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 07, 2008

I Got the Fever, Oh I Got the Fever…

Even if Im the worst contest player in the world, I cant help myself. Thats what happens when you spend a long weekend in Las Vegas watch handicapping tournament action. As nerve wracking as it can be, you just want in.

I was in the Aqueduct press box Saturday afternoon and some of my colleagues were talking about going up to New Haven for the weekend to play in the Connecticut OTB handicapping contest at Sports Haven, which happens to be a first class simulcast facility.

Purse money notwithstanding, the first three finishers qualify for the 2009 National Handicapping Championship sponsored by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Daily Racing Form. Fourth and fifth-place finishers qualify for the 2009 Coast Casinos Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans, both in Las Vegas. So I thought about it for approximately five seconds, e-mailed Don Barberino at CTOTB, and Im invited.

Players need $300 to start. Of that amount, $250 is put toward prize money and $50 is live money used to determine the contest winner. You have to make a minimum of 10 $2 bets on each of two days, Saturday and Sunday. The other $10 is wildcard money that you may bet any way you wish.

Highest dollar total wins the contest and you keep any real proceeds from your $50 investment. You can bet as much as you wish at any time, making sure to make at least 10 bets each day. Parimutuel payoffs for win, place and show are not capped.

The number of contestants is limited to 350 and walk-ups are welcome to register on Saturday. If the contest is fully subscribed, there will be a $2,000 awarded to the leader on the first day. There are final money prizes back to 10th place, and finishers 11-20 will be seeded free in a future contest conducted by Autotote. Top prize to the winner is $35,000.

Obviously, should handicappers get on a roll, they can bet every race from Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Tampa Bay Downs, the Fair Grounds, and the first seven from Santa Anita. But if you dont keep at least $20 for Sunday, youre in very deep water. Unless, of course, youre planning to cash a 10-horse parlay.

Well try to fashion a winning strategy between now and the first contest race on Saturday. With no mandatory races, the onus is on the handicapper to play to his or her strength. Certainly, there wont be any shortfall of opportunities.

Given that I went 0-for-14 years back in the day at Penn Nationals trend-setting World Series of Handicapping, Im open to any and all serious suggestions. So how about helping out a fellow horseplayer, eh? Contest rules can be found at

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Shut It Down Now

SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY, Feb. 5, 2008--Its easy for me to say; my family wouldnt be directly effected. There are still plenty of other tracks to bet on, a few that are a lot more interesting this time of year. And neither do I have to worry about paying my bills for the whole year by virtue of what happens the next two months. But this madness must all end. Shut it down.

If I were NYRA's Charlie Hayward, Id pick up a stick, find a piece of unfrozen earth and draw a line that figuratively says after five years and two mini-extensions of waiting, I can no longer ask my employees and my constituents, the horsemen, to go on indefinitely waiting for some imaginary shoe to drop. So I have to shut it down now.

I dont know for certain what was in the first draft of a bill put forth by the governor last weekend for parties to reach an accord on the New York racing franchise. But if theres no agreement, it wont matter anyway. The status quo holds. So just shut it down.

Theres one elephant left standing in the room and hes going to hang on to the only thing he has left: power. And its too bad, too, because he has been a force for so much good. But the respect and good will he earned is gone. How Sen. Joe Bruno handled his role in this franchise intransigency will be his legacy, the way Iraq and the economy is George Bushs. So it really doesnt matter. Shut it down now.

People working behind the scenes at Aqueduct deserve to know their fate and they need to know it now. So do the horseman. The money New York State advanced the NYRA so that it could finish out 2007 is almost all gone. The doors are going to have to be shut soon anyway so why not put an end to the agony? Shut it down now.

It costs about $40,000 a week to keep one of the downstate tracks open as a training facility. You need to pay for security and maintenance. Theres the matter of timing the workouts and the ambulance drivers that lie in wait hoping never to hear the siren that signals loose horse. When horses are loose, something bad did or is about to happen. But why worry about all this when you dont know if youll need yet another extension. So just shut it down now.

If the NYRA stretched themselves to the max, they could keep one of the tracks open for training for about two weeks, tops. Horsemen need time now to make alternative plans if necessary. Backstretch workers need time to find the unemployment office, possibly another place to live. Winter training powerhouse Gary Contessa is up to 120 horses, but he also has 93 people on his payroll. They need to know what theyre going to be doing, where they might be a month from now. By shutting it down next week, they could make other plans.

Whether their claim is valid or not, its time for NYRA to play the land card. Its time to figuratively ask the state whether it wants to fight it out in bankruptcy court? Whether it really wants to roll the dice. Clearly the governor didnt or there never would have been a Memorandum of Understanding. Sometimes funny things happen when you go in front of a jury, Eliot Spitzer said in the Saratoga press box last summer. He ought to know.

