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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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bo Derek, Move Over

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 23, 2009--Sorry Mommy. I should have respected you more. And it will never happen again.

Bettors who were thinking of taking advantage of the prevailing conditions in yesterday's Grade 2 Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park, taking a sharp, improving four-year-old with a rider seeking his third Eclipse Award, over a mare making her first start in seven months under a steadying 126 pounds, must have forgotten just how wondrous she is.

Zenyatta won the mile and a sixteenth two turner comprehesively despite some anxious moments at the half mile pole when her rider, Mike Smith, tried to go inside of one horse. It's first first thing you learn when you still have the bug: Go around one, inside of two.

Smith, forced to steady, recovered quickly, rallied up outside her vaunted stablemate, Life Is Sweet, the momentun carrting her five wide into the Holly Park stretch. Under a vigorous hand ride, she opened ground effortless as her main rival ducked to the inside. But the saving of ground and the four-pound weight pull were hardly enough. She won geared down and with her ears pricking, looking for more competition.

John Shirreffs not only had her ready but the mare looked absolutely great. Even watching the television monitor, her coat was radiating good health and condition, and she won in the same style her fans have become accostomed to: Circle them when ready and draw away. She she begins to roll, there is not a mare that can rally from behind her and catch up. A truly remarkable mare.

In winning her 10th straight without defeat, she now needs three victories to tie Hall of Famer Personal Ensign, who holds the modern day record of 13 straight victories without defeat for a career. Stable mate Life Is Sweet, who saved ground inside the favorite into the stretch, darting through on the fence soon after straightening away but could not match strides with the long striding champion.

At the moment, it would appear that Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta might be two of the best horses in training. We're not even into June and it's already been a remarkable year for the ladies. And one of them's a Perfect 10.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

I’m Betting Shirreffs Horse

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 22,2009-In terms of the short handicapping comments found at the end of a past performances line, rarely do you see the term “inhaled rivals.”

Obviously, the blurb suggests complete domination whereby a particular horse is so disdainful of its rivals that it sits back until it’s good and ready before unleashing an explosive kick as to label its rivals imposters, unworthy to grace the same racetrack.

It’s also the kind of comment associated with the highest class racehorse, usually a deep closer whose turn of foot renders trip handicappers breathless as they witness what turns into a complete and utter mismatch.

It’s the kind of comment which all on levels would be associated with the undefeated, wondrous Zenyatta, who brings a nine-for-nine record into Saturday’s Grade 2 Milady Handicap, a race she won last year and trying to win again.

Finally, her long awaited five-year-old debut is here.

When last seen on a racetrack in October 2008, Zenyatta was inhaling what most agreed was the strongest field of fillies and mares assembled all year in the former Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Unleashing her patented and powerful fast finish, she defeated seven rivals--including the 2007 Eclipse older female champion--which had won over $9-million between the fences of America’s best tracks.

While Zenyatta’s return is eagerly anticipated, it will be no cakewalk despite her early line odds of 3-5. Why? Because even though she won this race last year, it’s her five-year-old debut following a long layup, a scenario that always carries with it a degree of uncertainty.

And one other thing: That “inhaled rivals” comment didn’t belong to Zenyatta. It belonged to Life Is Sweet, one of Zenyatta’s Milady rivals, earned when she won her most recent start, the Grade 1 Santa Margarita at Santa Anita, March 14.

Life Is Sweet is undefeated in three starts as a four-year-old, including two G2s, the El Encino and La Canada. Double Eclipser Garrett Gomez, aboard for all three wins, will fly home from New York to retain the mount.

Life Is Sweet (5-2) will get four pounds from the high-weighted favorite, 122 to a steadying 126, and one last thing: Like Zenyatta, Life Is Sweet is trained by John Shirreffs.

Owned by two strong SoCal outfits, Zenyatta by Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss and Life Is Sweet by her breeders, Pam and Marty Wygod, Sherriffs could not have made this decision lightly. Obviously, one could still scratch.

Indeed, Shirreffs wanted to keep the two fillies apart until absolutely necessary, shipping Zenyatta cross-country to Churchill Downs for the Louisville Distaff, but scratched when the Oaks day track came up a sea of slop.

How much bearing the presence of previously undefeated lone-speed filly One Caroline entered into Shirreffs decision to scratch is a mater of conjecture. As it turned out, worries were moot after One Caroline was rated into submission by Edgar Prado and suffered her first career loss.

Both Shirreffs mares have the same come-from-behind style, Zenyatta being more of a come-from-the-clouds type.

Zenyatta is the fastest filly in the Milady according to anyone’s performance figures. Presuming that Shirreffs had her fit enough to run in the Louisville Distaff, recent works should have forwarded her conditioning and sharpness.

Stabled at Hollywood Park, Zenyatta worked six furlongs in 1:13 2/5 and the same distance in 1:12 3/5 on May 7 and May 15, respectively. The latter was a best of five bullet and both moves were termed breezing.

Given what’s at stake for Zenyatta; a possible divisional championship repeat, a conceivable Horse of the Year title, and a chance to eclipse Personal Ensign’s modern undefeated record in 13 straight victories, Shirreffs must believe that Zenyatta clearly is the better mare.

But in today’s eighth race at Hollywood, I’m not sure I’d be willing to bet on that. This should be fun.

Written by John Pricci

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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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