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, February 02, 2008

Strong Saturday Programs Are Everywhere

From coast to coast, weekend warriors are in for a treat, including Kentucky Derby fans always on the lookout for some late developing three-year-olds trying to join the sophomore elite.

Last month at Aqueduct, it was the Count Fleet. Today, its the 1-1/16-miles Whirlaway where beaten Count Fleet favorite Roman Emperor will try to recover some lost prestige for Steve Klesaris and Jeremy Rose. He has speed, the rail, and has worked bullets since the Count Fleet. The interesting horse is Caves Valley. Im sure everyone would like to see where he presently fits. He, too, shipping up from the Delaware valley for Team Trombetta/Pino.

Santa Anitas Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Memorial, at the same distance as the Whirlaway, is weak considering its grade. The colt to follow is Crown of Thorns for Richard Mandella and prominent owner B. Wayne Hughes. Owning the fastest performance figure in the group, hes up in class and distance off a lengthy maiden win at seven furlongs. Indian Sun is on the slow side but tries hard. He finished second to unbeaten El Gato Malo in the G3 San Rafael last time out. The extra sixteenth here figures to help this logical contender.

The G2 Swale sprint at Gulfstream Park might get a couple of three-year-olds on the road to find out. Silver Edition, a game second in the Hutcheson for Wayne Lukas is a logical choice. But most eyes likely will be on Wincat, yet another West Point Stable sophomore that can run. He broke his maiden in very fast time at Philadelphia Park, by nearly seven, widening lengths. Hes the probable favorite for Kairan McLaughlin and Johnny Velazquez.

Two of the best handicap horses in the country will be in action on both coasts. Daaher, who won three straight to end his three-year-old year, including the G1 Cigar Mile, will prep for the $6-million Dubai World Cup in todays Donn at Gulfstream. Hey, it worked for Invasor, so why not this guy? McLaughlin will have him ready to go off the 77-day freshening. It will be interesting to see how talented turf runner Einstein, who does own main track wins, fares at this level on dirt. Trainer Helen Pitts, who doesnt get enough recognition, is 23% effective with second starters following a layoff and 19% when going turf to dirt. Both are profitable scenarios for this outfit.

Today is the day Tiago officially runs out of excuses. Second in the G2 San Fernando in his four-year-old debut, he should be set for this afternoons G1 Strub. The 123-pound highweight has won 3 of 6 at this venue and hes poised for a breakthrough performance this afternoon, especially given todays added ground. Tiago won the G1 Goodwood before finishing fifth in Curlins Classic to end his three-year-old season. Trainer John Sherriffs and Mike Smith are looking for a top effort, as am I. At some point, youve got to deliver on all that promise.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Little Super Help from Your Friends at HRI

While you might not agree with the opinions expressed on their op-ed pages, youve got to love the headline writers at the Post, New Yorks sensational tabloid. I do.

The best part of the device, besides selling the occasional newspaper, is a twisted sense of humor that reflects what the locals might call New York attitude.

Over the years, Ive had my favorites. Headless Body Found In Topless Bar leaps to the perverted minds of most Post fans. Clearly, a classic.

After an underworld figure met an untimely and violent demise, the Post had their cartoonists draw headstones on its front page, accompanied by the headline Gottis Greatest Hits, of course referring to the late capo de tutti capi, a.k.a. Teflon Don, a.k.a. Dapper Don, John Gotti.

Then there was that Sunday one fall when the late Pope John Paul II was a scheduled to make an appearance at a sold out Shea Stadium.

The three major networks seriously considered carrying the Popes speech live that fall afternoon, but ultimately caved in to pressure from their advertisers. Finally they made a decision to go with previously scheduled sports programming. NFL 3, Pope 0.

My newest favorite came Tuesday, the morning after Presidential hopeful Barack Obama received a significant, widely publicized endorsement from a prominent Democratic leader, Ted Kennedy. Bamalot, read the front page headline.

Sports provides plenty of grist for the writers mill. After Eli Manning outplayed legendary Brett Favre in the NFC championships two weeks ago, the Super Bowl QB was captured smiling broadly as he walked off the frozen tundra of Lambeau. You The Mann, the headline read.

So, should the 12-point underdogs pull off the unlikely upset in Sundays Big Game, I have a suggestion. Its neither funny nor irreverent, but does encapsulate the only storyline at hand.

