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 22, 2007

A Call for Cash and Validation Today at Hollywood Park

Theres an important race for juveniles this afternoon that might not effect the two-year-old championship but certainly could go a long way next year. In fact, all the way to Louisville and beyond.

First things first, however, such as under no circumstances accept a short price. First, theres the fact of how two-year-olds grow in leaps and bounds, as do their form cycles, from now through June of their three-year-old season.

Secondly, the race has drawn a field of 14 many of which have run their best races at other tracks, over different surfaces. And lets not forget that short run into the first turn. Post positions, the break, and the trips will matter.

As you might expect, Todd Pletcher will saddle three runners in the Grade 1 Cash Call Futurity, a.k.a. todays ninth race at Hollywood Park. But dont expect any of them to be favored. And you might find it just as difficult to project a good trip for any of them: all are drawn in outside slips.

So, who might follow in the hoof prints of A.P. Indy, winner of the 1991 renewal--when it was known as the Hollywood Futurity--and 92 Belmont Stakes? Or Snow Chief, the winner in 85 and in Baltimore the following year. Or Ferdinand, third to Snow Chief, but who got his revenge in the next years Kentucky Derby.

Lets take a look at major contenders, of which there are many, from the inside positions, out.

Cal Cup Juvenile winner Sierra Sunset (20-1) has plenty of experience and hes put it to good use recently. After winning the Bay Meadows Futurity sprinting, he shipped south and was an extremely game winner of the Cal Cup, showing speed while pressured throughout, staying very well to win his first start rounding two turns. Hes worked very well since and draws the pole. A winner at todays 8.5 furlongs, a sharp break will have him in the hunt throughout.

Massive Drama (3-1) breaks right next door and is undefeated in two starts for Bob Baffert. Coming up to this nicely off graduating distances, hes working rapidly for Bullet Bob and showed determination to win the 7-furlong G3 Hollywood Preview while under constant pressure. He figures to be tested early once again, and sons of Kafwain dont give us confidence in their ability to route. They all go this far but generally are hard pressed to do so.

Indian Sun (15-1) leaves from post 5 and probably will qualify as a price shot, never having run on anything but turf. This is Cushion Track, of course, and there is empirical evidence suggesting a favorable relationship between the two surfaces. This colt showed a little class finishing second in the G3 Generous. Trainer Dan Hendricks is profitable with his graded stakes starters.

Colonel John (5-2) has done nothing wrong in his three-race career. His development has been letter perfect, hes also 1-for-1 at todays distance, having won the ungraded Real Quiet at todays distance, and his recent 5-furlong work in :59, termed breezing, was 10th fastest of 130 juveniles to work that week at Hollypark. He distributed his energy professionally in his debut, showed improved speed second out, then showed good distance style coming from well back to win his two-turn debut. The knocks are that several here have been faster to date and the anticipated short price.

Shore Do (12-1) is not nearly as accomplished as his main rivals and is demonstrably slower but makes his first start for Bobby Frankel, as good as it gets when pointing to a race and profitable when removing blinkers, the case here. Two starts back he was third in Dixie Chatters G1 Norfolk before becoming unglued in the sloppy-track key race Juvenile at Monmouth Park. Expect improvement here.

Monba (7-2) leaves from post 10 for Pletcher and is undefeated in two starts, showing professionalism to win his debut before showing improved early speed to win at a flat mile at Churchill Downs which augurs well for, you know, next year. Pletcher is profitable going long to longer, but this guy spots the group more development from a wide post. Garrett Gomez can compensate for that but not for the short morning line odds.

Old Man Buck (20-1) has a terrible post but the early line odds compensate. His form is a lot better than that. He was third in the G1 Breeders Futurity on Polytrack after winning the grassy Cradle Stakes at River Downs, then caught the Monmouth slop before winning the ungraded Grand Canyon after returning to grass. He handled the artificial surface well when asked to do so in a bulky, talented field and attracts Pat Valenzuela for the first time here.

What more could a player ask than for a gate-load of promising talent yielding a great betting race?

Looking back, a win here, like Real Quiets in 97, could portend well for the 2008 Derby and Preakness, or Point Givens in 2000, who should have won it all at 3. But a money finish, like Thunder Gulchs third in 94, or Giacomos placing in this race a decade later, still might have their connections coming up roses when it counts most.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Same Old, Good Old

Jay DiLorenzo, president of the Preservation League of New York State, announced yesterday that the Saratoga Race Course was added to the 2008 list of Seven to Save Endangered Properties.

Seems like a quaint notion but this development actually could have some impact on current franchise negotiations between the New York Racing Association and the states lawmakers.

Before making his announcement, DiLorenzo spoke of the luxury suites that recently were built at the new and improved Churchill Downs, and how the suites obscured the views of the famed, trademark twin spires.

The first time I saw it, I gasped, DiLorenzo told the Albany Times Union. That cannot happen here.

The first time I saw the twin spires was 24 years ago, Sunnys Halos year. There were terrorists in 1983, too, and they took the lives of some of our best Marines in Beirut.

And the people back in the day still cared about the space program, and a filly with the appropriate name Sally Ride became our first female astronaut.

