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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Friday, April 15, 2016

And Then There was One WEEKEND PREVIEW APRIL 15, 2016

Exclusively for

Or there are two preps, depending on how you view Saturday’s Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.

And, so, on the Saturday after New Year’s Day, Aqueduct’s Jerome Stakes began the long and winding road to Louisville.

This weekend, Oaklawn Park’s Arkansas Derby, scheduled to run an hour after the Keeneland three-year-old fixture, concludes the final and 24th part of the 2016 Kentucky Derby prep puzzle.

Here’s a handicapping look-in at the two aforementioned preps along with the Plenty of Grace turf mile for three-year-old fillies at Aqueduct, and three more stakes from Keeneland, including the G1 Jenny Wiley. First stop, Big Apple:

Schematic includes major contenders, listed in post-position order with early line odds:



Mah Jong Madness (10-1)
likes the course and distance well enough, trainer Morrison is a profitable 18% off 90 days + layups, has tactical speed, competitive figures, an inside draw and Gryder fits those dynamics nicely. Good value at early line odds.

Strike Charmer (3-1)
won at this course and distance in the fall when fresh and repeats that pattern here; graded stakes winner and graded placed, she’s very well spotted here and switch to Franco fits mare’s style. Excellent Thoro-Graph and Pricci Energy ratings.

Coming Attraction (5-1) just missed in tough trip GP finale, mini-turnback helps but she does meet faster and tougher for top connections.

Harp N Halo (6-1) is 2-for-4 on turf, 1-for-1 at the trip, looked sharp winning lone winter start--legging up at Tampa--and has won going dirt to turf before. Slower than other majors but on forward looking pattern.

Mrs. McDougal (2-1) graded winner and graded placed, earned excellent figures at 3 and returns as first-time 4YO; Chad 26% efficient with 90 days+ layups and reunites with winning rider Jose Ortiz. Fast, classy and added maturity.


Creator (10-1) was a good-finish, tough-trip third in Cupid’s Rebel following blowout score taking maiden allowance in OP debut; strongly bred for added trip and Santana on return call from inside post. Highly competitive figures and looks forward.

Suddenbreakingnews (5-1)
hellish trip as Rebel fave when beaten less than five following worst-to-first bold-finish, impressive Southwest score. Bred well for added distance and owns some of field’s fastest figures; benefits from anticipated pace scenario.

American Pioneer (8-1) is light on experience and accomplishment but long on talent with competitive Thoro-Graph and Pricci Energy ratings in two top tries over strip; interesting that Bejarano ships in for the ride. Tough dynamics, however.

Unbridled Outlaw (10-1) had much improved early speed to place gamely vs. older last out--not his preferred style. Tough trip third in G3 at 2 from off the pace; change of tactics anticipated but is slower than major rivals and needs to step it up big time.

Dazzling Gem (12-1)
chased the pace outside throughout G2 Louisiana Derby, persevering gamely late after headstretch issues. Switch to speed ace Talamo and is 2-for-2 on this ground. Hurried spot in order to make the Derby?

Whitmore (9-2)
placed gamely in rapidly run Rebel following premature move after a tough trip placing from far back in prior. Improved markedly since blinkers, owns excellent figures on all scales, developing incrementally, and benefits from second-time Irad.

Cupid (2-1) was most impressive in frontrunner Rebel score, a change-of-pace after off-the-pace maiden breaker; has worked thrice since including old school seven-eighths in 1:24 3/5. Likely reverts to waiting tactics from outside slip and just might trip here.

Gettysburg (6-1)
broke maiden at today’s trip, field’s lone 9F winner, and placed gamely chasing pace throughout from wide post in Sunland Festival at same distance in last; picks up Johnny but slip #12 a killer.


Are You Kidding Me (8-1) was quite successful at Canadian G2 level last year and Attfield can get them ready off lengthy breaks. Been in training at Palm Beach Downs since January for this.

Noble Bird (7-2) has yet to regain last year’s Foster form of last but won over surface; had no chance in very-wide-throughout season’s debut, returns with subsequent 46 1/5 move from gate over today’s strip; switch to Julien augurs well for barn.

