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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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Less Becomes Much More in Rainbow 6

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., April 26, 2015—Good luck is never a bad thing. Gulfstream was fortunate that the rains didn’t come until well after Saturday's program had begun and because of the way the simulcast schedule fell out.

With Keeneland closed and Churchill not set to open the meet until 6 p.m., Aqueduct and Gulfstream had the major-track Saturday landscape virtually to themselves.

Otherwise, the mandatory Rainbow 6 jackpot likely never would have reached a record pool of $7.1 million as bettors put up $5.6 million chasing $1.4 million in “free money.”

The heavy rains that developed after the sequence began kept fields intact, obviously, and the bettors themselves got lucky when nearly universal single Discreet Marq was declared, her role ably filled in by a talented post time favorite, Baffle Me.

It’s rare when a post time favorite has a clear class edge on the group; Discreet Marq still would have had Baffle Me to beat in the overnight Powder Break had they both run.

“I was obviously happy to see Discreet Marq come out,” said winning trainer Mark Hennig. “I don’t think she would have if it didn’t rain.”

The jackpot pool and fresh money resulted in multiple winners of $14,592, a tidy sum considering three very short-priced potential singles paying $4.60 or less, a morning line second choice, and two extreme longshots; one usable, the other impossible.

(For the record, we had five of six, which gets you nothing, eliminated when One Proud Dude took the first leg of the sequence at 27-1).

The previous record occurred in 2011 when $3.5 million was spent chasing an identical $1.4 million jackpot.

BETS ‘N PIECES: There were three added money events offered yesterday, including the G3 Miami Mile won by 21-1 Rerun, shipping down from Ocala for the occasion.

Interestingly, in terms of yesterday Rainbow 6 sequence, the Tarpon Stakes was included due to the presence of 3-10, newly blinkered Mr. Jordan, who bore out badly despite right-handed pressure.

The talented gray finished first by a head but was disqualified for interfering with Royal Squeeze nearing the finish; a correct call by the much maligned Gulfstream stewards…

The longer, uncoupled entry-mate, seemingly on a tear at all venues recently, got the money again yesterday in Aqueduct’s G3 Excelsior, New York-bred Effinex getting the money with heralded stablemate Wicked Strong a dull, one-paced third at 3-5…

Cinco Charlie beneath Ricardo Santana Jr. won the inaugural William Walker Stakes on opening night at Churchill Downs Saturday. It was the sixth stakes win for the Churchill maiden breaker, surviving a three-ply battle then hanging on for the win.

Odds-on favorite Blofeld appeared in need of the effort, while making his return from a lengthy layoff, finished third.

Both Upstart, very difficult to pull up after the drill, and Frosted, both having their final Kentucky Derby timed workouts, went very well according to reports from the Palm Meadows training facility Saturday morning.

Likely Derby favorite American Pharoah zipped around Churchill yesterday in 58.20, like breaking so many sticks.

Social Inclusion, the 2014 Preakness’ third-place finisher, makes his season’s debut for new trainer Chad Brown in today’s third race at Gulfstream Park. He hasn’t started since finishing unplaced in last year’s Haskell.

The long winter of New York racing’s discontent ends today; Belmont Park opens Wednesday for the first of 59 days. The inaugural Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, June 5-6-7, features 17 stakes worth over $10 million.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Charles Town Classic: Prepping For Dollars

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., April 17, 2016—The best horse in America runs Saturday—in Charles Town, West Virginia.

Oh well, so it wasn’t Hot Springs.

Now we have nothing against the good people of the Mountain State, mind you. God knows they’re a tough lot, know how to cope with hard work and on-the-job adversity.

But the racing in minor league, as glorified bullrings usually are. And the minor leagues have its place, although that position has become increasingly difficult to defend in these trying times.

To make it work, West Virginia racing had to be propped up by casino dole. And with that they put all their Thoroughbred eggs in one Classic basket, throwing dollars at their only national event.

The result has been that the equine equivalent of the 1 percent has swooped in with the “big hoss” and snatched up all those golden eggs without drawing an anxious deep breath. Just ask Mike Smith.

However, not all the members of the group that own Shared Belief are 1 percenters themselves so it makes sense that they take a little financial pressure off the table in the form of an easy payday.

But that’s about as much slack as this racing fan is going to cut the group. There’s only one event that American race fans would like to see now—in advance of the Classic rematch, that is. And that race is just over the horizon after Saturday’s at 6:05 p.m.

The anticipation comes from the fact that the next one will be very competitive but certainly within this brilliant gelding’s wheelhouse. After all, he was very successful turning back to one turn earlier this year and the spacing of seven weeks is ideal.

Of course, it’s the Metropolitan Handicap, better known as the Met Mile, on the Belmont Stakes undercard, offering a purse of $1.5 million, the lion’s share of which must be earned.

It’s not that Shared Belief has anything to prove at this point, but running flat out in a one turn mile in top competition with no breather is available will only add to his legend.

Some of America’s best runners figure to show up for this kind of cash and the race has been, according to reports, the long term goal of 2013 Belmont Stakes-winning Palace Malice.

If there is one knock on these huge festival event programs, watered-down same-meet weekend cards notwithstanding, is that the marquee event will gain all the media attention so that the storyline becomes: “Today’s Belmont Stakes… and in other races…”

An aside: Almost every horseplayer I speak with is lamenting that Memorial Day 2015 won’t be the same without the Met Mile. That’s true, and there’s something else, too:

If there doesn’t happen to be a Triple Crown on the line, the appearance of America’s leading race horse could knock the Belmont Park spring meet’s signature event right off the back page.

