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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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Stars of Tomorrow Are Here Today

It may seem counter-intuitive but the Thoroughbred racing season is far from over. In fact, there are many special days pf racing ahead. At Calder, Florida Million Day is upon us. And almost any day can be special at Hollywood Park.

The best racing of the recently opened Aqueduct fall meet is Holiday Fest over the Thanksgiving weekend, featuring the Cigar Mile, the final Grade 1 of the New York season, and a glimpse into the classics with renewals of the Remsen and Demoiselle for soon-to-be three-year-olds at a meaningful nine furlongs.

But one of my favorite programs, however, of which there are two a year, takes place this afternoon at Churchill Downs, the appropriately named Stars of Tomorrow program. The second edition of this interesting concept comes on closing day later this month.

As you might figure, all races are for two-year-olds. And no fewer than 131 juveniles of either sex were entered overnight in 11 races. Three are turf events, two are a seven furlongs, there’s a two-turner at a mile and a sixteenth, and two races at a flat mile; the featured Pocahontas for the girls and the Iroquois for the boys.

The Pocahontas winner typically advances to the G2 Golden Rod Stakes, which shares the stakes program with the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on the closing-day card, Nov. 29. The Kentucky Jockey Club has produced more than its share of Derby horses and this year figures to be no exception.

This is the fourth Churchill fall meet featuring the Stars of Tomorrow concept, a card that generally attracts strong wagering support at the simulcasts. In today’s Pocahontas we’ll see what the fuss is all about with early favorite Rachel Alexander (5-2), part of an uncoupled duo trained by Hal Wiggins, and whether she is the equal of the strong working second favorite, Pretty Prolific (7-2).

Of course, it will be interesting to note which colts go on to the Kentucky Jockey Club. Today’s Iroquois features the undefeated Casey’s On Call, 5-1 on the early line thanks to his 2-for-2 slate. But in this brave new racing world, his third start for Wayne Catalano will come on a third different track but first one on dirt. No one was able to outfinish him at Arlington Park or Keeneland.

If you’re believe they could hold one of these programs without Nick Zito, you haven’t been paying attention. Brave Victory, the 9-5 early line choice, was run off his feet in Vineyard Haven’s G1 Champagne, but previously broke his maiden by seven widening lengths at Saratoga.

Brave Victory is owned by Robert LaPenta, who won last year’s Kentucky Jockey Club with Anak Nakal, winner of the Pennsylvania Derby this past Labor Day, and also won an allowance race with Cool Coal Man, who put a big scare into Big Brown before finishing second in the Haskell. It might be recalled, too, that Denis of Cork, third in the Derby and the Belmont Stakes runnerup, made a winning debut at this meet last year.

To this end, there are a number of allowance types that might develop into Kentucky Jockey Club performers and beyond. Map of the World (5-2) won a loaded maiden race at Keeneland last month for Al Stall and was visually impressive. He’ll stretch out to seven furlongs in today’s second race and Robby Albarado will ride in a contentious seven-horse field that features an interesting runner from the Bob Holthus shed, Turiste, the 7-2 early second favorite with Calvin Borel up.

Beethoven (7-2) and Troy G. (4-1) return in the seventh race after suffering narrow defeats to Casey's on Call at Keeneland. Between them they’ve earned the highest performance figures on the Equiform scale, but are meeting Zion, dropping from the G1 Breeders’ Futurity, and They’re Late, who showed marked improvement going long to break his maiden in a Meadowlands two-turner in his second lifetime start.

In today’s fifth, there are first-time starters by the precocious Elusive Quality, Tale of the Cat, Vindication, Birdstone, and two by Smarty Jones. I’m thinking Saratoga in the Fall, bluegrass style. Bring money.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Appearing Today in L.A.: The Eclectic Eleven

In races such as the 20-horse Kentucky Derby or the mile and a half Belmont Stakes, or any race that has drawn a field of five or less, the most apt phrase used by handicappers to describe such an event is to refer to it as “a rider’s race.”

Who could have believed, then, that with less than a week before the silver anniversary edition of the Breeders’ Cup championships, a seven-furlong allowance race for California-breds would come along to elevate the term “rider’s race” to a whole new level.

A field of eight was entered overnight at the Oak Tree-Santa Anita meet and, for the record, a horse called Dee Dee’s Legacy drew the rail and was installed the 5-2 early line favorite. Despite the routine $47,000 purse for this conditioned event, the race has a name: it’s the inaugural--and possibly the only running--of the “Living Legends Race.”