Eagle (3-1)
had rough first turn in FG finale then raced flat thereafter. Owns superior figures and returns to preferred surface (2-for-2 at KEE) and reunites with regular partner Brian Hernandez.

Neck ‘n Neck (9-2) lacks killer instinct but consistently very-hard tryer with consistency that worked well for this after legging up in 2016 debut at Tampa; just might improve for Landeros.

General a Rod (7-2) has excellent back class and figures, won his only start over course, but has not moved forward even after switch to Pletcher; gets white hot Luis Saez.

J S Bach (10-1)
is up in class and distance for Todd seeking fifth straight--have seen this movie before with these connections--and newly turned 4YO possibly interesting price play for barn 25% profitable in LAY-2 scenarios.


Miss Matzoball (3-1) seeks third straight and half her lifetime wins came at today’s trip; must prove she’s as effective here as she is at Gulfstream; reunites with Javier.

Jewel of a Cat (7-2) is a five time winner at short turf sprint distances but is another South Florida specialist. Style appears severely compromised for major share.

Miss Ella (6-1) was second in her only start to Lady Shipman under these conditions at Saratoga last summer. Fired bullet for this before leaving Palm Meadows.

Tesalina (6-1) was a good third after mid-race move down the hill at Santa Anita after opening premature lead. Turnback helps, as does recent Turfway Park bullet.

Rapid Rhythm (20-1) meets tougher but all lifetime wins under these conditions. Two-for-two for Stidham, reunites with Geroux, and worked extremely sharp half mile for this here last Sunday.


Direct Message (15-1)
jumped up with Lasix, especially second time, overcoming trouble to break maiden at 9 furlongs in GP finale. Hot Luis Saez on the re-ride; possible price and money shot.

Swipe (9-5) spent his juvenile season finishing second to Nyquist in graded stakes, including fast finish placing after early trouble in BC Juvenile. Class call and Keith Desormeaux will have him ready off the bench. Question of intent and price ante post.

Riker (6-1) exits key race in which he never threatened in Outwork’s Tampa Bay Derby. Only beaten 4 lengths in Juvenile at 2; legged up in Oldsmar and Geroux sticks. Good value at early line odds.

Collected (2-1) the in-form Baffert won G3 Sham in January dirt debut in and was authoritative winner of Sunland Festival coming into this; Bullet Bob 32% with shippers; gets Castellano.


Dacita (8-1) won G2 Ballston Spa at Saratoga last summer and had very tough trip when narrowly beaten in GP season’s debut after adding blinkers; Javier takes return call.

Recepta (12-1) exits key race, losing by a head in G1 Matriarch, her 2015 season finale. Working bullets for turf ace Jimmy Toner for 2016 debut and attracts Geroux; won here last spring.

Itsonlyactingdad (12-1) returns with good spacing for Todd, profitable with his ship-ins. She also won here off similar layup last spring, is 2-for-2 at the trip, and gets Saez.

Wekeela (6-1), Group 3 winner and Group 1 placed, makes U.S. debut for Chad (23%) with first-Lasix and is 30% profitable with new acquisitions.

Tepin (4-5) Filly turf champion comes into this after two straight scores at Tampa, now returns to scene of her biggest lifetime score, beating colts in BC Mile. What’s not to like?

Tiger Ride (30-1)
newly turned 4YO is slower and less accomplished but enters this on a good line making second start off the layup for Motion/Prado team. Breezed in 58 3/5 on Palm Meadows turf last Saturday; possible money prospects.

See Saturday's Feature Race Analysis for on-the-record selections

Written by John Pricci

Comments (1)


Friday, April 08, 2016

123 WEEKEND ADVANCE: 3 Derby Preps & Grade 1 Pick 4, too

Exclusively for, reprint courtesy of

SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY—Of the four huge 2016 Kentucky Derby preps remaining, three will take place this weekend, from East to West and the Blue Grass, too. We just love the Triple Crown playoffs.

