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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Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Two Racetrack Lifers Finally Win One


The clich is that the wheels of justice grind slowly. Not so in the states case against two NYRA clerks of the scales, one of whom just happened to ride a Kentucky Derby winner and was inducted into Racing's Hall of Fame 31 years ago.

In their case, those wheels crept and crawled and lurched and went nowhere.

It was as if as long as Braulio Baeza and Mario Sclafani were out there as examples, somehow corruption was being rooted out. The state ordered monitor raided Aqueduct while conducting an investigation of alleged wrongdoing at the New York Racing Association. While high level executives left town aboard parachutes made of gold, investigators had their sacrificial lambs.

NYRA was found guilty of knowingly allowing two handsful of mutuel clerks to use horseplayer's betting money for their personal needs. Subsequently, the clerks were found guilty of tax evasion and money laundering. Prosecution of NYRA in this case was deferred.

But not in the case of Baeza and Sclafani, who lost their jobs three years ago, not long after they were charged on 291 felony counts of allowing jockeys to ride from seven to 15 pounds overweight, by definition, tampering with a sporting event.

Yesterday those charges were dropped for lack of evidence. A representative of the Toledo Scale Co. testified that scales were calibrated only up to 115 pounds, with a margin of error of one pound. Consequently, Saratoga County Court Judge Jerry Scarano agreed that the state failed to prove its case.

Sclafani has been working part time since the charges were first made. Baeza has been unemployed, although his son, Braulio Jr., who works for the NYRA, was promoted from an internal departmental job to the steward's stand. Many found this to be not coincidental.

These men now can get on with their lives. But the last three years are gone to them forever. So, what happened to the man in the state attorney generals office who originally leveled those charges? In case you havent been following this story, that man became governor of New York State.


Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Has Rags to Riches Run Her Last?


Would any racing fan truly be surprised if it turns out that Rags to Riches has run her last?

They shouldnt. I know I wont be.

If thats what happens, that would be too bad. A filly who beats colts, a filly who shaves, doesnt come along in this country very often.

Maybe no one should be surprised by what happened in the Gazelle.

The filly has been trying to tell us something for the past three months, something that, when I asked Todd Pletcher a question about early one morning last month in Saratoga, it should have made me surmise something might still be amiss.

So, did you figure out what happened? I asked, following Pletcher on foot as he rode off behind a set he was sending out from his barn over to the Oklahoma track for training.

Theres nothing to figure out, he said.

Oh.

It certainly was nothing to figure out from radiographs, nothing that several pairs of examining veterinarian eyes could see, nothing that the games most dominant trainer whos won Eclipse Awards the last three years could find.

Maybe the filly cant figure it out, either. But she certainly has been telling us something these past three months.

Workouts dont abort themselves. Fevers dont spike for no reason.

Because sometimes things happen to even the most robust racehorses, especially a filly stout enough to look a classic-winning colt in the eye for the final two furlongs of a grueling marathon and outfinish him with a final quarter-mile of less than 24 seconds.

A hairline fracture of the right foreleg is not a career ending injury. With sufficient time and good care, it will heal itself completely. Rags to Riches figures to get plenty of both.

Or just maybe this case is different. Maybe theres something that technology and trained eyes cannot see, cannot figure out. All thats left to consider is the evidence.

The aborted workout, the spiked fevers. You may not be able to see it, but the body certainly was saying something.

That something manifested itself once the Belmont Stakes winner was put under pressure by a talented rival of her own sex, one that would be undefeated in six starts herself if not for falling short in two races by a total three-quarters of one length.

Rags to Riches changed leads awkwardly when challenged, over to her right leg, the one with the mushy looking ankle. But she kept trying, unable to re-seize the winning momentum.

Trained eyes that watched her in the Gazelle could only surmise one thing: She needed her first start in 98 days, physically and mentally.

As it turned out maybe she needed more time, putting more distance between her first race back after running that final quarter mile of the mile-and-a-half Belmont in under 24 seconds.

No one could see it, but she was trying to tell us something, in her training, in her stall and, ultimately, last Saturday on the racetrack.

The classy winner that she beat in the Belmont, looked like no world beater himself in his next start last month at Monmouth Park. To many, it looked like Curlin needed his race, too.

Or on Haskell day was Curlin, too, trying to tell us something?

But hes been training steadily since then for his next start, the prep that will take him back to Monmouth for a chance to regain some of his tarnished stature.

Rags to Riches will not be going to Monmouth Park, however. Her season ended in the Gazelle, completing a body of work that will carry her to a divisional title no matter what happens for the rest of this month and next.

Because you shouldnt lose a job, or a title, because of an injury, no matter what Lady Joanne and Lears Princess do.

It turned out that some of racings best practitioners, and the latest technology, couldnt figure anything out. The man who knows her best said there was nothing to figure out.

But there was. And Rags to Riches has been telling us that for the last three months.

Someday shell tell us when she wants to resume her career. Only no one should be shocked if she doesnt.


Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, September 15, 2007


Rags to Riches Might Have Lost More Than the Gazelle


Elmont, NY--On a wet drive south from Saratoga, I was trying to remember whether the Belle of Belmont, a.k.a. Rags to Riches, had ever run on a sloppy or muddy track.

So, I called a friend shortly after 8 a.m. and she told me it rained so hard on Long Islands Gold Coast Friday night that it woke her up.

Then I thought, why worry? Track superintendent John Fast Track Passero (you can actually hear that reference on his voice mail) will take care of everything.

No sweat: The track would be hard sealed and rolled Friday after the races. With any luck at all it could be fast by post time for the ninth race.

