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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, March 05, 2014


GUEST EDITORIAL By Dick Powell


Dick Powell is a racing renaissance man. A former lobbyist for New York racing, Powell is an industry consultant, writer, handicapper and lifelong horseplayer currently residing in Saratoga County. So it is no surprise he has strong feelings and serious concerns about what a full blown casino might mean for world class racing at Saratoga Race Course

A Full Blown Saratoga Casino? Be Very Afraid

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY--Like the people that read this column, I am always willing to take chances and admire those that do.

That said, how in the world can anyone think putting a full casino right next door Saratoga Race Course is a good idea? Who wants to take the chance of damaging the crown jewel of American racing? Not me.

When the New York casino constitutional amendment passed in 2012, it called for four casinos to be built outside of New York City. There are four regions that were carved out upstate in and around agreements with Native American gaming sites.

One such region is the Saratoga/Albany area and it will definitely have a casino with poker, blackjack, craps, roulette etc. Saratoga Raceway has a video lottery facility across Nelson Avenue with 1,782 VLTs.
The VLTs have been in operation there since March of 2014 and purses for the harness horsemen have more than tripled.

One could argue that part of the decline at Saratoga Race Course the past 10 years has been due to 1,782 VLTs only a few hundred yards away. If that is true, it is a very small part. Walk through the Raceway's gaming floor and you will see more walkers and oxygen tanks than horse racing products. There is little crossover but logistically it had to hurt some.

In 2001, when the VLT legislation was being proposed, I was the media spokesperson and strategist. Nobody wanted VLTs at Saratoga Race Course for many reasons and we knew that the ones next door might have some impact. That was more than balanced by 5,000 VLTs downstate at Aqueduct so the net effect was going to be extremely positive.

The late Bruce Hamilton, executive director of the Harness Breeders of New York, was the driving force behind the effort to get VLTs at New York racetracks and there should be a statue of him outside of every facility. He was indefatigable.

Now, Saratoga Raceway is pushing hard for the table games to complete the transition from a "racino" to a "casino." The problem is that table games attract an entirely different clientele. Horseplayers love to play cards and various games of skill.

From the 80/20 female-to-male ratio that exists now, it will change to about 50/50 and the increase in males will be ones that also like to play horses.

In the state-wide voter referendum in November, the voters of Saratoga County voted 57 percent to 43 percent against legalizing casinos anywhere in New York. So there is no real groundswell for support to have it here.

But the way the referendum worked, there is no follow-up referendum where a community gets to vote on a specific site. Still, 57 to 43 is considered a landslide. Any elected official with 57 percent of the vote immediately says the voters have spoken and have given he/she a mandate.

Well, the mandate up here was a big, fat NO! And this was a legitimate vote since there were no organized groups for or against it.

The process to decide where the casino eventually goes has begun. A committee that is part of the New York Gaming Commission has been selected and they have a few things to consider.

First is economic activity and business development. This will count towards 65 percent of the scoring and will evaluate capital investment, revenue generated, jobs, facility quality, fastest to market, financial ability, and experience in development and operation of a quality gaming facility.

Yes, Saratoga Raceway could get up and running faster than anyone else in the Albany/Saratoga region since they are the only one currently operating. While that is important for the first few years, a new facility would provide far more economic impact in terms of construction and operation.

Second, 20 percent of the scoring will be based on impact on the host municipality, gaining public support and partnering with existing businesses to avoid another Atlantic City situation where the casinos damaged the local businesses.

Third, 15 percent of the scoring will be based on workforce development, addressing problem gambling, utilizing environmentally friendly construction or renovation practices, and creating a diverse workforce.

Ironically, the casino legislation was named the Upstate NY Gaming Economic Development Act. Outside of New York City, there is no county doing better economically than Saratoga and part of that is due to the hundreds of millions of dollars that New York State has provided to help build the computer chip fabrication plant in Malta, which now employs thousands.

