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, January 20, 2008

Saturday Roundup: Of Classy Youngsters and Old Pros

The Colts Got Class: After watching yesterdays seventh race at the Fair Grounds for newly turned three-year-olds going a mile and 40 yards, its hard to know whether Denis Of Cork is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby. But whatever happens from this point forward, know this: Denis Of Cork is a very good colt.

As opposed to his debut, where he lagged behind the field and looped them all going seven furlongs, he broke sharply from post six of seven, with a very short run to the first turn.

Calvin Borel never had a chance to save ground, so he didnt. He allowing the son of Harlans Holiday to settle off a dawdling pace in the middle of the sloppy Fair Grounds track.

So, four across the track he raced throughout his second lifetime start. Borel asked for winning speed approaching headstretch, the colts momentum carrying him out even wider. Horses usually chuck it at this point, especially young ones, but not Denis. The momentum carried him to even terms with the leaders, where the stretch battle began.

Second choice Unbridled Vicar emerged from between horses and it looked as if his softer trip would prove the difference. It didnt. Borel began scrubbing Denis right-handed and they edged away in the final strides.

All this off a hungry pace of :25.32, :49.89, 1:14.50 and 1:40.37. The final time was 1:42.83. Some observers might be discouraged that he wasnt more dominant. Not me. He answered a big question yesterday. The colts got class.

Evening Attire Just Never Stops Trying: Before thinking that Evening Attire has lost a step to age--now that hes no longer a nine-year-old--did you see him finish yesterday?

No, he didnt win the mile and a sixteenth Aqueduct Handicap, but his class and courage got him a runnerup finish behind a talented, back-in-form Angliana.

The old boy was running good early on, after his usual slow start. Down the backside he was in the bridle, but well behind a solid pace set by dueling Pink Viper and Judiths Wild Rush. The pace battle did them both in and Angliana was in the best spot to take advantage.

And it all happened so fast. Just when it appeared Judiths Wild Rush opened what looked like an insurmountable lead, having disposed of Pink Viper, here comes Angliana to grind the leader down for the scroe.

The co-pacesetter was the likely runnerup at that point but the big gray just kept chugging. Angled off the inside by Ramon Dominguez, the 10-year-old found his best stride and willed his way forward, nailing Judiths Wild Rush right on the line.

Even in defeat, he gives you a show.

Tagg May Have Second Derby Horse: Its been acknowledged that Barclay Tagg has a classy three-year-old named Tale Of Ekati on the Derby trail. Yesterday at Gulfstream Park he might have found another.

Elysium Fields shot through on the fence approaching headstretch, took command soon after straightening away, and widened his margin at the finish beneath Eibar Coa. The bad news is that it was his first win in for tries. The good news is that it came in his first start at nine furlongs.

Elysium Fields should have won his Florida debut at Calder but suffered a wide-throughout journey breaking from the extreme outside in a field of 10. He was much luckier yesterday, sitting behind a contested pace and saving ground. Once he opened a clear lead, he was gone.

By El Prado from the Silver Hawk mare, Dreams, hell run all the way to 10 furlongs and beyond. The question is whether he can get there fast enough.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Race and Horse to Watch at Fair Grounds

The feature race for me today doesnt have a name. The seventh race at the Fair Grounds is a preliminary allowances for three-year-olds at a mile and 40 yards.

As a self-described wiseguy, I use the term feature race to describe my best value play of the day. Not this time. The value I would get is nonexistent and the colt is no cinch given the race dynamics. Unless hes as special as I think he might be.

Denis of Cork is quite possibly my Derby horse. Other wiseguys know all about him. After today he might even break into the bottom of some Top Ten Derby lists you see around. Or he could disappear completely. Thats the thing about developing young stock.

Before getting to Denis, I was interested to see this week that Nick Zito plans to bring out certain juvenile champion War Pass in Florida next month, then take the Street Sense path to Tampa. After that, the Wood, then hopefully on to Louisville. Sounds like a perfect schedule.

