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, 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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Sunday, July 22, 2007

What Will Saratoga Bring?

Octave, whose timing could have been better in terms of her standing within her own barn, much less the three-year-old filly division, won her second consecutive Grade 1 of the session yesterday, a small footnote given stablemate Rags To Riches 102-yearold historical achievement earlier in the meet.

Both fillies are now on a collision course as each is being considered for Saratogas storied Alabama Stakes, although one of them should run in the Travers. But more on that later. Were just glad the Belmont winner has gotten over the sniffles and is back in training full time.

The effort by Johnny Velazquez was a thing of beauty on the Pletcher favorite at Belmont Saturday. He simply didnt allow lone speedster Folk to get away, then timed Octaves winning move perfectly, opening just enough ground to hold off Lears Princess late.

And wasnt Lears Princess good in her real dirt debut? She has a lot of quality but probably will prove better on grass. At least now her connections know they have options.

Folk was good, too. While she had to work just a tad to secure a clear lead, she battled back gamely despite making her first start in four months and while going a mile and a quarter for the first time.

It was Octaves stablemate, however, that made this Belmont meet memorable: First the stumbling start and brilliant recovery by filly and rider. Then her trip. Its one thing to like it out there in the clear; its quite another to fire wider off the turn and widest into the stretch before withstanding the resurgence of a brilliant classic winner.

It makes you wonder whether Rags To Riches might be the best three-year-old in the country over any distance. Her pedigree was her edge in the Belmont, no question. But her talent and obvious class make her, to use a much overused and abused description, something truly special.

At this point, it cant only be about the money for her connections. The career of Rags To Riches, in the recent past, present and future, is now about historical context every time she races. Anything less would do the filly a disservice.

Written by John Pricci

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