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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Sunday, July 19, 2015


Twas’ the Week Before Saratoga


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., July 19, 2015—With the exception of the amazing program on display on Meadowlands Pace night Saturday, everything I observed in the afternoon drew me the realization that Saratoga Race Course opens five days hence.

If that wasn’t a precursor yesterday, surely it would have been this morning when a NYRA press release in my inbox included possible runners expected for next weekend’s stakes: comprised of Friday’s Lake George for 3-year-old turf fillies and the traditional Schuylerville for the baby girls.

On Saturday, the colts get their chance in the Sanford, turf fillies and mares meet in the Grade 1 Diana while the following day 3-year-old fillies clash in the G1 Coaching Club American Oaks, opening week concluding with the Lucky Coin for turf sprinters.

Talk about front-end loading at the Spa: It’s almost enough to make fans forget about Chris Kay and the six missing trees.

A look through a pre-Spa notebook including Belmont final Saturday highlights:


Two Year Old Star on the Horizon

His name is Manipulated and he was bred in New York about a 40-minute drive north of Saratoga at the nursery of Chester and Mary Broman in Chestertown on Friends Lake Road.

If that name has a familiar ring, it should. Back in the pre-Funny Cide days, Friends Lake won the Florida Derby beneath Richard Migliore, giving the Bromans their first Grade 1 winner, the latest being the fleet filly Artemis Argotera.

The program is now world class, winning open stakes with some regularity. They bred the winner of 11 races at Saratoga last year, 62 in all, a sensational meet for any breeder. We thought it good enough to earn them our Eclipse Award vote--for all the good it did them.

As for the colt, he was buffeted about at the start, settled professionally once gathered up by Luis Saez (riding triple), got closer at the five-eighths pole, made a smooth a strong 3-wide rally at mid-turn, gained command in midstretch and lengthened his stride fully, shading 25 seconds for the final quarter-mile.

Did we mention he won by open lengths at even money and that his racing debut came in the Rockville Centre Stakes for state-breds at six furlongs? Where will he run next? Whenever that is, it likely will be in Saratoga, possibly in open company. He certainly has the tools.


For Sciacca, a Great Second Act

It’s extremely doubtful that when Gary Sciacca wakes up in the morning and looks in the mirror, it’s not Bill Mott who’s staring back at him.

In fact, no one has ever confused the two trainers but as far as Saratoga Snacks is concerned, the man who has the gelded 6-year-old’s hole card has, well, his whole card.

Despite a first act that included excellent results in stakes company, the owners apparently weren’t satisfied and made a barn change to Mott. The Hall of Famer went 0-for-5 with the gelding and at the end of 2014 got him back, this time as the owner trainer.

After a 2-1/2 month break, Saratoga Snacks was back in the winners circle going two turns on Aqueduct’s inner track, followed by a showing at seven-eighths on the main track before finishing a good third in the Commentary Stakes at Belmont in May.

Craftily ridden by Johnny Velazquez, Saratoga Snacks gamely repelled the surging Empire Dreams, who had taken a short lead in midstretch, surging forward again to win the mile and one sixteenth Saginaw Stakes.

This result provides another angle for handicappers to consider: Horses for Trainers. For good measure, Sciacca saddled seventh race winner Police Camp, under a well-timed finish from Angel Arroyo.

Good job all around; hooray for the little guys!


Lasix Free Juveniles as Business Keeps Booming at Gulfstream

With a year-round racing schedule finally in place, Gulfstream Park continues to offer a product that remains popular with simulcast bettors.

From the start of its summer meet, July business is up a half-million dollars per day year over year.

The barn area is full, whatever stalls remain at Calder are maxed out and there are over 200 horses sheltered at the Palm Meadows training facility. With that, field size has increased from approximately 7.8 horses per race to just over 8.2.

The product might not quite be up to “world class” standards, but the operation continues to defy national trends that shows overall handle to be flat when it’s not down slightly.

While at first, Lasix-free juvenile racing seems almost a hollow gesture, the experiment is worth exploring, especially given the reticence horsemen display just at the suggestion that regulators would take their raceday Lasix away.

Trainers supported the over-subscribed maiden 4-1/2 furlongs for fillies drawing 23 entrants. The races were split and after one scratch yielded fields of 10 and 12, respectively, in the sixth and eighth races.

Only five of the 22 starters had ever raced, one of which was coming off Lasix, and despite the “first-timer factor,” the races attracted all-sources handle of $411,330 and $449,694.

