and most had vested interests in racing’s well being and didn’t appreciate Medenica’s remarks.

The Racing and Wagering Committee is chaired by Sen. Eric Adams, who apparently gets it about racing’s contributions to the state. He doesn’t believe any one segment of the gaming industry brings down another.

Adams has his staff working on ways to improve the gaming industry in New York and would like to recapture tourism by taking full advantage of gaming by being more creative.

Toward that end, Adams’ people are looking into such possibilities as expanded VLTs, table games and sports betting. He asked Medenica to provide an overview of the issues that have an effect on lottery trends.

Adams, a Democrat from Brooklyn, became the committee chair when that party took control of the Senate in the last election.

For a change, maybe it will be the racing industry that gets some stimulation from the government?

Written by John Pricci

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