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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Sunday, March 09, 2008


Pyro En Fuego and Visionaire From Out of the Fog


When the field for the Grade 3 Gotham came into view from the tower camera at headstretch at fog enshroud Aqueduct late yesterday afternoon, Texas Wildcatter swept to the lead off the sharp half-mile pace and opened a clear advantage. He looked as if he were home.

But just as the field disappeared from view again, a switch was made from the tower shot to traditional pan camera and the fans were squinting to see who would emerge in front. It was still Texas Wildcatter.

The blinkers were working it seemed, when suddenly Visionaire made his rush up the fence, tipped into the two path with less than a sixteenth remaining, and nailed the leader right on the post.

Tough beat, said Norberto Arroyo Jr. after dismounting from the runnerup in his post race comments, tough beat, he said again for emphasis.After watching several replays of the stretch run subsequently, two questions come to mind: Did Arroyo move too soon? Was he overconfident in late stretch?

We couldnt see a darn thing, said Visionaire co-owner Barry Irwin. But thats the way to watch a horse race. Just watch the last eighth, then you dont get nervous.

Bettors preparing to back heavy favorite Pyro to win the Louisiana Derby an hour later were breathing a lot easier after the victory by Visionaire, the colt who could return to Aqueduct for the G1 Wood Memorial April 5 but was no match for Pyro in his last start.

When taking a short price, it always helps to get confirmation of form. And Pyro, ranked 1-2 or 2-1 on most Kentucky Derby lists before yesterday, was going to be odds-on to win the G2 Louisiana Derby.

We were a little careful with him going into [the Risen Star], said Pyros trainer Steve Asmussen. [But before yesterday] we knew we had to get a little more aggressive with him; he would have to move forward.

Without really intending to be all that aggressive, jockey Shaun Bridgmohan had Pyro much closer to the early pace in the Derby than in last months Risen Star. He was sitting a perfect inside trip most of the way, and just when it looked like he was ready to sweep to the lead, the leaders backed the pace down a little, the sweepers swept up on the outside, and the favorite was trapped on the fence. Horse and rider would have to be patient.

Fortunately, a seam opened and Pyro burst through. The result now will be that there will be more 1-2s than 2-1s next to his name in this weeks polls.

Now its up to War Pass to hold serve in next Saturdays Tampa Bay Derby. The better ones are beginning to separate themselves from the group. Now it begins to get really interesting.


Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, March 08, 2008


Lots of Support for Louisiana Derby Card


In support of the Louisiana Derby are five added-money events, three of them graded. Circular Quay, last years Louisiana Derby winner, makes his second start as a 4-year-old for Todd Pletcher versus, among others, Travers runnerup Grasshopper, impressive winner of the G3 Mineshaft over the track Feb. 9.

There is reason to believe that both New Orleans Handicap favorites will run well. Circular Quay comes back on three weeks rest after he was given an obvious prep run sprinting at Santa Anita. Now he returns to the surface over which he had run his second fastest race as a three-year-old. The long Fair Grounds stretch suits him very well.

Whether that lone sprint will be enough to handle Grasshopper is another matter. As a three-year-old, Neil Howards colt gave Street Sense all he could handle in Saratogas Midsummer Derby and, following the Super Derby, was recycled, returning to Fair Grounds where he won his return by bursting through a hole on the inside in deep stretch to win impressively. His turn of foot was much more electric than at any time last year.

The G2 Fair Grounds Oaks is a virtual match, and rematch, of the 1-2 finishers in last months G3 Silverbulletday, in which juvenile champion Indian Blessing remained undefeated by holding Proud Spell safe in the final sixteenth. The beauty of the champions race is in the eye of the beholder.

It appeared that Garrett Gomez got the speedy filly to settle the best she could, considering her freshness, and she did hang on gamely to withstand Proud Spell after perhaps losing some focus down the long Fair Grounds straight.

