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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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ellis Pick 4 Operation A Success, Patient Dies

As it turns out, Ron Geary, the new track president at Ellis Park, was a lone voice crying in the wilderness of bettor-friendly racetrack owners. Looks like the bad guys won again. What a surprise.

In case you missed it, Geary stated at last weeks Racing and Gaming Symposium, hosted annually by Arizonas Racetrack Industry Program, that his Henderson, Kentucky track would no longer offer a Pick Four with four percent takeout, the lowest taxed wager at any track, anywhere.

Overall handle at Ellis was lower this year than in 2006, but none of it can be attributed to the Pick 4. Geary did not quote figures but did say that Pick 4 handle improved. (HRI researched the figures several times during their 2007 meet and found Pick 4 handle up significantly).

Geary noted, too, that handle in the straight pools on the final four races, which were part of the daily Pick 4 sequence, also increased.

So the wager was a win-win for Ellis and Pick 4 bettors but ultimately was unsuccessful because it did not make enough of a positive impact to be renewed. While he didnt state the reason publicly, politics is at the heart of this problem. Yet another surprise.

Lower takeout is the enemy of racetrack operators and off-track bet takers because it costs them revenue in the short term. And in this instant society, good ideas will not be given sufficient time to catch on. Tracks simply are unwilling to allow lower takeout wagers the time they need to make it a revenue winner--especially those tracks needing to protect and enhance shareholder value.

Not all of Elliss simulcast partners offered the wager, citing financial, programming, and regulatory issues. The tracks that did offered the Ellis Pick 4 did so reluctantly as an accommodation.

As the new owner/president of a track trying to re-invent itself, Geary is under pressure to be less intrusive with his off-track partners. At the same time, his stated goal is to enhance Elliss national reputation as a player friendly venue. He's one of the good guys.

Like Hyman Roth, who always made money for his partners, I must realize that the bottom line is, well, the bottom line and that Geary has an obligation to the simulcast community. But he cares deeply about his on-track fans and, to that end, will offer a new wager, details about which will be released in early 2008.

Geary would be well advised to offer the promised innovative wager on-track only, with a similarly extremely low takeout. If his simulcast partners want it, fine. If they dont; no harm, no foul. Geary shouldnt force a short-term loser down the throat of his business partners.

But if Ellis is to deserve a reputation as a true player-friendly track, Geary needs to finish what he started. If it was right then, it is right now.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Old Gray Man Is What He Used To Be

With the possible exception of a couple of maiden breakers, yesterdays Aqueduct card was pretty mundane. Except as we said, for Barrier Reef, who half bolted entering the backstretch in the second-race for juvenile colts.

Having bet on Hedgefund Investor, that was a yip-pee for me. H.I was cruising on the lead, and when he opened the lead out to nearly four lengths in midstretch, it was why didnt I bet mo?

Whats this? Oh no, its Barrier Reef, making a strong turn move into the lane and had momentum, but still had plenty to do. But the combination of the leader tiring and Barrier Reef hitting overdrive resulted in a going-away victory beneath the persistent Johnny Velazquez.

While I had no stake in the fourth race, emotional or otherwise, I still had to admire the stretch rally of debuting Thatsrightofficer.

In one breath it was will he get there? In the next, it was no problem. He drew out smartly, winning in full stride under Edgar Prado, a wide smiling Edgar Prado as he accompanied the Officer to the winners enclosure.

At the other end of the spectrum, fittingly, it was an old gray man, Evening Attire, who, three weeks short of his 10th birthday, would own the day.

Barcola, as expected, was in complete control on the front end in the Grade 3 Queens County Handicap, looking like hed be tough to beat even though over a half mile remained.

But Evening Attire was running free on this afternoon, narrowing a lead that still appeared insurmountable as the field approached the turn for home.

When Barcola put daylight between himself and his closest pursuers, the result appeared inevitable. But the younger legs that carried Evening Attire to a Jockey Club Gold Cup victory five years ago just kept chugging.

And Barcola was feeling the heat now, tiring but still chugging himself. Despite remaining on his left lead--at his age, E.A. can use whatever lead he wants--he ran down Barcola right on the line.

Its a crusty bunch of curmudgeons that gather at the Saratoga Harness simulcast each Saturday, but even they erupted as one when the wire neared, and burst into applause when Evening Attire reached the line first.

I needed Barcola to win, but even I had to smile when the old boy got up. It was, after all, T.J and Joe and Mary Grant that owned him, and thats a trifecta no one can root against.

Got to love Mary, who refused to sell her big horse to Middle Eastern interests for not quite stupid money, but into seven figures, anyway, back when Evening Attire had a lot less gray hair.

Mary Grant loves this horse the way her Hall of Fame partner, T. J. Kelly, loves all the horses, especially this one which, along with the Grants, bred this foal of 1998.

Yesterday, their old warhorse reciprocated in a fashion that has been his custom, winning for the 14th time in 63 starts, banking more than $2.7-million along the way.

Now if the story of a near 10-year-old horse winning a 102-year-old race is not worth applauding, I don't know what would be.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Stop Styling and Ride Them Out to the Finish

While it was noted in the British racing press, the item wasnt a big deal.

Jockey Brian Harding had received a 10-day suspension for failing to ride out his mount, Guerilla, in a small stakes at Catterick, costing his mount second money after it was nailed in the final stride by the eventual runnerup.

It isnt like Hardings cockiness or disinterest cost most straight bettors money. Each-way bettors collected their proceeds but the stewards correctly decided that was beside the point. Apparently officials there have heard of something called an exacta.

There was no appeal by Harding, which meant the rider had to serve his 10-day suspension--lengthy on its face but justified in the message it sends--immediately. Interrupted by the Christmas holidays, the ban has to be completed within the same calendar month.

Dont ask, dont cry, dont delay. I like that.

What I dont like, however, is the seeming lack of respect racing officials in this country have for a practice that happens about a half-dozen times every day at every track in America.

Unlike the Harding situation, not riding a horse out to the finish doesnt always result in costing the horse a money position, an situation that cheats the bettor, the owner, and the trainer.

When horses are obviously beaten and cannot improve their position, riders punish their mounts. Indeed, misuse of the whip is a punishable offense. So its understandable when jockeys take their foot off the equine accelerator, saving something for the next race.

But the rule is that jockeys must ride their horses out to the finish. In that context, they get away with this infraction all too often.

The game is built on betting and betting is built on past performances. By not riding a horse out to the finish, a jockey, however subtly, alters a horses form in the past performance running lines. A concerted effort can result in a smaller losing margin, a more accurate indicator of a horses true form.

An eased horse is extremely likely to get a lower speed figure than it deserves. Not only does this give a false picture to next-time bettors but it colors the form for several of the horses subsequent starts.

It follows that horses running inferior figures are not as valuable as those running higher ones. Arent owners entitled to know the outer limits of their horses ability, just like bettors handicapping the horses next start?

This is not to suggest that a horse be urged beyond endurance once it has given all it has. But owners and trainers are entitled to all a horse is willing to give. Style points dont count, yet jockeys do it all the time. In this game especially, perception is reality.

Written by John Pricci

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