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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Friday, February 05, 2016


Weekend Preview: The Magnificent Seven


Exclusively for http://www.123BET.com

By John Pricci


Reprinted via special promotional agreement with 123GAMING.com

It’s the first week of February and while the three-year-old spotlight takes a back seat to older Grade 1 handicappers on both dirt and turf in South Florida, West Coast sophomores will get their moment in the sun; literally and figuratively.

The Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Memorial attracted its share of tried and true stakes runners but none that have yet to reach the division’s upper echelon; the operative word being yet.

As Bob Baffert said this week in relation to Mor Spirit’s three-year-old debut in the mile and a sixteenth Lewis: “This is when you start heading to the deeper part of the pool.” Baffert should know; he’s won this race five times.

But star quality, or lack thereof, is not the case with respect to sophomore fillies seeking to become Kentucky Oaks titlists thanks to the return of the brilliant, undefeated Songbird (1-5); the operative word being brilliant.

Further, Oaklawn Park offers the Martha Washington Stakes as the early stop on the three-year-old filly road to Churchill Downs on the first Friday in May. The question: Is Nickname top class and worthy of elite status?

Santa Anita’s Grade 2 San Antonio for older handicappers took a jolt this week when the four-year-old debut of Dortmund was put on hold yet again. Baffert said he didn’t like the way he was training, but isn’t it likely more than just that?

Stablemate Hopportunity (3-1) will step into the breach and is a worthy top contender very likely to improve off his season’s debut show finish in the G2 San Pascual. Of course, there will be no shortage of talent in Gulfstream Park’s storied G1 Donn.

G3 Hal’s Hope winner Mshawish is using Saturday’s 9 furlongs as a bridge to Dubai. Depending on how he runs, he will race in either the $10 million Dubai World Cup or the Dubai Turf, also a Grade 1.

The Medaglia d’Oro six year-old will attempt to become a G1 winner on two surfaces, having won last year’s GP Turf Handicap, this year’s renewal one of three supporting graded stakes on the docket. The 13-race card is, as expected, offers value-laden opportunities.

A handicapping overview of seven races of major interest on both coasts:
SANTA ANITA G3 ROBERT B LEWIS 3YO 1-1/16 MILES

Today’s two turner is an educational test for the talented Mor Chances as Baffert and Gary Stevens continue the process; having him relax and keeping the long-striding ridgling free of traffic. Winner of the G1 Los Al Futurity, he is a worthy 8-5 ML favorite.

The competition figures to come from three insider runners: Baffert’s Let’s Meet in Rio (6-1), who flew home late for the place in the shorter G3 Sham.

I Will Score (5-2) is 2-for-2 for Team Hollendorfer/Smith, a winner of two fast sprints whose pedigree figures to handle the longer trip. It will be his ability to rate around two turns which comes into question.

Dressed in Hermes (6-1) is a graded winner of demonstrable ability but both his stakes wins, including Del Mar’s G3 DeMille, have come on turf. Today he makes his 3YO and two-turn dirt debut.

PROBABLE WINNER: MOR SPIRIT
BEST VALUE: LET’S MEET IN RIO
EXOTICA: DRESSED IN HERMES

***


G2 SAN ANTONIO STAKES 1-1/8 MILES

Hopportunity (3-1), making his first start since last fall’s G1 Clark in the G2 San Pascual, really didn’t settle into best stride until the final sixteenth; too little, too late. Over a span of 12 days into this; Baffert’s worked him thrice, a total of 14 fast furlongs: Game on.

Three of interest in here are Donworth, (6-1), who showed promise at 3 for Graham Motion and now returns for his first start since June; first-time Doug O’Neill for the Reddam outfit.

Martin Garcia hops off Hopportunity and on to Cyrus Alexander (6-1), a late developing Hollendorfer four-year-old. Coming off two mile tries, his pedigree is well suited to today’s extra furlong.

El Kabeir (6-1) makes his second SA start for John Terranova after getting a feel for the surface in the G1 Malibu in which he finished six lengths behind sprint champion Runhappy--that should sharpen him for Saturday’s suitably longer trip.

PROBABLE WINNER
: HOPPERTUNITY
BEST VALUE: EL KABEIR
EXOTICA: DONWORTH, CAT BURGLAR (4-1)

***

OAKLAWN PARK MARTHA WASHINGTON STAKES 3YO FILLIES 1 MILE

Indeed, it has been seven years since this race elevated Rachel Alexandra to elite status. Can it do the same for Nickname? Well, yes and no.

