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, July 29, 2009


Man Bites Horse, Trainer Running for Office


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 28, 2009--While hundreds of high level horse types are scouring the condition book looking for the right spot, thoroughbred horse trainer Eddy Miller is doing the same.

Only the right spot for Miller isn’t between the fences of Saratoga Race Course. Rather, Miller’s is on what happens outside the track’s gates, literally, and the race he’s pointing to is months after Saratoga 141 becomes a part of history.

Meet Eddy Miller, horse trainer and a man who would be the next Commissioner of the Department of Public Works if Saratoga voters deem it so come November.

Some townspeople already are taking Miller’s candidacy seriously, even at this early stage. He’s running on the Independent line. He could have had a second party line had he capitulated to the machine.

Sorry, no deal.

Miller has been coming to Saratoga for four decades and lives on Spring Street now, “the closest I’ll ever get to the Hall of Fame,” he said over eggs and hash at the Country Corner last Sunday morning.

Although he’s been a Spa resident since the late 90s, does he really expect that the locals will take him seriously, that he’s not just another carpetbagger from the big city trying to get over?

“I came here from New York City because I wanted a better way of life and because here people hold the door for you as you walk into Stewarts and say ‘good morning’.

“I understand the nature of politics. But this is about empowering people. Taxes are high and people who live here have to start getting their money’s worth. This is a crucial time for the country and for Saratoga.

Miller understands how business works. His resume says he’s groomed harness horses and has been a licensed thoroughbred trainer since 1983, but as a young man he owned and operated his own wholesale beer distributorship in Brooklyn.

“I know what it takes to organize people. I’ve been dealing with blue collar workers and truck and tractor-trailer drivers all my life. This will be fun for me.”

And hard work, of course, which starts by building and organizing a campaign staff. In this country and in this town, that takes money. And so the first step will be a major fundraiser, and not your father’s stodgy, rubber-chicken kind, either.

“It will be the party of the season,” promised Miller.

“The date we have is August 17, a Monday night, the only time racetrackers can go out and have some fun.

“The owners of the Backstretch Pub [local horse owners John Ball and Robert Lizardo] donated their place for the night. No speeches, just music and dancing, from after the races to whenever. The dress is party attire.

“We’re asking anyone who comes for a suggested donation of $25. We want to keep it affordable, a grass roots thing.

“We’ve gotten promises from James Bond, Angel Cordero Jr., Bill Mott, Angel Penna Jr., Jose Santos, Johnny Velazquez, Rick Violette and Nick Zito. More people are stepping up every day. Indian Charlie said he would talk to Calvin. It’s been great.

“We’ve got two of Saratoga Raceway’s most successful horsemen coming, Brian Cross and John Stark Jr. Everyone’s got a stake in this.

“We’re planning to offer autographed pictures taken with a racing celebrity for $10. We hope the locals come out and support us, have a meet-and-greet with track people and a great time at Saratoga’s new hot spot.”

But why this? Why now? What’s the motivation?

“I’ve learned how things work here. I’ve had a successful hot dog business in Congress Park and later on Broadway. Everybody knows me as the ‘Saratoga Hot Dog King’.

“I went to a City Council budget meeting last November and what I saw just wasn’t acceptable. I observed city employees using intimidation to harass city officials who were discussing budget cuts.

“The city employees were shouting the mayor down when he was speaking. When they were told they were out of order, they yelled back ‘do what you’ve got to do, big boy’; ‘do whatever you want’.”

Miller continued: “Their boss, Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim, was sitting right there, and he let them get away with it. Now he’s running for mayor himself. [City employees] want more. Only 20 percent of them live in the city, so why would they care if our taxes went up?”

“At every meeting I’ve attended, people wanted projects approved and acted as if the city wasn’t having any money problems.

“Because of the budget crisis, the state took away $3.5 million from the city. But then they had no problem asking the city’s help to put in sidewalks on both sides of the 9-P bridge over Saratoga Lake. That’s state property. If anything goes wrong, it will be the city that gets sued.

