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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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On Belmont Day, Joe Torre Dropped The Ball

When you look inside the numbers of the 139th Belmont, it was a disaster but not calamitous.

Betting was virtually flat. While handle was down compared to last year, comparing seven-horse fields with the dozen that went postward last year would be unfair. Actually, on-track handle of $9.5 million set a non-Triple Crown Belmont day record.

Attendance figures were calamitous, however. From high atop Belmont Park late last Saturday afternoon, the joint sure looked like it was jumping. There wasnt much blank space between apron standees and there were fannies in virtually every seat.

Surveying the crowd, I told some colleagues Id take over 67,000. What I missed, however, was that the famed backyard was more spacious than filled, and apparently everyone was outside and not inside Belmonts humongous grandstand and clubhouse.

Someone came up and asked my former Newsday colleague, columnist Joe Gergen, how many people do you guys have here today?

Everybody whos not at Clemens, answered Gergen.

Less than 47,000 people saw history made when Rags To Riches beat Preakness winner Curlin and the rest of the boys in the Belmont, but that wasnt the big news in New York last Saturday.

Baseball mercenary Roger Clemens, his return to pinstripes already once delayed, would finally take the mound for the Yankees in the Bronx. As far as I know, each stride he took toward the hill touched the ground before he got there.

Its true that the filly was a last minute Belmont entry and there wasnt much time for publicists to bang the drum. So until the filly reached the finish line a head in front of Curlin, the major Belmont storyline was still the absence of Kentucky Derby-winning Street Sense.

While he certainly had no obligation to do so, Yankee manager Joe Torre, whos enjoyed his share of successful high profile days at the races, could have done his other favorite sport a solid.

Torre was part owner of Sis City, winner of the 2005 Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland, and Wild Desert, winner of the $1-million Queens Plate that same year. The Queens Plate is the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

So would it have mattered all that much if Clemens started the following day against the same team? Certainly George Steinbrenner, owner of Kinsman Stable, could relate. And if Clemens had started Sunday, he still would have been ready for the Mets series this weekend. Either way, Clemens gets wall to wall coverage from the New York tabloids.

Were not saying Torre is at fault here. But he might have helped to make a positive out of a negative. Instead, as far as racetrackers are concerned, starting Clemens on Belmont day made him look clueless.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Rags to Riches, the Filly That Saved the Belmont

The seven horse field consists of two tiers, the first led by Preakness champion Curlin, the fast and consistent Hard Spun, and the filly, Rags to Riches, who could be any kind as racetrackers say. A couple of lengths separate them on performance figures after adjusting for the fillys sex allowance of five pounds. A couple of lengths is not much going a mile and a half.

The second tier consists of Tiago, seventh in the Derby but for his connections the Belmont couldnt come soon enough. Mike Smith said he learned a lot. Probably did. William Kaplan said hes been pointing Imawildandcrazyguy to this race since January. January. C P West finally had his break-through race in the Preakness. Conventionally, it was a perfect prep for the Belmont. Slews Tizzy is the only one who appears in danger of being outclassed, but has won two recent graded stakes.

Without Street Sense, a huge loss, this Belmont turned out to be as good as it could get. The second tier horses have a punchers chance, remote, but a chance nonetheless. And picking the winner from among the big three is not easy.

The good news for morning line favorite Curlin (6-5) is that hes apparently held his form very well. "Hes more chiseled now and still has that beautiful stride. It gives us a lot of confidence going into Saturday," said assistant trainer Scott Blasi at Wednesday mornings post position draw at Belmont Park.

"Ive said it for months; we may be hailing Curlin as a super-horse," said Hard Spuns trainer, Larry Jones, who was pleased by his colts final relaxed breeze over the weekend. "Were trying to confuse him," joked Jones. "If the fifty-seven-and-three [Derby workout] didnt confuse him, maybe the one-oh-three will."

Jones believes, too, that the filly has earned her shot. "I wouldnt be surprised if theyre putting [carnations] on her when its over." Rags to Riches drew the outside slip, post seven, right next to Hard Spun. It will be interesting to watch the first turn tactics unfold between Garrett Gomez on Hard Spin and Johnny Velazquez on Rags to Riches.

Should the filly win, it will be, of course, trainer Todd Pletchers first victory in a classic. How would it feel to accomplish that? "Until I win one I cant answer," Pletcher said. "But [Rags to Riches] is a good-sized filly and most good fillies Ive seen have been pretty big fillies."

And running against colts? "I might have run a two-year-old against colts, but there are so many opportunities for [older] fillies that theres no reason to try it." So why this one? "Because shes a half [sister] to Jazil, last years Belmont winner, and she has Belmont winners on both sides of her pedigree."

In fact, she has six Belmont winners in her first three generations, according to Steve Haskin of "Bloodhorse."

Its the kind of pedigree that helps make Belmont 139 so interesting. And not that easy.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Its Game On for Belmont Stakes

Elmont, NY--The Belmont Stakes lives, thanks to the promise that two legitimate three-year-olds--one perhaps a special horse--will be entered at tomorrow mornings draw for Belmont post positions.

Her name is Rags to Riches and she already is a special filly. A victory in the Belmont would put her in rarified air, indeed. Only Ruthless and Tanya have beaten the boys since this race was first run in 1867.

Win or lose, Rags to Riches gives the Belmont what it sorely needed; box office, Digger notwithstanding, of course. Already a three-time Grade 1 winner this year, she already is the highly likely Eclipse Award winner in her division.

But with an upset on Saturday, however, and a clean slate against her own kind the rest of the year, Rags to Riches suddenly is in the conversation for Horse of the Year. Easier said than done, of course, but she is a bona fide contender.

Nick Zito said it best after the Preakness, and said it again when he let it be known that C P West would be the seventh horse entered in Saturdays race: He proved he belongs with these horses, was his quote moments after C P Wests strong fourth-place Baltimore run.

I heard the band, and the next thing I was marching, Zito said, too, as if his colts Preakness werent an excellent prep for the Belmont. Somehow I dont think this decision was made yesterday.

Starting to get a little excited about the race now. Curlin clearly is a deserving favorite. But the Test of the Champion seldom is easily won.

Written by John Pricci

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