Nickname (8-5) is the only Grade winner in the field and was last seen finishing 9-1/4 lengths behind Songbird in the Juvenile Fillies; no disgrace that. Her freshness, inside post and stalking style should put in the game assuming a clean break.

Ready to Confess (6-1) and Dorodansa (4-1) are of great interest. The former never has taken a backward step on the Thoro-Graph scale and has earned an excellent Pricci Energy Rating. Further, her recent 5F breeze was fastest of 24 on the day.

Dorodansa has the style and partner (Chris Landeros) to take advantage of a very lively pace, snatching and grabbing notwithstanding. Durango (9-2) worked very fast for this.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: NICKNAME
BEST VALUE: DORODANSA
EXOTICA: READY TO CONFESS, DURANGO

***

GULFSTREAM PARK LADY’S TURF SPRINT F & M 5 FURLONGS

Welcoming the return of Eclipse finalist Lady Shipman (3-5), making her first start for Kiaran McLaughlin who is, of course, profitable and 25% efficient with 90 days + returnees.

Seven-for-nine with two seconds sprinting on turf, Gulfstream is one of five courses over which she won last season. Irad Ortiz, aboard for her narrow defeat in the G1 BC Filly Turf Sprint is down from New York to presumably enjoy the ride.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: LADY SHIPMAN
BEST VALUE: JEWEL OF A CAT (6-1)
EXOTIC TOTE BUSTER: CATCHING FIREFLIES (10-1)

***

G3 FRED HOOPER 1 MILE


A handicapping dilemma: Possible loose leader vs. super sharp comebacker; what to do?

Given Javier Castellano’s aggressive nature, post, dynamics and distance, track loving Wildcat Red (5-2) figures to be double tough. But a video review of Ami’s Flatter’s 4YO debut on Jan 13 will take your breath away; promise.

The top of our ticket will include these two. Not using either of Todd’s duo defensively, only as exotics filler.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: WILDCAT RED
THE VALUE PLAY: AMI’S FLATTER
EXOTIC TOTE BUSTERS: GRANDE SHORES (12-1), JUST CALL KENNY (15-1)

***

G1 GULFSTREAM PARK TURF HANDICAP 1-1/8 MILES


Happy for the return of redoubtable The Pizza Man (4-5), remarkably effective at any distance from a mile or more and over any type of ground.

While he won fresh last year, this will be his first start at a 7YO so we’re not all that anxious to jump into the win pool with him, though two-way exactas are a must for the gelding who earned our 2015 Eclipse vote.

The two most interesting potential upsetters are Takeover Target (10-1) and Shining Copper (6-1).

The latter was purchased as a rabbit for eventual turf champion Big Blue Kitten but he’s decidedly more than that. Always employed as a pacesetter, he stayed very well while being hard used in G1 company. Rating at 9 furlongs could be a whole different ballgame.

Takeover Target, meanwhile, jumped up big time in his four-year-old debut despite a very tough trip on this course and sheds 7 important pounds, getting 6 from the fave.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: THE PIZZA MAN
THE VALUE PLAY: TAKEOVER TARGET
EXOTICA: SHINING COPPER, ALL INCLUDED (12-1)

***

G1 DONN HANDICAP 1-1/8 MILES

Even with perennial leading trainer Todd Pletcher entering three of the eight starters, this is an interesting diverse group and literally any one of them can win this given the right dynamics.

Keen Ice (5-2), the only horse to finish ahead of Horse of the World American Pharoah in a year and a half is training unlike he has ever done before; the problem is that this is a springboard to Dubai, there could be a little mental rust, and gives the field anywhere from 3 to 8 pounds.

Not sure that Pletcher wants to go deep into the well of Mshawish (7-2) as he, too, in Dubai bound, but this is where he needs to find out about Itsaknockout (4-1).

Making 4YO debut, Itsaknockout jumped up big time in his Hallandale return. Not only was the mile race fast but was visually impressive as well—his fourth win in five local starts.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER:
ITSAKNOCKOUT
THE VALUE PLAY: IT’SAKNOCKOUT
EXOTIC TOTE BUSTER: FINANCIAL MODEL (10-1)

For on-the-record selections, see Saturday's Feature Race Analysis section


Written by John Pricci

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Friday, January 29, 2016


Handicapping Preview of Weekend Stakes


WEEKEND STAKES PREVIEW JAN. 30, 2016

By John Pricci

Exclusive to 123GAMING.com



HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., January 29, 2016--Excellent stakes programs all over the country, including here, featuring the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes, the first serious stop on South Florida’s road to Louisville via the Florida Derby.

