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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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

So This Is Christmas

Saratoga Springs, NY, Dec. 23, 2008--

"A Very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year, let's hope it's a good one, without any fear," wrote John Lennon.

And I love the feast of Christmas. It’s the holiday season I hate.

Don’t get me wrong. There needs to be a time for worship, whatever the belief, and there should be a time when the world stops, takes stock, and ponders its future.

But the "PC" commercial world started ruining Christmas for me a long time ago. The pressure to buy something special for that loved one, or feared boss, "when only the best will do.".

Don’t worry about the money. Buy it now. Don’t pay interest on it until June, of 2011. This is America. You’re entitled.

And that’s exactly what we were supposed to do right after 9/11: Go shopping. Yeah, that‘s the ticket.

Maybe my mood will improve if, when I go out to snag that last-minute Christmas bauble, a wave of patriot fervor will wash over me because, by all that‘s holy, I’m fighting terrorism.

I know. There have been wars since the beginning of time. And there always will be.

And the nature of any economy is to be cyclical. We’re just in a down cycle right now. The economy is fundamentally sound.

We’re Americans. We buy things. That’s what we do. We’ll figure it out now; pay for it later. And we’re so entitled that we don’t need cash to pay for it, not even a house.

A handful of economy handicappers notwithstanding, who knew that all the bills would come due in September, 2008? Certainly not the investment banks.

Quarter after quarter after quarter, everything was fine, great. By September, most were bankrupt.

SEC, hello? Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, hello?

Sorry, but we’re not entitled to anything. Wall Street is. Even Detroit. Corporate executives are--even when their companies fail. Everybody wants to be a power elitist, defilers of the American Dream.

Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king and a king ain’t satisfied till he rules everything… The Boss, a benevolent boss, said that.

Sidewalk Santas usually are on my pay-no-mind list. Not this year. People are hurting, need help. Thanks for stepping up, Santa.

My 401K is a 301K now but it’s still outperforming the S & P, hovering at around 201K since 2007.

But Bernard Madoff is probably going to be OK, thank God.

However, I must say I’m glad that the noose is tightening. He’s no longer free to circulate among us from 9 am to 7 pm, now confined to a Manhattan penthouse 24 hours a day.

And they say justice is blind.

If I were cynical I would believe that Madoff fixed it so that he’d get complete house arrest. In his mind, not only could this make him a more sympathetic figure but probably decreases the likelihood of someone busting a cap in his ass.

But not all the news is bad. Because whether you’re religious or an agnostic, on December 25th only 26 more shameful days will remain until the Inauguration, the day the war criminals leave office.

Sorry, I wanted to be inclusive--the spirit of the season and all--but I can’t yet. My daughters are of an age that I shouldn’t have to worry about them daily. But then my generation mortgaged their futures.

And I wouldn’t want to offend anyone. Just like I wasn’t offended when every child in a non-private school was left behind; when my taxes didn’t go down; when my Constitutional rights weren’t upheld; when my privacy was invaded, when I became guilty until proven innocent…

And when covert operatives working for my safety were betrayed; when my countrymen placed in harm’s way were not given equipment equal to the danger; when 4,200 of them died predicated on ideology and a lie; when people in New Orleans didn’t matter all that much…

And when my president opposed the 9/11 Commission and helped cover up health risks associated with cleaning up Ground Zero; when the responsibility for capturing the perpetrator of 9/11, the mortal enemy of my country, was outsourced to Afghanistan; when mercenaries were paid four times that of soldiers fighting only for country.

And when torture--the same kind of torture Great Britain punished by putting water-boarders to death, the same kind of torture that led to the punishment of Japanese war criminals at Nuremburg--became acceptable in America.

So, I’ve a case of the hum-bugs this year and sadly I’m not alone.

“Badlands, you gotta live it everyday, let the broken hearts stand as the price you've gotta pay, we'll keep pushin' till it's understood and these badlands start treating us good.”

The day after this is posted my family and friends will put a smile on my face, I’ll raise a glass to the baby Jesus, give thanks that my country allows me to say what I think, and marvel when I realize that the spirit of Christmas lives, whatever the vibe of sustained disbelief.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Champions of 2008: One Man’s Opinion

Saratoga Springs, NY, Dec. 19, 2008--My Eclipse Award information packet arrived in the mail this week. And never before had the thought occurred to me to apologize for sharing my thoughts on racing’s best in show for 2008 with the sport's fans.

But I’ll resist that temptation, even if the sport-v-gambling option has been much in the news recently. It’s been a very bad year, as we know, and, like the economy, things will get worse before they get better.

The most debilitating occurence, of course, was the filly Eight Belles’ breaking down in the Kentucky Derby. If there are takers, I’d like to bet that last year’s calamity will become part of the feature segment on the 2009 Kentucky telecast.

Television is incapable of avoiding gruesome footage. It will be followed by an update of the strides the industry has taken to prevent a similar calamity in the future.

On this, however, providence might prove preferable to science.

You’re free to disagree, of course, but I’ve made what I consider cogent arguments on the state of racing. It's a sport because of the interaction of the athletes involved, equines with humans. It's a game because people bet on the outcome. Both enjoy a history and tradition.

And this is why I consider it a privilege to cast an Eclipse ballot once again:

I have to hold on to the notion of thoroughbred racing for as long as I can. I enjoy the intellectual stimulation handicapping affords me and I needto win money from time to time, although not necessarily in that order.

