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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Thursday, February 21, 2008

New York City Troubles Tip of OTB Iceberg

Dont look now, but theres no grass growing beneath Mike Bloombergs feet. And thats not just because the New York City mayor seldom ventures out into green spaces.

But now that it appears he will not take on the Obama juggernaut and throw a hat into the presidential ring (although conservatives would probably prefer him to Papa John McCain), hed like to put New York City on firmer fiscal footing.

And that means fixing, and not subsidizing, the current NYC-OTB situation. On this, Bloombergs a quick study vis a vis state politics: The only way you could get Albany to act is create a crisis.

Well, theres also political contributions, but thats not particularly germane here.

Anyway, if it took Albany years to resolve the franchise situation, the OTB issue is far too complex for a solution to be piggy-backed onto the franchise bill, as some were hoping.

Not that anyone, anywhere, has a clue about how to fix it. Even if they did, who would dare take on a political powder keg that would make the recent NYRA situation pale by comparison?

So, NYC-OTB is going into a fiscal hole in early June and Bloomberg will not have the city support it the way the state does racing. While hes been disingenuous on some gambling issues, on this he seems entitled.

The state should kick back some of the cut it currently gets from the OTBs, a rate that seems to go up every few years. Hell, a couple of years ago New York State decided the racing industry should pay to police itself. Resultantly, New York State no longer pays the salary of STATE Racing & Wagering Board members, the industry does.

Last year, New York City received $17-million from NYC-OTB. At the same time, the state got $16-million. Doesnt seem equitable, does it? Not when by this June OTB will be working with a negative cash flow (accounting theirs).

And this outfit now handles a billion dollars a year.

But thats what can happen when percentages are based on gross revenues, not net. Any company must be allowed to pay their own operating expenses first, yes?

Should the OTBs try to solve the same problems faced by the tracks; that the point of purchase has changed, that walk-up customers are being replaced daily by phone and Internet bettors? Of course.

That means streamlining and the elimination of duplicate tasks are an imperative. But that would result in a loss of jobs and nobody wants that, especially in a recession. It seems, however, that if downsizing is good enough for the private sector its fair that those same principles be applied to government agencies as well.

State Senator Joseph Bruno said recently that the legislature will take on big-picture OTB issues in 2009. The delay surprises no one.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hot News From South Florida

There were two news items out of Florida early this week that were, at once, surprising and pleasing.

The fact that Jorge Chavez rode four winners for four different outfits on Monday hints that Chavez might really be back this time.

After returning too soon from an injury a few years ago, his many fans, myself included, thought he was ready to assume a customary spot in the top five of any jockey colony he joined, especially after he won a graded stakes for Bobby Frankel, of all people.

Thats not Frankels bad, just unusual for any jockey, even one as talented as Chavez, to ride a stakes winner for a trainer whos not a regular client.

But on Monday Chop Chop, so-called for his unusual north-south whipping style, did it the old-fashioned way--his way--riding for everybody.

It was the success he enjoyed during his heyday, the late 90s, that eventually earned him a winning Kentucky Derby ride aboard Monarchos, trained by another sometimes client, Kentucky horseman John Ward.

It was Chavezs aggressive riding style that endeared him to New York regulars. That, and his indefatigable late finishes. You never saw Chavez styling, ever, just riding hard to the finish, horse after horse, race after race. And hes nearly peerless on wet racetracks.

So, after getting some ink in the racing media a fortnight ago for victories and in-the-money finishes aboard longshots, getting his mounts to outrun their odds, hes gotten better stock.

From virtually nowhere, Chavez ranks sixth in the Gulfstream Park jockeys room, just behind fifth leading rider Eibar Coa, who sits aboard no shortage of live stock.

The other pleasant surprise was the announced return of the Saratoga Grade 1 Hopeful winner, Majestic Warrior.

Of course, he was going to make a three-year-old debut eventually, but it turns out to be sooner rather than later, the Louisiana Derby on Mar. 8.

Its not an unlikely spot Hall of Famer Bill Mott has chosen for one of his classic hopefuls. The timing is better for this colt--starting in early March as opposed to later in the month--and the Fair Grounds' long stretch suits the colts come-from-behind style.

