John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com 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 MSNBC.com, 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, October 02, 2008


Legendary Hall of Fame Riders Deserve Better


Can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before. If I have, forgive the replication, but it’s just so infuriating.

The first time I became aware of the Breeders’ Cup Legends Tour was in an e-mail several months ago announcing the event. I believe I mentioned at the time that it seemed counterproductive for Santa Anita to host the final leg of the tour, an actual race where entries are drawn by lot, on the weekend prior to Breeders’ Cup event days.

Sorry, but this is more than a provincial happening, more than a Breeders’ Cup promotional effort to heighten awareness in the local market to sell whatever tickets might be left, or to burn the dates of Oct. 24 and 25 into the brains of simulcast players everywhere.

The Jockey Legends Tour, brought to you by Breeders’ Cup, my name for the event, is a living history of the sport that’s so much bigger than a mere marketing tool. Jockeys are the thoroughbred racing athletes who walk around on two legs, and speak actual words.

For the love/hate relationship that exists between racing fans and the game’s saddlesmiths--fans do both, sometimes simultaneously and with impunity--fans never seem to ignore them. Even the casual sports fan might get interested in an event like this. In Kentucky, Pat Day is more popular than any horse could ever be.

Yes, it takes riding a lot of favorites to win 4,000 or 5,000 or, incredibly, 10,000 winners. But I apologize again. I’m from the Jockey-as-Pilot School. I'm not the one that relegates them to the role of Jockey-as-Passenger.

The Jockey Legends Tour will have its second stop today at Belmont Park, where several retired Hall of Fame riders among Bailey, Cordero, Day, Hawley, Krone, McCarron, Pincay, Stevens and Vasquez are scheduled to appear.

The Tour began in Boston several days ago. I missed it. And I must have missed the memo, too. Had no idea. And this is my living, such as it is.

I get repetitive e-mail blasts on everything from breeding news to upcoming marketing confabs, which are much appreciated. There’s much to stay on top of in this game. But this was a big deal, one requiring extra effort.

Tomorrow the Tour rolls on to the Meadowlands, Saturday to Laurel and Sunday to Philadelphia Park. The following Thursday and Friday, it stops at Keeneland and Arlington Park. The Tuesday and Wednesday after that, Lone Star Park and Sam Houston, etc., etc.

See the trend here? My question is this: How does racing reap the benefits from this when fans are either at work, or just AWOL, period?

And why wasn’t the Tour announced much, much earlier, when there actually were 2008 budget dollars available for promotion by the tracks as well, where more races between these greats could have been conducted?

Why isn’t the Tour a Saturday and/or Sunday event, maximizing exposure? What if racing held a real special event and nobody came?

Please, someone in authority, comment on this below. Show me the error of my ways. I’ve been wrong before; I work at a disciple in which if I’m wrong two out of three times I’m considered a genius.

The riding legends, among the greatest the game has ever seen, were driven to greatness. This might be a small-handle betting exhibition to some, but don’t try selling that notion to a Cordero, a Bailey.

Of course, there’s an economic component involved for some of the jockeys, but most if not all, I have to believe, want to give something back to the game, want to compete again on some level. I would like to experience them experiencing that. In person. Live.

I can’t be at Belmont Park today. Nor will I be in California the weekend before I’m scheduled to arrive for HRI’s coverage of Breeders’ Cup’s silver anniversary program. I’ll miss the Legends race by a couple of days.

I’m sure I’ll get to see a videotape replay, or something on YouTube, someplace, somewhere. But I won’t be able to go down to the paddock, gauge fan reaction, perhaps even whoop and holler it up myself.

From time to time, it is acknowledged that jockeys don't get their due as athletes. Making dangerous decisions at 40 miles per hour without the luxury of calling a timeout to plot strategy; racing being the only sport in which an ambulance follows people while they perform their day jobs.

Maybe next year--if there is a next year for this event--more fans will be given a better opportunity to see some of the sport’s true greats in action. The fans and Racing Hall of Famers deserve nothing less.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, September 25, 2008


Takeout Keeps Rising Every Day


As a horseplayer, I’ve paid taxes all my life, beginning with my junior year in high school, then college and, finally, as a working professional. It’s called parimutuel takeout. I’m sure I’ve put thousands of children through school. I take pride in that.

Of course, none of this makes me qualified to be an economics wiz--you know, just like our elected friends inside the Beltway. But I’m going to comment on what’s happening these days, anyway.

I never thought I’d be rooting for a measure that, upon wakening some morning in the very near future, I’ll be out seven large.

But you’ve got to spend money to make money, right? But like Congress, both sides, right or wrong, who’ve been drilling the administration’s economic advisers, I want earmarks. Let the FBI figure out what and who went wring. Just give me my piece of the action.

When you go to a racetrack broke and a buddy puts you in action, you share your winnings with the lender. At least that’s what my first crew did, not every time, but often enough.

It’s about camaraderie, a sense that we’re in this battle together, us against the world. It makes both parties feel good about themselves, about being equals, about not being identified solely by the amount of money in your jeans, the kind of thinking that probably got us into this mess in the first place.

