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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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Great Betting and Good Horses in NOLA Saturday

At once, divining the winner of the Louisiana Derby is as easy or as hard as you make it. The form on the favorites is clear cut and decisive on paper. After that, it's anything goes. A fun race where, if you can fill in the lower tiers, there may be money to be made. Good betting race.

I'm sure Keith Desormeaux has thought this through. Forget the wet for a moment: My Boy Jack (5-2) showed a clear affinity for Oaklawn Park, yet, here he is in NOLA on shorter rest? Does Desormeaux then want more spacing into Louisville? Then again there's the million other reasons; a strong pull: Get it while you can.

That's the only thing that makes some long game sense. Ultimately, he doesn't need to win this but he will if the OP shipper shows up here. Either way, at a short price, no thank you. Having said that, he has a relatively low profile. Ante post 3-1 would be worth a gamble.

Two weeks ago in Tampa, Todd Pletcher's decision to add blinkers to Vino Rosso backfired in, at best, an one-paced fourth. Yet here the blinkers show up on Noble Indy (7-2) today. But this reason I understand:

Noble Indy ran well in spots in the Risen Star here. Showing speed 3-wide and virtually between horses throughout, was surrounded on the turn, finished one-paced but gamely at first blush, but galloped out ahead of the field.

He wants more ground, which he gets, and maybe Pletcher/Velazquez get the sharpness and focus they seek. Sadly, he highly likely will be overbet.

Under normal circumstances, Noble Indy is supposed to benefit from his last race... and chances are that he could move forward substantially. That's why they run races.

We'll have a firm opinion and betting strategy in Saturday's Feature Race Analysis

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Newsday Beaten on Award-Winning Breaking-News Story

Prior to the timelines established below, HorseRaceInsider staffer Mark Berner was working for months on a story that came to fruition in early December 2017: The New York Islanders would be playing its home games in a new arena built on the grounds of Belmont Park.

Berner knew the Islanders could go to the bank, according to several sources, “when the dog and pony show is announced by Empire State Development.” ESD announced on Dec 3 that a listening session would be held on Dec 10, in Elmont.

Newsday was still chasing the story on December 4. “The potential to build at Belmont is incredible and the community’s input in this process is vital,” said state Senator Todd Kaminsky. “…We are hosting a listening session so that all bidders can engage with the community and clarify any points,” etc.

Berner, using sources who requested anonymity, had already written his story for HRI for posting on Dec 5: “Belmont Park and Islanders Break New Ground.”

“Empire State Development, New York State’s business development agency, has moved quickly and is ever closer to a decision that will award the bid of the New York Islanders hockey team and its consortium to build a new arena at Belmont Park.

“The Islanders hope to break ground next spring. ‘We have no comment as of now,’ said Kimber Auerbach, Executive Director of Communications of the Islanders.”

Newsday failed to corroborate the HRI story at that time but a sports website, “Fansided,” picked it up but categorized it as a rumor on December 6.

Wrote Michael Anderson of the Fansided sports blog: “…According to a report from Mark Berner of Horse Race Insider, The New York Islanders might not need to worry about a plan B. Because plan A is rumored to go through.”

Then this: “Empire State Development, New York State’s business development agency, has moved quickly and is ever closer to a decision that will award the bid of the New York Islanders hockey team and its consortium to build a new arena at Belmont Park.

“…I reached out to AKRF to comment on their collaboration with Belmont in relation to the track as well as the RFP winner and they were unable to provide a comment at the time on the matter.

“We were contacted by someone who works at the tracks who corroborated Berner’s claim and indicating that this rumor is in fact true.”

Finally, Newsday was ready to confirm that the “rumors” were true. On December 19, 2017 at 6:05 PM, it published an update to a December 18 story. It read:

“The Islanders are coming home.

“The hockey team was informed Tuesday that its proposal to build a new arena at Belmont Park in Elmont was selected as the winning bid, according to people familiar with the situation.

“A news conference is scheduled for Wednesday morning at the racetrack in which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is expected to be on hand.”

Between Berner’s December 5 story until Newsday dropped its award-winning scoop, other sources acknowledged that HRI broke the story.

A Dec. 7 podcast hosted by hockey experts discussed some of the finer details revealed by Berner.

This was after Cable-TV’s News-12 Long Island referenced the HRI story in the aftermath of the breaking Islanders news. also referenced the Berner story on Dec. 6,

This would not even be a “thing” if Newsday sports editor Hank Winnicki wasn’t so cheeky about winning an award for the story, one of several earned by the paper’s talented sports department in 2017:

“The competition is so tough and it’s a great honor to win these prestigious awards. I’m particularly proud that we won three top-10 awards in breaking news. That’s an amazing feat. The awards also show the great work we’re doing across platforms.”