I was at Newsday then, their handicapper and handicapping columnist. I didnt yet have an opportunity to cover the big events. But Steven Jerkens, Allen Jr. and Jimmys brother, and the Chiefs son, had Pax In Bello in the Kentucky Derby, Jeffrey Fell in the boot.

Sunnys Halo, bidding to become historys second winner of the Arkansas Derby to repeat two weeks later in Louisville, was the tepid favorite. Actually picked him to win, too, ($7.00 wasnt much value). But Stevens colt had a punchers chance despite his long odds.

My friend Jack Shelley and I de-planed in Louisville to root for Stevens horse. Two days later, early morning on the first Saturday in May, our rental car passed the building line on South 4th Street and as it reached the corner of Central Ave., I looked right, and there they were, reaching high into the Louisville sky.

I felt my stomach jump, my eyes well up and--not trying to be melodramatic here--I felt something like what my grandparents must have when first they layed eyes on the Statue of Liberty. Of course its not the same thing! All Im saying is that it might be close. Loves funny that way.

The Downs are the twin spires. But Saratoga has spires, too, and DiLorenzo expressed the fears every Saratoga fan has no matter where he was born, reared, or presently lives.

Saratoga is Nirvana for horseplayers, now and then. Saratoga is where a Revolutionary battle was fought, where racing has been conducted for the past 144 years. It needs to be protected and preserved.

It is hoped that some of this history will be on the minds of lawmakers before they figure out just how to slice this New York racing pie and who gets the biggest piece. Thats the reality now.

In 1983, Pax In Bello beat more than half the field, finishing seventh. It was a very good effort and the connections where proud of their horse. And there really is nothing to compare with that first Derby experience.

Coincidentally, or not, I havent been back to Churchill since the recent reconstruction. Maybe Im just afraid to go back.

For now, old memories will have to enough. But thats because Im spoiled, living in the Union Avenue Historic District. And not long ago, the Saratoga City Council had the good sense to officially preserve the race course under that same umbrella.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Is There Anybody ALIVE Out There?

For anyone to get the most from the following--aside from those who already participated via comments appearing beneath my blog of Monday, Dec. 15--you need to first familiarize yourself with the issue and the comments of readers to it. The background of those commenting is diverse enough to represent a good cross-section of bettors/fans.

Before issuing a proposal/challenge to our readers, and their friends and follow bettors, some background:

While at Newsday, I organized a one-day boycott of the Pick 6. I've mentioned this before. At the bottom line it was successful, cutting handle by over 50 percent. Unfortunately, it did not engender further dialogue or lasting impact. In that context, it failed. But that was one voice, one newspaper, one issue, affecting only a small percentage of the horseplaying population on Long Island.

But if all of us took on only half the issues elucidated by regular poster Mr. Corrow, we'd have much work to do. Unfortunately, the apathy Mr. Kling referred to is all too real. And as someone associated with the Capital OTB television network, I have seen what drives people to comment and/or act. And it ain't much.

There is a pocketbook issue out there, however, that not only affects bettors but the future health and vitality of the thoroughbred sport, a business fueled by wagering.

We can all have input on the issues that interest us most, and how we should attack those problems. But I believe we should start with the greatest single concern affecting all of us, from customer to industry honcho. Or, to paraphrase a political slogan from a previous administration: Its about the takeout on betting, stupid.

In order to reverse the current trend that gives us the wagering we deserve--what were getting now aint much--here's my proposal to affect change:

If we can shake ourselves from our lethargy, if we really want to affect change, I propose a campaign having at its core two traditional dynamics: demonstration and boycott.

After you stop laughing, read on.

The campaign will start at a grass roots level with demonstrations in front of the state houses in major racing states, those in Albany, NY, Frankfurt, Ky., Sacramento, Ca., Tallahassee, Fla. and Springfield, Ill.

The movement probably would need at least three busloads of organized demonstrators to appear with picket signs, and a spokesperson willing to intelligently state our case to mainstream media.

Phase two would be demonstrations in front of major tracks in those states, the following week, month, whenever. (This is trickier because, in most cases, it would be private property. Things could get, lets say, interesting).

Coordinated with the demonstrations would be an organized boycott of betting pools. Were not going to get everyone to go along, obviously, but we need to choose a major racetrack one Saturday and make sure we significantly impact handle negatively. It has to be a number that makes a difference, that cannot be ignored. If it works, maybe a bandwagon would start rolling.

I pledge to try to get major television exposure in the Albany media market to cover the demonstration. The Albany market includes, of course, Saratoga. I also pledge to contact the National Turf Writers Assn. to engender support for our cause, as well as traditional industry media; Daily Racing Form, Horseplayer magazine, Bloodhorse, and the like.

If all else failed, at least we'd get some play. In addition to mainstream media, print and electronic, we could enlist support from the racing-blog community, satellite radio, and all the rest.

Populist philosophy, no matter the party affiliation, is resonating with Americans as the 2008 presidential election draws closer. What could be more populist than three busloads of $2 bettors demonstrating in state capitals? (Those sporting $400 haircuts need not apply).

The challenge, then, is to get off our soapboxes and walk the talk. Im willing to do my share.

Like Kilroy, they will know we were here. So, to paraphrase what Mr. Springsteen has asked ad infinitum on his most recent tour: Is there anybody alive out there with a better idea?

Written by John Pricci

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