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 29, 2007

On Balance It Was Disappointing Holiday Fare

There seems to be an immutable racing law, one that continues to confound both handicappers and fans: The better the race, the slower the pace.

There were two Grade 1 races on Memorial Day, one on each coast, one on each surface. On both occasions the early fractions were a joke. Why slow down fast horses, taking away their best weapon? Why allow the competition to get comfortable, letting them stalk in slow fractions? Thought the idea of speed was to bottom out the competition?

These werent the best renewals of the storied Met Mile and Shoemaker Mile ever run, even if the latter featured a storied nine-year-old West Coast legend who won at a distance short of his best while making his seasons debut.

The Met always has featured fast horses. Running a flat-out sprint for a mile makes the race what it is, for fans and breeders alike. But :23 1/5 for an opening quarter-mile? There was some serious early gas signed on, one a supposed designated pacesetter.

What the hell is the point of running a rabbit for a late-running mate if he doesnt act like one? Did it make any sense whatsoever to apparently rate the overmatched sprinter Mr. Umphrey?

Corinthian got his Grade 1; Sun King did not and probably never will, although hes probably a better horse rounding two turns. Nick Zito should have started Commentator in the Met instead of bringing him back against state-breds sprinters. He would have given this group all it could handle.

Certainly cant make excuses for perfect tripping Lawyer Ron. Todd Pletcher doesnt run short horses and Lawyer Ron was undefeated at the distance before Monday. Corinthian is a talented horse, but he received a holiday gift. He works faster than he had to run (1:34.77).

The fractions in the Shoemaker Mile were :24 and :48. Twenty-four and forty-eight! The Tin Man is a wonderful racehorse; Richard Mandella is amazing when pointing for stakes engagements. But when a filly--even a talented Grade 1 winning filly--goes in :23 4/5 and :47 4/5 at a mile and an eighth in the Gamely on the same card, whats the point in handicapping a race?

Sour grapes? You bet it is!

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

You Know It’s Hard Out There For A Jock

Jockeys are in the news this weekend. For most, it wasnt very good news. Andrew Lakeman, a regular exercise rider for Allen Jerkens, who rides occasionally for Jerkens and Kristina Dupps, remains in critical but stable condition in North Shore University Hospital following a spill on Friday at Belmont Park.

The news could have been worse, since the original diagnosis was severe head trauma. He did, however, suffer spinal trauma in the fall when kicked by a trailing rival, according to NYRA president Charlie Hayward, who visited Lakeman yesterday. Norberto Arroyo Jr. suffered an accident as well and, while not as serious as Lakemans, nevertheless will miss six weeks with a broken clavicle.

Meanwhile, all Mario Pino lost was a mount, that on Hard Spun in the Belmont Stakes. Pino will be replaced by Garrett Gomez but will continue to ride the barns other horses, said trainer Larry Jones. Cant believe that it was Jones who made the call to sack Pino.

Were thinking that if owner Rick Porter could fire Smarty Jones trainer and hire Jones, he can fire Hard Spuns rider and hire Gomez. We blogged it before: Pino was the victim of circumstances in the Preakness.

He would have been criticized just as vociferously had he allowed C P West and Edgar Prado to get the jump on the overmatched leaders, either getting Hard Spun trapped behind dead horses or engaging in a senseless head-to-head duel with the longshot, who raced well but was not a serious win threat. Pino did the only thing any self respecting race-rider would do and got fired for it.

Meanwhile, Johnny Velazquez has picked up the mount on Slews Tizzy in the Belmont. The recent Lone Star Derby winner worked well for the Belmont over the weekend, as did Imawildandcrazyguy. Curlin will have a scheduled breeze tomorrow and Carl Nafzger will make a Belmont decision on Street Sense Tuesday. Curlins work is unlikely to affect his Belmont prospects. Nafzgers decision will likely keep his colt in the barn. A difficult and frustrating game, this.

Written by John Pricci

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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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