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, July 15, 2016


BELMONT PARK Saturday LATE PICK 4


Promotional Reprint Courtesy of http://www.123BET.com

Comments from July 9 PICK 4
at Belmont--winners and notable money finishers:

RACE 8 G1 BELMONT DERBY INVITATIONAL 3YO 1-1/4 MILES INNER TURF


13-DEAUVILLE (4-1) is best of the Euros on paper given lots of Group 1 and Group 2 experience in which he was highly competitive with some of Europe’s best 3-year-olds. Jamie Spencer comes with the package, mitigating the draw somewhat, and O’Brien adding first-Lasix, of course. (won, $14.60)
4-HIGHLAND SKY (8-1) has never failed to fire in deep stretch and narrowly missed with strong finish in G3 Pennine Ridge prep for this; added distance might not suit as pedigree a little light for the trip. (2nd, $134.50 exacta)

RACE 9 G2 SUBURBAN HANDICAP 3 & UP 1-1/4 MILES


5-EFFINEX (5-2) threw in a bad one in wide trip non-effort as the Foster favorite after solid score over Melatonin in Oaklawn ‘Cap prior; reunites with Smith and highly likely to improve on home grounds and at this trip. (won, 6.30)
7-SAMRAAT (12-1) has raced competitively in all three starts off a lengthy layup but gave no indication he’s back to top 3YO form; will be a pace factor reuniting with J Ortiz. (2nd, 56.50 exacta)

RACE 10 G1 BELMONT OAKS 3YO F 1-1/4 MILES INNER TURF


12-CATCH A GLIMPSE (2-1), a Horse to Watch since allowance winning turf debut at 2 and is now 7-for-7 on this surface, including defeat of males in G3 Penn Mile. Has more than enough gas to clear from the outside behind Geroux, the country’s leading or near-leading 2016 stakes rider. Has excellent PERs and bottom-side distance pedigree. (won, 8.80)
4-TIME AND MOTION (6-1) is undefeated in three starts at 3 on three disparate courses including today’s. Comes up to added distance the right way, has two-sided route pedigree and Johnny, aboard for the three scores, takes the re-ride. Post and style suits dynamics nicely. (2nd, 45.80 exacta)

RACE 11 G3 BELMONT SPRINT CHAMPIONSHIP 3 & UP 7 FURLONGS

5-A.P. INDIAN (10-1) comes off rapidly run score at the distance at Parx, beating ‘Roxbury’ by 3 open lengths handily. Delacour is 26% effective in LAY-3 situations and is having a career year—profitable at 29%. Gelded 6YO is 2-for-2 at trip and Bravo re-rides (won, 13.80).
9-MARKING (4-1) turns back to what might be a perfect distance for his style after chasing the strong Met Mile pace, finishing ahead of six rivals in his first start since disappointing in Dubai’s G2 Godolphin Mile; broke maiden here, bullet at Greentree base and Lezcano on a return call; formidable rival (2nd, 53.00 exacta).
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JULY 16, 2016


