John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com 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 MSNBC.com, 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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Friday, November 28, 2014


Horse of the Holiday Weekend


PLANTATION, FL, November 28, 2014--When last we checked in on our Derby hero, he was neither roughed, sloughed or rebuffed at the start of the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

In fact, he was outside in the clear all the way which was, of course, the good news and the bad news. That’s what happens on those inside-out speed tracks of Southern California.

What he was, however, was a horse in need of just one more race to be at tops. Under the circumstances, the California Chrome of spring likely would have surged ahead in midstretch and won the damn thing.

Instead, he remained one-paced and settled for third behind Bayern and Toast of New York, and he might even have cost himself a championship in the process.

One moment before the Classic latch was sprung, the dual Classics and Santa Anita Derby winner was a lock for the three-year-old championship; the only one that could have dethroned him at that point was Jerry Hollendorfer’s horse.

That was the universally shared belief anyway.

My Eclipse ballot for Horse of the Year has Main Sequence on top at the moment and Bayern a controversially begrudging sophomore titlist:

Begrudging for obvious reasons; controversially for equally understandable reasons.

For me and my voting colleagues, California Chrome gets an opportunity to shout “stop the presses!" All that is needed would be victory in the grassy Hollywood Derby over the weekend. Why?

Because the would-be champion is taking on a new challenge, a chance to show another dimension. Good horses are said to run on anything. At this level for me, it’s all about the sport.

I have watched video of his 52-second breeze on the Del Mar turf course and frankly I don’t know what to do with it. His action was fine, the effort little more than an open gallop.

But I can’t be sure the colt was enthusiastic about what he was doing, and if I can’t be sure about that, I certainly don’t know what’s going to happen on Saturday night.

That doesn’t mean he’s an automatic bet-against; he’s simply an automatic sit-and-watch. No one needs to bet this race to enjoy the built-in suspenseful uncertainty of it all.

So there’s a lot riding on this year's Hollywood Derby: I’m perfectly willing to elevate the Chromester from second within his own division--did I mention begrudgingly--and award him the entire enchilada.

And I'm not completely comfortable dong that, either: How do I “punish” a horse that’s a perfect 4-for-4 in traditional Grade 1 events, winning each with either a dramatic finish, with a flair, or both.

But when it comes to Horse of the Year--and we’ve written this ad nauseum--I’ll simply follow the counsel of the late, legendary Joe Hirsch: “The Horse of the Year can be anything.”

And until Bayern made the left-hand turn seen round the world from the Classic starting gate, California Chrome was the first horse on every fan's mind; not for the promise of what might be, but for what was in 2014.

The question now is whether what-was is the same as what-is.




Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, November 08, 2014


Gulfstream Park West: Previews of a Star?


HALLANDALE BEACH--November 8, 2014--You knew that Florida Millions Preview Day had to be good; the main event, after all, is still two months away.

The Preview program was pared from eight races to seven after Daring Kathy, undefeated on the Gulfstream Park West turf course, chased away all the competition from the Filly & Mare Turf, so much so that the race never filled.

But the program didn’t lack star power, certainly not after juvenile colt Mr. Jordan remained undefeated in two starts--and was ultra impressive doing so.

Paco Lopez took the mount for trainer Eddie Plesa, apparently still on a brief post-Breeders’ Cup vacation in California and among this missing on track. But not Paco, hard at work winning races.

Did I say winning races? Make that dominating races.

By the time he finished making it into the circle with Mr. (Not To Be Confused With Michael) Jordan, he was on a triple, eventually winding up with four on the day.

Who said you can’t go home to where you first got started, in the winter of 1996-7? And this is a good way to finish a career year?

It has been a bad year for Plesa either, jockey and trainer hooking up to do excellent work together. Just call it Theirluckyyear.

The other thing about Mr. Jordan, named for one of part-owner Leon Ellman’s grandchildren, is that he’s a cool looking horse, a big strapping gray with a presence about him, and his team was very anxious to see how he would run Saturday.

Plesa told the owners that if inexperience didn’t beat him, then he’d probably win the race. And the colt actually broke a beat slow but he rushed up toward the leaders to join the fray, but not in a rank sort of way.

Lopez established position along the fence as the leaders approached the turn of the 6-½ furlong sprint. Lopez asked him, then waited, then waited some more before tipping outside and into the clear at headstretch.

He drew off impressively, Lopez allowing him to gallop out with some vigor. “Before he even ran, Paco thought he’d go two turns. I haven’t plotted that out yet.“

“I love the horse,” said Lopez. “I wanted to teach him to come from behind and get a little bit of dirt in his face. He did pretty good.”

Better than pretty good. He won by three emphatic lengths without late urging in a solid 1:18.32 for that surface. And he’s got what the good ones have: gears.

“Maybe people thought he was just a speed horse who overshadowed everybody,” said Plesa of his 6-1/2-length wire score in his Monmouth Park debut in September.

“[Today] he overcame a start, he overcame horses in front of him. You have to have guts to win races.”

And, of course, the talent that was on display Saturday.

Mr. Jordan is the promising son of the promising young stallion Kantharos, selling for three times the sire’s sales average.

“I will sit down and come up with some sort of plan for him, Plesa said, There’s a lot to look forward to.”


Written by John Pricci

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Friday, October 24, 2014


123Gaming’s Robert Earle: Born to Bet


PLANTATION, FL., October 24, 2014—This time, even if I decided that I badly wanted to hurl slings and arrows at the racing industry for the snail-like pace at which it’s proven willing to accept new ideas, I couldn’t: This time, it was my bad.