By way of comparison, the featured 10-filly Bougainvillea Handicap for older turf sprinters handled a mere $328,337. Interestingly, the maiden fillies raced for a $65,000 purse while the overnight event carried a purse of $60,000.

We’d expect to see a lot more of these events carded by the racing office, with or without the same purse structure.

It what be interesting to see will happen when these fillies are entered back as either first-Lasix maidens or trainers wanting a little extra oomph in the tank for an upcoming stakes engagement.

Ralph Nicks was the training star of the juvenile afternoon. The well-backed Dancie (D’Wildcat) and Kandoo (Kantharos) both won off by daylight, one just as impressive as the other—although Kandoo was a couple of ticks faster. Hicks entered three, and in the eighth completed his own exacta.

Who does the former long-time Mott assistant think he is, Gary Sciacca?


DEL MAR OFF TO SHAKY START

While some of the hit is attributable to events beyond its control, like yesterday’s deluge and lightning storm that set a palm tree lining the backstretch on fire, ole Del Mar has gotten off to a rocky beginning.

The storm accounted for late scratches in the double digits and three turf races were rescheduled to the main track. With one less race than a comparable Saturday in 2014, handle was down $4.6 million at $9.4 million for the day. Yesterday’s handle was $3.7 down from 2013’s 10-race program, according to researcher Roger Newell.

Hurt by a lack of a big Pick 6 carryover present in 2014, accounting for a healthy percentage of this year’s decrease, business is down just under $4.9 million year over year.

Wonder what’s in store for the Spa? I expect there will be an increase the first weekend--if season pass-holders might be included in 2015 attendance figures starting opening day.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Del Mar-Spa Takeout Study Very Revealing


The following is re-printed verbatim from a post by Jeff Platt, President of the Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA), that originally appeared on the Pace Advantage chat room site.

In it, Platt reveals the debilitating effect that higher takeout rates have on parimutuel handle. Platt compared handle figures from the 2014 Del Mar and Saratoga race meets and the data is compelling.

Every racetrack executive in America should study the following analysis for a clearer understanding of this issue. No doctorate in mathematics is required to consider the lessons to be learned herein.

By Jeff Platt

Last year, after the conclusion of the Del Mar and Saratoga meets, I ran the following handle analysis comparing Del Mar 2014 vs. Saratoga 2014 and submitted it to the CHRB.

The analysis shows a side by side handle comparison by wager type along with takeout rate for each wager.

Overall, Del Mar handled about 78% as much as Saratoga did.

On WPS wagers, where both tracks have approximate level takeout rates, Del Mar handled 82.76% as much as Saratoga did.

But on Exacta wagers, where Del Mar has a takeout rate of 22.86% and Saratoga has a takeout rate of 18.50%, Del Mar handled just 54.79% as much as Saratoga did.

I found that number stunning and upon learning that an open to the public CHRB Parimutuel Wagering Committee meeting was scheduled to be held at Los Al where the topic of discussion was whether or not the CHRB should consider undertaking a formal economic study of takeout rates and their effect on handle and revenue, made the drive up to Los Al and presented my analysis.



HANDLE PER RACE ANALYSIS DMR 2014 vs. SAR 2014



COL-A COL-B COL-C COL-D COL- E

-----------------------------------------------------------

% RATIO TAKEOUT PCT

WAGER DMR 2014 SAR 2014 DMR/SAR DMR SAR


------ ------------ ------------ ------- ----- -----

WPS 357,191.42 431,591.93 0.8276 15.43 16.00

------ ------------ ------------ ------- ----- -----

EXA 191,623.58 349,769.78 0.5479 22.68 18.50

------ ------------ ------------ ------- ----- -----

QUIN 9,616.63 17,509.86 0.5492 22.68 18.50

------ ------------ ------------ ------- ----- -----

DD 51,382.56 109,866.97 0.4677 20.00 18.50

------ ------------ ------------ ------- ----- -----

TRI 128,401.10 200,302.83 0.6410 23.68 24.00

------ ------------ ------------ ------- ----- -----

P3 90,587.11 96,380.09 0.9399 23.68 24.00

------ ------------ ------------ ------- ----- -----

SUPER 90,214.33 104,983.19 0.8593 23.68 24.00

------ ------------ ------------ ------- ----- -----

P4 309,936.53 428,709.63 0.7230 23.68 24.00

------ ------------ ------------ ------- ----- -----

High5 54,307.78 -NA- -NA- 23.68 24.00

------ ------------ ------------ ------- ----- -----

P5 542,446.00 334,177.73 1.6232 14.00 15.00

------ ------------ ------------ ------- ----- -----

P6 363,049.75 165,065.08 2.1994 23.68 24.00

------ ------------ ------------ ------- ----- -----

OTHER 24,337.28 35,594.83 0.6837 23.68 24.00

------ ------------ ------------ ------- ----- -----

FLDSIZE 8.78 7.97 1.1020

-----------------------------------------------------------

Notes:

