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, February 16, 2008

Sam F Davis Tops Slow Weekend for Derby Hopefuls

Not a whole lot going on to entice most Triple Crown Saturday warriors, but the Sam F Davis is very interesting. It marks the return of Z Humor, which gets Bill Mott started on the road to Louisville. He is the 9-5 early line favorite and Garrett Gomez, who continues to shop for a Derby mount, comes cross-country for the ride.

Nick Zito, back on the Derby Trail in a big way this season, will start Fierce Wind, a runaway winner at Calder and Gulfstream in both recent starts. He recently worked a half mile for this in :49 2/5, termed breezing, at Palm Meadows.

The work was the second fastest of 77 three-year-olds to work the distance that week at the Magna training center. But turning back from nine furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth vs. faster, and tougher, stock will not be easy.

Three others of interest are Big Truck (6-1) for Barclay Tag and Eibar Coa, Smooth Air (9-2) for Calder-based Bennie Stutts and Manoel Cruz and a third sharp Calder worker, the underrated Wise Answer (4-1)..

Big Truck was a promising juvenile last year but a major disappointment in the Grade 2 Hutcheson in his seasons debut. He figures to benefit from that experience, however, and todays added distance suits as well.

Hutch winner Smooth Air will try two turns for the first time. While not stoutly bred, hes got enough pedigree to get the trip, and has enough speed, class and heart to seal the deal. Throw in a pair of hot locals and youve got a pretty damn good prep for the Tampa Derby, Mar. 15. David Brownlee's Wise Answer earned an excellent figure at this distance three back and could prove the betting value here, breaking from the pole beneath talented Jose Lezcano.

The associate feature, for fillies and mares on the turf, is the mile and a sixteenth G3 Endeavour, which marks the seasons debut of both turf specialist and 2006 juvenile champion Dreaming of Anna, and the G1 Alabama runnerup and Gazelle winner Lears Princess, who is 2-for-2 on turf. Several top Gulfstream riders are shipping north for the afternoon.

The other featured event for three-year-olds is extremely low profile, the Borderland Derby at Sunland Park. Two strong local outfits, those of Henry Dominguez and Chris Hartman, will have starters in the five-horse field. But expect Steve Asmussens Poni Colada (8-5) and Doug ONeills No Jeopardy (5-2) to view for favoritism and the major share of the $100,000 purse.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

On Balance, Pool Waters Run Shallow

Some interesting results with the release of final odds for Kentucky Derby Futures Pool I. In general, its too bad that racing limits itself in what they offer in the pari-mutuels due to a lack of investment to improve outdated software.

Its not like everyone in the business is losing money.

Anyway, a few observations on a few of the Top 23 that jumped out at us re: their closing odds. Remember that all this is relative. These are futures were talking about, and the format under which the wagering is conducted is flawed:

Blackberry Road at 47-1. Admittedly might be a tad below very top class. But he never stops trying to finish, even when he has nowhere to run. His troubled trip in the Risen Star was overshadowed by Pyros performance. Check it out, then place him on your personal horses-to-watch list.

Colonel John at 19-1. Like this colt a lot. He has class, talent and Derby style. But this seems like an underlay in light of recent inactivity.

Court Vision at 15-1. Love this colt (see 2007 Remsen Stakes) and could not be in better hands than Bill Motts. But another lacking recent activity although he does appear close to his seasons debut. Underlay.

Denis Of Cork at 47-1. If I werent otherwise distracted this weekend, might have taken a flyer here, but a small one. Hasnt proven anything yet except for boundless potential. Price is acceptable.

Monba at 16-1. We like him, and we know exactly where his fans are coming from. But at this price hes a Pool 1 underlay.

Pyro at 5-1. After the Risen Star, this is the price you knew hed be. With no-little SportsCenter types saying hes the Derby favorite, value is a thing of the past. In light of the way this pool is conducted, price is probably correct. But recall that Street Sense was 5-1 on Derby day.

Tale of Ekati at 33-1. Everybody fell in love with his Belmont Futurity and why not? But is he a true distance horse? Considering he will have only two Derby preps, the price is about right, but a bit light in our view.

Yankee Bravo at 48-1. Beat questionable competition on synthetic tracks, but I find it difficult to knock undefeated horses with his kind of acceleration. Might prove to be a real Pool 1 bargain.

War Pass at 6-1. You just knew that Pyro would become the now horse after his wow effort in the Risen Star, but he hasn't gotten close to this guy yet. Distance questions notwithstanding, the champs a square price.

All Others at 3-1. A 25 percent chance that the Derby winner is not included in the Top 23? Seems reasonable.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

For Now, Fifteen Minutes Will Have To Be Enough

NEW HAVEN, Feb. 12, 2008--In this tech age of information overload, handicappers will tell you its about the decisions you make with the data that counts.

Going into the final day of the Sports Haven Handicapping Challenge, where the drill was to turn $50 into the highest dollar amount among 252 contestants, I had $30 in my account and limited options. The leader won over $300 the day before despite a seemingly endless procession of winning favorites.

There was no need to panic but I had to put myself in a position to compete, hopefully sooner rather than later. First post for the first of five contest tracks, Tampa Bay Downs, was 12:25 p.m. I wouldnt think about my first play until 1:26, post time for Aqueducts third race.

I needed to be right--at the right price. Why should contest day be different than any other day spent at the races?

I figured Id take two or three shots with my $30. Hopefully, the racing gods would smile and the odds such that Id get value for my dollar and do some damage. I kept remembering what HRIs Cary Fotias said on the phone earlier that morning: Some of the best bets turn out to be the hardest ones to make.

