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, November 01, 2015


NYRA’s Kay and Panza: Two More Years


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., November 1, 2015--Racing executive Bill Nader is not coming back to America after all, at least not as the All-Everything of the New York Racing Association.

HRI learned exclusively on Breeders' Cup Friday that the contracts of President/CEO Christopher Kay and Vice-President of Racing Martin Panza have been renewed for the next two years.

Apparently, the state-run NYRA was sufficiently impressed with the current management team's efforts to reverse the fortunes of New York racing.

Either that or they have no intention of ever loosening the reins, for the two years at minimum.

Along with the news from a highly placed source not wishing to speak for the record, winter racing will be conducted on a four-day-a-week bases, with several possible exceptions owing to racing and holiday considerations.

This will allow the NYRA to squirrel away purse money for the prestigious Belmont and Saratoga race meets, especially Saratoga whose fortunes have been instrumental in keeping top level management in place.

Nader was expected to come on board in February, 2016, which apparently is no longer the case. But stay tuned. Things have a curious way of changing abruptly whenever Albany is involved in the process.


Written by John Pricci

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Friday, October 30, 2015


2015 Classic Goes to the Best Horse on the Day


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., Oct. 30, 2015—If Damon Runyon were here in the present tense, he would remind all horseplayers that “the race don’t always go to the swift nor the victory to the strong but that’s how you bet.”

And that’s exactly what I intend to do in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. At end end of the day, as Todd Pletcher is fond of saying, it’s only money. And my money will be keying the three-year-old.
In truth, I’m going to be keying two of the three-year-olds, neither of which is named American Pharoah.

No, we’re not looking to be a hero or the wisest of wise guy contrarians. All I’m doing is heeding the sage counsel of Mr. Runyon.

If I were straining to be the ultimate wise guy, I’d be betting on Tonalist (6-1) to win. Why? Because when he was put in a similar position last year--horses from California had a huge home coast advantage—he ran a great race.

Deep closers, as we glean from Handicapping 1.0 guides, are always at a disadvantage. Between running style, atmospherics and a natural bias favoring close-up runners, Tonalist dawdled for most of the 10-furlong trip last year.

It’s tough to beat a duel Classics winner and a Haskell-Pennsylvania Derby repeater when laying 13th of 14, then angling out six wide at headstretch. Tonalist’s strong late kick resulted in a mere five-length loss at the end. He never got enough credit for that effort.

There are two popular knocks on him; that he’s a Belmont Park specialist and that he never made the expected transition from 3 to 4: He hadn’t find the winners’ circle until his fifth start of 2015.

But his numbers on the Thoro-Graph scale belie the latter. His figures made a jump to a minus-3¾, a three-point move from the 2014 Classic and, remarkably, he’s held that speed form for five consecutive races.

I concede that he may not be the same horse away from Belmont but that’s far from a given. On consistency, he is the fastest performance horse in the race and at double-digit odds is a legitimate overlay. But at 6-1 or less relegate to exacta boxes only.

We cast no aspersions on the Triple Crown champion. American Pharoah (4-5), win or lose, is the 2015 Horse of Year whatever happens Saturday afternoon, especially since Beholder's unfortunate recurrence of an old issue.

Whatever happened to American Pharoah after June 6 would be icing on the rarest of rare confections, racing’s Triple Crown.

As all know, American Pharoah treats all tracks the same and has the frequent flyer miles to prove it. And the eight weeks between the Travers and Classic is just what Doctor Baffert ordered. He has a fresh runner that he could train up to the race, Baffert’s best game. For the first time this year, the Hall of Famer has been allowed to seek the bottom. Now, it’s up to the colt.

But here’s the thing: American Pharoah can run his best race and it might not be good enough to win.

Going into the Classic, I don’t see any remaining upside. Of course, he must be used as a bankroll saver in exactas and again as exotics filler. I wish him only good things in the Race of the Year 2015.

Now for the two three-year-olds I’ve had difficulty separating since the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, and I I might not be able to do so until minutes before post time.

My first Classic wagers Saturday afternoon will be win and show bets on Keen Ice (8-1) and Frosted (12-1). I think the latter may be the shorter price at the end. Of course, each will be used in all multiple and super-exotic positions.