To celebrate two of them, officials in New York and Kentucky have come up with a delicious Pick 4 wager featuring four Grade 1s, the 7-furlong Madison and Carter for elder middle distance runners of either ex.

The Blue Grass and Wood Memorial for Derby-age runners are the marquee events and the Carter Handicap and Madison are about the toughest middle-distance races we’ve seen in quite some time. Maybe, in fact, on balance, the toughest Pick 4 ever.

The fields are deep, extremely competitive, and offer no highly viable means of holding costs down relative to desired returns. My kingdom for a single!

Meanwhile, here’s the skinny on the major contenders and Tote Busters for the Wood-Blue Grass Pick 4 that will attract major handle. Horses listed in post order with early odds:


CAVORTING (6-1) makes 4-year-old debut off willing tough trip 3rd in G1 LaBrea following solid-finish wide fourth in BC Distaff Sprint. Fast figures, solid workline, McLaughlin 25% profitable 90-day layoffs +. Only knock is the 1-hole; major player.

makes 5-year-old debut after winning BC Distaff Sprint. Obviously likes Keeneland; Chad Brown profitable with repeaters and 27% 90-day layoffs +. Gives weight to many.

SUNDAY RULES (8-1) Unknown at trip and Keeneland but big figures going 6-1/2 furlongs, which often translates to 7F. SoCal flyer a danger to shake loose. Serious question marks but ability is there.

DANCING HOUSE (8-1) earned excellent Pricci Energy Rating winning G2 Barbara Fritchie in February at today’s trip. Has improved on dirt, returns with good spacing, and is 1-for-1 at Keeneland.

CLOTHES FALL OFF (10-1), uncoupled McLaughlin, makes 4-year-old debut. Came into her own as late-season 3-year-old, style suits today’s dynamics and gets Lanerie in Kentucky. Tote Buster potential off maturity angle.

THIRTEEN ARROWS (30-1) earned lifetime best Energy Rating at Keeneland, at this trip, and with Geroux. Fast works for Jones but may be need-lead type. Likely a huge price.

STOPCHARGINGMARIA (7-2) just missed by half-length in this last year coming off similar layup, earning competitive figure. BC Distaff winner obviously loves surface and is 4-for-5 recently with Castellano. Very tough spot for return and post hurts.

Unbelievably competitive event is an ALL for those with deep pockets or strong opinions elsewhere.



DONEGAL MOON (5-1) showed marked improvement in rapidly run Parx allowances. Worthy (2) 1-1-0 over surface, well posted, attracts aggressive Martin Garcia. Serious contender with anything close to latest run.

CHERRY WINE (12-1) was very good, tough trip fourth in G2 Rebel off a short break and interrupted training. Owns excellent turn of foot, can kick mid-pack or from the clouds; gets Lanerie. Excellent value at early line odds.

ZULU (5-2) Showed talent and courage when second in Mohaymen’s Fountain of Youth making route debut--which may be the good news and bad news. His performance here may provide accurate Derby barometer on all Florida-based 3-year-olds.

BRODY’S CAUSE (4-1), G1 Breeders’ Futurity winner over course, exits extremely fast G2 Tampa Bay Derby in which he never lifted a hoof, making this very tough call. Would take a leap of faith even off recent, brilliant 5-furlong drill. Likely improvement, but how much?

freaked for new trainer Pletcher on Aqueduct Inner but may need the lead and this is a big leap in class. If he answers those questions affirmatively, has a puncher’s chance at huge price.

MY MAN SAM (10-1) was very good second to Matt King Coal on Aqueduct Inner and has not taken backward step on Pricci Energy scale in three-race career. Briefly freshened, training very well, but badly victimized by draw. Offers good value at this price, however.’

With so many improved or on healthy patterns, trip will be everything here.



SHAGAF (2-1), undefeated and impressive visually, he has nothing to prove but must move forward if he is to be taken very seriously in four week. Tactical speed with the class to finish the deal; worthy favorite given dynamics.

