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, September 09, 2007

Beware The Polytrack Police

In a column written by a West Coast columnist in praise of the recently concluded first-time Polytrack race meet at Del Mar, in which horses stayed sounder and betting handle grew larger, thereby creating a win-win situation for all concerned, track president Joe Harper took a Right Wing tack when attacking critics of the Polytrack surface.

Just like every suggestion to bring American troops home is met by a derogatory cut and run rebuke, the old Youre-a-Cowardly-Love-It-or-Leave-It-Commie-Loser reprimand, or when patriotic citizens are branded anti-American when they question the illegal Iraq war, Harper branded Polytracks horseplaying critics by painting them all with this one brush:

When a horse breaks down, they dont even look up. They are looking at the next race.

Of course, there are some extremely common horseplayers among us. But like backstretch cheaters, they are a slim minority. In this game built on opinion, Harper would have it that opinions are fine as long as theyre not critical ones, no matter how honest those views attempt to be.

Even Bob Baffert, who left Del Mar for Saratoga, felt the sting of criticism on this subject:

Youre vilified if you say something against Polytrackyoure saying that you dont care about your horses safety, that you dont care about their health.

Baffert might have been referring in part to trainer John Wards crack when, during the Saratoga meet, Ward, a known proponent of Polytrack and an advocate for its use, referred to Baffert and his ilk as quarter horse trainers.

Then call me a quarter horse handicapper, or worse, if you wish. I have no experience with Tapeta so I have no opinion about that surface. But I have seen Cushion Track at Hollywood Park and much prefer it to Poly. The races develop like real races there. The surface doesn't stop me from playing.

All tracks tend to develop biases over time, usually for short durations. But Cushion Track is the best of the artificial surfaces Ive seen because frontrunners on the inside and outside late-run sweepers can win on the same program. This is how racing should be.

But no two Polys seem to be created equal. And they do not stand up well to extremes in temperature. I have seen too many days when the chicklets 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 run the same all the way around Woodbine oval with virtually no substantive change in running positions. And I have seen too many days at Keeneland when speed horses had absolutely no chance.

This sport is called horse racing, not jockey adjustment racing.

Mr. Harper certainly is entitled to his opinion. And his job. But it would be good if he showed some respect for well meaning critics who disagree him.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Bruno Playing Politics With Future of New York Racing

With the opening of the Belmont Fall meet yesterday and todays graded stakes offerings, this was supposed to be an upbeat look ahead at the Grade 1s to follow, all of them leading up to the Breeders Cup World Championships at Monmouth Park later next month.

But after doing some surfing of recent developments following a few days of down time at the conclusion of a truly exciting, albeit enervating, Saratoga racing season, it was relegated to the back burner for this:

Gov. Eliot Spitzers proposal giving the New York Racing Association franchise rights to run New York racing for the next 30 years in return for clear title to New Yorks three major-league thoroughbred properties is already under siege from his political rival, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

I understand that compromise is the nature of politics; giving something to your opponent in exchange for something you want. But Bruno is using his power to usurp whats in the best interests of New York racing even while he insists hes a big fan and has the health of the local industry uppermost in his thoughts.


According to a story on, the State Senate is considering creating a super agency that not only would have complete control over the racing franchise but also pick the bidders who would run all aspects of the racing and VLT operations. Further, the new agency would have the authority to pick other bidders, too, those responsible for everything from tote operations to maintenance. Everything.

Somebody has to stop this madness. But everyones scared to death of a man many have called the most powerful in the state.

Might doesnt have to make right.

What this is all about for Bruno is getting his players a place at the trough. He believes the racing/gaming pie is big enough to include a more universal approach in running it, mentioning such out-of-state interests as Churchill, Magna and Woodbine, with a super agency of his houses creation to control it all.

Can someone explain how does this makes New York racing better? Could this plan be any more transparent?

Whats the real agenda here? For all intents and purposes, this has the appearance of a covert state takeover, so that, what; Brunos associates can later gain a foothold through some kind of future compromise?

