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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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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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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