John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com 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 MSNBC.com, 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, May 24, 2007


Pino Should Retain Belmont Mount On Hard Spun


If Hard Spun runs back in the Belmont Stakes, he might be accompanied by a new partner. His connections are considering replacing Mario Pino. Wonder what took them so long to complain?

The Insider is not endorsing a jockey change for the Derby runnerup and Preakness third. Indeed, when Pino made his move, at once it was the right, and questionable, thing to do. He and his mount were victims of circumstance.

There is no doubt that C P West and Edgar Prado forced Pinos hand. In fact, any time a horse comes outside to press a forward-racing rival--at the same point C P West began breathing on Hard Spun--youd want your jockey to move away from the potential trap and not lose out to a rivals forward momentum.

There was pressure of another kind, too. The fact that Pino is the current king of Maryland was a major pre-race storyline. But what many perceived as an advantage was not. The pressure to win a classic immense, especially on your home grounds. Unlike the Derby, Hard Spun and Pino were supposed to be a major threat this time.

By definition, the move was premature, but it was made while the colt was still in hand. Pino did not want to get stuck behind tiring horses, and he wanted to avoid a head-to-head battle with a longshot rival. His instincts were good but, for Pino, it was either the rock or the hard place.

The Belmont, of course, presents a new set of problems. Few jockeys outside of the top riders in New York and California have experience in mile and a half races. The Elmont oval is so expansive that even local riders sometimes are tricked into moving too soon, not realizing how the fast the pace really is. Horses gallop along on that wide, bucolic backstretch. It makes the Belmont homestretch appear longer than it really is.

Its not like a rider switch would be like going from some 10-pound apprentice to a Hall of Famer. If he made a mistake, it wasnt a horribly conceived one. Pino gets along with Hard Spun really well. He shouldnt lose the mount because Curlin and Street Sense outran him in the final quarter-mile of the Preakness.


Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Jockey Santos Likely To Call It A Career


Unless he turns out to be another athlete who just cant walk away when it's time, it is anticipated that jockey Jose Santos will announce his retirement from riding the Friday before the Belmont Stakes. Its a case of one painful injury too many that left him one precarious fall away from possible permanent disability.

This is a jockeys life, one of guiding 1,100-pound highly strung beasts while in close quarters in the starting gate and often during a race, a career defined by split-second decisions made at 40 mph without the ability to call a T-O, baby.

Pound for pound, jockeys are among the greatest athletes in sports, certainly among the bravest. And the least understood, or appreciated.

In his prime, which began in this country in South Florida, Santos dominated his competition. Position-conscious and aggressive, he rode the sweet spot in almost every race, becoming the most sought after rider on that circuit. It was the same when he switched his tack to New York.

In the Big Apple, Santos learned patience--some say to a fault--but it was a style that trainers on the good-horse circuit demand. But he remained a great rider of speed horses and developed into one of the best grass riders in the game, where his gift for position and patience often paid great dividends.

He won classics with Lemon Drop Kid and Funny Cide, won an Ohio Derby with Skip Away, and rode champions such as Fly So Free, Meadow Star, Cryptoclearance, Gulch, Criminal Type, Rubiano, Chief Bearhart and Fleet Indian, among many others. Santos has ridden 4,084 winners from 25,936 starters for a worthy career win percentage of 16%--17% in stakes races--and has finished in-the-money 44% of the time. Its been a Hall of Fame career.

Santos suffered fractures of the T7 and T8 vertebrae in a spill last February. Attempts to stimulate bone growth to aid his recuperation have failed, and he has been in constant pain during the rehabilitation process.

Simply stated, Santos cannot risk the possibility of another spill. Jockeys put danger on the back burner as part of their lifes work. But they cannot, nor should they, ride with fear.


Written by John Pricci

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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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