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, April 10, 2008

There’s No Place Like Home

As always, it's good to be home. The HRI Racing to the Kentucky Derby tour was the big fun, an enervating privilege.

We got to see Payson Park again, and Palm Meadows and Palm Beach Downs for the first time.

Palm Meadows is what I envision training in Dubai would be, meaning, no expense was spared.

As you expect from a training center in a tropical climate, the barns were airy and spacious. The training track itself is nothing short of magnificent. Horsemen, known to bitch about everything, have nary a disparaging word about any of it.

Frank Stronach may not always have 20-20 vision but give him this: He doesn't pinch pennies, even if they're OPP. Palm Meadows is secure and idyllic, a great place for horses to develop and/or freshen up.

Payson is still wonderful with its tree-lined entrance and the barns stretching out one after another have generous yards in between.

But the surface is the star, and its viewing stand provides a sight line and setting that conjures up European training centers. The place could use a splash of fresh paint here and there, but that would be to pick at nits.

My favorite training spot was Palm Beach Downs which, like Palm Meadows, was a personal maiden breaker. The security is so tight that it resembles a gated community for horses.

The place is so exclusive you need to punch in a code for the gates to open so you can enter. Just as we arrived a horse van pulled up. We pulled over, dropped in behind the van, and tail-gaited our way in.

Ambience? Think Oklahoma training track with better facilities.

Mornings on the racetrack or at training centers are the best thing about the game. No thoughts are given over to afternoon blood-lettings. It's all about the horses.

If more people were introduced to the sport in this way, its fan base would double overnight.

And so, I was feeling pretty smug Tuesday morning as I curled off exit 14 on the Northway onto route 9P, a.k.a. Union Avenue, as you proceed west toward the town of Saratoga Springs.

Then suddenly, in a place called home, comes the realization that when you fix a gaze upon racetrack grounds as Saratoga Race Course comes into view, it takes your breath away.

Saratoga, where the world's best thoroughbreds have raced for centuries, looked magnificent in the morning light. It felt like hallowed ground. Mecca.

It's good to be home. Always. And despite its familiarity, we know we can never take Saratoga, the town or the racetrack, for granted ever again.

Written by John Pricci

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Road to the Derby

The Morning Line blog will be on hiatus for about a month as Pricci is on the road to the Kentucky Derby. In the meantime, check out his "Racing to the Kentucky Derby" blog.

Written by HRI Publisher

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Pyro En Fuego and Visionaire From Out of the Fog

When the field for the Grade 3 Gotham came into view from the tower camera at headstretch at fog enshroud Aqueduct late yesterday afternoon, Texas Wildcatter swept to the lead off the sharp half-mile pace and opened a clear advantage. He looked as if he were home.

But just as the field disappeared from view again, a switch was made from the tower shot to traditional pan camera and the fans were squinting to see who would emerge in front. It was still Texas Wildcatter.

The blinkers were working it seemed, when suddenly Visionaire made his rush up the fence, tipped into the two path with less than a sixteenth remaining, and nailed the leader right on the post.

Tough beat, said Norberto Arroyo Jr. after dismounting from the runnerup in his post race comments, tough beat, he said again for emphasis.After watching several replays of the stretch run subsequently, two questions come to mind: Did Arroyo move too soon? Was he overconfident in late stretch?

We couldnt see a darn thing, said Visionaire co-owner Barry Irwin. But thats the way to watch a horse race. Just watch the last eighth, then you dont get nervous.

Bettors preparing to back heavy favorite Pyro to win the Louisiana Derby an hour later were breathing a lot easier after the victory by Visionaire, the colt who could return to Aqueduct for the G1 Wood Memorial April 5 but was no match for Pyro in his last start.

When taking a short price, it always helps to get confirmation of form. And Pyro, ranked 1-2 or 2-1 on most Kentucky Derby lists before yesterday, was going to be odds-on to win the G2 Louisiana Derby.

We were a little careful with him going into [the Risen Star], said Pyros trainer Steve Asmussen. [But before yesterday] we knew we had to get a little more aggressive with him; he would have to move forward.

Without really intending to be all that aggressive, jockey Shaun Bridgmohan had Pyro much closer to the early pace in the Derby than in last months Risen Star. He was sitting a perfect inside trip most of the way, and just when it looked like he was ready to sweep to the lead, the leaders backed the pace down a little, the sweepers swept up on the outside, and the favorite was trapped on the fence. Horse and rider would have to be patient.

Fortunately, a seam opened and Pyro burst through. The result now will be that there will be more 1-2s than 2-1s next to his name in this weeks polls.

Now its up to War Pass to hold serve in next Saturdays Tampa Bay Derby. The better ones are beginning to separate themselves from the group. Now it begins to get really interesting.

Written by John Pricci

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