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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Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Racetrack Customers Not a Delaware North Priority


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY--You want a reason to root against the Delaware North corporation getting the VLT franchise at NYRA’s downstate track(s)?

It’s called customer service, or customer consideration, if you prefer. It might also be reflective of the reason why warm bodies don’t support their local racetracks the way they used to.

I’m not sure when it first became a Pricci family tradition, but my wife Toni and I attend the races every Memorial Day. We can’t help it. We’re Metropolitan Handicap weenies; Met Mile geeks. And since there’s live harness racing on holidays, it’s a good reason to support the local track.

Since we live in Saratoga Springs, we attend Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, a.k.a., Spa Harness, a.k.a., the harness track. Even NYRA chief Charlie Hayward wagers here when he’s in town during the off season. It's comfortable here; the employees are courteous and accommodating.

As a loyal weekend warrior, I try to help the handle at both Spa Harness and Capital OTB on alternate weekends. I consider it a community obligation. Here’s some background:

A few years ago, Delaware North bought Saratoga Raceway and turned it into a successful racino; using VLT revenues to make significant upgrades to the facility, erect a nightclub, raise purses and, in general, elevate the product and the experience. The previous owners had operated it like a mom and pop concern.

But it was a place where everyone knew your name, or acted like they did, and the trackside restaurant was open on weekends for cross-breed simulcasting. There were live mutuel clerks to handle your action and self service machines. There were only two caveats:

The clerks would close their windows following the last race from NYRA tracks but SAM machines remained open. Further, you needed to close out your lunch checks and leave around 6 p.m. so that the wait staff could get the restaurant ready for that night. Unless, of course, you were staying for the live racing.

Those were the house rules. None of the regular customers--many were fairly large bettors--had a problem with any of it.

Delaware North came in, shuttered the restaurant for a time, and made upgrades to the point where it became a warm, comfortable and very well appointed dining room.
They did a beautiful job.

When the restaurant reopened, a gourmet concept was tried. The food was very good, albeit not terribly exceptional and pricey. The one thing Saratoga didn’t need was yet another upscale restaurant.

When that approach failed, DN went to buffet concept, a successful staple of the casino/racino business. The food is solid, again not exceptional, and the prices were scaled back although by no means was it a bargain.

Given a racino atmosphere, I thought that bargain prices for good food might bring more people into the building. But VLT business has been booming since Day One and now Delaware North apparently thinks it unnecessary to give something back.

On the racing side, there’s finally a new tote board so that harness fans now can tell the difference between an 8-5 and 3-5 shot. But the backside is still the equivalent of an equine barrio. If major improvements have been made, I haven’t heard that from anyone back there. And you'd think that by now a turf course might have been constructed at Finger Lakes. Pardon the digression.

We arrived when the doors opened Monday at 11:30 a.m. and I thought an omelet might be nice. “Sorry, sir, only a special holiday buffet is available.”

I wondered whether a holiday buffet was really special, or whether it was the regular buffet only served on a national holiday. I got my answer soon enough.

The food was OK, only OK, but overpriced at $18.95 per, coffee and soft drinks extra. Fine, no one was twisting my arm.

The joint was empty, surprising since a special holiday buffet was being served, but not surprising considering the racing program.

A look at the past performances and the horses scoring down showed they weren’t what the game refers to as “Saturday night” horses. But maybe the best horses raced on Saturday and Sunday. The quality of the horses certainly wasn’t up to holiday snuff.

But I shouldn’t complain since I was able to bet at the last minute despite the presence of only one clerk, two self-service machines, and one bet-runner to service the tables. Bet runners are good for straight bets, inefficient for trifecta and superfecta part-wheels.

The dining room no longer is available for thoroughbred simulcasting on non-live racing days. They no longer can justify the expense, which might be fair. That’s probably why Delaware North makes money; pay attention to the bottom line, not what customers may want.

The live card ended but three live NYRA races remained, including the Met Mile. But under this administration, the window closed following the live card, not the NYRA card, an inconvenient truth.

But here’s the point: Even the two self service machines were shut down!

So, a very ordinary buffet for two at a cost $48, plus tip, was paid, and now I was expected to get out. “The simulcast area is still open,” I was told. I never received a satisfactory explanation as to why the SAM machines needed to be shut down, nor an apology for the inconvenience.

Never mind that at that hour most tables in the simulcast area were taken and those that weren’t needed cleaning.

Stupid me, but at least I’ll never make the mistake of getting a table in Fortunes trackside restaurant again. And if you’re in this area, a simulcast fan of either breed, and don’t like being taken for granted, then neither should you.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, May 22, 2008


Triple Crown 2008 is like a Box of Chocolates


ELMONT, NY, May 21, 2008---Ever have one of those days? I had one yesterday. I was too late for an appearance by Big Brown on the track, who was likely to jog just to get those shipping kinks out.