The state never would allow [the tracks to close], said one fan, Jerome G., on the Aqueduct clubhouse apron Saturday. It means too much money. The state cant afford it. Youd think Jerome would know better, as if logic had anything to do with this.

VLTs were approved five years ago. So what? Let them go to Yonkers.

Im not the biggest NYRA fan but its a joke what those Albany politicians have been doing about this whole thing, said Tony S., picking his head up out of the past performances long enough to answer. This used to be a great place he said, his voice trailing off indicating there was nothing left to say. Horseplayers may be crazy but theyre not stupid.

Incredibly, at this late date, reportedly there are only two issues holding this whole thing up--and its not a casino at Belmont Park. Its about the composition of the Board of Directors and the term of a franchise extension. Those are Bruno power issues that have little or nothing to do with preserving New York as the countrys preeminent racing center, as he claims his goal to be.

But Brunos not sweating anything. He told the Schenectady Gazette as much last week. No NYRA? No problem. The state will just come in and run everything, with or without the help of his friends at Capital Play. But thats only if NYRA happily hands over the keys to the kingdom. So lets find out. Lets see who blinks. But to make that happen you first have to shut the whole thing down.

Written by John Pricci

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Notes From a Super Party

GLEN COVE, NY--Feb. 3, 2008

I get as emotional as the next guy at national events; Kentucky Derby, World Series, Super Bowl. A sense of patriotism kind of takes over. But maybe because my government has been playing on my fears for the last eight years, instead of my better nature, Ive become a little cynical. So the over-produced prelude to the game made it seem like Fox was trying too hard.

Giants come out of tunnel dressed in white, old school road whites. Good karma, I thought. But then the pants should be blue, not silver, right? Go Silver? That aint right.

Out come the Patriots. Brady deadly serious. Kick-ass serious. Then he snaps his helmet over his head. Pretty dramatic, pretty cool.

Artists send message as teams take the field. Kanye Nobody Can Do It Better Than Me West under the Giants. Ozzie Osbourne attitude under the Patriots. Pop culture scene set. Good.

Anesthesia on. Microsoft voice commands for Ford vehicles. Pretty clever. Grade: B.

A true patriotic moment. Jordan Sparks, with one of the best versions of our national anthem, nails it. Still shots of servicemen in uniform. Emotional, effective, perspective making.

Plaxico key third down reception. (Wouldnt have another catch until the winning touchdown in the final minute).

Nixon key third down reception. Giants may be outplaying this perfect team.

Audi-Godfather spot. Grade: A.

Giants 3-0. Were not going to beat these guys with field goals.

Nine-minute drive by NY. Parcells is having a pina colada and smiling.

Giants take flag while making bad defensive play, key to 7-3 N.E. lead. Cant make mistakes and beat these guys.

7-3 at half. What did Plaxico know that the rest of the world didnt?

First big key in my mind: Bradshaw stealing the ball back after apparently fumbling it away. Go Mo!

Middle wide open for N.E. start of second half. Probably been open all night. The price you pay for taking Moss away.

Shaq, the jockey, wins photo on Chuck Of Love! Power Ade, take a bow, youre the frontrunner in HRI Ad Derby.

Awfully long time before Belicheat throws red challenge flag. For what, 12th man on the field? Looked half inconclusive to me. Pats keep drive alive on technicality. No justice; no peace.

Belicheat goes for it on 4th and 13?! With this much time remaining? Is he panicking? Does he know the same thing Plaxico knows?

E*Trade kid spit up? Thats it: Grade A. Best of the night.

Welker saved Brady on 2nd & 15 from their own five. Welker having great night.

Coca Cola spot, with Baby Stewie from Family Guy? Excellent visual.

Eli playing the 4th quarter like hes played every fourth quarter for the past month. Good execution. No costly mistakes.

David Tyreeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

E*Trade kid getting creeped out by the clown? Thats it! Retire the trophy. They win easily in what had been to that point uninspiring spots. Advertisers clearly make half-time adjustments work.

Eli having problems throwing the fade virtually all season, lofts beauty to Plaxico.

17-14: Plaxico gets score right. Broadway Burress. What, 23-17? So what? Under is under. And it still took TV an hour to mention it after it was pre-game storyline for almost two weeks. Hello?

Best quote from Foxs McAfee: This is the one Super Bowl loser youll remember. Wish I thought of that.

The Giants must go to coordinator Spagnuolo, convince him that we can build something here, throw money at him, convince him to stay, tell him when Tom retires, the job is his.

Came up with fun headline last week in the event of an unlikely Giants victory: 18--WON.

Heres another: Destiny 17-Dynasty 14.

Written by John Pricci

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