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 27, 2008

Vegas Handicappers Earn Blowout Victories in NHC and HWS

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 26, 2008--Always in contention throughout the two-day National Handicapping Championships, 64-year-old Las Vegas native Richard Goodall blew NHC IX wide open when 23-1 prefect tripping Big Love Bill finished strongest of all down the middle of a sloppy Fair Grounds track, earning Goodall $500,000 and title of Handicapper of the Year Saturday at the Red Rock Resort and Casino.

Goodalls mythical earnings of $272.30 was a record $74 more than runnerup Don Beardsworth, whose earnings of $194.30 was only 30 cents more than third finisher Roberta Cote. That fraction of a dollar was the difference between second prize of $150,000 and third worth $100,000. Goodalls margin of victory was a record for the NHC.

At the Orleans, handicapper Ken Hopkins widened his advantage as the afternoon lengthened and won the Horseplayer World Series as impressively as Goodall took the NHC. Hopkins winning total of $2,985.80 was $617.40 more than runnerup Gwyn Houston, whose earnings were $248.60 more than the show finisher, James Henderson.

The victory by Hopkins over 682 rivals was worth grand prize money of $307,350, 45 percent of the total purse. Houston and Henderson earned $54,640 and $47,810, respectively.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Two Winners; Singular Achievement

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 25, 2008--Call it the duel in the desert. Da-da-da-da-da-dum. Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-dum. Da-da-da-da-da-dum.

It began with 683 handicappers on Thursday in a ballroom at the Orleans. It's called the Horseplayer World Series and, in the immortal words of Frank Pentangeli, there were more people than a ballgame in there.

Yesterday at the Red Rock Resort and Casino, 276 more joined the fray on day one of the co-sponsored DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championships. When the tournaments conclude with the final race from Golden Gate Fields Saturday afternoon at 4:15 p.m. Vegas time, prize money totaling $1.75-million will have been won.

On the morning of Day 2 at the HWS, David Curich, a weekend warrior who qualified by winning the Daytona Beach Kennel Club tournament, was in first place, having picked seven winners from 11 chances opening day. "A little handicapping and a little luck," said the 40-year handicapping veteran.

Luck ran out Friday as Curich slid to 17th, $800 behind new leader Ken Hopkins, who sprinkled in enough longshots from a glut of short-priced winners from coast to coast. He accumulated mythical earnings of $2,134.60, good enough to accumulate $9,100 in folding money.

Horsemen and industry people have been doing well in these tournaments. While horseman Kevin Matties of Saratoga Springs slipped from second on Day 1 to 25th yesterday, brother Gregg came from nowhere to place 28th going into the final session.

Anthony Pecoraro was in sixteenth at the end of Day 2, although HRI was unable to confirm at posting whether or not it indeed was the Delaware-based trainer.

But there is no denying that Doug Bredar is the racing secretary at Louisiana Downs and he was enjoying a good afternoon, 15th place on opening day of the NHC. While Bredar works at an NTRA member track, he does not get paid by that organization, thus becoming eligible after qualifying.

Ron Geary, president and CEO of Ellis Park, and his son Mark, an executive at the Western Kentucky track, failed to make the leader board on Day 1, nor did Bill Downs, the track announcer at Beulah Park.

(There were no sightings of the Beulah Twins, either as contestants or handicapping advisers to Downs. Nor were visuals made on Florida-based jockeys, although there was a Gary Bain on the NHC leader board).

While you may work in the industry and be allowed to compete, tournament players cannot own nor be related to horsemen having horses running in a mandatory contest race. There were two such possibilities for Saturday's program but those players have been given a new mandatory race, the Aqueduct finale.

There are 15 NHC contest races daily; eight mandatory, seven optional. Players may select from seven different tracks Saturday including Santa Anita, which canceled for a second consecutive day today. The NTRA's Eric Wing, in his best Michael Buffer impression, announced that Santa Anita intends to race Saturday barring more precipitation.

Are we to expect three-quarters of a mile in 1:05?

Many veteran contest players were having problems staving off a lengthy parade of winning favorites. Kathy Kissman, a worker at Ballys who competed in the 2001 NHC, qualified for this edition on line but admitted she was out of her comfort zone making win-place wagers on logical favorites. A trifecta specialist, she'll try to adjust better on Saturday.

Defending champion Stanley Bavlish is living the dream, even if the longshots he specializes were not winning. I'm not having a great day, but the best part of these things is having the opportunity to meet people in the business.

"I was at the Eclipse Awards on Monday sitting at a table with Bob Baffert, and he's still angry with Kent for moving too soon [on Real Quiet]."

Mimicking the story-teller by pounding the fist of his left hand into his right--"I told him to wait, I told him to wait,"--"I discovered that the biggest names in the game are no different than any of us.

"It's been great. Doug O'Neill came up to me at the dinner and introduced himself to me," he said with no small measure of incredulity.

In its first year, the Red Rock has a magnificent chandelier that greets you as you walk through the front doors of the hotel. Elevators and spiral staircases take you to a second floor that houses a casino replete with a poker room, restaurants, various other eateries, and a state of the art but not particularly spacious sports and race book.

But its lighting and graphics are excellent, easy on the eyes. A ballroom might have been a more comfortable venue but a decision was made to start out on a modest scale.

In its ninth season, the NHC still seeks a permanent home. It might this high scale edifice located about 10 miles from the strip; west, then north, on I-215 from Tropicana Ave. Traffic patterns were especially dense at mid-day due to the re-routing caused by the Monte Carlo fire. Thankfully there were no serious injuries.

