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, October 21, 2018

From Northeast State-breds, to Kentucky, to Great Britain, Champions Everywhere

Tomorrow Breeders’ Cup pre-entries happen and in two weeks, many world championships will be decided. Well, Maryland and New York couldn’t wait to get started and had a party of their own.

As a fan and bettor who supports the game on a daily basis, I implore the two states to talk to each other and schedule the Maryland Million and New York Showcase Day a week apart.

I watched both—and Keeneland, too—but couldn’t really get into either. Following two simulcasts is difficult enough, three nearly impossible even if I were years younger...

That ship has sailed so the hope is that common sense and common interest will prevail next year. It’s more than handicapping X’s and O’s and historical events are about nuance; there’s no time or space for that in Simo World.

As a native New Yorker, we’ll start there. Two New York-breds have been major national players this year but sadly Diversify was sidelined with an injury—more thoughts on Mind Your Biscuits later.

We bring all this up because last year Highway Star also was an open class player, competing in and winning major stakes but did not resurrect her good 2018 form…until Saturday.

Courageously—the filly and David Cohen both--came through narrowly inside Filibustin after straightening away, repulsed Pauseforacause, and held a late rally Satisfy safe.

It was a classy return to form while her main rival, Holiday Disguise, ran dreadfully. Credit trainer Ubillo Rodrigo and besides, what would Showcase Day be without a Chet and Mary Broman bred and owned winner?

Other highlights included: Offering Plan and Fifty Five showing their open class credentials under near-arrogant handling, winning the Mohawk and Ticonderoga, respectively, and Runaway Lute taking the Hudson—imagine that, a Handicap—notable for continuing Gary Contessa’s resurgence.

Did we mention that Runaway Lute, the middle leg of a natural triple, gave Hall of Famer Javier Castellano his 5,000th career victory? And he didn’t even need to race-ride to do it? Congratulations on a remarkable achievement.

Bonita Bianca was very good taking the Empire Distaff—Take Charge Aubrey was awful—and Pat On the Back continued Jeremiah Englehart’s uncommonly dominating 2018 season in the Empire Classic.

Along with Runaway Lute, it was Harold Lerner and partners second Showcase Day score.

We would be remiss if we didn’t note that off-turf maiden winning juvenile Koscuiszko appears to have stakes caliber efforts in his future.

At Laurel Park, many results were appropriate and/or made us smile: Crabcakes won the 3rd at 2-5, commencing a Pick 3 that paid all of $5.20 when a 3-5 and 1-5 shots took two subsequent legs.

Enjoy when stalwarts of a particular region do well on the biggest days of the local wagering scene so winners saddled by T. Bernard Houghton, Mary Eppler, Hamilton Smith and Katie Voss were entirely appropriate.

To watch the ageless Hall of Famer Edgar Prado nurse Saratoga Bob along as a pace presence throughout and keep the gelded 4-year-old alive to reach the line in front was thing of beauty in the Maryland Million Classic—and he beat me!

The victory was Prado’s record 18th Maryland Million victory, one more than another Hall of Famer, Ramon Dominguez, the legendary talented who dominated the Maryland—and New York--scene back in the day.

Once again, good racing meant good business. Laurel Park handle of $5.7 million was the highest in 11 years, a 30% increase year over year. Belinda Stronach was on hand to award the winning Classic trophy to the owner group Wayne Harrison, Maryland mainstay Robert Manfuso and Voss.

Since inception, it was rare when New York Showcase Day was the second largest handle day on the Belmont Park racing calendar. When no business release appeared in our inbox, well called Belmont Park for a handle report on the day and any other pertinent business information.

NYRA’s switchboard operator informed me that I couldn’t get put through to the Press Office whose department extension is unavailable to callers, doesn’t accept calls from the press and was offered an email address instead.

I have the email address but did not send an inquiry. If a communications office only accepts email inquiries, I find the response is less than it can be and in instances when no figures are released that no news generally is not good news. What genius thinks non-verbal communication is good policy?

