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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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Can’t Anyone Here Monitor This Game?

I never got into this issue before; I was between web-sites at the time.

It has to do with NYRAs cutting off certain off-shore rebate shops and the constructing of detention barns.

These steps ostensibly were taken to satisfy the states monitor so the association could avoid prosecution and show they were good, upstanding citizens.

But I always felt this had more to do with trotting out dogs and ponies than anything resembling real reform.

I dont believe what lawmakers, the New York Times, the Albany Times Union--or any reputable newspaper for that matter--say regarding these two issues or why the actions taken by the NYRA were necessary.

To stop money laundering? Deter organized crime?


This all began because unscrupulous trainer with questionable ties was caught putting over a favorite,an odds-on favorite, at Aqueduct and bet that horse off-shore.

When the story broke, the authorities acted as if they just caught the entire Corleone family. But organized crime media stories sell papers and help get politicians elected.

Does anyone care that one of the most reputable and successful off-shore rebate shops, RGS, one that caters to some of the games largest bettors, pays higher fees than a majority of simulcast outlets? And that their handle is co-mingled with track pools?

So then why did the bankrupt NYRA hurt their own business and the taxpayers of New York State by cutting off RGS among others? For appearances sake?

Everyone knows that anytime some group in this country declares a war on anything like, say, The War On Drugs, it has failed for a lack of execution, commitment and funding.

The detention barn as a deterrent to cheaters? Sounds good. Sounds like a reasonable idea. But drug suspensions, many involving the biggest names in the game, keep getting meted out in New York. Why?

The term juice remains as relevant in New York racing circles as discussions involving Barry Bonds assault on Hank Aarons home run record are in every American city outside San Francisco.

Of course, drugs are a huge problem, in every strata of society. But detention barns on NYRAs backstretch? Talking points, little more.

When well meaning lovers of thoroughbred racing in Saratoga wonder why the racing office cards so many races for New York-breds, maybe they should look at the detention barn for the declining number of shippers.

Yes, VLT-infused purses elsewhere makes shipping to Saratoga unnecessary for many outfits. But so does the extreme and costly inconvenience of shipping into the detention barn.

John Sherriffs, trainer of the late developing Tiago, cited the detention barn and not the presence of Street Sense and Curlin as the reason hes seriously considering remaining in California to run against older horses in the Pacific Classic instead of the Travers.

New York, and every racing jurisdiction in the country, has a responsibility to increase vigilance if they truly want to deter the use of illegal drugs via use of the latest technologies or funding for needed testing research.

Solutions such as the barring of a handful of bet takers and the use of detention barns may satisfy headline writers and politicians. But they accomplish little else except to inconvenience the customers and horsemen they purport to help.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Where The Rubber Meets The Surf

Horseplayers love this time of year. Its when racings two exquisite boutique meets, one on each coast, provide glimpses of what thoroughbred racing can be when its done right.

And you cant mention one, Saratoga, without the other, Del Mar. That would be like using the name of Affirmed without completing the sentence with the name of Alydar.

(Didnt Alydar always finish second)?

Anyway, Saratoga and Del Mar are all about a respite from the same old, same old, a chance to get out of town and spend summers dog days enjoying mountain air or ocean breezes. But thats where the similarities end.

This piece might emanate from the East Coast but its not about provincial bias. Its just that when it comes to day-to-day racing fare theres simply no comparison.

Dont blame Del Mar, though. Saratogas just been at it much longer, and with better horses.

But nowhere does hope spring eternal than at the racetrack and today is, after all, opening day.

And why is this Del Mar meet different from any other?

Glad you asked, Virginia.

Gone, presumably, will be the speed-biased racing on the main track. Good-bye dirt. Good-bye Cushion Track. Hel-lo-o-o-o-o Polytrack!

The artificial surface has to be an improvement on recent years past. Certainly, Del Mar was in need of a safer oval and daily field size was in need of more participants.

Interesting to see how Polytrack effects baby racing. Not at this meet, per se, but down the road when two-year-olds stretch out in advance of the Breeders Cup Juvenile and as a foundation for the classics to come.

Del Mar already has had some problems with the new surface, albeit minor in nature. As a result of fine harrowing and the subtle changes in temperature, the surface was much faster on Monday than it was when first tested late last week.

Were sure all will make the necessary adjustments. Or try, anyway.

That aside, Del Mar is here and thats a good thing. Let the summer season begin!

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

There Oughta’ Be A Law

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Read that somewhere.

But thats the kind of weekend it was for Todd Pletcher, leading trainer in the universe.

The sheer volume of all aspects of his operation; from the number of horses in his care, to his graded stakes wins (on track to break his own record), to purse earnings (ditto), continues to astound.

Look at what happened last weekend: King of the Roxy; Cotton Blossom; Indian Vale; Safari Queen and Host; all of them favorites, all of them lost.

But then, look what happened last weekend. Honey Rose was placed first in a listed stakes at Ellis Park; Unbridled Belle won the million dollar Delaware Handicap, Sunriver won the Grade 2 Bowling Green and Pavarotti took the Round Table.

Four-for-nine in stakes for the weekend. Not bad.

Of all those performances, one was an eye-opener and it wasnt Unbridled Belles perfect-trip tour de force in the DelCap. But did you see the Bowling Green?

It is very unusual for horses to win graded stakes on both dirt and turf, but now Sunriver has. If his Bowling Green is any measure, his future in surely on the grass.

Pletcher is still mystified by the two dirt performances earlier this year. Then he worked Sunriver on turf just to see if it would wake him up mentally. He worked fantastic and the decision was made to run him on grass.

He won that allowance race as if breaking so many sticks. But it didnt prove anything despite his going to the front and improving his position with complete authority.

On Sunday, he did it again. But this time it was different.

He was in with tougher and, while setting a moderate pace, was pressured throughout. At headstretch, Garrett Gomez pushed the button and the response was electric.

It wasnt so much how he opened up ground; instantly, but how he looked doing it.

If you missed it, catch a replay. Old-timers used to call good turf horses daisy cutters for the way they skimmed over the top of the ground.

They would have loved Sunriver.

He absolutely just skims over the top of the grass. Hes very spectacular over it, said Gomez in post-race quotes. I think he can just keep extending himself and getting better.

He will need to. Pletcher said the Arlington Million is next. Not only will the competition go up several notches but the Arlington course is less forgiving. Theres more cut in the ground, and most often its less than firm.

Early speed does relatively well in the Million. And so we shall see if Sunrivers near perfect turf action works as well in Chicago as it does in New York.

Im quite sure Pletcher hopes so. There were those five stakes he was supposed to win last weekend and didnt, now did he?

Written by John Pricci

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