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, December 02, 2007

So, What Were Those Jockey Changes About Anyway?

In racing, perhaps more than anywhere else, perception truly is reality in the mind of horse playing paranoids.

A curious thing occurred at Aqueduct yesterday that probably was innocent and can be easily explained. So maybe track officials should use the track announcer to disseminate information that might prove useful to bettors.

When late changes were announced prior to yesterdays first race, some jockey assignments turned out to be a little strange. See what you think.

Johnny Velazquez had eight mounts on the nine race program. However, track announcer Tom Durkin announced before the opener that Velazquez would be replaced in two of the first five races.

Rajiv Maragh would replace Velazquez aboard Bethpage Black in the first and Ramon Dominguez would replace him on Dancing Tin Man in the fifth. Velazquez would, however, honor his assignments aboard Todd Pletcher first-timer Southern Terminus in the second and aboard Hainesport in the third.

The reasons for the changes were probably innocent: A typo on the program, or a mistake made by an agent, or the racing office inadvertently listed the wrong rider. Something, anything.

Now if one wanted to be paranoid, he would think Velazquez would never fool around with main man Pletcher and this first-timer must be really live. Or not. But in the case of Dancing Tin Man, what? Its not like Dominguez represented a major step down. Some would say quite the contrary.

But why does a horseplayer need to be thinking about anything besides trying to pick a winner? I realize decision making is handicapping, part of the process of picking a winner. But there are plenty of other things to make decisions about.

So, what happens? Of course, the Pletcher newcomer wisely gets bet down to 5-2 and wins with authority, 25 minutes after Bethpage Black finishes unplaced in the opener. Ah-ha!

But then Dominguez times his late run perfectly on Dancing Tin Man and nails favorite Lord Louis right on the wire. And what does this all mean?

Probably nothing, except that Saturdays tend to attract the more casual fan, some who actually bet on their favorite jockey.

What happened yesterday screwed with peoples minds, and its not like racetracks can or should treat a dwindling fan base so cavalierly.

All were saying is that the betting public is entitled to an explanation of some kind when something strange occurs, even if you have to make up the answer.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Viable Candidate for Racing Commissioner

Upon returning from Gulfstream Park following this years Florida Derby, I felt like a lone voice crying out in the wilderness.

Its not so much that I loved the new Gulfstream. I didnt, but I wanted to be fair. Management there made modifications over its debut season, improving on some of the more egregious changes that were roundly vilified by racing media, horsemen and fans.

Change is never easy. And maybe, just maybe, Frank Stronachs vision for the future isnt wrong. Gulfstream doesnt need to hold 30,000 fans, except for one or two days a year anymore. In 20 years, racing fans might be more comfortable at a racino/simulcast facility with live racing part-time.

Lets get real; the paradigm has changed.

To me, the biggest problem with the new Gulfstream is that there was an old Gulfstream everybody loved. I miss that place, too.

After the events of Tuesday, Stronach has lost me forever, even if I must acknowledge he was the driving force that initially saved Maryland racing, the reconstruction of the Laurel turf course, at his behest, at the forefront of that renaissance.

But I can no longer support a man-- even if that man sincerely believes hes doing whats best for the future of the racing industry and his poor stockholders--who fired arguably Americas best racetrack executive.

Its not so much that Lou Raffetto Jr. went into a bad situation and made it better; smoothing over the ruffled britches of horsemen that have had plenty to be ruffled about, engendered cooperation with competing rivals in neighboring states and was a driving force behind making racinos at Maryland tracks a future reality.

But Raffetto was more. As a former racing secretary, he helped to create a new racing calendar necessitated by the loss of racing stock to tracks with higher purses in nearby racino states, keeping Marylands simulcast product viably competitive.

Closest to my heart, however, was that he was a friend of the player, experimenting with a lower takeout for a 10-day period this summer that he had to know would cost a revenue shortfall in the near term but was willing to try something to spur business while giving back to Marylands beleaguered fans.

Raffetto is sure to land on his feet. Hes too talented not to be picked up by some racetrack group that encourages speaking truth to power.

But maybe the sport would be better served if racetracks showed some guts and vision, banded together, and made him the first Commissioner of Thoroughbred Racing.


Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Finding Value--At Wal-Mart

The Aqueduct winter track opened for business yesterday, which, of course, begs the question: So what about that new Eagles CD, anyway?

Looking for value? Who isnt? Then how about 20 new songs for the bargain basement price of $11.88? Plus tax, of course. Where? Only at Wal-Mart, unless youre willing to pay an exorbitant mark-up in a few other places.

As Don Henley and Glenn Frey explained on 60 Minutes last weekend, this is their first new release in 28 years. Finally, after the success of Hotel California and their own egos tore them apart, The Eagles went back to the drawing board to write and back into the studio to record.

Wal-Mart is the distribution arm for the album they produced for and by themselves. The times demand it. The music business might even be in worse shape than the racing business. Country is the only genre that sells in the mainstream anymore.

But The Eagles secured a significant payday when they sold 3 million copies of Long Road Out of Eden to Wal-Mart, who then marked them up and marketed it to the public. Thus far, its been a great deal for both parties.

If you werent an Eagles fan before you will be now.

Song 1, side 1, No More Walks in the Wood, is a four-minute piece featuring the sweet harmonies of Henley, Frey, the irrepressible Joe Walsh, and Timothy Schmitt. Compare it to CSN, America, The Mamas and Papas, Seals and Crofts, to any contemporary artists whose voices make sweet music together. Combine their virtuosity with Henleys and Freys writing talents and the result is easy listening for people who think.

The song getting the most play and featured recently in the bands appearance at the Country Music Awards, How Long, was written by veteran singer/songwriter J. D. Souther. Its good fun, featuring turns by all the band members, including the unmistakably soulful, whiney Henley riff.

But there are half dozen better songs, something for every ear. If, for instance, you like Delbert McClinton, youll love Guilty of the Crime with its breezy boogie-woogie piano. If it got the airtime of How Long, it would be a bigger hit.

Paul Carracks I Dont Want To Hear Anymore evokes some familiar, comforting Motown phrasing. The vocals in Fast Company are reminiscent of a time when Michael Jackson wasnt mentioned in the same sentence with pedophilia. Think Thriller. In Waiting In The Weeds, the band inadvertently pays homage to CSN; great lyrics, great hook. And youll think your hearing the Big Man from E Street when you hear the sax chords on No More Cloudy Days.

If side one is fun, side two is the message, Eagles style, thought provoking but not heavy handed. The title track, a seven-minute concept piece, is about the fall of the American Empire.

Somebody, the best rocker on the disk, snaps the listener back. Then, after the You-Get-the-Government-You-Deserve protest of Frail Grasp of the Big Picture, Joe Walsh, bless him, recalls his experiences on Last Good Time In Town, its Mexi-Cali sensibilities seeming to come right out of Steely Dans playbook.

All the contemporary genres are present on Long Road, from country to rock to folk-protest to modern ballads. The final song, Its Your World Now, seems a reassuring, perfect conclusion to the Eagles love affair with whats still right about America.

Written by John Pricci

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