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, 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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Thursday, December 06, 2007

It’s Investing, Not Betting

Mega-horseplayer Dana Parham made some interesting points at the opening session of this weeks annual Racetrack Industry Program, hosted by Arizona University.

What qualifies a bettor as a mega-player? How about personal handle of $2.7 billion--thats billion, with a b--since 2000? His contributions to the game, vis a vis pari-mutual takeout? A mere $100-million this millennium alone.

Hes a good guy, too, having quietly contributed $250,000 for the good work done by NTRA Charities.

His idea that marketing efforts geared to attracting more $2 bettors, a.k.a. fans, at the expense of catering to whales is counterproductive does, on its face, have some merit.

But my question is why do efforts that target two distinct types of patrons have to be mutually exclusive? Theres no reason the industry cant do both.

Where Parham is right is that racing never has taken the time to properly explain wagering to its audience. Thats probably because so many in the game dont bet themselves and consequently dont understand it.

Maybe the reason why we believe Parham has something going here is because weve been writing about this exact thing for years, but the message has fallen on blind eyes.

Picking a winner and making the right bet are different animals. Much attention has been given to how to pick winners through scores of handicapping books and/or seminars. One could find a couple of handicapping seminars every racing day at Saratoga Race Course alone.

But no one ever bothers to explain that the odds players see posted on the tote board represents a financial market. As Ive personally explained about a million times to anyone who would listen, there are prices at which each horse should be either bought or sold; bet on or passed over.

One often hears the term value thrown around as if every non-favorite represented a value play. A 20-1 shot actually could be an underlay. An 8-5 shot might be excellent value.

Pari-mutuel derives from the French, meaning between us. Value is assessed by looking at the odds on a particular horse and asking, 4-1 is a fine price but compared to what?

In the earlier example, thats what makes the 8-5 favorite a value play and the 20-1 chance not. Handicapping is the tool used to determine the difference.

An 8-5 shot is value if you believe its chances to win the race are 50-50. If its 50-50, that horse by definition is even money; that makes 8-5 value.

If the industry leaves their annual meeting having learned the betting market principle and defines it as such; embraces the adoption of betting exchanges like those in Europe--a true marketplace concept--then markets both models to a young audience that enjoys solving problems, or follows Wall Street, it will be the most successful conference ever.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Time for Albany Politicians to Fix the NYRA Mess and Go Away

Saratoga Springs, NY--It may be time for the most powerful man in the state, Sen. Joseph L. Bruno, to do New York a favor and step down. However, if the Senate that he leads fails to compromise on a franchise agreement put forth by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his rubber-stamp, House Leader Sheldon Silver, he wont have to. If racing stops, this time, he wont run for re-election unopposed. This time, voters might kick him out. With any luck, they'd kick Silver out, too.

In response to statements made at a Monday news conference by Saratoga Springs City Supervisor Joanne Yepsen, in which she insisted that Republican Bruno and fellow Democrats Spitzer and Silver reach a timely resolution on the New York racing franchise issue, Bruno called a press conference of his own.

In a televised statement, Bruno said that he would not agree to an extension of the current NYRA franchise while negotiations were ongoing because he said the process has gone on far too long already. What kind of message does it send to the horsemen, to the world, that in New York we cant get our own act together? For three years this has been going on.

Bruno appeared a bit anxious in that televised appearance. As a horseman and self-proclaimed friend of racing, the pressure of the franchise deal might finally be getting to the 78-year-old Korean War veteran, who has represented Saratoga County since 1976.

Bruno has had a well documented feud with the Democratic governor and each have acted like petulant children in areas that effect the citizens of New York State, especially with respect to the $2.4 billion thoroughbred racing and breeding industry.

While the clock ticks down on New York racing, Albany insiders have hinted that Spitzer has made himself largely inaccessible to the negotiations process, especially after Brunos counterproductive franchise-by-committee Senate proposal that would result in chaos.

Now it is said that Bruno might allow NYRA to conduct racing with a reconstituted Board of Directors but not for the 30-year term stated in the Memorandum of Understanding between Spitzer and current NYRA management. The sticking point is that a newly created government agency would make non-racing decisions including third party negotiations of simulcast and tote contracts and the execution of marketing initiatives.

I know thats what I would want at my track: Political appointees making racing-business decisions then tell me how to market that product. And everyone thought the old NYRA was arrogant.

My new plan? Heres the key, you run it all.

Silver is no better than his Senate rival. He said on a radio show recently that thoroughbred racing is not a priority of the State Assembly.

Good of our elected representatives to take little interest in an industry that generates $2.4 billion in this state.

All of this harangue will be thrashed out behind closed doors, per usual, even though the states chief executive ran on the transparency platform. The Senate will go into special session on Dec. 13. Some Assembly members were told to make themselves available on Dec. 12.

Bruno said that he has no interest in a temporary extension of the NYRA franchise if a deal cannot be done by the Dec. 31 deadline because its taken long enough already. That would include the two years when Republican George Pataki was chief executive. Bruno was silent when Patakis Ad Hoc Committee on Racing recommended a likely amalgamation of the winning bidder, Excelsior Racing, with existing remnants of the NYRA.

What Bruno is not saying now is that he has concerns that the state law calling for an oversight committee with its Republican majority would be unworkable. The NYRA would have to provide the keys to the building. NYRA would not, of course, because they know--as Spitzer fears--that their land claim has teeth.

But the Senator has been saying a lot of other things lately, like, look at [Spitzers] priorities. He wants to give licenses to illegal aliens so that some can go terrorize people and go into public buildings and on planes and get go guns.


Then there was this on the franchise: Now is the time to activate. Energize. Not lay down and take a rest and think about oats and hay like some people are apparently doing, the rhetoric going from belicose to scary.

Silver's Assembly apparently has one priority in all this: No VLTs for Belmont, only at Aqueduct, because, he said, the Assembly is against an extension of gambling in the state.

Oh? And it would have nothing to do with the fact Aqueduct and Belmont are seven miles apart, and that Aqueduct lives in New York Citys Queens County? Could you be any more transparent, Mr. Silver?

Maybe its [Spitzer and Silver] jamming me on a personal level, Bruno said of the loyal opposition in a story Tuesday. Getting jammed would never do unless, of course, youre the one doing the jamming.

It's time for all of them to fix this thing. Fix it and move on, literally and figuratively.

Written by John Pricci

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