The 2007 two-year-old that impressed as The Juvenile Most Likely to Succeed in Louisville on Mays First Saturday was Remsen winner Court Vision. Havent even seen his name on the work tab yet. Hes probably with Bill Mott at Payson Park, 90 minutes up I-95 from Gulfstream Park. I assume the Hall of Famer has a plan.

Denis of Cork (5-2) will break from the disadvantageous 7 post in a field of eight, with a short run to the first turn. Post probably wont matter. Hes likely to just fall out of there and Calvin will take him straight to the fence. From there, his Derby education will begin.

Havent seen the Equiform figures and cant make an educated guess about his chances until I do. On paper its clear the Mott-trained Hes The Commander (4-1) should be, and will be, the likely favorite, unless the crowd overbets Denis.

The Commander has a tactical speed edge, a better post, the benefit of a winning race over the track, and Robby Albarado continues to win both big and easy.

Like we said before (Jan 4, 2008 HRI archives), Denis Of Cork might be very special. His debut victory was among the most impressive weve ever seen. (You can see for yourself, CD, Nov. 6th race). Moreover, it came at seven-eighths over the Derby track and he did it the right way, increasing his tempo with every stride.

He broke his maiden with a dramatic 5-path sweep. Lets see what Borel does with him today around a second turn. Im not likely to be betting, just watching. Either way, its the race Im looking forward to most. Check him out for yourself. It might be worth it.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lies, Damn Lies, and Handle Figures

At first blush, the news that betting handle in 2007 remained virtually flat--down 0.37% from the previous year--is not welcome news.

Betting on thoroughbreds had reached a high-water mark in 2003, but has fallen 3% since, and thats not encouraging, obviously.

And it was a heady time for racing, too, then and since. Starting with the Triple Crown bids of Funny Cide and Smarty Jones, the improbable Giacomo beating the popular Afleet Alex, and the pre-and-post Barbaro phenomenon, racing was back on the publics radar.

But racinos, even if they arent the home run they were forecasted to be--except in Pennsylvania, where theyve been hitting it out of the park--is a concept that clearly has helped.

In addition to helping feed various state coffers, purses rose 5.5% last year; not insignificant. At least horsemen havent been killed by the shortfall that saw betting handle go from $15.1 billion in 2003 to $14.7 billion in 2007.

The fact that the total number of racing dates declined by 0.82% also must be factored in to lend context. Clearly that helps to further understand the declining handle.

Alan Marzelli, CEO of the Jockey Club and Equibase, was quoted in a Bloodhorse story lamenting a lack of proper cooperative technology to measure why the 2003 handle sky has been falling. He wondered if it was leakage, wagering dollars going off shore, or people betting on other sports.

The latter would be the worst of all scenarios. Why would anyone stop gambling on an intellectual game that really pays well when you win, as opposed to picking 52.5% on King Football just to break even?

Or, worse, fears that bettors are rejecting horse racings product.

Marzelli said he couldnt speculate on the effect of signal wars. He probably meant he wouldnt speculate. But I can. Its a case of needy/greedy bet-takers signing exclusive agreements with needy/greedy racetrack operators.

Another case of racing reaping what it sows instead of allowing the marketplace decide. Having the marketplace decide would have resulted in better customer service. What a concept! Customer service!

The sloppy Monmouth track didnt help all-sources handle that was down $29 million despite three additional Breeders Cup races spread over two days.

It didnt help that Advanced Deposit Wagering platforms werent made readily available to all bettors until the 11th hour prior to the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup. Nor was it good for the bottom line when TVG and were completely shut out of the Derby betting market.

(We wont know how we will be able to compare this years Derby to 2007 because Churchill Downs Inc. no longer wants you to see their handle figures anymore, at any of their tracks).

The point of all this it that somehow purses went up while handle went down. Thats not just counterintuitive, its crazy. And now that the ADW situation is trending toward the elimination of exclusive agreements, handle figures to grow this year over 2007.

So 2008 might not be such a bad year after all. Who knew?

Written by John Pricci

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