But its a little unusual to choose such a difficult spot for a return from a lengthy layoff. The Derby colt that most people are talking about at the moment is Pyro, given his Risen Star effort, and Pyro is scheduled to run back in the La. Derby.

Mott is right when he says that no Derby prep is going to be easy from this point forward. But its what he didnt say that impresses most, that hes not concerned George Steinbrenners colt would embarrass himself against such a celebrated rival. Interesting, indeed.

Written by John Pricci

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Fierce Wind Blows in Tampa; a Turf War in Today’s Southwest

It appears that Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito will bring a lot more than numbers to this years Kentucky Derby chase.

Its one thing to talk about potential, quite another to deliver on that promise. Fierce Wind did just that in Saturdays Sam F Davis at Tampa Bay Downs.

Winning the eight and-a-half furlong test over an often quirky Tampa surface was no small feat. In two short months, Fierce Wind has proven himself to be quite the road warrior.

First there was his lengthy maiden breaker over another quirky oval; Calders. Then came a nine furlong win at Gulfstream. Turning back with faster and tougher is difficult when coming from the preliminary allowance ranks. Fierce Wind made it seem like no big deal.

The decreasing victory margin and favorable pace setup is besides the point here. The only thing that mattered was the win and a good clocking of 1:44.18 off moderate, albeit contested, fractions.

Beneath Cornelio Velasquez, Fierce Wind made a four-path off the pace sweep, a difficult transition from a front-end Gulfstream win at nine furlongs. He held off two quality rivals; Big Truck, a quality juvenile who needed the recent Hutcheson, and Smooth Air, who won that useful Grade 2 harbinger.

Bill Mott favorite Z. Humor raced as if badly in need of the race, although his effort can be mitigated somewhat in that it came at Tampa: Racing head to head throughout-- much less a three-horse battle--is not the way to fame and fortune in Tampa two-turn events.

With Anak Nakals sharp breeze for Sundays important and competitive Fountain of Youth, and with War Passs continued strong workline in advance of the Mar. 15 Tampa Bay Derby, among others, Mr. Zito is deep in talented sophomores.

* * *

Todays Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park should uncover a lot more about Denis of Corks true quality. Two-for-two, including a Churchill Downs maiden breaker and a two-turn Fair Grounds allowances over a sloppy track he appeared to dislike, we shall see whether he is the road warrior that Fierce Wind proved to be.

But the Southwest is loaded, maybe not with future classicists, but as a terrific betting race and a useful three-year-old barometer.

Denis of Cork (8-1) has a new rider, Robbie Albarado, which means either David Carroll swapped one Cajun rider for another, or Calvin Borel jumped off to ride Delta Jackpot dead-heater Turf War, which, along with Riley Tucker, earned the best juvenile figures among Southwest starters.

Early line favorite Turf War (3-1) has been prepared at Mark Casses Canadian base and shipped south for a recent blowout over the track. He appears very well intended but taking a short price, the way fellow dead-heater Z Humor raced at Tampa, doesnt seem prudent. But he just might be the best horse.

Unlike Z Humor, whose workline appeared to be geared toward fitness, Mott looks to have put Riley Tucker (9-2) on the fence, asking for more. His works look sharp on paper and stable rider Kent Desormeaux makes the trip to Hot Springs. When last seen, Riley Tucker was second in the G3 Arlington Washington Futurity to Wicked Style, the subsequent winner of Keenelands G1 Breeders Futurity. Post position 10 of 11 doesnt figure to help, however.

Sierra Sunset (4-1) has been keeping good company in Southern California and it will be useful to see how the Cal-bred stacks up in this foray into the southwest. One local horse that appears worthy of note is price shot Isabull (15-1).

While not as fast as some of the favorites, Isabull is on a good line. He was second in his prep over the track. Last fall, he was beaten less than five lengths by well regarded Monba. Isabull worked sharply twice since the Smarty Jones, including a 4th best of 131 three-year-olds to work that week at Oaklawn.

Interesting to note, too, that he shared that tab with Silver Edition (8-1), another Southwest contender breaking from the rail for Wayne Lukas and Joe Bravo. Oaklawn favorite Tim Doocy will take the re-ride on Isabull.

Written by John Pricci

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