But I’m holding on to the sport because if it dies, a big part of me dies along with it.

I’m holding on because, as with any sacred avocation, my soul demands it.

In my opinion, here are the equine and human individuals who set themselves apart this past year. Aside from the occasional score, the accomplishments of individuals like these are always worth my time and effort. Every year, racing’s best makes the mundane special.

Eclipse Award Categories 2008:

STEEPLECHASE: 1. Good Night Shirt, by virtue of a most impressive, undefeated season. 2. Dark Equation. 3. Sovereign Duty.

2-YEAR-OLD COLT: 1. Midshipman won two Grade 1s, one while the world looked on. 2. Vineyard Haven. 3. Street Hero.

2-YEAR-OLD FILLY: 1. Stardom Bound is the stuff of juvenile filly legend. 2. Mani Bhavan. 3. Dream Express.

3-YEAR-OLD COLT: 1. Big Brown might have been one of the great ones but we can never know. 2. Raven’s Pass. 3. Henrythenavigator.

3-YEAR-OLD FILLY: 1. Music Note, by a nose. 2. Proud Spell. 3. Goldikova.

4-YEAR-OLD & UP MALE: 1. Curlin, by a mile. 2. Einstein. 3. Commentator.

4-YEAR-OLD & UP FEMALE: 1. Zenyatta, by a mile and a half. 2. Ginger Punch. 3. Cocoa Beach.

SPRINTER, MALE: 1. Benny The Bull was 4-for-4 on four disparate surfaces and two continents, spotting weight twice. 2. Midnight Lute. 3. Street Boss.

SPRINTER, FEMALE: 1. Indian Blessing fast, faster, fastest. 2. Ventura. 3. Intangaroo.

TURF, MALE: 1. Conduit is a true and consistent stayer; a throwback. 2. Einstein. 3. Grand Couturier.

TURF, FEMALE: 1. Forever Together won three G1s at different distances; from nowhere, a remarkable season. 2. Goldikova. 3. Cocoa Beach.

TRAINER: 1. Jack Fisher engineered an undefeated 5-for-5, eight-month long, G1 campaign over five different courses with 'chaser Good Night Shirt. 2. John Sherriffs. 3. Steve Asmussen.

JOCKEY: 1. Garrett Gomez is money. 2. Alan Garcia. 3. Julien Leparoux.

OWNER: 1. Stonestreet Stables LLC, Jess Jackson, because sportsmanship and class still matters. 2. IEAH Stables. 3. Godolphin Racing.

BREEDER: 1. Adena Springs because excellence, productivity and consistency also still matters. 2. WinStar Farm. 3. Maverick Production, Ltd.

APPRENTICE: 1. Pascacio Lopez, as we’ve not seen such domination since Steve Cauthen. 2. Inez Karlsson. 3. Sebastian Morales.

HORSE OF THE YEAR: 1. Curlin, as the reigning champion did enough. 2. Zenyatta. 3. Big Brown.

Written by John Pricci

Comments (18)


Friday, December 19, 2008

Thank You Readers, For Everything

Whenever anyone asks how I’m doing, I tell them never better--that I’m having more fun now than any time I spent at Newsday, or anywhere else in racing for that matter. Why?


As Bill wrote, this Internet thing was a new experience for we former ink-stained wretches. We’ve tried to combine whatever skills we might have as columnists/reporters and apply it to this new paradigm.

I always joke that “I love writing a blog: I can play loose with the facts and get to write my own headlines.” That is a joke, of course, because you keep us on our toes.

As Bill wrote, we have to be careful to dot Is and cross Ts as there’s no copy desk to prevent us from making complete fools of ourselves.

And Vic had it absolutely right when he wrote:

“Over and again, you have given generously with your time, read through our pages, challenged our thoughts, and gotten back to us with yours. You, not us, set the high standards to which we strive.”

Whenever I get too flowery, I know Wendell will be there to jolt me back to reality. Quickly! Then there’s Indulto, who never fails to give me something to which I should respond.

And former trainer Doug Amos, who wants me to be “Racing’s Czar,” aw well as all the other feedback we get from HRI’s loyal constituents.

Note to Doug: Given the amount of tweaking we give the industry, no one would give me a job as a piss-catcher. (For the uninitiated, that’s a real job)!

But none of us here are going to stop. The stakes are higher than they‘ve ever been.

Vic doesn’t need to do this, but he’s been gung ho from day one. Bill can enjoy his retirement via his many sojourns to Vegas, but just can‘t cut the chord that tethers him to the backside of Southern California racetracks.

Me? Well, what the hell would I do with myself, otherwise? Players need a voice and a springboard.

The common denominator is our love of the game. And if there’s anything we can do to give back, to make the game better, however misguided we might be on occasion, we’re going to do it.

Given the amount of CYA that goes on in our business, someone has to speak truth to power. Now don’t expect that we would throw the blanket of incompetence over an entire industry. That’s unfair and simply not true.

But the arrogance of the “good old boy” network frustrates me.

The greed and lack of transparency--whether it lives on the backstretch or in the board rooms of America‘s tracks, the halls of the state house, the trading floor of the NYSE or inside the corridors of corporate America--makes me angry.

And depressed.

So, HRI readers, with your continued inspiration, guidance, valid criticisms and ideas, HRI staffers and contributors will continue to rage against the machine.

We must. You know what they say about not being part of the solution.

Written by John Pricci

Comments (7)


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