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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Thursday, April 30, 2009


Betting the Derby Is a Different Proposition


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 29, 2009--Have an opinion about which horse will win the Kentucky Derby? After all, the Derby is “America’s Race” and it’s your patriotic duty to think about which colt will win it.

But in case you might be bored with conventional Win, Place, and Show wagers, or the more exotic Exactas, Trifectas and Superfectas, our friends at Bodog have come up with series of interesting/fun Derby propositions.

Proposition wagering is one of the bigger growth sub-sets in the wagering industry. The most popular, of course, are the Super Bowl props, ranging from which team will win the coin toss, score first, or whether a team will recover a fumble and run it in for a touchdown.

In part, it’s what makes those Las Vegas hotel rooms hard to come by on Super Bowl weekend. Actually, those joints will be pretty much jumpin’ this weekend, too.

So, if you’re inclined, check out these propositions which run the gamut from sublime to ridiculously sublime.

Note: that some odds might change due to the post draw:

Will any Horse win the 2009 Triple Crown?
Yes +600
No -1100

2009 Kentucky Derby vs. Ricky Hatton/Manny Pacquiao Fight: 135th Kentucky Derby-Winning Margin vs. Number of Knockdowns in the Fight
Derby Winning Margin -3 (+170)
Number of Knockdowns Pacquiao/Hatton +3 (-250)

Will NBC best its previous Kentucky Derby Nielsen rating high of 9.3 achieved in 2001 with its presentation of the 135th Kentucky Derby?
Yes +155
No -225

2009 Kentucky Derby - How many different horses will race caller Tom Durkin (NBC) call as the race leader?
Over 5 -120
Under 5 -120

2009 Kentucky Derby - How long will it take Leann Rimes to sing the national anthem at the 135th Kentucky Derby?
Over 1 minute 54 seconds -120
Under 1 minute 54 seconds -120

2009 Kentucky Derby - What color will Leann Rimes’ hat be at the 135th Kentucky Derby?
Blue 5/6
White 5/2
Grey 4/1
Red 6/1
Black 8/1
Purple 10/1
Any Other Color 3/1

2009 Kentucky Derby - How long will the it take to sing "My Old Kentucky Home” at the 135th Kentucky Derby?
Over 2 minutes 17 seconds -120
Under 2 minutes 17 seconds -120

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will the winner of the 135th Kentucky Derby be bred in Kentucky?
Yes -2500
No +1250

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will the crowd attendance exceed that of the 157,770 of 2008
Yes +125
No -165

2009 Kentucky Derby - How many lengths will the winner of the 135th Kentucky Derby win by?
More than 2 lengths 6/5
2 lengths 7/1
Less than 2 lengths 1/1

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will a horse win the 135th Kentucky Derby wire to wire?
Yes (Horse Wins 135th Kentucky Derby Wire to Wire) +550
No (Horse Wins 135th Kentucky Derby Wire to Wire) -1100

2009 Kentucky Derby - Who will NBC Horse Racing Analyst Gary Stevens pick to win the 135th Kentucky Derby?
PIONEEROF THE NILE 1/1
I WANT REVENGE 7/5
GENERAL QUARTERS 5/1
Any Other Horse 2/1

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will the winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby win the 2009 Preakness Stakes?
Yes (135th Kentucky Derby Winner Wins 2009 Preakness) +225
No (135th Kentucky Derby Winner Wins 2009 Preakness) -350

2009 Kentucky Derby - What will the odds of the pre-race favorite be at post time in the 135th Kentucky Derby?
Over 7/2 -140
Under 7/2 EVEN

2009 Kentucky Derby - Official Winning Time
Over 2:01.60 -190
Under 2:01.60 +155

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will the winner of the 135th Kentucky Derby complete the race faster than the 2:01.92 of Big Brown in 2008?
Yes +125
No -165

2009 Kentucky Derby - What will be the time of the first quarter mile of the 135th Kentucky Derby?
Over 0:23:00 -125
Under 0:23:00 -115

