John Pricci 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, 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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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lone Star Park’s New Fan Friendly Wager

Perhaps the foresight and consideration for the wagering public shown last year by racing executives such as Ron Geary, president of Ellis Park, and Lou Raffetto Jr., formerly of Pimlico and now of the National Steeplechase Association, is beginning to reap rewards for the average horseplayer in 2008. At least it is in Texas.

The folks at Lone Star Park have introduced a new Pick 5 wager with a 12 percent takeout at it recently opened spring/summer meet. While the posted payoffs will be based on a $2 ticket, box and wheel wagers in the Pick 5 will be accepted in $1 denominations.

“Our players have asked us for a lower takeout wager and we have responded to their requests,” said Lone Star president and general manager Drew Shubeck in a prepared statement. “We think Lone Star Park’s new Pick 5 wager is an exciting new bet that will return more money to our loyal customers.”

And help grow Lone Star’s handle in the long run, too.

The $1 Pick 5 wheel is not Lone Star’s only fractional wager. The Grand Prairie track also offers a Dime Superfecta--racing’s fastest growing popular wager--the 50-Cent Pick 4, and $1 exactas, trifectas, daily doubles and Pick 3s.

Critics of fractional wagering, those champions of the upperdog, say that fractional wagering hurts and doesn’t help handle. They have the statistics to prove it. Besides, it’s what their big bettors, a.k.a. whales, want.

While it’s true that 10 percent of the horseplaying population accounts for about 80 percent of total handle, ignoring smaller bettors does the game a disservice in the long term. When average players can maintain liquidity, gains are made at the bottom line.

Multiple pools are racing’s most popular for obvious reasons. Players holding sizable bankrolls enjoy a significant edge over those that show up at the track with a double sawbuck and a dream. They don’t need the wagering menu set against them, too.

Nothing is accomplished when players get busted out. The average bettor fights a tough battle with parimutuel takeout on every wager he makes. Fortunately, longshot payouts occasionally compensates. Not to mention how helping the little guy serves the tracks, too. Tracks and simulcast facilities need live bodies to help pay employees who sell everything from mutuel tickets to past performances to hot dogs.

There’s something else that gamblers appreciate. It’s called customer service. The immutable rule regarding takeout is the more money returned to winning bettors, the more they bet in return.

Apparently the management at Lone Star gets that. Good for them; good for the player.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

There’s No Place Like Home

As always, it's good to be home. The HRI Racing to the Kentucky Derby tour was the big fun, an enervating privilege.

We got to see Payson Park again, and Palm Meadows and Palm Beach Downs for the first time.

Palm Meadows is what I envision training in Dubai would be, meaning, no expense was spared.

As you expect from a training center in a tropical climate, the barns were airy and spacious. The training track itself is nothing short of magnificent. Horsemen, known to bitch about everything, have nary a disparaging word about any of it.

Frank Stronach may not always have 20-20 vision but give him this: He doesn't pinch pennies, even if they're OPP. Palm Meadows is secure and idyllic, a great place for horses to develop and/or freshen up.

Payson is still wonderful with its tree-lined entrance and the barns stretching out one after another have generous yards in between.

But the surface is the star, and its viewing stand provides a sight line and setting that conjures up European training centers. The place could use a splash of fresh paint here and there, but that would be to pick at nits.

My favorite training spot was Palm Beach Downs which, like Palm Meadows, was a personal maiden breaker. The security is so tight that it resembles a gated community for horses.

The place is so exclusive you need to punch in a code for the gates to open so you can enter. Just as we arrived a horse van pulled up. We pulled over, dropped in behind the van, and tail-gaited our way in.

Ambience? Think Oklahoma training track with better facilities.

Mornings on the racetrack or at training centers are the best thing about the game. No thoughts are given over to afternoon blood-lettings. It's all about the horses.

If more people were introduced to the sport in this way, its fan base would double overnight.

And so, I was feeling pretty smug Tuesday morning as I curled off exit 14 on the Northway onto route 9P, a.k.a. Union Avenue, as you proceed west toward the town of Saratoga Springs.

Then suddenly, in a place called home, comes the realization that when you fix a gaze upon racetrack grounds as Saratoga Race Course comes into view, it takes your breath away.

Saratoga, where the world's best thoroughbreds have raced for centuries, looked magnificent in the morning light. It felt like hallowed ground. Mecca.

It's good to be home. Always. And despite its familiarity, we know we can never take Saratoga, the town or the racetrack, for granted ever again.

Written by John Pricci

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Road to the Derby

The Morning Line blog will be on hiatus for about a month as Pricci is on the road to the Kentucky Derby. In the meantime, check out his "Racing to the Kentucky Derby" blog.

Written by HRI Publisher

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