Don’t confuse this event, which features eight of the most accomplished riders ever to grace a saddle, with some warm and fuzzy Old-Timers day exhibition. This race is for purse money--but mostly for glory--and the race will offer parimutuel wagering, just like the rest of the races on today’s Santa Anita program. As such, one of the elite eight will add to their statistical lifetime totals.

Mounts were drawn by lot and, just as he was blessed with significant talent and good fortune throughout his career, Jerry Bailey wound up on the probable favorite, Dee Dee’s Legacy. Should anyone who follows this game really be surprised by that?

For the handicapping record, Dee’s Legacy just missed by a head in his last start when second at the same level for trainer Mike Puype. Dee Dee’s Legacy is getting some class relief here as he returns to allowance company after finishing off the board in a pair of stakes races following his maiden win. Waafi, is the second choice in the early line and will be ridden by Chris McCarron, who I often referred to by his middle main when he was still active in the last decade: “Money.”

Like his SoCal colleague, Eddie Delahoussaye, neither rider took a back seat to anyone when it came to getting the job done in a big spot. Remarkable, really. Delahoussaye will be joined by two other Hall of Fame legends, Laffit Pincay Jr. and Jorge Velasquez, in winner’s circle ceremonies following the third race.

When last seen, Waafi was finishing sixth in Del Mar’s El Cajon Stakes. He, too, is obviously better suited to today’s competition. Trainer John Sadler, arguably in the midst of a career season and a leading trainer at the current meet, has entered a pair, Tribal Chief and Swift Demand, to be ridden by Sandy Hawley and Pat Day, respectively.

Tribal Chief is making his first start since January; Swift Demand is the “now” horse with excellent performance figures. And note that Day and Bailey are very friendly rivals who always enjoyed beating the other in competition.

In all, the Eclectic Eleven accounted for earnings of nearly $2 billion from 71,872 combined winners. Three jockeys will add to their win, place and show totals after the allowance event is declared official.

Here, then, the field in post position order with listings horse, rider, weight, age, career wins and early line odds:

1. Dee Dee’s Legacy, (Jerry Bailey, 122. . .51. . .5,893. . .5-2
2. Tribal Chief, (Sandy Hawley, 122. . .59. . .6,449. . .5-1
3. Swift Demand, (Pat Day, 122. . .55. . .8,803. . .4-1
4. Kalookan Event, (Jacinto Vasquez, 126. . .64. . .5,228. . .15-1
5. Scandalous, (Gary Stevens, 122. . .45. . .4,888. . .6-1
6. Waafi, (Chris McCarron, 122. . .53. . .7,141. . .3-1
7. Major Smoke, (Julie Krone, 122. . .45. . .3,704. . .10-1
8. Stathy, (Angel Cordero Jr., 126. . .65. . .7,057. . .12-1

If you get a chance to see this spectacle live or at the simulcast, enjoy it because it might be the last time this event is staged. Bailey and Julie Krone have indicated this will be for them a one-time only happening.

Ms. Krone told the San Diego Union’s Hank Wesch two things that bear repeating. First, that she’s the only Hall of Famer of the 11 to have had a baby. And, on whether the race will get the juices flowing like old times: “No one in that group has ever lacked for being serious or competitive.”

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Finally, NTRA Puts Racing on Proactive Track

As everyone knows, this game has been studied to death. In the Thoroughbred industry, if you want to acknowledge a problem, you form a committee to study it, make recommendations, then wait for nothing to happen.

Call me crazy, but I’m hopeful this time. Further, I have reason to believe that the newly created Safety and Integrity Alliance, a cooperative of racetracks and other industry organizations, in time, can and will work. The operative phrase is “in time.”

On Wednesday the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) with racing industry leaders outlined a series of safety and integrity reforms. Through this newly created alliance, America’s largest racetracks and horsemen’s groups in the U.S. and Canada are charged with the responsibility of implementing reforms under the watchful eye of an independent monitor.

New Yorkers, don’t jump to conclusions here. This is different from the Getnick & Getnick scenario whereby a so-called independent monitor would oversee how the New York Racing Association would correct its problems in advance of the franchise renewal process.

In that case NYRA paid the firm handsomely and no one was surprised when it found that the association successfully addressed their problems and hence were citizens in good standing. NYRA subsequently reached an agreement with the state to keep its franchise another 25 years in return for handing the deeds to its three racetracks over to New York State.

