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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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Wednesday, November 02, 2011


Hello Life, Goodbye Columbus


NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario, November 1, 2011--”For your personal protection, will you be carrying any mace or pepper spray today?” the Canadian border crossing guard asked as we presented our Passports.

I didn’t ask why he thought I needed them, like he knew something I didn’t. “No, thank you,” I said, adding, “I’m not sure anyone’s ever asked me that before.”

“Can we hold any firearms for you here until you return?”

I was tempted to say that was very thoughtful, but instead said, “no, we don't carry firearms.”

If you’re heading to Louisville by auto from Saratoga Springs, you need to go west across New York State first, until you reach the Buffalo area.

From there, you head south southwest, through the northeast corner of Pennsylvania--lovely this time of year--through Ohio, until you finally reach the Commonwealth: Bluegrass Country.

Toni and I never had seen Niagara Falls and since it represented only a small detour on the first leg of a three-leg jaunt, we stopped, lodging close to the Falls, midway between the true downtown and the part of Niagara Falls has become a honky tonkish “family fun area.”

But I couldn’t help thinking it reminded me of pre-Giuliani Times Square, without the working women. At least they were nowhere to be seen on this afternoon. Maybe they have Mondays off? We did see a zombie but by then Halloween drakness was descending.

The power of the Falls is immense. The people in the service industries of Niagara Falls are justifiably proud of one of nature’s true wonders. But their pride runs second to their warmth. Just a delightful stopover on our way to Kentucky.

Tuesday morning we set out for Columbus where the issue of the day for for the state capital and the other historic American cities in Ohio was union busting. They'll vote on that one next week.

The next landmark city was Youngstown, where it is said that at 19 young men get a union card and a wedding coat--that was all before the current Governor attempted to bust it.

Getting to Youngstown was much easier said than done. A 20-mile stretch of I-90 was closed and we landed in detour hell much of the day. And the morning held so much promise, too.

We made a pit-stop at a rest stop where, of all things, a player piano was filling the air, something you never hear anymore. It was playing classical as we walked in. It was like stepping back into a simpler time zone; relaxed, deliberate, and with a good vibe.

I was thinking how pleasant this all was when I happened upon a young, attentive father carrying his 15-month old son, Bradley, who donned auburn hair and an instant, very handsome smile.

I tried to curb my enthusiasm but couldn’t; I had my first stop and chat of the trip. As we chatted. Bradley was still smiling--such a beautiful baby boy.

And, then, the sign read “I-90 is closed.” We had just passed the Ohio state line where the first rest stop we saw--thought a map might come in handy--was also closed, "next rest area 69 miles.

Infrastructure, much on everyone’s mind these days, is in rough shape when you get beyond the cities, too. It was like, "Sorry, Ohio is closed due to construction.”

These days have made me so cynical that I thought for a moment the state was just trying to give the illusion there was construction going on here, placing orange cones strategically up to close a lane here, two lanes there, just because they could. The BQE, Ohio style.

If I drove through one work zone I drove through 10. I believe I only saw one crew at work. There were no construction vehicles, no men, only the orange cones and the closed lanes.

We managed to leave Youngstown, counter-intuitively as it turns out, because if you wanted to go south and west from that point, you had to first travel north and east.

Finally, we reached I-76 West, toward Akron, where finally I would be able to turn left and head south and west, to Columbus.

We passed what looked like a football stadium and happened upon the road sign. “Youngstown State University” it read.

So it had to be Stambaugh Stadium, home of the Youngstown State Penguins. Cool, I liked seeing where all the schools I’ve heard about are located.

A little further west on I-76 there was another sign, another college was coming up. It was Kent State University, only today protestors are not on our own like they were back in the day when Richard Nixon was POTUS. On this day, it was peaceful.

Power to the people, they said back then. I second that, but only to those who can protest peacefully. Power to the authorities, but only to those who don’t misuse it. Trash talk is not meant to be greeted by mace or pepper spray, or worse.

Forty minutes later came the signs for Columbus. Ninety minutes after that, we arrived.

We checked in and I began looking at the Breeders’ Cup races for Saturday. Friday’s was in the can; the Classic, too. Just eight more races to go.

Hope I don’t bounce. Almost 10 hours of driving will do that to a man. On Saturday evening, at about 6:30, I’ll know whether or not it was worth the effort.

Written by John Pricci

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