New York takes a second step in its three-year-old series with the G3 Withers Stakes, like the Holy Bull, at 1-1/16 miles. Flexibility is poised to repeat his victory in the Jerome earlier this month.

In fact, here’s a six-pack of graded events for all ages and sexes as anxious handicappers, both locally and in New York await. Here’s a handicapping look-in:

AQUEDUCT RACE TRACK G3 JEROME 3YO 1-1/16 MILES


It could turn out that there are better sophomore runners in Chad Brown’s barn, but for now Flexibility (6-5) will have to do. Yes, he did benefit from perfect dynamics to win the Jerome, but good horses put themselves in that position.

Twice second to Mohaymen previously, replicating his prior performance figure on the Thoro-Graph scale--while not earning as high a Pricci Energy Rating, but he didn’t need to. In fact, it should have left gas in today’s tank.

The only other proven commodity is Sapling winner and Champagne and Delta Jackpot runnerup, Sunny Ridge (5-2). Both colts are experienced, the latter being the fresher of the two.

King Kranz (8-1) is on the Derby trail but this is his first two-turn rodeo and his pedigree does not scream 10 furlongs. He has ability, given his placing to the very talented Annual Report in Belmont’s G2 Futurity.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER
: FLEXIBILITY

THE PLAY: Would take Sunny Ridge if 3-1 or more were available, unlikely unless the crowd goes overboard on Flexibility. Otherwise, would key the favorite in all multiple pools.

EXOTIC FILLER: KING KRANZ, VORTICITY (8-1)

***


G3 TOBOGGAN 4 & UP 6 FURLONGS


Dad’s Caps (5-2) is the most accomplished, a G1 winner with seven-figure earnings. But this is his first race his June and while this is a worthy prize, the true goal is a G1 Carter repeat. He’s working bullets but the rust may show here, making him worth trying to beat.

The “now horse” is Green Grotto (2-1), currently New York’s best sprinter as he seeks his third straight here. Late blooming 6YO keeps improving, earning a G1-type figure winning the Gravesend geared down. He comes into this off a New Pace Top and an excellent Pricci Energy Rating.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: GREEN GROTTO

THE VALUE PLAY: Sassicaia is Dad’s Caps uncoupled mate. He returned off a 4–month freshening to earn a career best TG figure in his surface reprise, is 2-for-2 at the trip (1-for-12 at all others), fits the speedy race shape, and sheds 6 pounds, getting 9 from ‘Grotto’. Will bet to win at 8-1 or more and taking two-way exactas.

EXOTIC TOTE BUSTERS: SASSICAIA (15-1); CAPTAIN SERIOUS (10-1)

***

GULFSTREAM PARK G2 FORWARD GAL 3YO FILLIES 7 FURLONGS


Believe it or not, Cathryn Sophia (6-5) and Secretariat have two things in common: 31 lengths victories at 3. Of course, Big Red got his completing the Triple Crown. However, the filly, needed two races to accrue that victory margin—a maiden breaker at Parx followed by a listed stakes at Laurel going today’ trip. Both wins were “in hand” scores and she’s been working bullets at Palm Meadows for her season’s debut.

Pairing 0’s on the Thoro-Graph scale speaks to her freakish speed, she has good spacing and also comes off a New Pace Top and high, forward-looking Pricci Ratings. Unbeatable on paper, she goes first time for hot-riding Joel Rosario.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER:
CATHRYN SOPHIA

THE PLAY: The class rise makes taking a chance with Island Saint tempting (3-1) as she jumped up big time for Todd Pletcher in her surface debut, who said her hole card may be letting her run freely early instead of taking a hold. Sounds good, but chasing ‘Cathryn’ might not be ideal. So we won’t pull this trigger and we likely will key the favorite in super-exotics.

EXOTICS FILLER: ISLAND SAINT (3-1), CONQUEST BABAYAGA (7-2) [earned two good synth figures now makes dirt debut for live Case outfit].

EXOTICS TOTE-BUSTERS:
BALLET DIVA (15-1) [fast and gritty local]; DAD’S KIDDO (15-1) [style suits dynamics and barn looking to impress in first full season here].