Later, in a Newsday story announcing their awards, it was stated that “Jim Baumbach and Robert Brodsky won in the breaking news category for first reporting that the Islanders’ proposal to build a new arena at Belmont Park in Elmont was selected as the winning bid by Empire State Development.

Some acknowledgment would have been nice, especially for a couple of former Newsday staffers wrote an expose on workouts at New York tracks when competing racing publications were battling for market share. UPI sports editors recognized “Sorry, Wrong Numbers.”

Two questions: Would Newsday, Fansided, or any news gathering agency, be eager to burn any of their deep background sources? And why is it companies demand loyalty but when that debt is turned around, not so much?

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Win, However Small, Is Still a Win

Several players I know and respect online and on social media categorized the recently announced takeout reduction for the upcoming Keeneland spring meet as a Pyrrhic victory.

While the notion has some validity given the sliding scale reductions, the assessment above is unfair.

The rollback, however partial, was a positive response to a call for action or, more precisely, betting inaction at the Keeneland 2017 fall meet.

Keeneland noticed that they went down while every other major venue increased, in part no doubt from handle that would have been ordained for Keeneland but found itself elsewhere.

In the final analysis, horseplayers made progress on a policy and price disagreement with track management. How often does that happen? We’re nowhere close to being sick of winning yet but walking before running is a good start on the road to relationships.

Admittedly. Keeneland was chintzy with its discounts; the new rake on exactas set at 19.5 percent, a half point higher than pre-Fall levels. And why weren’t doubles included as part of two-tiered-exotic bets reduction?

Further, the only justification for leaving three-ply exotics at 22 percent levels is to leave wiggle room for rebate houses at the expense of the daily rank and file. Consequently, I will wager accordingly (read less) in the super-exotics; kind of a personal partial boycott.

To Bet or Not to Bet, That Is the Big Sports Question

In his most recent column, TJ spoke of the Trojan-horse nature that legalized sports betting at racetracks could have on racing handle. Of greater consequence is how booking sports bets could cost tracks to lose money if they get too much action on one side.

The only conceivable answer would be to make sports betting a parimutuel wager but as TJ posited, even with a relatively low takeout, it is more likely that both sides in a game would pay less than even-money, less than the norm.

It might work if the point spread were included in the proposition. Take the Super Bowl e.g., when the Patriots were 4.5 point favorites at most outlets. For optimum results, the most accurate line possible must be available with same-day betting.

If the pointspread is good, it should attract action on both sides; injuries, atmospherics, trends are factored in by then. Post the line: Eagles +4.5. Then allow bettors to wager on the proposition at a modest 5 % takeout rate.

It also could be done via a series of fixed-odds wagers.

If one team becomes the steam, we believe a majority of players would rather take an odds-on payoff then give more points. Underdog bettors won’t get that extra point but would be rewarded with a payout offering points plus value.

Willing to consider better ideas to begin the conversation.

Can Parlay Wagering Lead to Lower Takeout?

Better still, could it be promoted as a horseplayer being in a handicapping contest with himself? Consider:

Santa Anita is going to be offer parlay wagering in the near future. If it or any other track is willing to pay for the programing to make parlay wagering possible, it could use this opportunity to lower the takeout. Spend money to make money. Why?

Because parlay wagers that players choose themselves, instead of the given horizontal betting menus currently mandated by racetracks, will produce more churn for the average to above-average handicapper. Why?

A daily double features one takeout that covers two mandatory races in succession. With parlay wagering, takeout is assessed twice, hence a lower takeout rate assessed twice will increase handle more than would a double or a Pick 3.

And in the case of the Pick 3, a round robin wager can be created; think the European two way bet. If two of your three round robin horses win, you cash one parlay. If all three win, you cash three parlays.

It was posited that Santa Anita would offer variations of the parlay theme; one could wager on a best bet to win in Leg A, parlaying that winning wager Win and Place on a horse in Leg B.

The difference is a straight Win parlay that costs $2 would now cost $4: Win payoff to Win in Leg B; Win payoff to Place in Leg B. Or any variation on that theme. The lower takeout rate would incentivize the parlay wager, maximizing straight pools and increasing churn.

With a little imagination, anything is possible. The question is will parlays prove simple enough to allow churn to work better with a lower takeout rate, which has the added benefit of flattening the learning curve for newcomers racing keeps trying to attract without success using the same stale models.

Written by John Pricci

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