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, October 19, 2013

If the Shoe Fits…

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, October 19, 2013—As stated in today’s Feature Race Analysis this morning, New York-bred Showcase Day in recent years is the third-largest handle day at New York Racing Assn. tracks, behind only the Belmont and Travers programs.

Full fields are the rule, not the exception, lots of diversity, and a horse population that’s familiar to New York horseplayers, providing plenty of grist for the gambling mill. The event has come a long way since Dr. Dominic DeLuke, one of the program’s pioneers, and trainer Mike Hernandez seemingly won all the events.

Quality has improved steadily and the event no longer is—and I’m not proud of authoring this—the “Muskrat Ramble.” Funny Cide changed the profile of the state-bred program forever—although there probably are still too many mares of dubious quality being inseminated here. But that’s a story for another day.

Whether you know him or not, or whether you like him or not, it was fun watching trainer Gary Sciacca loving on Saratoga Snacks in the Belmont Park winners’ circle after the very talented 4-year-old gamely held off the late rally of Bigger Is Bettor to win the centerpiece Empire Classic, his seventh victory in 10 career starts for the August Dawn Farm of NFL Hall of Famer Bill Parcells.

There was pressure on the trainer this week as he vacillated between the 9-furlong Classic, in which he finished second last year, and the 6-furlong Hudson Handicap. But since Sciacca equipped the 4-year-old ridgling with glue-on shoes, he’s been training more aggressively, giving Sciacca the impetus to go for the big prize.

Sciacca believed his horse was fit enough to get the trip, his first start since August 1, and Joel Rosario, who only recently returned from an injury, worked his magic in the final furlongs as Saratoga Snacks was getting weary. Excellent job all around, including the association’s decision to debut the popular 50-Cent trifecta on the high profile betting card.

Gold Rail Has Bettors Seeing Red

Apparently, bias is not limited to extremist wings of political parties. The inside portion of Big Sandy, especially lane #1, has been carrying home speed in an aberrant fashion all meet long, notwithstanding a week-to-10-days period when the main track gave all runners a fair chance to win, no matter which path, no matter the running style.

Actually, we hadn’t seen a bias this strong in New York, and for such a long period of time, since the rail literally carried Gusty O’Shea to victory in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga in 1973. This season it’s been difficult to distinguish between the Belmont Fall meet and any spring session at Keeneland pro-Polytrack.

The atmospherics have been very good on Long Island relatively speaking since racing returned to Long Island at the beginning of September. There are no legitimate excuses as far as I can see.

A bias is unfair to horsemen that are powerless to meet such a challenge and to bettors that are often forced to guess which horse will be sent to the lead at all costs, badly skewing race dynamics. And with virtually all main track races being contested around one turn, positional speed, more than overall ability, is paramount.

Some jockeys are quick to recognize a bias. Rajiv Maragh stole several races late this week when he made use of his mount’s ability to get the lead and clear the field to establish rail position.

Leading rider Javier Castellano also has made excellent use of the golden rail at this session, although he seemed to overcompensate aboard the speedy Warrioroftheroses in the Empire Classic, making far too much use of his mount early in a 9-furlong, one turn event.

The point is that horses should determine the outcome of races, not track superintendents.

Written by John Pricci

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