It also should include the use of color; blue and red with white trim: 18-And-Won!

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Handicapper of the Year Keeps It All in the Family

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 27, 2008--The family that plays together, stays together.

You just never think that this axiom also applies to horseplayers who just happen to believe that the handicapping process means as much as the wagering itself.

It was only minutes after the results of the National Handicapping Championships were known following the 11th race from Santa Anita on the Sunshine Millions program late Saturday afternoon when the winner, Richard Woodall of Las Vegas said: Im so happy, this means so much to my wife.

Yeah, right, thats what all horseplayers say after making what, for most, would be a life-changing score.

But this was no case of hyperbole or false humility, even if Goodall at first wasnt quite sure whether it was eight or nine years hed been married to Sally Wang-Goodall. They met in the Chinatown section here about a mile east of the strip, the site of the current Venetian and Treasure Island hotels.

So why was this couple so horseplayer simpatico, and how did she get so interested in handicapping?

On our first trip, he took me to Penn National [the original, ground-breaking World Series of Handicapping], explained Wang-Goodall.

And she must have paid very close attention to the business at hand, having qualified for the NHC six times, as compared to five for the new half-millionaire, the 2007 Handicapper of the Year.

Theres a racetrack clich that goes: Id rather be lucky than good. Very often thats true. But as far as I could observe, Goodall was, well, good, and he was good from the opening bell, 9:25 a.m., local time.

At the end of the first day of the two-day tournament, Goodall was in second position and always remained near the top of the leader board throughout, obviously embracing the right methodology. Picking winners helped, too.

In the first mandatory race of the contests final day, Goodall broke from the gate like Seattle Slew, nailing an 8-1 shot at Tampa Bay Downs. It felt good, like I was going to have a hot day, said the 64-year-old retiree from the health care industry.

Goodall was hot and good.

Since he was always in contention, his strategy was simple. I just concentrated on the mandatory races early, saving my optional plays until I could see how everyone else was doing.

There were 277 contestants in NHC IX, buy-ins are not permitted, so all had qualified by winning a satellite tournament somewhere. These were no ham-and eggers he was meeting; these were U.S. prime.

The close competition was reflected on the leader board which listed the current top 30 players throughout the tournament. At no time were the people at the very top segregated from each other by very much.

But Goodall blew it wide open late on Saturday afternoon, when the top half-dozen players were separated by more than a winning 4-1 shot. There were 15 contest races each day from a total of seven venues, eight of which eight were mandatory. Bets were tallied on a $2 win-place basis.

Indeed, the tournament was so competitive that the difference between runnerup Don Beardsworth and fourth finisher Albert Wong was breakage: 40 cents. But none were focused like Goodall.

He patiently awaited the ninth race at the sloppy Fair Grounds, a sprint for special-weight maidens, were Big Love Bill finished well from a stalking position to win by 3/4s of a length at 23-1. Goodall did not get the full price, as win odds are capped at 20-1 and place at 10-1.

But $42 will buy you plenty of separation at the NHC. His earnings of $272.30 distanced him from the runnerup by $74, resulting in the largest victory margin in NHC history. The previous record of $31.60 was held by Jamie Michelson, winner of NHC XI.

Having blown the competition away, Goodall braced for a late challenge that would never come. With two tournament races remaining, and with the second, third and fourth handicappers a 20-1 winner away from first place, he bet on the winner of the finale from Golden Gate Fields. The 7-5 favorite iced the result.

Goodall, who plays in a handful of big money contests throughout the year and also on line, then began to talk about the secret of his success in handicapping tournaments.

This year I began using a pretty sophisticated data program and I cant say that I understand it all. But Im learning. Im slow and steady, but finally I got it right.

As Goodall awaited the photo-op to come, his words touched on a prevailing theme throughout the weekend, not only in the NHC at the Red Rock but in the Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans as well: camaraderie.

You meet such great people at these tournaments. Theyre interesting, nice people, and theres never a problem. Ive made some friends for life.

Casino executives arrived, offered their congratulations to Goodall and were carrying two checks; a rather large one for posterity and a smaller one for cashing. If you can consider a $500,000 check small.

The photographers waved everyone into place for the shot. Can my wife get in it, too? Goodall asked. This is my biggest thrill in racing, but only because of my wife. Weve been trying to win this contest for a long time.

Written by John Pricci

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