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 01, 2008

California Dreamin’ On a Winter’s Day

If you dont love whats going on this afternoon in Southern California, it may be time to take up a new hobby.

Hows this for a Pick 3? The Grade 3 Sham, featuring the match between El Gato Malo and Colonel John, followed by the G1 Kilroe Mile, War Monger meets Artiste Royal meets Out Of Control, and ending with the 14-horse Santa Anita Handicap?

Considering the past performances, its hard to envision Colonel John stopping El Gato Malos undefeated streak. If it happens at all, it would more likely would be in the G1 Santa Anita Derby when both colts should be at or near tops.

The Colonel has missed some training due to the inclement weather and that will make it extra difficult for him to overcome Malos tactical and conditioning advantages. That, or he just might be as talented, period. Coast Guard is not as accomplished right now but is developing beautifully. Regardless of which colt wis it, the Sham is sure to be instructive.

The Kilroe is usually a competitive beauty and never is easily won. This edition doesnt figure to change that. War Monger is very sharp, having won as the overbet favorite on the Sunshine Millions program. But his PPs indicate that he wants more than eight furlongs. However, hes sharp enough, owns a good one-mile figure, and if the pace is hot enoughwell, you know the rest.

Out of Control has not started since winning the G2 Oak Tree Mile last fall. But this is Bobby Frankel were talking about here. With him, often times the longer the layoff, the better. Frankel is a profitable 28 percent efficient with lay-ups of 90 days or more. The five-year-old is training purposefully and regular rider Michael Baze has the mount. Frankel's other runner, Storm Military, has attracted Gomez and, like War Monger, is a "now" horse and merits respect.

Artiste Royal also appears to want more ground. But this is Neil Drysdale were talking about here. Under the trainers care, Artiste Royal was classy enough to defeat the remarkable old pro The Tin Man in the G1 Clement Hirsch on this course last fall. He has not started since the Japan Cup. Did we mention it was Drysdale tightening the girth?

Finally, and I know Ive said this before, only this time I mean it: No more last chances for Tiago. Hes making his third start off a layoff. Hes coming up to the distance perfectly. He has a favorable draw and plenty of speed drawn outside to set the table for his late kick. Hes worked very well three times since the Strub. Today must be the day.

Standing in his way, among many others, is Go Between, an impressive winner of the Sunshine Millions Classic over the track; Awesome Gem, G1-placed last year and third to Curlin in the Breeders Cup Classic, and the super sharp Monterey Jazz. All figure to be formidable rivals.

But you can decide all this for yourself. The sequence begins with todays seventh race from the Great Race Place.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

For Pyro, Two’s Company

All eyes, including those of trainer Steve Asmussen, will be on Horse of the Year Curlin Thursday morning EST as he preps against five rivals for the Dubai World Cup under 132 pounds and regular partner Robby Albarado.

Not a bad treat for the final Thursday of February.

But soon comes March and April and May, especially May, when Saturdays loom largest. And none of this was lost on Asmussen last weekend in New Orleans.

At his Fair Grounds winter base, Asmussen was putting some final touches on a few of his 2008 three-year-olds, the would-be Curlins of this Triple Crown season.

The would-be Half-as-Good-as-Curlin might be something Asmussen would accept. That might be good enough this time around. Its why they run races, to find out.

Pyro is, of course, Asmussens Great Dark Bay Hope, and apparently an unusual horse, too. It takes an unusual racehorse to win the Risen Star in a hopelessly-beaten-one-minute-to-electrifying-the-next fashion.

Pyros unusual in another manner: He works in the company of stablemates to relax, and thats not quite by the book. Company works commonly are designed to pick up the head of lethargic workers, bring out their competitive juices.

Not Pyro. Company helps him settle down. Go figure.

But thats a good thing, obviously. In a previous work, a loose horse on the Fair Grounds racetrack got the Louisiana Derby favorite all stirred up. But in the company of workmate Zanjero, Pyro breezed through six furlongs in 1:14, nice and easy.

The tack worked so well that Asmussen will return to the same playbook, this time choosing a different sacrificial lamb, for a workout scheduled for next Monday.

And theres more bad news for Asmussens rivals, too. Z Fortune, the winner of the Risen Star had Pyro not dropped into the race at the eighth pole, is becoming more athletic, maturing at the right time. Getting lighter on his feet, the trainer said in published reports.

Z Fortune will try Denis Of Cork, among others, in the Rebel Stakes a fortnight from now at Oaklawn Park, a track where it can pay to be light on your feet. Getting out of Pyros long shadow probably helps, too.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Curlin’s Desert Prep Doesn’t Make Sense

Horse of Year Curlin will begin defense of that title tomorrow with a prep race for the $6-million Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba Race Course.

Trainer Steve Asmussen was masterful in his handling of last years three-year-old dual titlist. Indeed, he had the goods to work with, but thats not always a guarantor of success. In 2007, Steve Asmussen hit all the high notes.

But I dont understand shipping the colt half way around the world just for a prep race over the track. The Nad Al Sheba surface never has beaten any of Americas big horses before according to their trainers at the time. What makes Asmussen think that the surface might defeat Curlin on March 29?

Perhaps he doesnt want to be second guessed. Curlins principal owner, Jess Jackson, is doing a sporting thing, not a money thing, running Curlin at 4. Maybe the trainer figures he needs to do everything by the old school handbook; getting a race over the track whenever possible.

But this time that doesnt make sense. What could be a better surface than Fair Grounds to prepare a horse to run on the moon if its trainer wanted?

Why, after a horse becomes acclimated, is it advisable to stay in a foreign climate longer than necessary, risking the old "second-start climate bounce?" Of course, bounces don't happen in every case. But it happens often enough to horses that ship, especially over long distances.

The worst of it is that Curlin must spot five rivals 15 pounds while under a staggering 132 over the about-distance of a mile and a quarter under lights in the desert. He will be facing outclassed rivals, perhaps, but thats not a given.

Hell be meeting a strong recent winner over the track, and facing an entrant from the remarkable Mike de Kock shedrow, an outfit thats been winning everything in sight over there.

I understand; theres a $6-million rainbow at the end of this prep road. But if youre thinking this will be akin to, say, the conditions under which another of last years champions, War Pass, made his return last weekend, youd be mistaken. And so would Mr. Asmussen. There is, after all, the remainder of the season to consider.

Written by John Pricci

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