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, March 08, 2008

Lots of Support for Louisiana Derby Card

In support of the Louisiana Derby are five added-money events, three of them graded. Circular Quay, last years Louisiana Derby winner, makes his second start as a 4-year-old for Todd Pletcher versus, among others, Travers runnerup Grasshopper, impressive winner of the G3 Mineshaft over the track Feb. 9.

There is reason to believe that both New Orleans Handicap favorites will run well. Circular Quay comes back on three weeks rest after he was given an obvious prep run sprinting at Santa Anita. Now he returns to the surface over which he had run his second fastest race as a three-year-old. The long Fair Grounds stretch suits him very well.

Whether that lone sprint will be enough to handle Grasshopper is another matter. As a three-year-old, Neil Howards colt gave Street Sense all he could handle in Saratogas Midsummer Derby and, following the Super Derby, was recycled, returning to Fair Grounds where he won his return by bursting through a hole on the inside in deep stretch to win impressively. His turn of foot was much more electric than at any time last year.

The G2 Fair Grounds Oaks is a virtual match, and rematch, of the 1-2 finishers in last months G3 Silverbulletday, in which juvenile champion Indian Blessing remained undefeated by holding Proud Spell safe in the final sixteenth. The beauty of the champions race is in the eye of the beholder.

It appeared that Garrett Gomez got the speedy filly to settle the best she could, considering her freshness, and she did hang on gamely to withstand Proud Spell after perhaps losing some focus down the long Fair Grounds straight.

Indian Blessing should be tighter here, like most Bob Baffert trainees in their third start off a layup, as should Proud Spell, who made a strong run for second in the Silverbulletday with improved energy distribution. But will she again play the Pyro to the champs War Pass, as runnerup for a third time? Good question.

In the G2 Mervin Muniz Memorial, Daytona will attempt to make it five straight. The young Indian Ridge gelding took the G3 Fair Grounds Handicap in his course debut after being allowed his own easy way in front. Hell be tested here, and will start from the extreme outside in a field of 10. Daytona could be a budding star.

In addition to his daunting position, the Muniz waters get deeper, too. Brilliant, Jazz Quest and Twilight Meteor all have done their best racing at nine furlongs, and each figures to be set for their best. Further, Proudinsky is working well for Bobby Frankel and ships East with Gomez in the boot.

Barclay Tagg, a turf ace with a reputation for getting horses to win off the bench, will saddle Fracas, a lightly raced Irish-bred six-year-old who was group placed in Europe and will be getting Lasix for the first time. The history of the Muniz is that its seldom easily won. That seems to be the case once again.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Kentucky Derby Futures Pool Runs Deep

I dont care much for the parimutuel version of Futures pools. The wager as offered is another example of how the racing industry, whose lifeblood is wagering, doesnt do enough; offering the kind of variety that at once generates added interest for the player and helps grow the bottom line.

However, racing fans will line up beginning this afternoon, through Sunday, and wager for two reasons: Its still fun, given the bragging rights quotient, and anything named Kentucky Derby sells.

Poring over the list released Tuesday, heres a few thought associations that hit me like a V-8 as I considered the chances of some logical contenders, listed alphabetically, with Americas Race still 58 days away:

Blackberry Road (30-1) The only way 30-1 will be available Sunday night is if he runs badly in the Louisiana Derby, which I dont expect. But he could have yet another bad trip and run sneaky good. Given his distance pedigree, these odds might be worth a gamble.

Colonel John (12-1) That price would be fair, even this far out, even given the slow-paced Sham and the lack of a dirt prep prior to Derby day. But any lower--and I like this colt--would be folly.

Denis Of Cork (15-1) Given that he will not run until next week--and I love this horse--the odds, given his lack of seasoning, are a joke. The time to jump in was Pool 1, when 46-1 was available.

Elysium Fields (15-1) Loved his Fountain of Youth placing, and he has the right connections, but heres another promising colt that lacks seasoning. Need twice the price. Underlay.

Georgie Boy (20-1) Might have enough bottom-side pedigree to get him a distance of ground. Ten furlongs is a very long way but sometimes the Derby plays out like nine furlongs plus one. He has juvenile foundation and proven class. The odds are fair.

Majestic Warrior (20-1) The price is a tough read here. Obviously has talent but likely to have only two preps. Saturdays Louisiana Derby debut had better be a good one.

Pyro (6-1) If he wins the Louisiana Derby in any fashion similar to the Risen Star, hell be shorter still. Given that War Pass is still out there, hes an underlay, even if 6-1 were still available.

Tale Of Ekati (30-1) Like Majestic Warrior, he makes his debut in Louisiana and, like stablemate Elysium Fields, has the right connections. Something like a strong-finish fourth might be enough for these odds to hold. If they do, hes worth a flyer on dosage alone.

War Pass (5-1) If he keeps doing what hes done, 5-1 might be a bargain on Derby day. But with this much time remaining, thats a big if. I have a rule to never accept single-digit futures odds. Not even on the Yankees.

Yankee Bravo (30-1) Undefeated in three starts (two on turf, one synthetic), he was very impressive winning the California Derby. Like Tale Of Ekati, a strong-finish fourth or fifth in Louisiana could ensure this price, or higher. Might be worth a flyer.

All Other Three-Year-Olds (10-1) If the Peruvian wonder horse, Tomcito, proves the real deal, and yesterdays preliminary allowances winner at Gulfstream Park, Big Brown, keeps developing, 10-1 on this entry alone could be a bargain.

Written by John Pricci

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Time for Louisiana Derby to Become a Nine-Furlong Grade 1 Event

A terrific supporting card, including three Grade 2 stakes and several overnight stakes, will accompany Fair Grounds showcase event, the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby to be run on Saturday.

The entire card has been drawn, but more on all the races this coming Saturday in this space. What Id prefer to concentrate on instead is the mile and a sixteenth Louisiana Derby.

And therein lies the rub: The mile and a sixteenth Louisiana Derby.

The Louisiana Derby is a storied event and the highlight of the always-entertaining Fair Grounds meet. You would think that with its history and roster of winners it would be a Grade 1 by now.

I wonder if the graded stakes committee takes the distance into consideration when it awards grades each year. They will say it doesnt, but I wonder.

The spring preps on racings major circuits all conclude with 9-furlong events. Were talking Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby, Illinois Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass and Wood Memorial here. Isnt it about time Fair Grounds, now under the Churchill Downs flag, lengthen its premier prep to a mile and an eighth?

Time was when the Fair Grounds was only considered a stepping stone to a final Derby prep. Its scheduling on the docket likely will insure its position as a penultimate prep. But it could be a great spot for a coming out party for two-prep trainers.

Now, even the Sham Stakes and Fountain of Youth are a mile and an eighth. Theres no compelling reason preventing the Louisiana Derby from being one, too.

There are other considerations. With the Fair Grounds becoming a more popular alternative to Florida as a winter base in recent years, the Risen Star has grown in significance.

Because of its place on the calendar and its mile and a sixteenth distance, the Risen Star has become a great spot for a seasons debut. (See Pyro). But it can lead to something more significant. Lengthening the Louisiana Derby to 9 furlongs accomplishes that and it could make the Risen Star even more popular.

With training schedules trending more toward two-prep campaigns, two 9-furlong races seem more desirable than two preps where one is shorter in distance, even if it is a natural distance progression from one to another.

Theres a third consideration, too. Im not sure that belly-to-belly mile and a sixteenth prep races accomplishes or proves anything not already known. And perhaps theres even a fourth: the City of New Orleans deserves not only a 9-furlong Derby prep but a Grade 1 event that can stand on its own.

Written by John Pricci

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