2009 Kentucky Derby - Official Win Mutual Payoff
Over $18.50 -125
Under $18.50 -115

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will 2009 Kentucky Derby all sources handle exceed the 2008 Kentucky Derby all sources handle of $114,557,364?
Yes (2009 All Sources Handles Exceeds 2008) +350
No (2009 All Sources Handles Exceeds 2008) -700

2009 Kentucky Derby - What will the total on-track wagering handle of the 135th Kentucky Derby be?
Over 12 Million Dollars +110
Under 12 Million Dollars -150

2009 Kentucky Derby - Winning Saddlecloth Number
Odd -115
Even -115

2009 Kentucky Derby - What will be the winner of the 135th Kentucky Derby's starting gate?
Gates 1-5 1/1
Gates 6-10 5/1
Gates 11-15 9/2
Gates 16-20 7/1

2009 Kentucky Derby - Which will be greater, the margin of victory between the Derby winner and second place finisher or the second place finisher and third place finisher?
Winner - 2nd Place -180
2nd Place - 3rd Place +140

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will a Todd Pletcher trained horse win the 135th Kentucky Derby
Yes (Todd Pletcher Horse Wins 135th Kentucky Derby) +400
No (Todd Pletcher Horse Wins 135th Kentucky Derby) -900

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will Todd Pletcher have a horse finish in the Top 3 of the 135th Kentucky Derby
Yes (Todd Pletcher Trained Horse Finishes Top 3) -200
No (Todd Pletcher Trained Horse Finishes Top 3) +155

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will Saeed bin Suroor and Godolphin Racing trained horse win the 135th Kentucky Derby
Yes (Godolphin Racing Horse Wins 135th Kentucky Derby) +850
No (Godolphin Racing Horse Wins 135th Kentucky Derby) -1700

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will Saeed bin Suroor and Godolphin Racing have a horse finish in the Top 3 of the 135th Kentucky Derby
Yes (Godolphin Racing Horse Finishes Top 3) +250
No (Godolphin Racing Horse Finishes Top 3) -375

2009 Kentucky Derby – Godolphin Racing Head to Head – Desert Party vs Regal Ransom
Desert Party -125
Regal Ransom -105



Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, April 25, 2009


For Handicappers, Keeneland a Humbling Experience


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 23, 2009--It likely will come as no surprise to most of you that I’m not as smart as I think I am.

People say “hey, you’re that handicapper, right?”

I say, “No, I just play one on TV.”

But that’s the way I feel as I look back on the 2009 Keeneland spring meeting that concluded Friday.

I’m a huge fan of the good-horse circuit.

I love the smell of bluegrass in the morning.

Even on good days, most horseplayers are humbled six times per racing card. Keeneland didn’t humble me this year. Bludgeoned would be more apt.

And there’s no comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in this. Misery loves company, true. But for me that excludes the racetrack. To be successful, horseplayers must maintain their equilibrium: Never too high; never too low.

For those who love the challenge of handicapping, or those who on occasion must try to make a few dollars, each new set of past performances brings with it a sense of renewal.

And never has so much information been made available. Every manner of speed figure or trip note, and trend analysis that has gone way beyond the realm of niche data.

Keeneland recognizes how difficult their Polytrack is for handicappers to conquer. Their officers know how to read a balance sheet. But they made a commitment to a synthetic surface and they’re sticking to it.

They’ve even compiled some data--most of that database inconsequential, unfortunately--in the hopes that this “Polycapping” information will help players understand what they’re dealing with.

Remember, this is a track that a couple of decades ago didn’t even have a track announcer. Not that you needed one back then. Any horse that showed speed on the rail won. It was an “easy game,” provided, of course, you knew which speed horse to back.

But today’s Keeneland is different; way different. Polytrack cuts down the speed. Races are dominated by last-run types but that’s not automatic either. Timing is everything, you see.

But even armed with this knowledge, it doesn’t help me to know how a particular race will be run, no matter what my speed figures and trip notes and trainer stats say.

When Keeneland finally moved into a new racing age, it embraced the challenge of simulcast competition. A character generator now tells you where every horse in the field is. It was the best gift an inveterate race-watcher could have. Give Woodbine its props on this, too.

In Lexington, where tweed jackets and leather-patched elbows are never out of style, but where betting was an afterthought, there are now 50-Cent Trifectas and Pick Fours, Rolling Doubles and Dime Supers.