The impact of the host municipality and community will be the key factor and here is where the impact on Saratoga Race Course will be paramount. There are two main groups on each side of the issue.
Against the casino, mostly because of quality of life issues and the impact on downtown businesses, is a group called S.A.V.E., which stands for Saratogians Against Vegas-style Expansion. You can read about them atwww.savesaratoga.org.

In favor of the casino is a group sponsored by Saratoga Raceway called Destination Saratoga. You can read about them atwww.destinationsaratoga.com.

Destination Saratoga uses the image of a Thoroughbred horse on its logo and I find that disingenuous since it makes it seem that supporting them will help the Thoroughbreds. I say it will not but there is an argument that a destination casino will attract more people to the area and help all businesses.

Where there has not been enough pushback is how a casino next door will affect Saratoga Race Course, which is the economic anchor for the area and the real destination. Because of the Thoroughbred track, we have year-round, world-class food and health care because of thoroughbred horse racing at Saratoga Race Course.

Can anyone say that a full-blown casino will not hurt business at Saratoga Race Course?

Can anyone say that it is worth taking the chance?

What is the plan if it turns out to be damaging to Saratoga Race Course?

Some will say that the history of Saratoga is all about casinos and they are right. The only reason we have any racing here is that the casino patrons needed an afternoon diversion since the casinos did not open until 7 p.m. So without casinos, there wouldn't even be the world-class horse racing we have.

But one historical fact that many seem to ignore is that the explosive growth of Saratoga Race Course happened after the casinos left town.

Today, hundreds of thousands of people visit Saratoga Springs each summer and the main draw is Saratoga Race Course. Mention Saratoga anywhere in the world and the image conjured is one of Thoroughbred horse racing.

Is anything worth the risk of damaging the real economic engine of the region? I just can't see it. Even if I am wrong and there is no real negative impact on Saratoga Race Course, can anyone say with any impartial authority that it was worth taking the risk?

And who is to say that what a casino looks like now won't develop into something more insidious? Can you say on-line gaming and sports wagering?

The sitting committee for the four casinos will have a hard enough job. But nowhere will it be harder than deciding whether or not to put one in Saratoga. They will have to go against public opinion in an area with little need for economic development and already the beneficiary of over a billion dollars in state aid over the years.

In my opinion, it is not worth it. There will be a casino in this region but I just can't support one in this backyard. Call me what you want; I can take it.

But, what I don't want to do is sit around years from now and question how this happened and the crown jewel of American racing was damaged irreparably.

Dick Powell's column first appeared at brisnet.com

Late Breaking:The City Council of Saratoga Springs voted 5 - 0 in favor of a resolution that was against having a destination casino in the Spa City Tuesday night. The vote reverses a December 2013 vote that approved a casino for the city and four of the five members then are members now. Mayor Joanne Yepsen visited with the New York Gaming Commission Tuesday morning and brought letters and emails to them that were overwhelmingly against. This follows a 57 to 43 per cent vote by Saratoga County voters in November 2013 against the constitutional amendment that would approve four casinos upstate and three more downstate years later.


Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, March 01, 2014


Big Show in Big Apple; Samraat, Bayern Break Into HRI Power 10


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 1, 2014— The Gotham was billed all week as a rematch between undefeated Samraat and Mr. Sigh, the ding-dong 1-2 Withers finishers that left the rest of the horses behind.

It turned out to be anything but a two horse race. It was a three-horse race! And one hell of a three-horse race it was.

The prep season has only begun to get serious and the rest of the members of the 2014 class will be hard pressed to put on a show like the one seen yesterday at the Big A.

It’s not often you get a three-horse battle at any age from the quarter-pole home, with each of the horses at some point looking like it might win.

In Trouble, who should have name changed to in close, battled fiercely from the fence in an excellent sophomore and two turn debut. It was a modest, albeit realistic pace, and he was pressured throughout.

Uncle Sigh, who did the hardest work in the 50-pointer, chased the leader, battled between rivals on the turn and didn’t given an inch through the lane, succumbing grudgingly in the final strides.

One day, he’s going find himself outside his arch rival and he just might reverse both recent hard-fought defeats. But then why should he beat Samraat at all? No one else has, and they tried to do it five times. He just refuses to be beaten.