Thats especially true when trying to focus on 48 races over a six-hour period, keeping one eye on the tote board, the second on the leader board, and a third on your handicapping soul. I hadnt played in one of these for some time.

Two horses looked interesting as an opening salvo. One was an 8-1 shot at Aqueduct; a seven-horse field featuring a likely overbet Gary Contessa favorite. The New York crowd tends to overbet favorites, especially those from hot barns. And New Yorks leading trainer has twice as many wins as number two. The other runner was a somewhat hidden horse-for-course at Tampa, at 15-1.

High On Freud came from a good barn, Tom Bushs, showed a new top-pace figure in his last race, was making his maiden claiming debut, switching to Alan Garcia with three purposeful works since his recent start. It sure looked like go day and, furthermore, speed from the inside won both ends of the early double.

On the first flash, the overbet Contessa morning line favorite opened at a cool 3-1. Early second favorite Karakorum Playmate (3-1) opened at 2-1, and High On Freud opened at 4-1. This was understandable: Karakorum would probably drift up, Contessas My Luckey Penney would probably get hammered down, and Freud would probably drift up, too. After all, he had been 10th and last in his debut, beaten by 22.

I was ready to place my first bet. But with post time five minutes away, Freud went from 4-1 to 3-1, then 5-2. What the hell am I supposed to do now?

I waited for Freud to drift back up. But after a return to 3-1 he went back down to 5-2. Not only was he poor value but was now an underlay. The decision was easy: Pasadena. After taking a clear lead following a tardy break, High On Freud stopped to a walk at the as a 2-1 choice. I dodged a bullet as Contessas horse got up on the line at an inflated 5-2.

As I was contemplating my next move, and considered calling for the check, I turned to the Tampa feed in time for the fourth race. Balanced Attack opened at 25-1. Obviously, this would be my first play of the day. I double-checked the past performances.

I didnt know low percentage trainer Hector Guerra but he was 1-for-4 for at the meet and was in-the-money with his only double-class dropdown. Jockey Irwin Rosendo was a solid 12% and was riding the 4-year-old back eight days after his return from an October layup. But all that was icing on the PPs cake. Not only did one of three lifetime wins come at Tampa but his best Equiform figures came sprinting over the Oldsmar track.

Balanced Attack, whose claiming price was cut in half at $8,000, was holding steady at 25-1 until 10 minutes to post when he went down to 15-1 in one flash. Now the win pools at Tampa are small, especially that far from post time. But it was encouraging to see a little action and, instead of going lower, he drifted back up to 20-1, then ticked down to 19, then back to 20-1. Up-and-down money on a longshot in the middle of a betting cycle is always noteworthy.

I got up and bet $10 contest dollars, and a few pocket dollars to win, too. By the time I returned to the table the horses were at the gate and Balanced Attack was 25-1.

After a contested pace, Rosendo got Balanced Attack in high gear, the momentum carrying him eight wide into stretch. But horse and rider kept persevering, getting up in the final strides. Balanced Attacked had drifted again, paid $62 straight, and the name Pricci, J. was second on the leader board, $4 from the leader.

I turned to my wife Toni and, recalling the final scene from a little 1972 gem called The Candidate, in which Robert Redford, the newly elected Senator Bill McKay, turned to his campaign manager and silently mouthed: What do we do now?

Fifteen minutes later I was atop the leader board with $334.80 in earnings. Since every contestant had to wager $2 on at least 10 races each day, I went back to the window and bet $2 to show on nine short-priced horses I thought would win but would never play because of short odds.

I made some $10 and $20 contest wagers, caught a few winners in the 4-1 range and remained in the top five until finally, with four bettable races remaining, leaders emerged with totals doubling and tripling mine. With $300 in my bankroll I decided to bet all four races, looking for fair odds on logical horses and hopefully make a winning parlay. I lost the first three bets.

But I had liked the final contest race, the 7th at Santa Anita, from early morning. I preferred Foxysox, a classy, deep-closing turn-back going down the hill. She was no cinch. In fact, four or five fillies figured very well but I thought she would be fair odds in a big field, even as the early line favorite. Might be 4-1, maybe a little higher.

I was, I think, 16th, a spot that would guarantee automatic seeding into the next CTOTB tournament at the Bradley teletheater, when the weather would be a lot warmer. Believing that 4-1 was a real possibility and that a pace meltdown loomed, I structured a ticket to cover all possibilities.

With $225 left, I bet $150 win, $25 place, $50 show on Foxysox: A win gets me a top three finish, an outside chance to win, and a berth in the National Handicapping Championship. Place would get me a likely Top 10 finish and a money prize in addition to my contest earnings. Show is good for a Top 20 finish and admission to Bradley.

Coming from seventh at headstretch, Foxysox was a fast-closing third, beaten about a half length, and galloped out in front on the turn. There was no pace meltdown. The filly ran great. Of the other four contenders I considered, one finished second.

Joe Perry, a 48-year-old Wall Street compliance manager, won his fifth handicapping contest and first at Sports Haven. He played Sunday brilliantly. With $46 in his late-day bankroll, he essentially parlayed a $4.40 winner, Clerpark in the 7th at Gulfstream, onto Payback, the $18.60 winner of the Tampa finale, bringing his bankroll to $976.50. He then bet $2 show on place finisher Rockella, who held Foxysox safe, at the finish of Santa Anitas seventh.

Some days you walk out of the racetrack winning a few dollars and feeling like a real jerk. Some days you win a little, maybe even lose a few bucks, but are satisfied you made good decisions. At the end of the day, thats all a horseplayer can ask.

Written by John Pricci

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