But that was a business decision that the NYRA made--and the Charles Town Classic was a business decision that Jerry Hollendorfer and friends made.

This weekend, Shared Belief exits the cozy confines of the Golden State for the three-turn rigors of the Mountain State.

What awaits next is the visit to the Empire State. You hate to get ahead of yourself in the horse racing game. This time it’s justified.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, April 05, 2015

No Slouching Towards Louisviile

SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY, April 4, 2015—From New York City to Lexington to Arcadia, many of this country’s elite three year olds put on a superb show that is sure to whet the appetites of America’s Race fans one month from today.

In each of three nine-furlong Grade 1s, the cream rose, other logical favorites, save Daredevil, gave it their best and a couple of upstarts, especially the Wood Memorial and Blue Grass runners-up, are peaking right on top of the Kentucky Derby.

That’s the thing about three year olds in the spring; they’re all just like boxes of chocolate. You never know what you will find or how far down the bottom really goes.

It was refreshing to see good energy return to the racetrack by the bay and in a strange way, prevailing northeast-crosswinds that sometimes reached 35 m.p.h. added to a charged atmosphere while having a ruinous effect on running times all afternoon.

But as that turned out, it played to the strength of Frosted, the colt who had a stranglehold on the Fountain of Youth until his epiglottis became entrapped and he stopped dramatically after it appeared into the Gulfstream stretch that the dance was done.

And so a minor surgical procedure to correct that issue, opening the blinkers a bit which allowed him to relax in the early going, a rider switch to Joel Rosario and, also significantly, a return to Queens where he showed at 2 he just might make a serious three year old.

All of it came together a furlong from home when a very confident Rosario allowed him to pick up Tencendur to reach even terms before the rider threw one more cross and he ran away, straight and strong through the Big A finish line.

Runner-up Tencendur revealed his true potential yesterday. Following a late-run fourth in the Withers following a New York-bred maiden breaker, he ran in spots when adding blinkers for the Gotham but that experiment paid dividends yesterday.

Under new rider Jose Ortiz, Tencendur stalked comfortably in the three-path throughout, moved up outside on the turn to take the lead and set sail to the wire after switching to his correct lead into the straight.

But Frosted moved with him from behind, took aim after he was straightened away by Rosario and it looked like it would only be a matter of time before he would pick him up.

“The last race really made us scratch our heads,” said Kiaran McLaughlin. “We did everything we could to change everything we possibly could, including the jockey, just because we were changing everything. It all worked out. It's just a special win.”

El Kabeir, far behind the wind-compromised pace down the backside, made a solid late rally into the lane and was going in the right direction to the finish.

He might not measure up to the best of the best in this group but he certainly earned his way to Kentucky with his going-in the-right direction show finish.

Say this about Carpe Diem. Just maybe, nobody, with the exception of Todd Pletcher, realizes how good he is or can be.

No, he hasn’t been matched up with Bob Baffert’s California flyers. But if the Blue Grass showed anything, is that there highly likely is more in that considerable tank of his.

He stalked the lone pacesetter until Johnny Velazquez was ready. When the rider moved his hands entering the far turn, it appeared for a moment it might be a blow-by but, as Pletcher explained later, with that soft pace you knew [Ocho Ocho Ocho] would not give it up readily.

But after entering the stretch, he separated himself from the group, idled a bit, and had to be reminded by Velazquez that the job was not yet done. The colt responded and bounded under the wire with energy in reserve.

“Down the lane, I asked him and he responded right away,” said Velazquez. “Once he gets to the lead, he wants to wait, so I have to make sure I keep his mind on running.”

Who knows how much more effective he might be with pace in front of him, and he gets to use his considerable energy and talent all at once?

Whether Carpe Diem was waiting or not, Danzig Moon, a once-removed maiden going in was going to be coming. When last they met in Tampa, Carpe Diem was 12 lengths in front of him. On Saturday, Danzig Moon got nine of those lengths back.

And considering that Triple Eight got relatively nothing out of his season’s debut in the San Felipe, he did well to continue on for third after giving Carpe Diem a tussle for more than a quarter-mile.

Three-thousand miles to the West, it was Dortmund doing what he does best, the only thing re really knows how to do: Win.

But what’s interesting is the personal belief that the best race he’s ever run came at Churchill Downs as a two year old when he came from off the pace, racing outside all the way.

No chance of that in the Santa Anita Derby, of course, once he drew the rail. He likely would need to break sharp—which he did, albeit bobbling a bit and throwing a shoe—and show some athleticism which, for such a huge animal, he has.

“Even though he's won all his races, he's still learning," jockey Martin Garcia said post-race. "He can play around a bit, but when someone comes to him, or I ask him to go, he becomes push-button and he just takes off.” Which is just what he did on Saturday by 4-1/4 lengths.

Stablemate One Lucky Dane finished second, earning 40 qualifying points and a trip to Kentucky. And the third and fourth finishers, Bolo and Prospect Park, also now likely have enough to get into a starting gate that suddenly filling up fast.

Umpteen major preps down, one to go next weekend. This sophomore class just continues to put on a good show, leaving you begging for more.

Written by John Pricci

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