1. The above handle summary compares DMR 2014 against SAR 2014 and handle numbers are expressed as handle per race.

2. Column B lists average handle and field size per race for DMR 2014.

3. Column C lists average handle and field size per race for SAR 2014.

4. Column D lists DMR numbers expressed as a percentage of SAR numbers.

5. Column E lists a side by side comparison of takeout rates for DMR and SAR.

6. For WPS, Del Mar and Saratoga have approximate level takeout rates, Del Mar at 15.43% with Saratoga at 16.00 % with Saratoga using Nickel Breakage, DMR handled approx 83% as much as SAR did. (Use this as your baseline.)

7. For EXA, Del Mar handled just 55% as much as Saratoga did. This number is stunning when you consider the differential in takeout rates.

8. For DD, Del Mar handled just 47% as much as Saratoga did. This number is stunning when you consider the "logic" used to justify abandoning Santa Anita's 18% rolling double experiment where DD handle per race was up 24%.

9. I submitted the argument that had EXA takeout at DMR been 18.50% like SAR, EXA handle at DMR would have likely been in line with the WPS baseline of 82.76%.

I also submitted the argument that if this were true EXA handle for the DMR 2014 meet could be estimated as follows:

(EST DMR EXA HANDLE PER RACE) = (SAR EXA HANDLE) x (Baseline)

or (EST DMR EXA HANDLE PER RACE) = (349,769.78) x (0.8276)

or (EST DMR EXA HANDLE PER RACE) = 289,469.47


10. Based on handle projections assuming an 18.5% takeout rate, I submitted the further argument that revenue on Exacta wagers for the DMR 2014 meet could be estimated as follows:

(Revenue Per Race on EST DMR EXA HANDLE PER RACE) = (289,469.47) x (0.185)

or (Revenue Per Race on EST DMR EXA HANDLE PER RACE) = 53,551.85


11. (Revenue Per Race on ACTUAL DMR EXA HANDLE PER RACE) = (191,623.58) x (0.2268)

or (Revenue Per Race on ACTUAL DMR EXA HANDLE PER RACE) = 43,460.23


12. I also submitted the argument that as a result of their 22.68% exacta takeout rate, Del Mar experienced a REVENUE SHORTFALL for Exactas of just over $10k per race calculated as follows:

EXACTA REVENUE SHORTFALL PER RACE
= 10,091.62

(or 53,551.62 - 43,460.23)


13. I also submitted the argument that as a result of their 22.68% exacta takeout rate, Del Mar experienced an Exacta REVENUE SHORTFALL for their 2014 MEET of approximately $3.279 MILLION calculated as follows:

Exacta REVENUE SHORTFALL for DMR 2014 MEET= $3.279 MILLION

(or 10,091.62 x 325 exacta races)


14. The numbers suggest 22.68% takeout on 2 horse bets is costing California Racing millions of dollars per year in lost purse money and track revenue.


15. The numbers suggest 22.68% takeout on 2 horse bets has negatively impacted funding for alpha-bet groups such as the CHRB, TOC, CTT, CARMA, Disabled Jockeys Fund, etc.


The CHRB Commissioners treated me politely - as did track management and representatives of the TOC - But I found it interesting that I was the only one attending who took the podium and spoke in favor of the meeting agenda item: Whether or not the CHRB should consider undertaking an economic study on takeout rates and their effect on handle and revenue.

I also found it interesting that many members of track management in Cali racing, management at brick and mortar OTBs, representatives from the TOC, and Labor Unions also took the podium - and all who spoke publicly bemoaned declines in revenue, layoffs, and cutbacks in hours for parimutuel clerks over the past few years (following the takeout increase they insisted on implementing Jan 01, 2011) but NONE of them spoke up in favor of the agenda item: Whether or not the CHRB should consider undertaking an economic study on takeout rates and their effect on handle and revenue. And many from track management and the President of the TOC voiced opposition to even the idea of an economic study of takeout and revenue.