***

GRADE 2 SWALE 3YO 7 FURLONGS


Another freakishly fast colt who returned off a visually impressive winning debut to repeat in even more impressive style in the G3 Hutcheson. The competition is tougher for Awesome Banner, but even tougher for his rivals.

As with the favorite, there’s potential in this short field. Richie the Bull will look to improve his record to 4-for-5 and has conditioning turning back from the state-bred 8.5F Futurity at Hawthorne last out.

Noholdingback Bear was in no danger of catching Awesome Banner when the Hutch runnerup but all chaser and especially closers were seriously compromised by the strongest speed bias of the meet, Jan, 2. He should appreciate the added furlong. Like the favorite he’s never regressed, and he gets six pounds.

Cardio Cowboy scratched out of the Hutch for this and ran nearly as fast as Awesome Banner, winning his 6.5-furlong debut by almost five. Not turning back for the Hutcheson may prove a smart move, and the team of Coletti Jr. and Frankie Pennington are a profitable 22% hooking up.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER:
AWESOME BANNER (6-5)

THE VALUE PLAY: NOHOLDINGBACK BEAR (6-1), but 5-1 or more is required to win; two-way exactas in any case.

EXOTIC FILLER: RICHIE the BULL (6-1)

***

GRADE 3 SWEETEST CHANT 3YO FILLIES 1 MILE TURF


Unlike the seemingly “easy” prelude to the first turf stakes in today’s 123 Preview, it’s difficult to know where to begin, much less which filly might win this prep for next month’s longer Herecomesthebride.

Fillies with the best chance to earn the top prize are: Second-Lasix Module (8-1) who has never regressed, has recency, Johnny and the pole; Sapphire Kitten (7-2) was fast on the TG scale at 2 and was beaten a mere 1-1/4 lengths by extremely talented Catch a Glimpse despite all sorts of trouble in the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Then there’s Pricedtoperfection (4-1) with competitive figures, a healthy developmental pattern and with Chad Brown looking to win this for the fifth consecutive year; Spinamiss (8-1), owning good Euro credentials and won her U.S. debut off a lengthy layup for Pletcher at Tampa and now tries GP switching to Javier.

But, wait, there’s more: Gliding By (6-1) had no chance in the BC JF Turf and an impossible local prep for this here on Jan. 10; fast, undefeated Ami’s Mesa (8-1), going synth-to-turf is out of a potential blue hen mare, and Conquest Bebop (5-1), who just missed racing wide throughout in her turf/GP debut.

What do you say, how about we just box them all up? (smiley face here)

MOST PROBABLE WINNER: SAPPHIRE KITTEN

POTENTIAL VALUE PLAYS: GLIDING BY and/or MODULE to win, requiring at least early-line odds of 6-1 and 8-1, respectively.

SUPER-EXOTICS FILLER
: PRICEDTOPERFECTION, SPINAMISS, AMI’S MESA, CONQUEST BEBOP

***

GRADE 2 HOLY BULL 3YO 1-1/16 MILES


With Dale Romans opting to reserve Cherry Wine for the Fountain of Youth or shipping somewhere else, we’re down to the Big Three: Mohaymen (6-5); Greenpointcrusader (8-5) and Conquest Big E (7-2).

Without a true speed type signed on, an inside post, and a short stretch at the trip, we’d expect Mohaymen to take the lead and hold it all the way around. Of course, we reserve the right to be absolutely wrong about this.

Greenpointcrusader was our top juvenile colt last year and we were disappointed in his BC Juvenile effort despite the extenuating circumstances. Still, this very talented colt has a right to redeem himself at 3—in a big way. Frankly, we have no idea exactly what to expect on Saturday.

Conversely, we do expect Conquest Big E to shake his underachieving reputation (Mark Casse’s word, not mine) today. Whether that will be good enough to hand Mohaymen his first defeat is a separate issue. We think he can; just don’t think that he will.

MOST PROBABLE WINNER
: MOHAYMEN

VALUE PLAY: CONQUEST BIG E, only at minimum odds of 5-1.

EXOTICS TOTE BUSTER: FELLOWSHIP (20-1) underrated colt with the big late kick had absolutely no chance on Jan. 2’s speed-biased oval.


Reprinted via special promotional arrangement with http://www.123BET.COM


For daily on the record wagers, see Saturday's Feature Race Analysis section

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016


The Gulfstream Championship Season: Its All Relevant


BOYNTON BEACH, FL, January 26, 2016—The "Championship Meet" officially began in early December, and the Claiming Crown and Eclipse-prelude Sunshine Millions programs featured highly competitive racing and great betting opportunities.