Racing needs more autonomy not more control. It cant get anything done now. The State Racing and Wagering Board doesnt even grant permission for tracks to change the betting menu without some big song and dance. Installing a 10-cent superfecta is still be treated like a matter of national security.

Another state agency? Thats just what New York needs. Were doing so good in this state now that corporations wait in line to leave. Been doing just that for years, actually. Like its citizenry, businesses cant afford the taxes here.

For its part the NYRA is getting what it deserves. From the time Kenny Noe Jr. took over the reins--then left two steps ahead of delayed prosecution--the NYRA has been kowtowing to Bruno.

Tell me if you think this is a coincidence. On the Friday before the Travers, Bruno made an announcement about the progress being made on the issue of horse slaughter. Great. But did it have to be made in the winners enclosure, before banks of television cameras and note-padded reporters, a half hour before the days first race?

Carl Nafzgers Travers press conference that week was held behind the jockeys room at 11 in the morning . It was seen live by about 10 racing fans looking on from the other side of a fence.

Later Friday afternoon, Bruno was introduced again, this time to present a trophy following an overnight stakes. On the following afternoon, Travers day, one of the few non-stakes on the card was named the Joseph L. Bruno.

There wasnt enough lip balm in Saratoga the next day to soothe the chaffing caused by all that smooching up.

Getting more people involved to run racing in New York, including day to day operations like tote and maintenance, is counter-productive and just a bad idea. If Bruno feels that Spitzers Memorandum of Understanding with NYRA went too far, was too one-sided, hes not alone in that.

But deal with that issue. Put in safeguards guarding against future abuses by the franchisees. Write legislation guaranteeing that the quality of New York racing be preserved and enhanced through an equitable split of gaming revenue. Be comprehensive. Do a good job at your scheduled meeting Sept. 12.

But please stop with the power politics and get the right thing done. Bruno, Spitzer, et al, are elected officials. Theyre supposed to work for their constituents. Its too bad that, elections notwithstanding, the man in the street runs a bad second to friends sitting in board rooms.

Written by John Pricci

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Monday, August 20, 2007

HRI Exclusive - NYRA Fires Starter Over Gate Flaps

By John Pricci

Saratoga Springs, NY, Aug. 20, 2007--In the wake of a series of incidents in the Saratoga starting gate, resulting in last-minute scratches that cost the New York Racing Association over $2 million in betting handle and lost purse-earning opportunities for owners, the association has fired its head starter Richard Brosseau, HorseRaceInsider has learned.

Brosseau had replaced long time head starter Bob Duncan, widely regarded as the industry's best at his position. Duncan is still active and often is called in by some of the world's leading racetracks as a special consultant prior to its most important events.

Brosseau is expected to be replaced by his number one assistant, veteran assistant starter Roy Williamson, possibly as soon as later this week.

NYRA officials had appeared in the press box earlier at the meeting to discuss the situation, placing the cause on a lack of communication in the gate between the starting gate crew and the jockeys in the moments before the start, but did not elaborate specifics.

HRI also learned that those issues were likely the result of new protocols instituted by Brosseau. There has been too much chatter in the gate just prior to the start of a race due to the elimination of a microphone, the confusion often causing the kind of chaos upsetting to highly strung thoroughbreds.

Resultantly, some horses at this meet were in the grasp of an assistant starter and were severely compromised at the break. The NYRA has led the way in protecting the public by ordering refunds when these types of incidents occur.

The increased noise level was also upsetting to the horses, exacerbated by the fact there are many races carded at Saratoga for un-raced two-year-olds and other young horses light on experience.

Under Duncan's direction, chatter was limited to the time just before the break when he would give his crew a heads-up that the start was about to commence. All would know, including fans, that a start was upcoming when they heard Duncan's words: "OK, let's get tied on."

Brosseau had also shortened the distance between his observation perch and the starting gate, from 75 feet to 45 feet, hindering depth perception and the ability to view the activity of horses leaving from outside positions.

Written by John Pricci

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