Here I had this new wagering idea staring me in the face, something novel, something that possibly could stir the imagination of young people with discretionary income looking for an exciting way to occupy their time.

It was right in front of me and I didn’t see it, couldn’t conjure up how a new interpretation of a well-known wager could spark growth by servicing an untapped resource, the demographic that is the envy of every successful business; the young adult.

I’m talking about a different kind of Pick 6, a variation on the theme, one that puts rank and file bettors up front by keeping them in the sequence right to the bitter end, no matter how much or how little they invest.

The rules governing the “123 Pick Six” make a very difficult wager less daunting. Of greater import, by making the wager more accessible, it becomes an Everyman Pick Six, putting average bettors on the same playing field with well-financed individuals and syndicates.

The man behind the 123 Pick Six is Robert Earle, unknown to me at the time but the same man I saw instructing panel members and attendees in 2009 at the Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Simulcast Conference in Saratoga Springs.

He believed then and continues to believe now that he can get more people involved in the Thoroughbred racing by wagering on it.

Betting on racehorses; what a concept!

The 45-year-old Earle was born into the racing business in Christchurch, New Zealand where, quite literally, people house horses in their own backyards which, in a certain social context, makes this harness racing hub the Saratoga of the Antipodes.

Earle’s father was a Standardbred trainer and Robert’s been around horses his entire life. He wanted to become a driver, later working as a stable hand, but he needed a job. So put his high school typing skills to good use, getting a job as a data entry clerk.

The Technology age was about to break wide open and he seized that opportunity, honing his technical acumen while working for AT&T Global Information Solutions, but his love of racing was too strong.

Earle took two decades of IT expertise with him to Addington Raceway, where he was Raceway Director until 2006 until striking out on his current career path: Horse owner, Standardbred breeder, amateur harness driver, and founder/CEO of 123gaming.com.

To say that he was ahead of his time is to understate the point. In 1999 he made a tech presentation in front of Frank Stronach and later that year created racing’s first social network website, racingworld.com.

Seven years later he signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Scientific Games which was not marketing orientated but when they were subsequently bought by Sportech, that enabled 123racing.com to go online and the company began to take root.

For almost eight years now, Earle’s 123racing has supplied online handicapping tournaments to more than a few U.S. racetracks, including Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands, as well Woodbine north of the border.

Handicapping contests and games based on the fantasy-sports model is one of horse racing’s few growth areas, which is exactly what Earle’s vision of the “123 Pick Six” can and should be.

But it hasn’t been easy getting Earle’s dream to fruition. It has taken five years to build the wager, get it approved, licensed, tested, and approved again, this time by the Model Rules Committee of American Racing Commissioners International.

Minus Thoroughbred racing’s Big Three, the 123 Pick Six is available at 30 racetracks worldwide, including Keeneland, Hawthorne and Parx Racing in the U.S.; Dubai Racing, Japan Racing and British and Irish Racing worldwide.

“We had good talks with NYRA at Saratoga and at Santa Anita before I arrived here [two weeks ago],” Earle said this week by phone from his native New Zealand. “We’ve spoken with Churchill Downs and they also have expressed some interest.”

Earle is focused on new customer creation and building new wagers for a marketplace that in part still believes that a cross-country daily double can be a viable new bet.

His vision is to grow an interactive and social handicapping experience via a leaderboard-based parimutuel wager integrated across all tote platforms including brick-and-mortar betting windows and self-service terminals, online wagering and mobile applications.

Ideally, Earle wants to stimulate interest in mainstream and traditional wagering products through innovating technology, simplicity and interaction. When coupled with entertainment initiatives, he believes it will be the most effective means of attracting newer, younger players. He’s investing his own money to prove it.

Unlike conventional Pick Six with carryover, there’s a guaranteed 123 Pick Six contest pool winner every day. A bettor can take down the entire pot without picking a winner because first, second and third-place race finishers all count in determining winning contest players.

The top three handicappers daily—eight contest tracks are being offered at this writing--share the entire net pool: 60% to the winner, 30% to the runnerup and 10% to the third-place point earner. Points consist of the sum of win, place and show payoffs in six races, to wit:

A race winner paying $9.00, $6.00 and $3.00 across-the-board earns 18 points for the handicapper picking the winner of that race. If another bettor chooses a longshot that finishes second, paying $12.00 to place and $8.00 to show, he will have amassed 20 points and won this mythical one-race contest.

In the event two handicappers finish in a points dead-heat, the first and second points pool are combined so that the dead-heaters will share 90% of the stakes, with the show finisher collecting 10%.

The post-time favorite will be substituted in the event of a late scratch. If a race is declared “no contest,” or a field is reduced to four or less entrants, the remaining five races will determine the contest winner.

A businessman, Earle chooses to share the wealth with competitors by trying to grow the game: “Three months ago we began offering our free 123 Pick Six and have converted 15% of those registered into customers,” he said. “We’d like to help other ADWs better monetize their platforms.”

New registrations receive $50 in free wagers and the site currently is offering a Bet $300-Get $300 sign-up promotion. [See the advertising-promotion on HorseRaceInsider.com. Earle also will be providing commentary on the site in the near future].

The contest Pick 6 costs $2, just like most Pick Six pools, and the takeout rate is determined by rates approved by the state in which a racetrack operates. “I am sensitive to concerns about takeout and right now our guarantees are costing us money,” he said. “One day I’d like to create a wager with zero takeout.”

As crazy as that sounds, I wouldn’t bet against him.

Written by John Pricci

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