Does that, technically, make me a socialist?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with no inclination or special knowledge of racing, by the way, had it right on a weekend talk show when he said it’s a great capitalist society when you‘re making money, but when the ship starts taking on water captains of industry morph into socialistas.

Eventually the pullers of strings will do what they have to and bailout Wall Street. Because like it or not what happens on Wall Street, pardon the expression, trickles down to Main Street.

Heard something on TV about the $700 billion: The fifth largest economy in the world could exist on it.

This whole thing of ours, America, and the rest of the world, needs a safety net. Without an infusion of confidence that real money brings, credit conditions will worsen, the economy could stop in its tracks, housing would collapse further, costing jobs, small-business creation, and it would cut all life-lines to Main Street. It‘s real, so do it.

So I‘ll roll the dice but I want a piece of the action. What, I can only share in the socialism portion of the program? Congress, both sides, can‘t fold, and can’t take on faith what this administration tells it. You only need master handicapping 101 to read those past performances.

I‘ll roll the dice because I have no choice. And if those loans turn out to be any good, give my kids a tax break against all this debt they‘ll be forced to carry. Give them something, anything. This crash will probably cost us some form of health care relief, if that were even real.

So, increase the value of distressed assets, or whatever it is you say you have to do. Keep the student loans and the auto loans and the rest of the economy going.

But don‘t cave on the rest. Show some guts and character in these tough times. Deep-bronze the parachutes. Regulate, Give us real transparency. Trust no one until they earn your trust.

But taxpayers deserve a piece of the action, too. That's the way we used to do it at the track. Besides, they’ve already paid the takeout.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, September 20, 2008


MassCap Weekend Jump-starts Breeders’ Cup Season


Saratoga Springs, NY, September 19,2008--With only five weeks remaining until the silver anniversary of the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park, next Saturday looms very large throughout the country.

With the Jockey Club Gold Cup as the centerpiece of a program that includes no fewer than five Grade 1 events, Belmont Park will provide championship credentials for horses competing in nearly every division.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Breeders’ Cup host track Santa Anita, topped by the Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Stakes, will offer six opportunities for horses to earn a Grade 1 title, not to mention an all important race over the synthetic track which never before has been used for racing, only training.

Santa Anita opens its Oak Tree meet Wednesday.

Finally, the Midwest will be in Breeders’ Cup mode, too, as Turfway Park presents its annual Kentucky Cup program, offering five prep opportunities for Cup aspirants. In addition to the G2 Kentucky Cup Classic at nine furlongs, there are three other graded races, all Grade 3.

But of greater significance could be the chance that Turfway provides Cup runners to prep on synthetic footing. That point could be moot as not all synthetics are created equal. There are four different brands of synthetics, each having its own unique properties, and there even can be a variance, say, from one Polytrack surface to another, given the different atmospherics involved.

But this Saturday is no lost weekend. In Boston, Suffolk Downs is offering the Massachusetts Handicap, a.k.a. the Mass Cap, and it features this year’s Whitney winner, the speedy seven year old gelding Commentator, who appears not to have lost any of his zeal or ability to race at an extremely high level.

Commentator will try to add his name to the roster of Mass Cap winners that includes the legendary Seabiscuit and Cigar, soon to be the second leading earner in thoroughbred history if indeed Curlin has anything to same about it next week in New York.

He’s 3-5 in the early line to get it done and those odds are justified if Equiform performance figures are any measure. There is plenty of speed to spare if he regresses from his Whitney exertions, which came over a track he clearly loves, the site of both career G1s. But given the way he is training and the eight weeks between starts, it won’t be condition that gets him beat.

For those looking to take a shot against the odds on choice, the best chances appear to be Cuba, who earned a new pace top in his latest at Monmouth Park; the oft-interrupted Dr. Pleasure, on the comeback trail and shipping in sharp for John Ward who has pointed his charge carefully toward this, and Riversrunrylee, the best of the locals who earned an excellent figure with his win over the track in June.

Dr. Pleasure, third in last year’s renewal, is the 7-2 second choice. The Mass Cap winner will earn an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The three-year-old division will be in action as well, and that includes males and females. At Louisiana Downs, Jim Dandy winner Macho Again is the 5-2 early line favorite over nine rivals in the half-million dollar G2 at nine furlongs. Ward again will saddle an early line second choice in a major race when he tightens the girth on Forest Command, an impressive Saratoga winner last time out.

The Super Derby is one of six added money in Bossier City today, a 13-race program that includes an all-stakes Pick 4 with a $100,000 guaranteed pool. But the focus will be on Dallas Stewart’s colt, lucky not to fall when he clipped heels in the midst of a between-horses rally in Colonel John’s Travers Stakes. The recently resuscitated Kent Desormeaux replaces Julien Leparoux.

At Philadelphia Park, Alabama winner Proud Spell will be an overwhelming favorite to win the G2 slots-infused $750,000 Fitz Dixon Cotillion Stakes over six rivals. Recently placed in consideration to meet her elders for the first time in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic.

By the Light, a six-time winner in seven career starts, appears her stiffest rival. Whether she runs on October 24 will depend on how she comes out of this race, said her trainer Larry Jones, who’s been working his filly over the synthetic surface at the Fair Hill training facility in preparation for a possible go in the Distaff, er, Ladies Classic.

Written by John Pricci

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