These two young horses are battled tested and physically rate to be peaking at the end of their three-year-old campaign. They’ve have had their mettle tested all year and neither has been as good as they are right now. The more they've raced, the better they've run.

Keen Ice moved forward in a big way to a minus-3 in the Travers, as much a product of the fast pace as anything else. But having seen his development through the season, we're satisfied we were wrong about needing a run between the Midsummer Derby and Classic.

The connections have played the Classic preparation perfectly and now it’s up to Keen Ice to prove that he’s still on the come and not just a beneficiary of pluperfect race dynamics in Saratoga.

Frosted, meanwhile, has shown the incremental improvement one likes to see in winning the Pennsylvania Derby and he has looked more visually impressive than he has all year. Final Penn Derby furlongs in 12 seconds will do that. Six weeks of spacing between starts is ideal.

On paper, the 2015 Classic figures to be one hell of a horse race. Here’s hoping the Classic horses, and all Thoroughbreds going to the post Friday and Saturday, will run well and, of greater import, come back well.

HOW THE CLASSIC WILL BE WON


Given the post draw, the field’s overall balance, and many of the world’s best jockeys in the boot, this will be a rider’s race, as most big races are.

Now, will the jock who’s willing to go first over against American Pharoah please step forward?

Don’t believe any of them wants this responsibility and neither would I. But if the pace were too slow someone will take him on. If I were American Pharoah’s rivals, I’d be hoping that 10 furlongs, mild pace pressure, and all those air-miles take their toll in deep stretch.

If I’m Joel Rosario, I’d like to establish Frosted’s forward position, take a little sting out of American Pharoah into the first turn, then before ease back and save ground. But Victor Espinoza might not fall for that with the favorite, content to stalk a horse he’s beaten thrice this year.

Meanwhile, it is likely that Johnny Velazquez on Tonalist and Irad Ortiz on Keen Ice will use Rosario as their stalking horse, essentially making their play when Rosario makes his, both edging closer approaching the far turn.

Javier Castellano, meanwhile, who opted off Keen Ice, will keep deep closer Honor Code in his usual spot at the back of the pack. Whether he will have his customary big kick going 10 furlongs for the first time is the concern.

Keen Ice and Frosted must run their own races and allow the front end take care of itself. Recent revelation Smooth Roller is likely to be somewhere in mid-pack, perhaps even stalk, but is more likely to find the competition and inexperience major obstacles.

We have no idea what will happen in the home straight but that’s why they run races in what Leroy Jolley and others have called “the greatest game played outdoors.”

In that context, there’s no need to be a contrarian. I have another glass of Kool Aid, please.

This column was underwritten via special promotional agreement with 123GAMING.com

Written by John Pricci

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Distaff Favorite? Not This Time


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., October, 30, 2015--The record of favorites in the Breeders' Cup Distaff is solid. For as flighty as female equines are reputed to be, dominant fillies often turn out to be more reliable than males when it comes to holding that superior form, in our view, anyway.

Having said that--juvenile turf races notwithstanding--the Distaff, especially because of the post draw and large field in which accomplished runners drew poorly, is among the most challenging handicapping puzzles of Breeders' Cup 2015.
This surmise obviously depends on what one expects from tepid early line favorite Wedding Toast (4-1), who's been dominant in New York, Belmont Park in particular, all season long.

Given the surface switch and second-turn dynamics we won't trust her at a short price, however good her record or Thoro-Graph performance figures might be, so we're looking elsewhere.

And we didn't have to look very far: We like the #1.

As well as favorites have performed in this race, three-year-olds have done very well vs. their elders, too. Of those, I'm A Chatterbox (8-1) fits this bill, even if she was a bit too aggressive early in her most recent workout.

She is a filly that has marched forward, earned her way into this race vs. Grade 1 competition, her performance pattern is forward looking and her Pricci Energy Ratings solid.

'Chatterbox' drew the pole position, is tactical and can kick on. And right now there aren't many jockeys who are performing as well as Florent Geroux, a young rider who in 2015 demonstrated he belongs on the elite level.

Timing, hands and strength, Geroux is reminiscent of a young Johnny Velazquez when that Hall of Famer first came into his own, eventually becoming Saratoga's all-time leading rider.

We believe Geroux will work out a winning trip over the 9-furlong distance his filly has handled.

[See today's Feature Race Analysis for Distaff betting strategy].

Written by John Pricci

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