In a relatively short period of time, Keeneland has done more for rank and file bettors and racing fans than older, more established tracks in urban areas.

Still, it’s considerably easier for me to cash a bet at Philly Park or Pimlico than at Keeneland--and not just because good horses produce more competitive racing.

It’s because I personally couldn’t find a seam in the Polytrack zone, and I hear the same thing from a majority of players I speak with. Having cut me teeth on harness racing, trip handicapping is all I knew. At Keeneland I have no idea what the hell I’m looking many times.

Jockeys won’t openly criticize the surface for the record but some absolutely loathe it, saying they can’t ride their horses the way they’re supposed to be ridden because if you want to ride a race more aggressively you’ll empty out before the real running starts.

The Keeneland surface suits the strength of a Gomez, the patience of a Leparoux, the guile of a Velazquez. Pat Day would have loved Keeneland’s Polytrack.

When the new surface first opened, it wasn’t long before I noticed the unusual nature of race shape developments. But even now that it plays faster, it’s not easier to conquer.

On days when water tightens the surface dramatically, and pace horses perform better than usual, it’s still a tough read. You simply can’t take what you’re seeing to the bank.

At least I couldn’t. I never got into a rhythm this spring--as important to a horseplayer as it is to a quarterback or a pitcher.

So, until fall, it’s on to Churchill Downs, where results are a little more fathomable. A say a little more because horse racing in Kentucky’s a little different.

Is it me, or are there just a lot more inscrutable wake-ups?

Either way, it will be good to get away from the Lexington track where, on balance, for 18 days each spring, the racing is the best in the world. The results, not so much.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, April 24, 2009


If He Knew, Obama Would Apologize for This, Too


SARATOGA SPRINGS, April 23, 2009--The first thing I do when starting my work day is to log onto Equidaily.com to find news or stories that are worthy of a follow-up or commentary.

In this, I am not alone. Many racing journalists and engaged fans do the same thing; go to Equidaily and click on the headlines that interest them most.

This is what webmaster Seth Merrow probably had in mind when he created the racing link-farm a decade ago. A lot of people have the best of intentions. Merrow got the job done.

An example of Equidaily’s utility occurred a few days ago with a story about how stewards in Malaysia suspended a horseman for one year for opening an umbrella in the box area prior to the start of a race.

If you’re not as yet familiar with the story, take another moment to re-read the preceding paragraph.

Then, juxtapose, if you will, the case where New York State’s Racing and Wagering Board suspended trainer Jeff Mullins seven days and fined him $2500 for a detention barn violation.

The substance in question wasn’t banned, but that’s not the point. New York rules prohibit any race-day medication except for anti-bleeding medication, which must be administered a veterinarian.

But if Mullins couldn’t get it straight whether a Churchill Downs licensing office was open or not, how can he be expected to know New York’s rules of racing?

Of course, he should have known because 1) it’s his job and 2) because he won the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct three weeks earlier. But never mind that.

There could be many reasons for the wrist-slap given Mullins: There never was a clear explanation re: the culpability for the actions of NYRA security in charge of the detention area, nor was it satisfactorily determined whether or not an oral syringe was hidden from view.

And so it was agreed that, in the interest of fairness to the owners of a Kentucky Derby favorite, the incident be put behind one and all so that we can move on, the buzz phrase of athletes and politicians of the new millennium.

The Mullins suspension begins the day after the Kentucky Derby, in which Mullins will saddle I Want Revenge. You wanted transparency in racing? What could be more transparent than the timing of this suspension?

Interesting that the New York Racing Association is looking at the Mullins case through the auspices of its own Barn Area Violations Panel that could levy further sanctions, according to David Grening’s Racing Form story.

The penalties include denying stalls, barring entries and/or a fine. It is anticipated that Mullins’ defense attorney, the successful Karen Murphy, will meet with the BAVP.

Of those three choices, a fine is the odds-on favorite. But wouldn’t you like to see the NYRA refusing to take Mullins’ entry for the Belmont Stakes as I Want Revenge bids to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner?

Compare all this to a published report by stewards in Malaysia, where apparently transparency is practiced in a different fashion.