RACE 7 MAIDEN SPECIAL WIEGHT 2YO F 6 FURLONGS INNER TURF

1-AWESOME BOSS (20-1), racing without Lasix, by Street Boss, 19% first-time turf, draws coveted inside for turf sprint but barn not known for debut-type success; mixed signals.
2-SHE’SLIKETHEWIND (8-1) is not particularly turf bred but debuts for legendary “Mad Genius” Michael Dickinson with Johnny named; more mixed signals.
3-CONSULTING (10-1) hails from barn that’s profitable 18% effective with its turf-debut types and lone sib has won on grass. Good advance notices on first-crop sire, is working steady and attracts Lezcano; interesting.
4-BALAYAGE (6-1) by very capable turf debut sire War Front, is from mare producing no grass winners from six starts, three which have run. From top debut and ship-in connects.
5-FLY SWIFT (4-1), racing without Lasix, has both nature and nurture, debuting for Clement and from mare producing 4 turf winners from as many starters to race. Sharp blowout with Irad named; likely major player.
6-HERECOMESTHEQUEEN (15-1) is one of two in here with racing experience and barn is 26% effective with its second-time starters. Worked thrice since but was off slowly in debut and loses Irad who opted for firster.
7-LULL (5-1), racing without Lasix, also by War Front, is uncoupled Clement newcomer, a barn profitable with first-timers on grass. Attracts Franco but three straight gate works the good news and the bad news.
8-ASSCHER (2-1) was totally eliminated by poor start in well-meant debut. Todd 27% with second-timers and Javier takes a return call but pedigree a question mark for us on this surface.
9-ELUSIVE GIFT (12-1), racing without Lasix, has good pedigree on both sides for debut, making first start on turf for prodigious Maker on this surface, profitable 20% with grass-debut types. However, extreme outside can be troublesome for newcomers but early line mitigates.

RACE 8 FORBIDDEN APPLE STAKES 1 MILE WIDENER TURF


1-FORCE THE PASS (3-5) was good second behind loose leader and classy miler Obviously in Grade 3 last out and was very willing third in G3 Appleton 4YO debut prior. Big time class relief here and reunites with Johnny; formidable fave looms likely single.
2-TAPITATION (4-1) won recent state-bred Kingston Stakes following wide-trip 4th from extreme outside in GP two-turn 5YO debut. Two-for-two at trip and beneath Castellano and (4) 3-1-0 on Belmont green. Potential value at early line odds.
3-LUBASH (10-1) has given indications he’s lost a step as 9-year-old but merits respect as 9-time Belmont course winner. Has four works for this and Alvarado takes the re-ride.
4-KING KREESA (7-2), another redoubtable state-bred, is 7-time Belmont grass winner with exacta finishes, including 5 wins, in 14 starts at the trip. Might shake loose as potential loose leader.
5-BRICKYARD KITTEN (20-1) on form looks like race filler in this spot but won his last and attracts Lezcano; still…


RACE 9 $12, 500 CLAIMING 3 & UP 1 MILE


1-FINDING CANDY (6-1)
is 2-for-13 at the trip and 3-for-30 all other distances, reunites with Castellano, and goes turf to dirt for barn that’s 16% efficient given that dynamic; looks live in this spot..
2-PRIVATE TALE (12-1) stretches out to mile, where he’s 3-for-12, as opposed to 4-for-32 at all others. Drops a notch and 7-pound apprentice has some talent but barn has been 0-for-16 on the stretchout and winless in 2016.
3-CLASSIC GIACAROLL (5-1) lost last out as fave, was claimed, now makes first start with claiming price cut in half and switches to Franco for barn not known for first-start-claim success; mixed signals for us.
4-POINT HOPE (7-2), blinkers back on for barn that’s recently 4-for-12 in that scenario with two money finishers and switches back to Irad. Barn in slump this meet but class dropper goes for major client; guesswork at short early line odds.
5-LIDERIS (6-1) drops into beaten claimer for first time for Jacobson, dropping from $62,500 to 12,500 level; makes third start off the layup with switch to strong-finishing Dylan Davis.
6-SATURDAY APPEAL (15-1) returns to Belmont at proper level after failed attempt in FL allowances switching to Alvarado; low profile outfit capable of upset price shot here.
7-SEA PREACHER (20-1) dueled in fast fractions in SA two-turner vs. similar in 2016 debut; crafty outfit is profitable 26% returning in this time frame and makes switch to Lezcano; live price shot.
8-CHARITABLE (30-1) is 2-for-6 at Belmont and 1for-25 everywhere else but hails from underachieving connects and has been badly beaten at long odds vs similar of late.
9-STREET CHIEF (5-2) drops from the $40,000 level for barn that’s 25% profitable with shippers and 29% profitable with its routers. Super-trainer Cox is currently 0-for-8 at BEL; mixed signals.
10-LUCKBOX SAM (10-1) showed some improvement dropping to this level in first start off claim. Nevin 23% in CLAIM-2 scenarios and gets switch to Johnny; excellent value on early line.