Racing to the Midterms

There are gambling and gambling related issues on the ballot in Florida. One is eliminating dog racing in the state, the other an initiative to have voters decide on future gambling expansion, not Tallahassee.

I initially had knee-jerk reactions on both issues: Dog racing bad; policy decisions by voters good. Then I started considering swords that cut both ways.

Racing has its issues with the ethical treatment of horses vis a vis aggressive placement or scheduling, aggressive placement, medication and aftercare, to name a few. [Florida Amendment 13, Ban on Wagering on Dog Races Amendment].

But they pale when compared to the horror stories associated with dog racing where, for instance, allegations of cocaine use makes raceday Lasix look like vitamins compared with other alleged performance enhancers in dog racing.

And who wants legislators lobbied or outright bribed when it comes to gambling expansion which has more to do with gaming and sports betting than it has on horse racing per se. [Florida Amendment 3, Voter Approval of Casino Gambling Initiative]

While the choices may seem obvious, they are the oft-referred to slippery slopes. If dog racing is eliminated, would animal rights activists, buoyed by the elimination of dog racing, go after horse racing next?

What’s that? Horse racing is too significant with respect to jobs and tourism so it would never happen. And Donald Trump could never be elected president either.

And who wants to possibly advance more governmental corruption in the name of economic progress?

If the ability to make gambling-related decisions became the purview of voters, would the extreme right spearhead the curtailment of expansion to the extent it results in more defunding of educational and social programs that traditionally red states are noted for?

My opinion is evolving on both.

In the Empire State, meanwhile, a little known candidate for Governor, Larry Sharpe, purports to help New York racing by enacting what he terms common-sense reforms to the New York Gaming Commission, whose conduct could use better definition regarding its authority, scope and process.

Sharpe believes that while licensing fees have remained relatively low, regulations surrounding fitness for licensure and reasons for license revocation may be too broad.

With respect to contractual disputes, he believes the Commission takes a punish-first, resolve the consequences of subsequent court resolutions later.

Further he calls for New York’s Scaffold Laws to be addressed to that owners and employers need not pay extremely high insurance costs to run their business.

For one thing, Sharpe proposes the elimination of off-hours injuries that are a factor in higher insurance costs in this industry. Lower insurance costs will help grow the game in New York.

Interested horsemen can find out more at a free event hosted by Sharpe and an associate at King Umberto restaurant in Elmont, from 11:30 A.m. to 1 p.m. this Tuesday, OCT 23.

Racing Round the World

In his last career run, champion Cracksman was absolutely awesome taking the Group 1 Champion Stakes on Champions Day card at Ascot for the seemingly invincible team of Gosden and Dettori, who paired up to win three on the day. His turn of foot was extraordinary as was his finishing power. He enters stud in 2019.

But it might have been Roaring Lion who was more awe worthy as the GR 1 QE II winner, winning the race beneath rising young star, 22-year-old Oisin Murphy who never panicked even while his horse was never handling the soft ground.

The result of Keeneland’s G2 Raven Run exacta was a two-speed number, sort of. Winner Shamrock Rose broke like a shot from an outside post but was eased back almost immediately thereafter. Meanwhile, runner up Blamed shook free, controlled a quick tempo, and was outrun at the very end.

It was another high profile Keeneland win for young Tyler Gaffalione, a strong finisher with an excellent sense of pace and positional riding reminiscent of latter day Jerry Bailey and today’s Jose Ortiz.

Interesting that one of his recent significant wins came aboard New York-bred Mind Your Biscuits who will be pre-entered in the Classic and Dirt Mile but, in our view, is odds on to go in the former, not the latter.

Roaring Lion also will enter stud next year but despite an ambitious season might ship stateside for a go in the Classic. He likely will be pre-entered but the decision won’t be known until Gosden and Sheikh Farad huddle first.

Written by John Pricci

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