The ruling on the great umbrella caper and a review of the events in a single race might be of interest and instructive to regulators in this country:

“The Stewards concluded an Inquiry into the above matter on 17th March 2009 at the Selangor Turf Club and evidence was taken from Assistant Trainer Wee Mung Hua.

“Assistant Trainer Wee Mung Hua was found guilty of a charge under MRA Rule 133... as punishable under MRA Rule 133... in that at about 5:15pm on 6th December 2008 at the covered terrace outside the owner’s box at the Selangor Turf Club before the start of Race 9, through the agency of one Mr Azmi Bin Senawi, he gave barrier instructions to a Jockey or Jockeys to wit by the said Mr Azmi Bin Senawi, opening an umbrella in the direction of the starting stall gates, the effect of which may have prevented a horse or horses from winning or obtaining the best possible placing.

“Assistant Trainer Wee Mung Hua was also found guilty of a charge under MRA Rule 152... as punishable under MRA Rule 21... in that at about 5:15pm on 6th December 2008 at the covered terrace outside the owner’s box at the Selangor Turf Club before the start of Race 9, he acted in a manner to wit through the agency of one Azmi Bin Senawi, gave barrier instructions to a Jockey or Jockeys to wit by the said Azmi bin Senawi, opening an umbrella in the direction of the starting stall gates, the effect of which may have prevented a horse or horses from winning or obtaining the best possible placing, which in the opinion of the Stipendiary Stewards may be prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horse racing in Malaysia and Singapore. [italics mine]

“When deciding on the penalty, the Stewards took into consideration his non-guilty plea and clean record. Assistant Trainer Wee Mung Hua was disqualified for a period of one (1) year for each charge with immediate effect from 17th March 2009 and to expire on 16th March 2010, both days inclusive, to be served concurrently. He was advised of his Right of Appeal ...”

Shudder to think what the penalty might have been had Mung Hua not had a clean record. On its face, this appears excessive, but apparently no lip service is paid to integrity issues in that part of the racing world.

It was the rest of the day’s report that was more indicative of what the practices of stewards should be in this country, for it deals with not only integrity issues but comprehensive information that fans might use to make better informed decisions.

“RACE 1…

“MELANG ANGEL which was up 15kgs in body weight and TRIPLE HEE which was up 40kgs in body weight since their last runs, were checked by the Club Veterinary Surgeon prior to the race and were passed fit to start.

“While loaded in the barrier, TRIPLE HEE became fractious and reared repeatedly. TRIPLE HEE was then taken out of the barrier, checked by the Club Veterinary Surgeon, passed fit to race and was reboxed.

“ONLY ONE was slow into stride.

“[Apprentice] Thai Yang, the rider of INCREDIBLE WARRIOR, was shown the video of his ride in the concluding stages and was warned against the practice of not riding his horse out fully to the finish. INCREDIBLE WARRIOR which dipped on a number of occasions and raced poorly, will be required to pass a test (1000M/vet) before being entered to race again.

“All riders returned to scale an average of 1/2kg overweight due to the adverse weather conditions.

“Jockey A Fiezan, the rider of MELANG ANGEL, reported that his horse was making marked respiratory noises. A post-race veterinary examination of MELANG ANGEL revealed that the mare returned broken-winded. The mare will be required to undergo a corrective surgery and thereafter pass a test (1200M/vet) before being entered to race again. MELANG ANGEL was impounded.

“[Apprentice] J Low, the rider of PANIC ATTACK, reported that his horse did not act in the going. A post-race veterinary examination of PANIC ATTACK revealed that it was lame off fore and returned with sub-epiglottic cyst. The gelding will be required to pass a test (1000M/vet) before being entered to race again.

“[Apprentice] Lou Ho, the rider of ONLY ONE, reported that his horse did not act in the going. A post-race veterinary examination of TABLE TALK revealed no obvious abnormality. The Club Veterinary Surgeon reported that TRIPLE HEE returned having cast its off hind plate.”

How’s that for transparency? How’s that for disseminating inside information to the bettors? The only question remaining is whether U.S. regulators truly have the will and work ethic to do the job in a comprehensive manner.

Written by John Pricci

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