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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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Don’t Count On Nafzger To Change His Mind

There will be no Triple Crown this year and now the quest is for a triple of another sort, the reunion of Street Sense, Curlin and Hard Spun, the trifecta finishers in the first two jewels, having at each other once again in the Belmont Stakes.

That would be truly unique. Never before have the trifecta finishers in the first two legs returned for a third time. Actually, the Derby trifecta repeating in the Preakness happened exactly once in 132 years, 10 years ago when Silver Charm, Free House and Captain Bodgit made a cold trifecta in Baltimore, with only the second and third finishers switching Derby positions.

The door was left a bit ajar yesterday when body-language handicappers observed a weakening in Carl Nafzgers anti-Belmont posture. Street Senses trainer said he would talk it over with owner Jim Tafel and make a decision by the end of this week. Handicapping the situation myself, my pick is it wont happen.

Nafzger might have been feeling a bit guilty about his whats the point answer when asked about a Belmont rematch with Curlin, and so he probably tempered his earlier remark. But, more than anything, trainers are creatures of habit. He won a Travers with Unshaded and hed like nothing more than another Midsummer Derby win to add to his Kentucky Derby victory.

And then theres owner Jim Tafels Chicago connections to consider and the possibility that Arlington Park, an old Nafzger stomping grounds, would sweeten the pot of the American Derby and move the turf event to Polytrack to serve as a Travers prep according to HRIs Vic Zast, who has Second City ties of his own. As does the colt.

Street Sense broke his maiden as an Arlington Park juvenile and theres another variable, too. According to Calvin Borel, Street Sense gets distracted at new tracks where the fans are positioned close to the action.

Arlington Park is not as confining as Keeneland and Pimlico and is familiar territory, unlike the other two were. The money would be significant, the competition not as salty, and he wouldnt have to race four times within eight weeks.

A freshening would make sense on many levels. And lets not forget that Nafzger also won the Breeders Cup Classic with Derby-winning Unbridled, another habit Nafzger would like to get used to. Of course, that would put him and the rest of this deep and talented three-year-old class on a collision course with the great, older Invasor. Now that would be discouraging.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Derby Youth Becomes Preakness Man

In one of the gamest and most memorable performances seen in a racing classic of the modern era, Curlin relentlessly wore down a Kentucky Derby champion and snatched away the Triple Crown dreams of Street Sense and his fans in the shadow of the Pimlico finish line.

The promise that the lightly raced Curlin might become the first classics winner in more than a century to win Americas biggest race without the foundation gained by juvenile racing and in only its fourth lifetime start was delivered in another classic two weeks later at Pimlico.

Leaving the three-sixteenths pole, Calvin Borel, who engineered a Preakness ride even greater than his Derby masterpiece, came off the inside to intimidate and discourage the only rival that could beat him at that point, opening a clear and seemingly insurmountable lead with less than a furlong remaining.

But Curlin, his focus squarely on the hindquarters of his most impressive Derby rival, kept coming and coming until, bang, he grabbed him right on the line. And the two jockeys galloped out past the wire as a team, Borel, inside on the Derby winner, Robbie Albarado, who bailed out on Einstein two races earlier to avoid a fallen rival, on the outside, completing an all Cajun exacta.

The official winning Preakness margin was a head but the finish was thisclose. If both horses come out of their Preakness efforts in a satisfactory condition, it sets up the rubber match at Belmont Park where it was hoped racing would be collectively rooting on a 12th Triple Crown champion. Next year, on the anniversary of Affirmed and Alydar, maybe.

For Curlin, his upside remains squarely in tact. Racing a bit greenly in the Preakness, his sudden turn of foot catapulted him past rivals on the far turn as if they were standing still. But it seemed like it would all go for naught when Street Sense and Borel came out to greet him, and pass him, leaving the furlong grounds.

And it turned out to be a bad racetrack joke for Carl Nafzger, who perhaps should have known better and should not have broken out into an Ill-take-it-from-here smile. Instantly, a wide smile was replaced by a look of great concern. I think we got nipped, said Nafzger, turning left to inform owner Jim Tafel as the team hit the wire together.

A classy Borel offered no excuses. I saw [Curlin] kept coming, and I was worried. [Street Sense] gets into the crowd a little bit, and he gets to waitin. But no, no excuses.

The confidence trainer Steve Asmussen showed after the Derby once he was sure that Curlins energy and demeanor had not changed following the colts Herculean show finish in Louisville after a stutter-step start--an incident repeated yesterday when he bobbled out of the starting gate--was justified deep in the Pimlico straight. Indeed, Asmussen has a very good colt, too.

While the result for Street Sense might have been disappointing, his effort was not. He did everything right but win. Round 3 commences in Elmont in three weeks. If the events there are anything like what was on display in Louisville and Baltimore, great racing theater is assured. Again.

Horse races like yesterdays is what makes the quest for a Triple Crown so special. And why its one of the most coveted and difficult prizes to win in all of sports.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Racing Continues Paying Lip Service To Its Problems

Today marks the first baby race of the season in New York and the timing seems to be about right. The modern market place demands as much with its accent on youth: Establish racing value at 2; increase stud value at 3, off to the breeding shed at 4.

Actually, two-year-olds have been racing for almost two months now, starting with two-furlong dashes at Santa Anita and at South Florida tracks before stretching out to 4- furlongs at Keeneland, where conveniently you could buy yearlings and two-year-olds virtually right around the corner.

The industry should know that its in the breeds (and the games) best interests to delay the start of the juvenile racing season and demand that they come out running at more acceptable sprint distances. If longer sprints were written by racing secretaries there would be little or no incentive to rush a youngster to the races. Then maybe the breeding industry would adapt to the new racing reality by breeding sounder and stronger horses, not faster ones.

By writing longer races later in the season, the racing industry would have a chance to dictate to the breeding industry, not the other way around. It is also the hope that having racehorses around longer would be better for business and the sport. Instead, racing is odds-on to continue chasing the short-term dollars.

Maybe sports fans you were expecting that logic would prevail? But, boys and girls, this is horseracing. Even in a game mired in the past, logic and long-term thinking have little place in the modern game. Doing the right thing is still not as important as talking about it.

Written by John Pricci

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