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 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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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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