“A recent contract to install pipes on South Broadway was put out to bid. The bidding went up to $295,000. But when the job was completed, the city of Saratoga got a bill for over $500,000. And have you seen [weather challenged] Nelson Avenue?

“There was no oversight on the project from the current Commissioner of Public Works, Skip Scirocco. They call him ‘No Show Scirocco’. And it was some of his people who were shouting the mayor down at the budget meeting.”

Miller should take heart that this country has elected an actor, professional wrestler, a comedian and a couple of NFL quarterbacks to high public office. It should be possible for a horse trainer to serve the people of Saratoga.

Miller’s already gotten the support of former Saratoga Mayor Ken Klotz. Now he’s hoping his friends in the horse business will help him help the people of Saratoga.

“I came to Saratoga for a better quality of life. I’ve been here long enough now to know that’s it’s time I give something back. You empower people with smart spending and giving taxpayers value.

“It’s time for transparency. No more back-door deals. I want to help. And I don’t believe that we’re not welcome here.”

Racetrackers have been given a chance to do something good for Saratoga by helping one of their own.

If Eddy gets beat, chalk it up to a good time. But on August 17 going to the Backstretch could take on a whole new meaning for “the city in the country.”


Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, July 26, 2009


Another Opening, Another Very Big Show


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y., July 25, 2009--Leaving Saratoga Gaming and Raceway yesterday, the air was charged. I mean you can feel it now. It was palpable.

Some of the regulars were lamenting getaway Saturday’s Belmont program before immediately launching excitedly into: “Did you see Wednesday’s card?!”

In case you hadn’t heard, Wednesday is opening day at Saratoga. They’ve been doing that for 141 years now. To celebrate, the racing office attracted almost as many horses as there have been race meets.

Actually, 134 of them, in 10 races. The traditional opening day Schuylerville for juvenile fillies is usually well subscribed. This year, and how: 13 fast feline babies

Two of them are trained by Steve Asmussen, who won last year’s Schuylerville with a filly named Jardin, Robby Albarado in the boot.

On Wednesday, they’ll team up again with the most impressive maiden-breaking filly we’ve seen this year: That would be five furlongs in :56 2/5, with a final furlong in :12-flat, in hand, and with energy in reserve.
I admit I haven’t seen all that many this year, but I was at the simulcasts on the afternoon Hot Dixie Chick broke the five-furlong track record at Churchill Downs.

I wasn’t betting, but the owner’s name caught my eye. Grace Stables LLC is another way of saying Barbara Banke. Barbara Banke is another way of saying Mrs. Jess Jackson.

So, he gets to play with Rachel, the three year old; she gets to play with Hot Dixie Chick, the baby. The fillies have something in common, too. That would be speed.

As far as the Schuylerville is concerned, she had better be fast. The filly that beat her in her first start, Decelerator, is in here. She’s two for two and is trained by a guy who’s won as many juvenile fillies stakes as anyone ever has, hat would be Wayne Lukas.

As if that’s not enough, there’s also a filly named So N So. And she’s a fast So N So, too, winning her only start--five furlongs in :56 2/5 at Belmont Park, by almost 10.

And a pretty gray filly, named Beautician. She's fast, has good spacing, and a running style that just might fit the shape of this renewal.

The Schuylerville is the highlight of a 10-race card that might be the strongest opening day program in the modern history of the old Spa. This race will not be easily won.

Broken down by category, the card features two stakes, the other being the James Marvin overnight at seven furlongs that has drawn a strong and ecletic group.

Add in three allowance races, three maiden special weights, and two claimers and you get 134 horses vying for a share of aggregate monies worth $557,000.

Can’t begin to imagine what the Travers Day card might look like.

The advance weather forecast shows all the days next week with about a half a sun, some clouds, and a few lightning bolts, temps in the low to mid-80s all week. Meaning typical Saratoga summer: Hot, with a chance of showers at any minute now.