Indian Blessing should be tighter here, like most Bob Baffert trainees in their third start off a layup, as should Proud Spell, who made a strong run for second in the Silverbulletday with improved energy distribution. But will she again play the Pyro to the champs War Pass, as runnerup for a third time? Good question.

In the G2 Mervin Muniz Memorial, Daytona will attempt to make it five straight. The young Indian Ridge gelding took the G3 Fair Grounds Handicap in his course debut after being allowed his own easy way in front. Hell be tested here, and will start from the extreme outside in a field of 10. Daytona could be a budding star.

In addition to his daunting position, the Muniz waters get deeper, too. Brilliant, Jazz Quest and Twilight Meteor all have done their best racing at nine furlongs, and each figures to be set for their best. Further, Proudinsky is working well for Bobby Frankel and ships East with Gomez in the boot.

Barclay Tagg, a turf ace with a reputation for getting horses to win off the bench, will saddle Fracas, a lightly raced Irish-bred six-year-old who was group placed in Europe and will be getting Lasix for the first time. The history of the Muniz is that its seldom easily won. That seems to be the case once again.


Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Kentucky Derby Futures Pool Runs Deep


I dont care much for the parimutuel version of Futures pools. The wager as offered is another example of how the racing industry, whose lifeblood is wagering, doesnt do enough; offering the kind of variety that at once generates added interest for the player and helps grow the bottom line.

However, racing fans will line up beginning this afternoon, through Sunday, and wager for two reasons: Its still fun, given the bragging rights quotient, and anything named Kentucky Derby sells.

Poring over the list released Tuesday, heres a few thought associations that hit me like a V-8 as I considered the chances of some logical contenders, listed alphabetically, with Americas Race still 58 days away:

Blackberry Road (30-1) The only way 30-1 will be available Sunday night is if he runs badly in the Louisiana Derby, which I dont expect. But he could have yet another bad trip and run sneaky good. Given his distance pedigree, these odds might be worth a gamble.

Colonel John (12-1) That price would be fair, even this far out, even given the slow-paced Sham and the lack of a dirt prep prior to Derby day. But any lower--and I like this colt--would be folly.

Denis Of Cork (15-1) Given that he will not run until next week--and I love this horse--the odds, given his lack of seasoning, are a joke. The time to jump in was Pool 1, when 46-1 was available.

Elysium Fields (15-1) Loved his Fountain of Youth placing, and he has the right connections, but heres another promising colt that lacks seasoning. Need twice the price. Underlay.

Georgie Boy (20-1) Might have enough bottom-side pedigree to get him a distance of ground. Ten furlongs is a very long way but sometimes the Derby plays out like nine furlongs plus one. He has juvenile foundation and proven class. The odds are fair.

Majestic Warrior (20-1) The price is a tough read here. Obviously has talent but likely to have only two preps. Saturdays Louisiana Derby debut had better be a good one.

Pyro (6-1) If he wins the Louisiana Derby in any fashion similar to the Risen Star, hell be shorter still. Given that War Pass is still out there, hes an underlay, even if 6-1 were still available.

Tale Of Ekati (30-1) Like Majestic Warrior, he makes his debut in Louisiana and, like stablemate Elysium Fields, has the right connections. Something like a strong-finish fourth might be enough for these odds to hold. If they do, hes worth a flyer on dosage alone.

War Pass (5-1) If he keeps doing what hes done, 5-1 might be a bargain on Derby day. But with this much time remaining, thats a big if. I have a rule to never accept single-digit futures odds. Not even on the Yankees.

Yankee Bravo (30-1) Undefeated in three starts (two on turf, one synthetic), he was very impressive winning the California Derby. Like Tale Of Ekati, a strong-finish fourth or fifth in Louisiana could ensure this price, or higher. Might be worth a flyer.

All Other Three-Year-Olds (10-1) If the Peruvian wonder horse, Tomcito, proves the real deal, and yesterdays preliminary allowances winner at Gulfstream Park, Big Brown, keeps developing, 10-1 on this entry alone could be a bargain.


Written by John Pricci

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