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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Friday, February 27, 2009


Have Lunch at the Track


Saratoga Springs, NY, February 26, 2009--Caught up with the Terry Finley show today on replay. Finley is the founder and president of West Point Thoroughbreds. WPT buys at auction, syndicates, and manages the careers of young race horses in partnership with public investors.

I wasn’t expecting much, figuring that it would be a new, clever way of marketing the brand and increasing exposure within the industry. But I was happy to learn it was something more.

In a Webinar lasting approximately 48 minutes, including a brief Q & A session following Finley’s remarks, the former West Point graduate and eight-year service veteran gave an unsolicited state of the industry address.

Again, I was expecting to get what I often hear whenever industry people make public statements; self serving, self congratulatory rhetoric about how we’re making some not-so-great things better.

And I would have been wrong twice within three paragraphs.

Not that there weren’t the usual platitudes but, on balance, Finley’s remarks rang true. One good thing in these dire times is that the economic pendulum has swung back in favor of the end user, he said.

I braced myself for the sales pitch. But there was none, unless it was buried in a subliminal frame.

Because in this environment stud fees have come down, and bottom level mares likely won't be put back into production, elements that are good for buyers and an industry that over-breeds and to date has done a poor job repurposing its retired racehorses.

Finley didn’t sugar-coat current realities, acknowledging the rough sledding ahead and how the industry needs to stabilize and move forward, underscoring by citing the big public negatives of 2008: Eight Belles and steroids.

It was refreshing to hear from a horseman that of racing’s four major components: breeders, owners, tracks and bettors, it was the bettors who were least recognized until now, and how many of them have lost confidence in the industry.

On that players would agree: they have lost confidence, and they resent paying more in takeout, I.e., when they‘re not shut out by a wagering platform dispute.

Indeed, progress has been made in ridding the game of steroids and the elimination and/or modification of toe grabs. And Finley did cite positive NTRA initiatives on injury and fatality reporting and prevention; safety equipment and environment; medication and testing; jockey safety and health, and aftercare and transition of retired stock, components needed for track certification within the NTRA franchise.

But there was no mention of NTRA’s neutral position on the enabling of equicide. Perhaps NTRA is hoping for funding from the American Horse Council organization which, incredibly, stands neutral on the horse slaughter issue. The public at large considers neutrality on this indefensible.

Finley is correct that the tracks, NTRA, and Breeders’ Cup take many unfair knocks, adding he’s tired of hearing it. Apparently he is unaware of the industry’s thin skin and penchant for shooting messengers.

And if it were not for an independent media, where would the impetus for change come from? What would be the incentive for eliminating the status quo? Which organizations would willingly jeopardize the bottom line in the interests of doing no harm?

But Finley is one of the game’s few practitioners to make a pro-active contribution, in this case launching an initiative he calls F.A.T.E.--Find A Thoroughbred Enthusiast. He is asking West Point’s associates to introduce three people to racing before the first Saturday in May.

“Buy them lunch, introduce them to the Racing Form and all the other aspects of the magic we live every day.

“What I'd suggest, if you derive any pleasure whatsoever from our business, is to make it a point and your mandate to bring at least three people into our great business.

"We have a chance to capture an all-new group of fans, a new group of bettors. We have an opportunity now to really make this business bigger and stronger.”

Finley wants bettors with a vested interest in the health of the game to take “fate” into their own hands. Bringing a few people to the track is certainly not an unreasonable request, although I suggest it should be a day that you don’t love the card.

I wrote a recent blog about how I introduced a young man named Brian to the Saratoga simulcast during the holiday season. He called last weekend to talk Derby Futures. He did his homework, asked intelligent questions, wanted to know if Old Fashioned was for real.

I can’t vouch for the answers but I did my best. OK, so for me, it’s one down, two more to go. The rest of it is up to all of us.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, February 19, 2009


Stardom Bound: Can We Talk?


“Hey Sweetheart,

Like everyone else last weekend, I was pre-occupied with those boys that would be king of the three year olds.

But with the exception of the division's prince, Old Fashioned, and an upstart named General Quarters, it was a pair of fillies who really caught my eye.

