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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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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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A “Perfect” Work For A Tough Test

Its Game On for Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.

Thats the only message one can glean from his five furlong workout yesterday at Churchill Downs. Five-eighths in 1:00 was perfect, said trainer Carl Nafzger. Who can argue?

Street Sense seems to lend new meaning to the term push-button. If you need five furlongs in :58 2/5, his first speed work following the slowly run Blue Grass, he gave it to you.

If you wanted something slower Derby week, because the colt already was there, you got that, too. Five furlongs in 1:01, following a half-mile in :49 4/5, with a gallop out past the wire in :12-flat. Pluperfect.

And now another brilliant move; fast enough but not too fast. Following an opening quarter mile of :25, it was :35 seconds home for the final three furlongs. Sharp! It appears that Nafzger still has not reached bottom. Good thing for his fans, too bad for fans of his rivals.

The dynamics of the Preakness are such that this race, despite having half the number of Derby entrants, is the greater challenge. If the fates allow that he would be the first Triple Crown hero since Affirmed, this is the race that would stop him.

The Preakness should come right down to the wire. The post position draw is 4:30 p.m. today. Can't wait.

Written by John Pricci

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