Plus, the colt always wants to do something to prove that he’s a horse and probably had no one to play with at the barn. But his trainer wanted to make him happy.

So Rick Dutrow called a training audible, working about two and a half hours early. Big Brown’s minions would just have to stand there and like it.

Racetrack stable help has a name for this kind of behavior: Trainer‘s prerogative.

But the press conference, scheduled for 11 AM outside Barn 2, started on time, maybe even a few minutes early. On one side of the barrier was Dutrow, on the other about 30 notepads and maybe five hand-held cameras.


Nice day for a press conference, too. It was a beautiful morning with only the pleasant hint of a chill, sweater weather, and the man on the other side of the barrier was having the time of his life.

With apologies to Willie Nile, welcome to Dutrow’s head. He looks reporters in the eye and answers their questions straight out, without hesitation.

Writers have a name for this kind of behavior: Roguish charm.

Good, productive session. I’ve got enough material to maybe last a week. What should I write about? I know, something nobody will care about except me.

Wrong again, and the second time I was late today.

An Associated Press story appeared in my mail box and it was all about the second thing I asked Big Brown‘s trainer.

“Rick, on the Preakness telecast you said you didn’t appreciate the tactics of [Riley Tucker’s] jockey. That he didn’t have to move when he did. But I saw that rider fall back in the saddle a bit as Kent shoved him out a little bit, soon after entering the backstretch, and….”

“I just don’t think what he did gave his horse the best chance to win,” Dutrow said. “I had no idea what he was doing. He had to go out of his way, and we’re not real happy about that, either.

“He does a lot of riding for us, continued Dutrow. “The Zayat people [Riley Tucker’s owners] called me, and they didn’t care very much for his ride, either.”

Strong stuff. Especially since that jockey, Edgar Prado, widely regarded as America’s best money rider, will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame this August.

Prado, as might be expected, didn’t take the criticism well. “I got paid to win the race, not to pay favors.” Prado told the AP by telephone later in the day.

Wonder what instructions Dutrow might have given Prado when giving him a leg up on, irony o’ ironies, IEAH Stables, et al's Dark Cheetah, in the Red Wing Dream overnight stakes? Maybe they weren’t good ones.

Reads the chart footnote: “Dark Cheetah…checked along the rail awaiting room at the quarter pole, split rivals…ducked back to the inside…surged to the front, and yielded grudgingly late…”

Probably tried too hard on the 6-1 chance, ya’ think?

Well, it’s just what this Triple Crown chase needed anyway, a hint of controversy.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Thanks for the mammaries


Back in the day some people called the Kentucky Derby a breeder’s race because you needed to have enough pedigree to go 10 furlongs very early in the three-year-old year.

Timers older than me taught that second-year runners shouldn’t go 10 furlongs until about June, when most of them really ARE three.

But the rest of them said the Belmont is the real breeder’s race because it was a mile and a half, and if it’s the Test of a Champion then genes matter.

Remember dosage? We wrote about it a little, before the Derby. (Dosage indices for the Derby and Preakness are posted somewhere on the site).

Anyway, the dosage stuff just arrived from researcher Brad and so I’ll share. Don’t care, you say?

“Come on! Dosage is out of step at best, nonsense at worst. Besides, all the sires seem to qualify these days anyway…”

But there’s a methodology that’s fundamental to its meaning and utility based on sound, logical principles. One has to do with a high measure of quality in the classic wing of a dosage profile, combined with a balance of speed to stamina in the pedigree.

The other principle would be to see values in the solid and professional wings of a profile, indicating a likelier chance for success at longer distances.

Had anyone bothered to learn this before the Derby, they might have thought about keying Big Brown in the superfecta over Eight Belles, Denis Of Cork and Tale of Ekati, at a cost of $12, the only four horses out of 20 with at least two points in either the solid or professional category, the stamina branch of the family tree, and a $2-wager that paid $58,737.80.

Three of the four will be back in the Belmont. The only one missing, of course, is the filly, Eight Belles.

And still there are some people who prefer their pedigree more on the traditional side, say, class in the dam.

And the mother of Casino Drive--a.k.a. undefeated Japanese wonder horse Casino Drive, is a mare named Better Than Honour, who foaled the last two Belmont winners.

Well Kismet and serendipity for all my friends.

So, who knows?

If, at this early stage, you’re thinking Belmont Stakes superfecta, you might find the following useful. In the classic wing of the profile there are two horses with more than 20 points, a high benchmark: Big Brown has 23, Spark Candle has 20.

Let’s have a happy Belmont.

Written by John Pricci

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