ADVENTIST (10-1) is going to be a major 3-year-old once he overcomes greenness, running in spots when he isn’t flat-out troubled. Highly competitive Thoro-Graph figures but weak on Pricci Energy scale. The value at anything near early odds.

FLEXIBILITY (8-1) has yet to make a poor effort except possibly last time when returning on short rest. Freshened, working extremely well and was tested for class at 2. Well posted and reunites with Franco.

MATT KING COAL (3-1) owns freakish speed and has the ability to stat, at least 1-1/16 miles, anyway. Never has taken a backward step, comes off new pace top, brilliant recent works and must catch him to win.

OUTWORK (5-2) raced very well at Tampa twice so he’s legged up, was an excellent second to well-regarded mate Destin, owns fast TG figure and change-of-pace Energy Rating in last. Working well for Todd/Johnny team.

What to do? Shagaf is classy and undefeated, Matt King Coal could prove to be a freak and Outwork is fast and developing. Grass renewal.



SASSACAIA (10-1) has improved markedly for Rudy as late season 4-year-old, winning G3 Toboggan off impossible trip. Owns main track win but seven-eighths might be too far for best

MAJESTIC AFFAIR (5-2) just missed after chasing hot pace in G3 General George and briefly freshened for this since. Gets along great with Carmouche and Chad profitable returning with this type of spacing. Versatility helps chances given dynamics.

DADS CAPS (8-1) is defending Carter titlist, was speed sharpened in two preps for this, is 3-for-3 on this surface, reportedly has blinkers removed and gets switch to the Patient Irad. Will be finishing late.

GREEN GROTTO (12-1) regressed badly on short rest last out but has been briefly freshened and looms controlling speed once again; dangerous

SALUTOS AMIGOS (2-1) came from impossible last while impossibly wide in G3 Tom Fool. Worthy 3-for-5 on the Big A Main and owns two wins at the trip but best game appears 6F and gives weight to many.

was scratched from ungraded Sir Shackleton on Fla. Derby undercard in favor of this Grade 1. Good pacesetting third in GP Handicap mile and gets switch to Johnny. Todd likes his turnbacks.

CALCULATOR (6-1) owns slower figures has developed poor gate habits; made premature wide move and tired in Santa Anita’s G2 San Carlos won by last-run Kobe’s Back. LAY-3, recently turned 4-year-old is nicely drawn and picks up Alvarado. Favorable dynamics.

Dads Caps and Calculator are likely to provide fair value. As stated, an unbelievably tough P4 sequence. A safe and speedy journey to all your runners.

See Saturday's Feature Race Analysis section for on-the-record selections

Written by John Pricci

Comments (4)


Friday, April 01, 2016

123 Saturday Advance Florida Derby Day

Reprinted via special promotional arrangement with

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., April 1, 2016—The biggest prep race ever run in the modern era?

If not, we dare our readers to come up with another. Now, if only the Florida Derby can live up to expectations as something very exciting may occur Saturday at 6:48 pm.

With eight stakes--seven of them graded and one overnighter--the suggestion is this: Bring money.

Although there will not be millions up for grabs, today’s Rainbow Six will attract lots of play with a sexy maiden allowances to start the sequence and five graded events to follow, concluding with the Showdown at the Gulfstream Corral.

The following is the skinny, our view of all major contenders in the final six races on the program, including some Tote Buster possibilities. Listed in post order and intended to augment your own opinions:


Rider’s race: Too many live horses, most with tactical speed and several live looking first-timers. Tarpys Zapper (6-1) Dale Romans having good week here but this one returns on five days rest coming off very fast 5-1/2 furlongs; have no idea what will happen here… Gold Shark (20-1) showed big improvement sans blinkers on 7F turnback…Tale of Mist (20-1) is cycling back to his best race—at today’s trip… Grand Nene (10-1) showed big improvement at trip in last two after adding blinkers; playable to win at half that price… I’m Amazing (5-1) Nicks batting very worthy 23% with debuting special-weighters. Conviction (8-1) Todd 26% with second-out 3YOs, Johnny on the re-ride… Zampara (4-1) Todd firster live on Derby day but only 12% at a mile or more… Dig Deep (3-1) very worthy, well regarded Candy Ride colt could sit garden trip with switch to Paco.


