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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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Saturday, November 12, 2011


Casino Racing? Never Heard of Such a Thing


MIAMI, November 12, 2011--The first time I came to Calder, I couldn’t get in. That s to say that my oldest daughter Jen, now 35, was 10 months and in a stroller and neither she or her mother were allowed through the gate.

I know it was a state law, but I prefer to think that it was Kenny Noe Jr. who personally made sure we couldn’t enter the grounds.

The last time I was here, prior to today, that is, I was lodged on the top floor of the El Palacio--which I’m pretty sure was a Holiday Inn back in the day and from the back of the hotel, you could watch the races with a pair of binoculars.

Parenthetically, one didn’t even need 10x50s it was so close. Pre-OTB, before anyone had ever heard the term simulcasting, bookmakers manned the top floors to watch the action, maybe lay off some of the bigger bets on longshots.

The DGs, those who found a bookmaker who had just stepped off the boat from wherever in the world, used the top floor as a past-posting vantage point, before anyone ever heard the term Advance Deposit Wagering.

Anyway, I could see it was called Calder Casino and Race Course. The place recently got a face lift. It’s now called Calder Casino.

I wonder: Is this any way for Churchill Downs Inc. to run a racetrack?

Things change, of course. Often not for the better, nor the bettor, for that matter. If you dwell on it too long it only frustrates the hell out of you. Racetracks get casino operators entrée.

More often than not, they try to kill the goose because the golden eggs it lays get really expensive to produce.

Someone explained that it was an architectural error. It was that all right. But somehow they did manage to get the twin spires logo up without a hitch.

The elevator to the press box level, the sixth floor, was out of order. What was the line from that early Pacino movie? “I’m out of order; you’re out of order, this whole place it out of order.

Actually, that’s not true. We were able to get an elevator to give us a lift to the fifth floor before we were forced to hoof it the rest of the way.

I’m told the elevator’s been out of commission for a week but we’re happy to report that not one, not two, not three, but four buglers welcomed the horses to the post. All’s well in simo-land.

The racing is still good here. If you can survive Miami in summer, you’ve got to be tough.
If you doubt that, see last year’s Juvenile Fillies winner and two year old filly champion, or this year’s Filly & Mare Sprint winner.

We were lucky, catching one of Calder’s big racing days of the year by accident, really. The first event day of the season is in summer when Calder conducts its Summit of Speed program. their three big Saturdays of the year.

Today is Florida Million Day, when the local track gets to show off the Florida-bred program, world class by any measure.

The Million program boasted eight stakes races, half of them for two year olds on dirt and turf, and a couple for the older boys and girls going long and short, on turf and/or dirt.

The Jack Price Juvenile went to For Oby, who was good defeating Rev It up, with the favorite, Jordan’s Image, regressing off his recent big effort, finishing a nonthreatening third.

For Oby wasn’t as good as his filly counterpart, Yara, who won the Joe O’Farrell Juvenile Fillies in 1:24.90, three one-hundredths faster than For Oby. Yara was in complete control throughout beneath leading rider Luis Saez.

The Arthur I Appleton, for juveniles on the turf going a mile and a sixteenth was a crapshoot going in and emerged virtually the same way with Italo taking it in the final strides beneath talented young Jeffrey Sanchez.

All for the Trip, a recent maiden graduate in from New York, got into gear too late--not that it would have mattered as he finished one-paced beneath Joe Bravo.

The favorite took it on the chin again in the Elmer Heubeck Distaff, expected to go to Sweet Repent, she of the recurring foot issues. She was ready off the 114-day layup but not as sharp as she has been.

The improving My Pal Chrissy, winner of the Silverbulletday here last out, finished strongly late to win going away, her 1:45.79 equaling the mile and a sixteenth stakes record.

Then, all of a sudden, just as the field for the Jack Dudley Sprint Handicap approached the finish line, a Breeders’ Cup race broke out. Gibson, a 34-1 chance, who’d been close up in all recent finishes, albeit against weaker, ran to his good local work and dominated the field.

However, if you’re a trainer pattern player, you might have taken chance. Trainer Gerald Bennett is 31% efficient going all-weather to dirt. All that and Centeno, too, for big balloons.

Bennett, by way of Detroit, might be best remembered for giving Bill Shoemaker a leg up on his final winning ride, Beau Genius, at Gulfstream Park.

In the next, the John Franks Juvenile for fillies going long on turf, it would have helped if you’re a jockey observer.

Elvis Trujillo was in town for one mount, Sinister Brew at $15 for Jose Pinchon, the filly making a winning turf debut at the direct expense of Win Gera Lyn, victim of a tough trip, beaten a fast-closing half-length.

The Carl Rose Classic brought the curtain down on male three year olds and up going nine furlongs on dirt and the upset theme continued.

You expected Todd Pletcher not to have a live Florida-bred perhaps? Well, he did in the late developing three year old Turbo Compressor, who three starts back in New York ran faster than any of these ever had on performance figures.

Blinkers off, leading rider Saez up, for the win by many, at $8.40. The day concluded with the wide open Bonnie Heath Turf Cup won by Bad Debt under a well judged ride by Kendrick Carmouche, the third straight win for the Mike Trombetta-trained vet. Picou was a very game, tough luck runnerup.

For a casino, Calder puts on a hell of a Thoroughbred show.
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Written by John Pricci

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