Please don’t take it personal; it’s only handicapping. Besides, you know what I think of you.

Just in case Mike forgot to mention it, I’ve already said you deserve a chance to run in the show, the Kentucky Derby, no matter how your new barn mate Patena makes out in New Orleans next month.

Patena. What kind of name is that for a boy, anyway?

Now I don’t mean for you to get jealous, but I want you to say hello to my new, not-so-little friends.

You may already know Evita Argentina. She’s out in Southern California, just a few barns away. And you know she’s the same age, right? Well, she is.

And did you know she’s already beaten the boys? Well, she has, and not to make you jealous or anything, but they made her the San Vicente favorite. Can you imagine?

By now you probably heard that she won, coming from last--flying, just like you. And she’s already made some history. She’s only the third filly to win this race, one by a DQ.

The other? Well, not to make you feel worse, but to give you something to shoot for, it was a filly named Busher, owned by a Hollywood big shot, and she got named Horse of the Year!

Not bad for a three year old filly, right? So you can do it, too. It just takes some really, really, special like, you know, the first weekend in May in Louisville?

No, not the Friday race, silly, the Saturday one. The one everybody watches.

I’ve got to tell you. At no time was there ever a chance she was going to win that race. She was so-o-o-o far back.

And when she started running--you could tell she was going really fast--but you still never thought she’d get there. Then, maybe she could. Then it was, like, awesome.

The jockey said she didn’t even like the soggy track that much; kept on coming out of the bridle on him. You know what that’s like.

But here’s the scary part. He thinks she can run even better. Sounds like fightin’ words to me.

The people that have her say she might run in the Fair Grounds Oaks. And that’s the same day Patena runs in that Creole Derby, right?

So you can ask him what he thinks the next time you see him. Probably not until the both of you get to Kentucky.

Hope all that ice is melted by then. But enough about her.

Ever hear of Rachel Alexander? You should have, she’s been in all the papers, especially after Sunday’s race.

It wasn’t such a big deal of a race, but it was a stakes, the Martha Washington, a mile at Oaklawn Park.

I’m warning you now, don’t try to catch a replay, especially if you see Evita Argentina first. I’m afraid it’ll give you nightmares. She won so-o-o-o easy.

I know what you’re thinking; you’re the champ. The Eclipse Award has to go through you. But let‘s not get ahead of ourselves here.

What’s that? Yes, I know. The gray colt was pretty scary on Monday. But don’t think for a minute that that Friday race in Louisville is going to be any pushover.

Rachel Alexander broke her maiden on that track, placed in a couple of graded stakes, then won the Golden Rod, their big two year old stakes for fillies.

So she’ll be waiting, you know that. She likes that track, and you haven’t even run on dirt. Period. I know, it’s not your fault, didn’t say it was.

OK, I might as well tell you. She won her first start this year by eight with her jockey, Calvin Borel, looking all around the place.

Calvin? You know he’s real good in Louisville, right? Made a whole career there one day.

Look, I’m not trying to get you rank, and I haven’t lost any faith in you. It’s just that it’s not going to be as easy as last year, and I wanted you to know that.

I’m glad you’re going to run in your own backyard Oaks next. Seasoning is good for you. It’ll make you stronger, smarter.

So take good care, now. And don’t let the barn door hit you in the hindquarters.”

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, February 14, 2009


Tampa Bay Takes Spotlight with Sam F. Davis; Old Fashioned Awaits Southwest


Saratoga Springs, NY, February 13, 2009--I’m not going to quibble that Keeneland, according to the good folks at Horseplayers Association of North America, is America’s #1 racetrack. I’m partial to the one with the finish line about a four furlongs from my front porch--and I‘m lucky I can even spell algorithm.

But I will say that I thought Tampa Bay Downs might have broken into the Top 10. OK, their betting menu could be better. Why no superfectas on the first two races of the day? And I would like to see another fractional wager, like a 50-Cent Pick Four, in addition to Dime Supers.

Admittedly, Tampa’s takeout rates are a tad high, according to data at http://www.trackthieves.com, but in line with the high takeout rates virtually in place at every track in America.

