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 20, 2009


When Will Industry Finally Invest Money to Safeguard Its Players; Another Past-Posting at Penn Nat.


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 20, 2009--The timing of recent wagering developments was as inescapable as it was ironic. In one case, the news for bettors was promising. In the other, not so much.

At 4:54 p.m. May 18, a press release arrived by e-mail from the office of California State Senate contact Adam Keigwin with the headline “Horse Racing Oversight Bill Approved By Senate.”

However, 23 hours and 50 minutes later, this came: “Yet Another Betting Glitch Hits California Horse Racing.”

Tote insecurity is nothing new, becoming a major story in 2002 when a dishonest programmer from totalizator company Autotote took advantage of the transmission delay from simulcast venue to track betting pool that resulted in the notorious Breeders‘ Cup “Fix Six” scandal.

Had the conspiracy not been exposed, it would have illegally garnered $3.2 million from unsuspecting Pick Six bettors. Its mastermind also admitted to authorities that he stole a hundred-thousand dollars from the uncashed-tickets pool by creating counterfeit betting slips.

Following the incident, the racing industry responded by making recommendations and promises to improve tote security, but the system is still experiencing major problems that has chased many professional horseplayers away.

Just last month, through the New York City Off-Track Betting system, $2 bets processed through the Am Tote wagering company were deposited into wagering pools as $200 wagers. The mistake affected betting pools from New York to California, from Kentucky to Florida.

In California on Preakness day, betting windows at 33 simulcast sites remained open on a Hollywood Park race after the event had been run. The malfunction involved betting locations that did not receive a “stop betting signal” from Scientific Games, the tote system used at California tracks.

In this instance, wagers, including those made properly, were removed from the pool and all bets were refunded, punishing the innocent along with those who took advantage of the error. The California Horse Racing Board currently is investigating the matter.

Three incidents involving three different tote companies yielding three bad results for bettors. Like politicians, the only thing industry leaders have done in real time is to issue memos, mail press releases, and launch investigations that never seem to result in positive action for their best customers, a.k.a. bettors.

Speaking before an industry panel last year, Mike Maloney, one of America’s most prolific horseplayers, informed authorities about how he was able to bet on a race from Fair Grounds for nearly a minute after it had been run.

Apparently Maloney wasn’t convinced he would get a positive outcome, according to a subsequent quote he furnished the Thoroughbred Times: “The industry doesn’t address this because it costs money and doesn’t make money, but it hurts the pool and hurts the game. They don’t care because they get their commission whether people win or lose.”

After wagering pools in five states were adversely affected by the NYC-OTB incident, Ed Martin, President of American Racing Commissions International, told Thoroughbred Times that “this is yet another example of why the ARCI Wagering and Integrity program needs to be implemented immediately involving tote systems; to hopefully detect these types of problems before they happen.”

If Martin were the ARCI resident at the time, he probably said the same thing at the organization’s first meeting following the 2002 Breeders’ Cup.

In no small way is it ironic that less than 24 hours after the California State Senate overwhelmingly approved SB 662--legislation authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) providing for independent oversight of all pari-mutuel horse race wagering in California--was it learned that another past-posting incident had occurred, an event that has become far too commonplace.

The incentive for Yee’s bill was the result of a different kind of wagering controversy that surfaced in last year’s “quick pick” bets on the Kentucky Derby superfecta. Due to a programming error, the #20 post position was inadvertently omitted from the possible 5,200 permutations on betting slips.

The #20, of course, was the winning position occupied by Derby favorite Big Brown, which would have cost winning superfecta bettors over $29,000 per $1 bet.

If SB 662 clears the California State Assembly and is signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the CHRB would be required to institute real-time monitoring of all pari-mutuel transactions, a fail-safe measure that should have been instituted nationally following the now seven-year-old Fix Six scandal.

While normally there is some kind of human error involved in past-posting situations, the vexing problem of late-odds drops, strictly a technology issue, remains. As stated, this industry does little in real time.

In the main, late-odds drops are caused by the 15 to 20-second cycle it takes for betting totals on last-second wagers to reach the track from a simulcast venue, another 15-to-20 seconds to go from venue tote room to odds board, and another 15-to-20 seconds to reach television monitors, where most bettors see the drop during the running of a race.

Of course, sometimes the odds on winning horses go up but a preponderance goes down. Although there’s nothing sinister at work, a bad message is being sent. Horseplayers are distrusting by nature; the industry must recognize this and work that much harder to gain their confidence.

No longer will they come just because you build it.

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It's An Epidemic

In the midst of an interview last evening with Horseplayers Association of North America president Jeff Platt, HRI learned that the second race at Penn National for Wednesday May 20 was declared a non-betting event when the betting pool didn't close until approximately 20 minutes after the race had been declared official.

The winning Twodoorsdown won the race at 10-1. The race, for $5,000 claimers going a a mile and 70 yards, was declared official and an announcement was made that prices were pending. While the prices were pending, the winner's odds dropped to 9-1, then 8-1, then, after the lengthy delay, the race was declared a non-wagering event and all wagers, including those properly placed, were refunded.

Another investigation into past-posting is expected to be announced shortly.

Written by John Pricci

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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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