Whatever happens Saturday, there will be winners but no losers. All NHC players qualified in satellite contests, a clear accomplishment. The Shurman brothers, noted in our Friday blog, were either on or near the leader board today and their handicapping colleague Steve Wolfson Sr. was in third prior to the posting of final Day 1 results.

It all comes down Saturday, the final day at both the HWS and NHC, when the scores, real or imagined, can really change.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bred To Bet vs. Pick 4 King in Horseplayer World Series

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 24, 2008--George Grennan Jr. and Paul Sherman arrived at the 2008 Horseplayer World Series via routes that are at once different yet the same. Each can be found regularly at Suffolk County OTB on Long Island, and each qualified by winning satellite contests. But that's where the similarity ends.

In March, Grennan won the first of two annual Suffolk OTB contests to qualify for the HWS. Stewart arrived at the HWS via a most unusual qualifying contest at Louisiana Downs racetrack. In that contest qualifiers were graded on the number of Pick 4s they could bet in a month, spanning a period of six months from June through October.

Thirty days hath September; 11 Pick 4s hath Stewart. But there was a catch. According to tournament rule, only winning Pick 4s that paid minimum odds of 750-1 counted toward the contest.

You can do the math.

For Grennan, there was no choice other than to become a full time horseplayer. I went to John Adams High School which butted up against Aqueduct. My friends and I got 50 cents for lunch money every day. We'd spend lunch hour rounding up nickels and dimes until we had enough for the daily double, he remembered.

'One day we hit one for $200 and went home by limousine. It was one of those cars that used to take people right from Aqueduct to the trotters. We lived in Howard Beach. It only cost us five bucks.'

Four decades later, Grennan is one of 681 horseplayers competing in the 2008 HWS. A 'sheets' player since the mid-80s, Grennan combines a gift for finding value with an ability to 'read between the lines.'

"Some trainers can move horses up pretty good," he said.

Grennan's first three plays on opening day of the HWS finished first, second and third. It was a morning when horseplayers throughout the contest area were lamenting the wet tracks at Gulfstream and Fair Grounds and a lack of turf racing virtually everywhere, including Tampa Bay Downs, where the track was fast but the grass races were rescheduled.

There would no relief from Southern California, either. Santa Anita canceled their races owing to rain and continuing problems with Cushion Track. Reports began circulating that Santa Anita might cancel Friday too so that the surface might be whipped into shape for Saturday's nationally televised Sunshine Millions program. The Sunshine Millions is expected to be the focus for Saturday's final day of the National Handicapping Championships at the Red Rock Resort and Casino.

For his part, Stewart didn't see his first live race until the age of 21, when brother Bill took him to Belmont Park. "We hit the double, and that was it," said the man who's been spending recent years making up for lost time.

Stewart is a self-described 'handicapping tour veteran,' playing in about 20 contests a year in six different states and another three on-line. The Louisiana Downs contest that qualified him for the HWS was played with real dollars from Stewart's own simulcast outlet. By rule, all bets had to be placed at the same venue, a photo ID of the winning ticket had to be presented for verification, accompanied by a W2G IRS form.

"I've got plenty of those now," he said.

By finishing second in a handicapping contest at Aqueduct early this year, he also qualified for the NHC, which begins Friday. But don't count on brother Bill to act as his surrogate at the HWS while he plays in the NHC, which doesn't allow proxies. Bill, now living in California, also qualified for both contests.

Paul Stewart now has qualified for the NHC for six consecutive years. In fact, he and brother Bill have competed against each other on five occasions. They are now tied with the brothers Gallo, Randy and Ross, as families with the most winning trips into same-contest finals.

Paul and Bill Stewart are members of what might best be termed racing's only Grade 1 contest conglomerate. The father and son team of Steve Wolfson Sr. and Steve Jr. hail from the famed Wolfson family of Triple Crown winner Affirmed, the chestnut colt owned and bred by recently deceased racing family scion Louis Wolfson. They are part of a five-member group that also includes fellow contest handicapper Mitch Sherman.

All five barnstormers will be in action this weekend. When they are not in the thick of the competition, they are there is support of each other. Paul is a sheets player; brother Bill and Sherman are trip handicappers and, as you might surmise, the Wolfsons are pedigree experts, among other things.

"Actually, I did a little advance pedigree work myself for this weekend and it took me two to three days," said Stewart. "It's a lot of work, but I don't know of a better way to spend your retirement," explained the youthful 54-year-old. "I've made great friends over the years. I enjoy the camaraderie, and I know plenty of people in this room," he said, swiveling around to survey the cavernous Mardi Gras Ballroom at the Orleans.

So, like Butch and Sundance, you might be thinking: "Who are these guys?"

They are five horseplayers good enough to qualify for this weekend's handicapping bonanza, and at least four of them have qualified for the NHC every year since 2003.

While two entries in the same contest are not permitted, Stewart qualified for the NHC by finishing second in the Connecticut OTB contest at Bradley and by winning the on-line contest on the same day.

"Guess I'm the only player in history to qualify twice in one day. Actually finished second in Bradley twice. The same guy beat me both times."

Tough beat, Paul. Perhaps the third-time-charm thing might work out better for you next year. Unless, of course, you win the whole thing this time, in which case you'll be back to defend your title in 2009.

Written by John Pricci

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