Tommy G. Thompson, the former four-term Governor of Wisconsin and Secretary of Health and Human Services during the Bush Administration has been retained by the NTRA as an independent counsel for the Alliance through the auspices of Thompson‘s high powered Washington D.C. law firm. Governor Thompson will conduct an ongoing review and provide an independent and public assessment to the Alliance.

“I’m passionate about horse racing. Fans think of it as the Sport of Kings and they want the horses and jockeys to be safe, and that the sport is above suspicion and ethical,” said Thompson in a national teleconference.

“There was no quid pro quo, no pre-condition. I call it as I see it,” said Thompson, who “took on the issue of food inspections much to the consternation of the White House. I will work to insure transparency in this process.” A racing fan, Thompson attended the Kentucky Derby three years ago and later became part of the West Point Thoroughbreds syndicate group that owned the accomplished Flashy Bull.

According to an NTRA release, the reform initiatives are the broadest and most comprehensive in the sport’s history. To wit: uniform medication rules for each racing state; a ban of anabolic steroids from racing competition; out-of-competition testing for blood and gene doping agents and pre-race testing; uniform penalties for all medication infractions; mandatory on-track and non-racing injury reporting; mandatory installation of a protective inner safety rail; mandatory pre- and post-race security and the adoption of a placement program for Thoroughbreds no longer competing, an organized step toward the ultimate elimination of horse slaughter.

The proposed reforms were approved by the NTRA Board of Directors, representing North America’s leading racetracks, owners, breeders and horsemen, at a special Board Meeting in September and communicated via e-mail to NTRA-registered fans prior to the start of a New York City press conference. NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop was joined by Executive Chairman Robert Elliston, Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Chairman Alan Foreman, and Governor Thompson.

Participation in the Safety and Integrity Alliance is voluntary and its ultimate success will be determined by market factors. “Our job is to make and implement strategy based on good science,” said Waldrop, describing how the process would work. “It’s a huge agenda that will take a couple of years [to implement fully]. It will measure performance against stated goals and objectives. The market place will determine whether tracks complied to the spirit of the alliance by rewarding good behavior and supporting those tracks.”

It sounds good on paper. In order to implement reforms as soon as possible, the NTRA will call on member organizations to adopt house rules as a first step to the ultimate goal; the adoption of uniform state regulations via statute. The Alliance will function as a certification/accreditation body for the purpose of recognizing and incentivizing compliance by all stakeholders.

“If you don’t comply with the rules, you lose your certification,“ Waldrop said.

Every leading racetrack and horsemen’s association in North America representing an estimated one million industry participants has pledged to support the Alliance and its reforms. Waldrop indicated the Alliance soon will broaden to include other racing organizations, individuals and fans. He said there is no plan to increase parimutuel takeout to fund the project--“a step in the wrong direction”--and that in no way is the Alliance advocating for any type of [synthetic] surface.

Alan Foreman, Chairman of the national Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said “the health and safety of our horses and the integrity of our sport are our highest priorities. We know there are significant concerns. This is a first step forward. We are committed to seeing that these reforms and standards are implemented across the nation."

All Alliance members will be made to sign an affirmation of the following Articles:

1. The health and safety of our human and equine athletes and the integrity of our sport are our highest priorities.

2. NTRA Alliance Members shall participate in, mutually support and/or endorse the uniform application of each of the reforms and related initiatives set forth on the document attached to this pledge (the “Reforms”) and the issuance by NTRA of annual public reports to monitor the progress of achieving Alliance objectives.

3. The NTRA Alliance shall develop an objective certification/accreditation methodology to recognize Members who support and comply with the Reforms.

4. NTRA Alliance Members shall petition regulators in their racing jurisdictions to adopt the regulatory reforms set forth in the document attached.

5. NTRA Alliance Members shall begin implementation of the reforms immediately unless otherwise provided.

6. The NTRA Alliance shall provide regular, public communications with horseracing fans, regulators, legislators and industry stakeholders to maintain transparency.

7. In the future, the NTRA Alliance shall consider additional Reforms, including expansion of its focus from health and safety for equine and human athletes in horseracing to other more broadly defined initiatives (e.g., wagering security) directed to the improvement of the sport’s integrity and transparency.

Can these seven commandments help lead the industry to the promised land? Maybe, maybe not. But it's a good first step.

Written by John Pricci

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