Festival Preview Day is their first big event of the season, featuring two always interesting and competitive stakes; the Grade 3 Endeavor, for older fillies and mares on turf, and the Sam F. Davis, now justifiably graded, and a stepping stone to the Tampa Bay Derby, itself having become a viable Kentucky Derby prep for its placement on the calendar.

Tampa’s card today includes no less than 12 races and attracted--get this--141 overnight entrants. No wonder the entry box was a little late in closing. The racing office must have knocked on every door and found horsemen willing to comply. We don’t refer to Tampa as “the little track that could” for nothing.

In addition to a good number of shippers, including five for the Sam F. Davis--four from South Florida and one from New York--six jockeys: Johnny Velazquez, Kent Desormeaux, Joe Bravo, Jose Lezcano, Rene Douglas and last year’s Eclipse Award apprentice, Pascacio ‘Paco’ Lopez, a real natural and wise beyond his years, are shipping in, too.

The southern-based talent joins a colony that features local heroes Daniel Centeno, Carlos Montalvo, Ronald Dale Allen Jr. and Rosemary Homeister Jr. And if you don’t regularly follow the Tampa circuit and have not seen Centeno ride there, you had better hurry. The young man could move his tack anywhere.

The Sam F. Davis is the next step for several developing three year olds trying to validate a position among the division’s elite, including the two early line favorites, Free Country (3-1, McPeek/Desormeaux) and Atomic Rain (7-2, Breed/Velazquez).

Both are coming up to the race the right way. On the Equiform scale, Free Country earned a new pace top and remained undefeated in two starts while moving up in class and distance. Atomic Rain, who finished second to Old Fashioned in last year’s Remsen, has not taken a backward step in four lifetime starts.

But they had better have their dancing shoes on. There are several very fast locals. Both Musket Man (9-2) and Top Seed (6-1) are fast and undefeated in three starts. General Quarters (8-1) has the most experience, is fast and well drawn inside. All three have not proven themselves going long but have a race over the quirky Tampa surface, an important edge.

Two other invaders have done well around two turns, however. Cliffy’s Future (10-1), who last raced on Aqueduct’s winter track, owns the fastest two turn figure in the field. A. P. Cardinal (8-1)--hopefully to perform better than Louisville did in South Bend Thursday night--is up from South Florida after showing signs that he’s learning to distribute his energy more efficiently.

So will any of these become major divisional players the way Any Given Saturday and Bluegrass Cat did several years ago? Will any subsequently run in the Kentucky Derby, the way Smooth Air and Big Truck did last year? That’s why they run the races. Scheduled post time is 4:48 p.m. EST.

Protem Kentucky Derby Favorite Debuts Monday

For Derby Futures players, it’s unfortunate that a bet on Old Fashioned will have to be made completely on faith. The pool closes Sunday night; the race, the one-mile Southwest Stakes, goes on President’s Day afternoon at Oaklawn Park.

Who knows? If the stylish, undefeated winner of the nine furlong Remsen Stakes at 2 can win all his preps and enter the Louisville starting gate on the first Saturday in May, maybe then the graded stakes committee will see fit to elevate the Arkansas Derby, scheduled to be Old Fashioned’s ultimate Derby prep, to Grade 1 status. But, I digress.

Three days ago, Old Fashioned had his final workout for the G3 Southwest, five furlongs in 1:00 2/5, termed breezing. The gallop out beneath jockey Terry Thompson was six furlongs in 1:13 2/5. Ramon Dominguez, his Remsen partner, has the return call for trainer Larry Jones and owner Rick Porter, who raced Hard Spun and ill-fated Eight Belles in the last two Kentucky Derbys.

Wednesday’s move was his fourth published workout since the Remsen, a total of 19 furlongs in all. Two were of the bullet variety; Wednesday’s, which was also published as a half-mile in :48 2/5, and his five furlong work from the gate January 29 in an eye opening :58 4/5, also termed breezing.

Of course, Old Fashioned will be fresh in his first start of the year, the first of two prior to the Arkansas Derby. According to published reports he could face as many as nine rivals, perhaps more, including the very fast, very sharp Silver City.

Written by John Pricci

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