This year’s Vyjack? Could be, could be not. And I don’t want to consider the 10 furlongs question for this trio. It’s hoped they all come out of the race in good order and take the next step, logically the Wood Memorial, but at nine furlongs, wherever it is.

Turfway Park featured the Battaglia Memorial, an excellent betting race going in, but one that was dominated by one man, Wayne Catalano, who saddled the first two finishers that left serious daylight between themselves and all others.

Solitary Ranger took the lead from along the inside going into the first turn of the mile and a sixteenth, was pressured throughout and, instead weakening, drew off with authority at headstretch beneath Florent Geroux, winning by 4-3/4 lengths.

Stablemate Poker Player, favored at 8-5, erased all but 4-3/4s of an 18-length deficit after the first half mile, most of that during an explosive, wide turn move that was strong enough to catch and defeat third finisher Harry’s Holiday by five.

The winner returned a very generous $21.80 considering he was coming off victories in two of his last three starts, which began with the G3 Arlington Washington Futurity at 2.

Catalano is concerned that the graded Spiral Stakes might be a sixteenth of a mile too far but that the nine furlongs would be within Poker Player’s wheelhouse. That certainly was the case for Spiral/Derby doubling Animal Kingdom three years ago.

Making his first start for trainer Nick Zito, Spot rallied strongly into the stretch and ran down the heavily hyped No Nay Never to win the Grade 2 Swale at Gulfstream in 1.22.44 under a well-judged ride by Jose Lezcano.

No Nay Never, making his first start since August and debut on dirt after breaking his maiden at Keeneland, before shipping to Europe to win two group stakes including the G1 Prix Morny at Deauville.

Zito will be enjoying this one for a while and thinks running back in the Florida Derby in four weeks might be a bit ambitious. He deserves to enjoy this one for a while.

There were two defections from the HRI Power 10 that debuted last week with Havana, who scratched from the Swale having popped a quarter-crack, and Shared Belief, whose tender tootsies have kept him out of training for several weeks, is currently convalescing in Northern California.

Undefeated Gotham winner Samraat earned his way into the Power 10 at #9 and undefeated and promising Bayern, one of next Saturday’s San Felipe serious contenders, rounds out the group.

HRI Power 10 Week 2

1. Cairo (28)
2. Tapiture (26)
3. Candy Boy (21)
4. Honor Code (20)
5. 5-tie Top Billing (17)
6. 5-tie Wildcat Red (17)
7. Strong Mandate (14)
8. Intense Holiday (10)
9. Samraat (7)
10. Bayern (5)


Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, February 22, 2014


Wildcat Red, Intense Holiday Debut at #7 and #9 on HRI’s Derby Power 10


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., February 22, 2014---Right now, with apologies to our West Coast friends, it certainly appears that the most accomplished three year olds in the country are preparing for “America’s Race” and having fun in the sun of South Florida.

Of course, we're capable of making an about face if Lewis Memorial winner Candy Boy does what’s expected of him in the Santa Anita Derby. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Since this marks the 2014 debut of the HRI Kentucky Derby Power 10, the sixth annual, staffer Tom Jicha spoke for all of us when he wrote recently that accomplishment and demonstrated ability in top company should count for something.

Hence the presence in the Power 10 of undefeated juvenile champion Shared Belief; Remsen winner and Champagne runner-up Honor Code, and Champagne winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Havana.

The Power 10, therefore, is meant to be an amalgam of accomplishment and promise and, at this early stage, not a Derby predictor. So let's take a ride, bumpy road and all.

The Kentucky Derby three year olds of 2014 are ranked in 1 through 10 (dead heat for 9th this week) with power points in parentheses:

1. CAIRO PRINCE (27) As everyone knows, this colt would be undefeated if not for overconfident handling when second in the Remsen, losing a head-bobber to Honor Code, spotting him six pounds. Kiaran McLaughlin’s colt won the Holy Bull impressively, showing an electric turn of foot soon after entering the straight to blow the Grade 2 wide open and won by nearly 6. McLaughlin made the right call skipping the Fountain of Youth in favor of the Florida Derby.