Hell, it was fast for the opener.

But even if it hadnt been, a review of the Belles past performances belied any anxiety. I had forgotten. She won the Kentucky Oaks by nearly five in the mud at Churchill Downs.

That was a relief but its not like there wasnt cause for concern.

Because after making history in the Belmont Stakes, she hadnt been seen under tack in the afternoon since, what with aborted workouts, spiked fevers, schedule changes and the like.

And its not like Todd Pletcher has been very forthcoming on the subject of her health, either.

The reason why shes so important is precisely because shes a she. Darley and/or Godolphin has bought most of the good three-year-old boys. They even tried to buy iron colt Teuflesberg, but trainer Jamie Sanders really didnt want to sell. That cooled the would-be buyers.

So, at least we can look forward to watching him run a dozen or more times next year, anyway.

And maybe well get to see Rags to Riches at four, too. Michael Tabor indicated hed like to see that, and he pulls most, if not all, of the strings. Besides, on balance, broodmares are not as valuable as studs, for obvious reasons.

Who cares, if the sport wins.

Beating males on dirt, uncommon in this country, is a good start. If it comes in a Triple Crown race, at a mile and a half, so much the better. Especially since it hadnt happened in 102 years.

Of course, there are Rags to Riches four straight Grade 1 victories, and the manner of two of those wins. A third wasnt too shabby, either.

She certainly saved no ground in the Belmont. But it was the class test with the Preakness winner down the long Elmont stretch that etched her name in lore forever. In the aforementioned Kentucky Oaks, she beat those 13 fillies under a hand ride, looking like she could go around twice.

But the race that showed she might be special was the Las Vergennes. Horses of either sex just dont race five to six wide throughout an entire two-turn mile at Santa Anita and win. Ever. Until last Feb. 10, that is.

Before she can be mentioned in the same conversation with Ruffian and Twilight Tear and Busher and all the great fillies of history, she has to accomplish more. A lot more.

Saturday at Belmont Park was supposed to be a good first step toward whatever that ultimate destiny would be. What it turned out to be was an excellent first step for a filly coming off a 98-day layup and prepping for the Breeders Cup Distaff.

So lets dispense with anymore historical comparisons, please. Also, cease and desist, for the time being anyway, more Horse of the Year talk.

And what happens if Alabama winner Lady Joanne runs the table, winning Keenelands storied Spinster and defeats Rags to Riches and Lears Princess, the latter for a second time, at Monmouth Park?

Might she go from riches to rags? Clearly, she lost some stature by finishing second in the Grade 1 Gazelle, without an excuse to hang a hoof on.

Always prominent beneath Johnny Velazquez, she moved willingly to the front approaching headstretch without need of urging, took a clear lead leaving the three-sixteenths pole, but could not withstand the surge of Lears Princess, a high-quality filly that lost the Grade 1 Coaching Club Oaks and Alabama by a grand total of three-quarters of a length.

The losing margin was a half length, the race timed in a crisp 1:47.86.

Sometimes the best get beat, was the way Pletcher put it. I wouldnt switch places with anyone, and I look forward to making amends six weeks from now in the Breeders Cup.

Pletcher has cause for optimism. The defeat clearly looked like it was a question of recent conditioning, both physical and mental, an assessment not lost on the fillys trainer.

She didnt run a bad race, Pletcher said. Obviously the winner has been knocking on the door in some big races. Its been well documented that we havent had a real smooth three months since the Belmont. Id say some missed workouts, some temperatures, and this and that, hurt us inside the sixteenth pole. We were giving the winner seven pounds and she hasnt run in three months.

Then Pletcher added: I would never be discouraged. I still think shes the best three-year-old filly in the country, and one of the best weve seen in a long time.

Given the way things have been going for the Pletcher camp of late, the defending Eclipse Award winning trainer might have to be content to go one for two.

* * *

Bets n Pieces: The Green Monkey lived up to the hype. The $16-million two-year-old, the most money ever paid for an unraced youngster at auction, was said to be a bust. Well, so far, so bad. Not the raciest looking individual weve ever seen, the growthy three-year-old was well placed at the five-sixteenths pole, the exact spot where Johnny Velazquez asked him for more. But the Forestry colt remained one-paced, finishing a seven lengths behind Roi Maudit who stopped the timer in 1:09.10, fast ever over the glib, damp surface.

There might be a juvenile star filly among us, at least if the Grade 2 Matron Stakes is any measure. Proud Spell, 2-for-2 in fast time at her Delaware base for Hard Spun trainer Larry Jones, the Proud Citizen filly swooped up on the turn, took complete control at the sixteenth pole and won with plenty in reserve beneath the young but very promising Gabriel Saez. She has made the distance transition very well, winning more impressively with each start as shes stretched out from five to six to seven furlongs of the Matron. She will be trained up to the Juvenile Fillies at Monmouth Park, Oct. 27.

Tale of Ekati received a heady, ground saving trip beneath Eibar Coa to headstretch, angled outside, then back inside to the fence and won the Grade 2 Futurity by a stylish length over 4-5 favorite Kodiak Kowboy in 1:22.33. The race developed somewhat surprisingly when strong second favorite The Leopard chased the early pace of longshot leader Mythical Pegasus before fading at midstretch in a very disappointing effort. At that juncture Kodiak Kowboy jumped in front for a few strides before Tale of Ekati came along in the last hundred yards, where Coa took him in hand to the finish. Weve been very high on him since weve gotten him to the track. Were very excited. Well probably train him straight up to the Breeders Cup Juvenile, said winning trainer Barclay Tagg.


Written by John Pricci

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