But it will take an awful lot of precipitation to dampen the enthusiasm and rain on this parade. I'm all out of cliches. See you Wednesday.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, July 25, 2009


Easily Lies This Crown


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 24, 2009--With one exception, this will be the last Saturday we’ll be scouring the country for nationally featured racing programs and potential plays.

That’s because Saratoga Race Course will throw open its gates for the 141st time starting Wednesday, through Labor Day, September 7.

The exception from my Spa duties will come Sunday, August 2, a.k.a. Haskell Day. Because you make exceptions when a Preakness winning filly is scheduled to meet the Belmont Stakes winner and another talented male who at this stage already has beaten his elders. It's a big deal.

So we’re going to the Jersey Shore, too, where we'll blog live from Monmouth Park throughout Haskell day. And, with seven other stakes races being offered, we might even find a horse or two to bet on. But that's a coming attraction.

Today, meanwhile, via the miracle of past performances and simulcasting wagering sites, we’ll be visiting the Middle America hotbed of thoroughbred activity, Shakopee, Minnesota, where Canterbury Park will host its 11th annual Claiming Crown program.

Sixty-two horses that have run for a claiming price either last year or this, will run in seven featured events with purses ranging from $50,000 to $150,000. The qualifying claiming tags for these starter allowance events are from $7,500 to $35,000, depending on the division and purse.

What makes the day interesting, and very challenging for handicappers, is that those 62 horses made their most recent starts at 12 different tracks, literally from one end of the country to the other. It’s not every day you get to see claiming horses race for purses worth an aggregate $600,000.

The nominal feature is the $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel on the dirt for horses that have started for $35,000 or less the last two years. The curiosity is that the nine-furlong two turner drew only a field of six.

The 2-1 early line favorite is Antrim County, Claimer of the Year 2008, as determined by the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, one of the event’s co-sponsors. Antrim County is, in a fashion, a defending Claiming Crown champion.

Last year, Antrim County won the Claiming Crown Iron Horse, restricted to horses that raced for $7,500 or less. The Crown Jewel is for horses that have started for a $35,000 tag since Jan. 1, 2008.

Should he repeat, Antrim County would become the only horse in Claiming Crown history to win in different divisions. Scheduled post time for the Crown Jewel is 6:45 PM, EDT, with live coverage on the TVG network.

While the equines might not be nationally known names, many of the human connections are. Russell Baze, the world’s all-time leading jockey with over 10,600 career victories, has four mounts on the card, and Julien Leparoux, this year’s leading money winning rider, has five.

Robby Albarado and Jeremy Rose, Triple Crown race-winning riders, have mounts, too, as does Rosemary Homeister Jr., who recently became the second leading female rider in the sport’s history, trailing only Hall of Famer Julie Krone.

Canterbury offers an 11-race card on its signature day, eight of them for added money. Among the wagers offered are Rolling Pick 3s beginning with the first race, a Pick Six, and the popular fractional wagers; Dime Supers and 50-Cent Pick 4.

Those options are likely to come in handy this afternoon. We reviewed the eight features for quite some time yesterday and they’re very competitive. Here are a few ideas that may come in handy.

The Pick 4 sequence begins with race five. The six-furlong Rapid Transit offers the closest thing to a single, early line favorite Grand Traverse (2-1).

His major rival is the second favorite, Max Ahead, but the favorite’s best Equiform sprint figures tower over the entire group. The best part about his figures is that they were earned at the distance and on four different racetracks.

If not for Max Ahead, players would be hard pressed to find a single in any of the next three events. In the Express, we left three of the 10 horses open. In the Glass Slipper, we found four impossible to separate. In the Emerald, the 14-horse turf route, we have four--and that might be too conservative.

The weather forecast in Shakopee calls for partly cloudy skies with a 20 percent chance of showers. I expect my Pick 4 ticket to look something like this: 1/ 2,8,9/ 1,3,4,7/ 3,7,9,11. The early line for the four fillies in the final leg are 10-1, 12-1, 12-1 and 6-1, respectively. Hope I'm alive to them. A $24 risk seems a reasonable investment to find out.

Written by John Pricci

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