2. TAPITURE (25) His effort in the Southwest Stakes was so impressive that observers might be hard pressed to decide if he or Cairo Prince made the best impression this season. Their runs were virtual carbon copies; settling close to the early pace, moving into contention on the far turn, before drawing away with authority in the lane. Trainer Steve Asmussen thought his colt moved forward but needs a little more education. He'll get plenty of that in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. After that, back to Churchill where he won the G2 Jockey Club Stakes at 2.

3. HONOR CODE (21) missed almost a month of training with a minor ankle issue but has worked twice since Shug McGaughey got him off the deeper Payson Park surface. He started breezing again a fortnight ago, twice seven days apart, but has yet to have a serious drill. That time will come soon since Oaklawn’s Rebel Stakes, his scheduled season’s debut, comes on March 15. From there, it’s the Arkansas Derby or the Wood Memorial, site of his Remsen win last year.

4. SHARED BELIEF (19) Racing analyst Laffit Pincay said on Saturday’s Hank Goldberg radio show that Shared Belief missed another work which means the San Felipe is out and might force Jerry Hollandorfer to enter the Derby off one prep; a tall order for a champion yet to race on a dirt surface. That prep reportedly will come in the East somewhere. Does that mean the Blue Grass on Polytrack for the gelding with the tender feet? Shared Belief deserves this ranking out of respect; next time it could be different.

5. CANDY BOY (15) Loved the fact this guy has plenty of experience in top company and his Lewis win was accomplished with deceptive ease, just getting warmed up as he reached the finish line in full stride with energy in reserve. It was a great learning experience for a horse than made a wild middle move in his prior run but waited, and waited some more, until Gary Stevens gave him his cue. John Sadler, who’s not had much luck outside of California, is awaiting the Santa Anita Derby. Good plan.

6. TOP BILLING (13) Following a tough-trip second in his season’s debut, he won a first level allowances very impressively before finishing third in the Fountain of Youth. The only thing he lost yesterday was a horse race, overcoming an extremely wide draw but not a biased surface that carried speed all day long. At least his show finish earned him 10 Derby points which puts him on the service road to the Derby. He figures to earn enough credit in the Florida Derby to get him all the way to Louisville.

7. WILDCAT RED (11) Don’t look now but this colt is starting to get some respect and it’s about time. He just missed from the rail going a flat mile in the Gulfstream Park Derby, dominated the Hutcheson, then took advantage of Saturday’s speed trap. But he deserves much credit for staring down Golden a Rod, the GP Derby winner that took him by the throatlatch right from the jump. Fast, honest and hickory game. Who could ask for anything more from a race horse?

8. STRONG MANDATE (9) D. Wayne Lukas colt is like the proverbial box of chocolates; you just never know. In the G1 Hopeful he delivered a near 10-length tour de force performance. After his Champagne no-show he was an excellent, wide-running third in the Juvenile. His Southwest placing to Tapiture was good once overlook his snake-like stretch run. “He got bumped leaving the gate and was wide the whole trip,” Lukas said. “[Tapiture] ran exceptional. We’ll just go back to the barn and look at the Rebel Stakes.” Exactly.

9-tie INTENSE HOLIDAY (8) Flattered Cairo Prince when the Holy Bull show finisher returned, laid his body down in the final furlong, and got up in the last stride to win the Risen Star. It was his third straight good two-turn effort; the Remsen, Holy Bull and Saturday’s score. Credit Todd Pletcher for getting him off the Gulfstream strip and put him on the road to Louisville that courses through New Orleans.

9-tie HAVANA (8) Another getting a late start in his three year old season, he, too, was nearly undefeated at 2, winning the G1 Champagne Stakes over Honor Code before finishing a very good second from post 12 in the Juvenile on Santa Anita’s inside-speed surface last fall. He is scheduled to debut in the 7-furlong Swale March 20, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for a second prep The Arkansas Derby or Blue Grass would be the most viable options 23 days later

Written by John Pricci

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