But in five days the Championship Meet is on for real: Five stakes, four graded, but of greater significance two spots for 3-year-old colts, including the first serious for Kentucky Derby of 2016, the Grade 2 1-1/16 miles Holy Bull. The other, the G3 Swale at 7 furlongs, is a worthy bridge to next month's G2 Fountain of Youth.

The fillies will be going after it, too. The South Florida road to the Kentucky Oaks begins with the G2 Forward Gal at seven-eighths of a mile, while sophomore turf fillies show how they transitioned from 2 to 3 in the G3 Sweetest Chant.

The Holy Bull will feature a battle between two of the most proven high class juveniles of 2015; undefeated Remsen Stakes winner Mohaymen and Champagne Stakes victor/troubled BC Juvenile favorite, Greenpointcrusader.

But this is more than a match race featuring rival three-year-olds in a supporting role. Conquest Big E, with a proven affinity for Churchill Downs, and Cherry Wine, a most impressive allowance winner here, are serious Derby colts at this juncture.

And no one is making any excuses going in:

“He worked great,” confirmed trainer Kiaran McLaughlin after protem Derby favorite Mohaymen worked five furlongs in 59 1/5 on Sunday morning. “We’re a week away and we’re all set. All systems are go.”

“He’s 100 percent fit,” trainer Dominic Schettino said when asked about Greenpointcrusader on a warm, sunny morning at the Palm Meadows training center.

“Anything is possible with young horses after a layoff but we’re very happy with him. We have no excuses.”

“We’ve been waiting to find out where he fits,” said top assistant Norman Casse of Conquest Big E, while his dad Mark was in Ocala for the annual high-purse, non-betting Ocala Sales stakes card. “He’s seasoned and he’s ready; no excuses.”

image
Dominic Schettino looks forward to
Greenpointcrusader's seasonal debut.

image
Mark Casse's top
assistant, son Norman


As stated, Cherry Wine won a recent Gulfstream allowance two-turner authoritatively by going from last to first with an electric, anti-track-profile middle move. Dale Romans’ colt is the only one of the Big Four with a race over the track.

Being undefeated after three starts, McLaughlin never has had to make excused for the $2.2 million Mohaymen, but Schettino had a more than plausible explanation as to why Juvenile favorite Greenpointcrusader was so disappointing.

“It’s true, he didn’t make his usual run” Schettino said. “But when he got back his right eye was completely shut. It [getting hit with kickback] probably happened somewhere on the first turn.”

Jockey Joe Bravo had him in the clear the rest of the way, entered the stretch extremely wide but Greenpointcrusader still made a flat performance. Was his final half-mile workout in 46-flat too fast and too close to the race?

“It was too fast but Joe said he saw a horse about a furlong up the track and locked in on him. He set sail after him…it wasn’t planned.”

Conquest Big E was tested for class last year with mixed results, finishing eighth in the Juvenile but followed that with an impressive allowance win over the Derby track.

image
Greenpointcrusader conserves
energy for the big day


image
Conquest Big E seeks a
passing grade in the Holy Bull




Casse Sr. thinks his colt has underachieved thus far and that’s what Saturday’s race is all about for the barn.

Conversely, we already know that Cherry Wine has made the transition to 3 fine, his recent 6-length win a resounding encore to his 9-1/4 length Churchill maiden breaker. Obviously, ‘Wine’ is the “now horse” of this talented quartet.

image
It's All Relevant, 'Crusader's'
talented stablemate.




Schettino realizes this is as salty a first step as one can take. He’s planning on a two-prep path to Louisville. After Saturday he’ll consider his options, stretching out another sixteenth in either the April 2 Florida Derby or the Wood Memorial back in New York a week later.

image
F&M Turf Champion Tepin
hangs out in Barn 21, Stall 1


“That’s a real good horse,” Schettino said respectfully of expected Holy Bull favorite Mohaymen. One can beat the bushes here or in Palm Beach or on the backside in Hallandale, but it’s highly doubtful anyone would disagree.

Whichever colt takes this successful first step, he’ll have to earn it. There will be no backing in--not with this kind of talent signed on.

The winner will need to bring it, quickly and safely. Entries for all five Saturday stakes, the first true championship card of the Gulfstream season, will be drawn on Wednesday.

Photos by Toni Pricci

Written by John Pricci

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