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, February 10, 2008

No One Ever Said It Was an Easy Game

NEW HAVEN, Feb. 9, 2008--On the first day of the Sports Haven handicapping tournament, form held. We were never close.

Oh, there was a moment or two, more than a few very good value plays; odds relative to chances of victory. We could have been luckier. Thats not an excuse, just an honest evaluation.

Very early in the Gulfstream day, the skies opened. It took little time for the track to be downgraded to sloppy and for the turf races to be rescheduled. Scratches ensued. Im out; one track down, four to go.

Not much doing for us at Tampa. There were the turf races, of course, yielding my only winner from 10 plays. Daniel Centeno just owns this course. Wagering cycle went from 5-1 to 4-1 while they were on the backstretch: $10 for every deuce. Big deal.

Concentrated on Fair Grounds, the track we analyzed on Capital OTBs Handicappers Report, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., before stopping at Nicks in Schenectady for a bacon, egg and cheese to go.

(Sorry, theyre called hard rolls everywhere but you cant find the real deal anywhere outside the five boroughs. But a nice sandwich nonetheless. Got us to I-90, to I-91 south, merging into I-95 at New Haven. To this point, a wintry mix pelting the windshield notwithstanding, karma was good).

The six winners from 11 races we picked on TV didnt help in the tournament. Too many short prices; useless in contests. Bummer was we werent making our usual exotic plays. Keeping focus is hard enough.

You know how this story ends: Had two small superfectas. One paid $469 for a buck, cold, the 5-2-4-6, Graeme Six getting it done in the Pan Zareta for Tom Amoss.

Started with a 23-1 chance on the grass, a Proctor layoff, in the opener. Ran well, finished fourth, after favorite got loose in soft fractions. Then a 7-1 shot next. This one ran well, too. Another fourth, also losing to a loose-on-lead favorite.

Oh, so its going to be one of these days.

Passed on Graeme Six, which we made a big TV speech about. Didnt think 3-1 was the way to go at the time. The price looked much bigger after the race.

Switched to Aqueduct. A big figure sprinter way up in class; sign of confidence from the barn. Bet smartly but a good price, even if he looked a bit toppy. You can bet bounce candidates if given fair odds. But it doesnt stop them from regressing. Chased the pace comfortably. Tired badly; poor performance.

Back to Fair Grounds, back to the grass. Fair odds at 4-1. Euroears won his fifth straight without defeat. What a nice racehorse.

Santa Anitas second race; 7-1 looked like right price. Price shot entered turf stretch eight wide, finished like a rocket, beaten four lengths, galloped out in front. Of course he did. Thank you for nothing Mr. Espinoza.

Back to Tampa turf. Another 7-1 chance; should finish strongly and get it done. He did, but didnt; third, yet another paceless race. No more Tampa on this day.

Back to NOLA. Sterwins runs great. Too far back, too wide, too much to do. Third at 6-1. SoCal shipper Daytona goes first half mile in :48.55. You could hear them laughing in Arcadia. Could have handed Dan Hendricks and Mike Smith his 10 percent right there. Youve got to be kidding, loose for 150K? Please.

Jolie The Cat is slow but was 2-for-2 at Fair Grounds. The pole; perfect trip, why not? Indian Blessing is the champ but vulnerable over a mile. Saved by the wire. Proud Spell chased her home in the Juv Fillies. Did so again in the Silverbulletday, making more favorable impression in defeat than winner in victory. Jolie was terrible.

Calvin Borels Derby ride on Street Sense was a thing of legends. His performance on 7-1 Blackberry Road not so much. Wouldnt have mattered. Maybe, maybe, could have been second best.

Now let me say this: Shaun Bridgmohans performance on Pyro, who won the Risen Star as much the best horse in his seasons debut, was every bit as good, maybe better, than Calvins Derby ride. Run to the replay center! Check it out. Let us know what you think.

Always err on the side of price. Thats the rule. Between Pectoralis Major (14-1) and Pleasantly Blessed (7-1) in the Fair Grounds ninth. Pectoralis had a major wide trip. Lonnie Meche, replacing Garrett Gomez on Pleasantly Blessed, saved all the ground--from post 10! Won the re-bob over favored Lady Digby.

Took 19-1 on True Crusader in the Fair Grounds finale after Lochinvars Gold ran dismally in the fifth at Santa Anita. The Crusader made a good very-wide rally but never threatened. Cowboy Larry Jones had returning Bronze Metal ready to run off the screen. He did, at an inflated 9-1. I thought about him, but not long or hard enough.

Ive got $30 of my original $50 bankroll left. The leader has about five times more. Got to go. Only 48 races to look at. Its 11 p.m. Been up since 6 a.m. The things we do for the love of sport.

What would we do without tomorrow in this game? The doors at Sports Haven open at 10 a.m. Im there, and Ill be ready.

Written by John Pricci

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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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