Speaking honestly, I'm far from convinced track management at any California track "gets it" at all.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, July 12, 2015


Bets N’ Pieces


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., July 12, 2015—Having a big personality sometimes gets the kind of attention no one seeks in this game. Like Frank Stronach, Jeff Gural is prone to making bold statements.

How refreshing!

With the Meadowlands Pace scheduled for Saturday, July 18, The Meadowlands already has taken blood samples from some of the top horses competing next weekend and has sent them to labs in Hong Kong for out-of-competition testing.

Like Stronach, Gural puts up his own money and walks his talk. “I want it to be perfectly clear that our testing continues at a very high level during our most important stakes races,” Gural said in a statement this week.

“It is important to us that our customers know there is a level playing field for them to wager on all season long, especially when it comes to our marquis events.” Testing will continue this week following the completion of stakes elimination events.

Horse racing fans and gamblers in any breed must admire and should support executives who hold horseplayer’s interests in high regard. In fact, harness bettors already are.

I’m not a fan of the Super Hi Five both for its high degree of difficulty and expense, consequently, I seldom if ever jump into that pool.

The Meadowlands instituted an 8 percent takeout rate on a non-jackpot Super Hi Five wager that attracted nearly $152,000 in handle. Given the circumstances, that’s a huge number. Good for them.

The field for the Meadowlands Pace has been drawn and after drawing post position 4, Jiggle It Wiggleit was made the 4-5 early line favorite.

Holding a Good Thought for Jockeys Everywhere


It’s been a tough time for jockey Rajiv Maragh as all tethered to the game got yet another reminder of how dangerous the sport can be.

Maragh was involved in a spill Friday afternoon and word as of Saturday was that his injuries would not require surgery, amazing considering that he fractured several vertebrae in his back, a broken rib, and a small lung puncture—as if there can be such things.

The accident occurred as a rival, ridden by Ruben Silvera, crossed over into the path of Maragh’s mount, Yourcreditisgood, who clipped the heels of Mini Muffin in Friday’s fifth race, unseating Maragh.

Silvera’s mount eventually was disqualified from fifth and placed last. Neither horse was seriously injured. Maragh returned to the saddle this winter at Gulfstream Park after a long convalescence from another accident.

Apprentice jockey Tyler Gaffalione, the leading rider at the recently concluded spring meet, will return to the saddle this afternoon. Gaffalione was injured during training hours Friday morning and took off his Friday mounts after riding in one race.

Gaffalione did not ride yesterday but is listed on nine horses this afternoon. Jockeys are well paid compared to the rest of the world, just not the sports world. Jerry Bailey always said that athletes in other sports don’t have ambulances following them onto the field of competition. Good point.

A Key Race Takes Exactly Six Minutes

If simulcast players were paying attention to two of the features on the loaded cards at Delaware Park and Arlington Park, they could have cashed in on Walk Close in Saturday’s Modesty Handicap in Arlington Heights.

Both that Chris Clement-trained, James Graham-ridden filly and Ceisteach were coming out of the listed Keertana Stakes on May 16 at Churchill Downs. The former just failed catching Ceisteach as the favorite in Louisville.

The latter showed that her Keertana score was more than just being able to control the pace in that 11-furlong go-round and that no one fits her better than Channing Hill, who was winning for the third time in as many tries aboard the Tom Proctor 4-year-old.

The Modesty was her first start in graded company but won’t be her last. Saturday’s Arlington card was billed as Million Preview day, which means that the Grade 1 Beverly D. could be up next.

Either that or something long in Saratoga which, almost unbelievably, is only 12 days away. In fact, it will be interesting to see what happens when next these ladies hook up.

Kreesa Is King


Or “good horses are good horses,” which is how trainer David Donk expressed it. “Even as a fan I was impressed today…it was a pretty loaded field,” added Donk.

It was indeed. Wicked Strong, who will be well regarded should he run in the August 8 Whitney in Saratoga, was 2-1/2 lengths behind him when King Kreesa stopped the clock at 1:32.34 for the mile over a firm Widener course.

The runner-up was followed in close order by Vyjack and equally disappointing Reload and Grand Arch, both likely prepping for the G2 Fourstardave, August 15.

Will there be a rematch with King Kreesa? “Why not,” responded Donk. “It’s Saratoga.”

Written by John Pricci

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