Grande Shores (4-1)
tremendous old pro (53) 14-17-7 will be running late given the turnback to seven-eighths… Defer Heaven (5-1) heaven can’t wait after going 4-for-4 since Navarro claim; 5-for-5 at GP, 3-for-5 at the trip… Anchor Down (3-1) set strong pressured pace in G2 Gulfstream Park Handicap; best figures at mile or more but getting class relief and Todd loves his turnbacks… Griff (15-1) also drops from graded company and stretches to optimal distance; betable at 10-1 or higher.


Achnaha (12-1) needed useful season’s debut prep, Weaver profitable with this spacing, Johnny on the re-ride… Suffused (4-1) first-time at 4, first-time hot Mott (24% Euro shippers), first-time Lasix, steady and solid workline, Lezcano on likely trip sitter… Photo Call (2-1) everybody’s fastest mare in here, stoutly bred for trip, short of condition behind Tepin at Tampa, Javier sticks… Quiet Kitten (8-1) course lover been racing in tough luck; tricky read for us, need ML odds or more.


Celestine (8-1) T-G lifetime top in 4YO debut sign of good development, the longer Mott, likes course [5] 2-2-0 and trip [3] 2-0-1, tactical speed, kick and inside draw… Sandiva (9-5 just missed in this last year, course lover [4] 3-1-0, would have been retired to breed but keeps racing well—this might be career finale… Tammy the Torpedo (7-2) moved forward in 4YO debut for Chad, 2-for-2 this course, purposeful works since last, turf ace Bravo aloft… Lady Lara (5-2) defending Honey Fox titlist, fastest races this trip, very solid second to Tepin at Tampa, Lezcano’s choice of Mott mares… A Little Bit Sassy (12-1) hard trier lacks killer instinct but owns good, consistent figures, switch to stable rider Saez, late runner gets her share of this.


Kaigun (3-1)
comes off four straight seconds but was reaching winner late in shorter Mac Diarmida prep, pole sitting with Bravo, sharp subsequent work following last… Jay Gatsby (10-1) developing nicely as 4YO, both starts here were good, Jerkens profitable with beaten favorites (33%) and in graded company, gets weight, Paco and inside draw… Grand Tito (4-1) tripped out to win MacDiarmida and might again picking up Javier, loves course [16] 5-3-2… Wake Forest (5-2) first-time Chad (profitable at 31%), Euro Group winner beaten 5-1/2 in 2015 Arlington Million, Chad 27% with 90-days + layups, first-time Johnny, the looming class of the group… Seeking Alpha (6-1), the longer Chad developing nicely at 4, 2-for-2 this course, trip a concern and Castellano off.


Fellowship (15-1) is a budding millionaire once he gets away from top two; likely coming to a flyover track near you… Nyquist (2-1), thrice a G1 winner, was coming here from the day after the BC Juvenile, they’ve known who was waiting for three months, they’re racing for $1.6 million, they get first run and Uncle Mo proven, stubborn, stretch foe. Game On..! Takeittotheedge (20-1) was visually impressive a very fast maiden winner at 7 furlongs; looks crazy on paper but who knows—“I may open up 2 and they might forget about me,”--Romans said to us at the draw. Third money equivalent to winning $250K stakes… Mohaymen (1-1) I can’t define “look of eagles” but this guy has amazing presence, record speaks for itself, excellent development on Thoro-Graph and Pricci Energy scales. At this stage, more impressive than American Pharoah. Now all he has to do is prove it… Isofass (30-1) Michael Phelps’ charge jumps into deep end of the pool (pun intended) but, you know, he may be slow but is on a healthy line and gets first-Lasix with Julien on the re-ride; Super Tote Buster.

See Saturday's Feature Racing Analysis for On-the-Record Selections

Written by John Pricci

Comments (19)


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