RACE 10 $40,000 MAIDEN CLAIMING F&M 7 FURLONGS WIDENER TURF


1-DOUBLE MANE (20-1)
showed much improved head-to-head speed when third last out but steps up to meet tougher and rates to be pressured throughout from pole position.
2-MARSHMELLOWMADDNES (8-1) had troubled started then chased the pace from wide post going longer; turns back to suitable shorter trip at which she was effective in debut.
3-MARY’S IN UTOPIA (20-1) raced dully in last going 6 furlongs now stretches out to best distance with rider switch and should be in this throughout from cozy insider draw; price shot potential.
4-LOVE BLUES (8-1) showed some improvement in second start and benefits from turnback (barn 18% long to short) and switch back to Widener course. Arroyo sticks for Schettino profitable with its maiden claimers; wakeup potential here.
5-SUBTLE LADY (7-2) lost rider in season’s debut when dropping to this level now makes second start for Rice, 22% in LAY-2 scenario, and gets switch to Johnny.
6-IRISH ANCHOR (4-1), 30% blinkers on for uncoupled Rice entrant, has been rallying too late going three-quarters now should be a pace factor switching to Lezcano for barn 25% effective with LAY-3 runners.
7-CELTIC SERENADE (8-1) lost rider in lone turf start at 2 now makes first start off long layup with Franco; an act of faith here.
8-ELECTRIFIED (5-2) makes first start in over a year dropping into claimer for first time; barn capable with layups but not particularly well known for successful layup runners; underlay on early line.
9-THAT WARRIOR GIRL (30-1) hails from very capable price shot outfit but has been beaten off in all recent starts at long odds.
10-NIGHT NIGHT KITTY (50-1) ditto, and jock, unknown to us, is 0-for-22 this season through Wednesday.
11-HIGH BARBAREE (30-1) is yet another that’s been beaten off at long odds in both turf starts.
12-SPLASH OF SASS (12-1), blinkers off after showing speed on main track last out, returns to grass where she’s not been competitive in three starts on turf.

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


Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016


And Now, from the World of Sports…


Last week in this space, we reprinted Dr. Steven Roman's long goodbye to Thoroughbred Racing.

It started a dialogue--not always on message but useful for conveying a worthwhile theme--inspired thoughts from the messenger himself.

I've done a little work in front of television cameras in my life so I think I know a little about the medium.

What I think I know from what you're about to read appears not to be something that Dale Hanson, sports reporter for WFAA in Dallas, scripted and read off a teleprompter. He appeared to be speaking extemporaneously.

Considering the dispassionate manner in which he described what it was like to be working last Thursday night in Dallas when all hell broke loose in the most vicious, calculating way, Hanson deserves an Emmy for his instant, no-time-to-mull-it-over commentary.

This is not meant to be a slight on the subject matter; quite the opposite, in fact. It is meant to shine a light on current day life, on what we have come to expect, how we react to tragic news in this country.

There is an underlying message to all of us here. All Americans across this already great country have lost their way, myself among them.

Maybe what's been happening is all the karma being paid for strapping black men and women below decks in cargo holds 300 years ago to do the bidding of people with money looking for the cheapest labor possible.

If you think this is reprint from the news station's website is borne from some notion of "white guilt," that would be the wrong takeaway. If any guilt is involved--and there's plenty of that to go around--it is guilt about the human condition.

Sports are like a candy store on a block full of commercial buildings, a tonic providing entertainment and escape following a hard day's work.

If it's escapism you seek in this space, the next installment will be an all-entrants analysis of Saturday's Late Pick 4 at Belmont Park to be posted Friday.

If, however, it's food for thought that helps in some small way to consider what life in America has become for all of us then, please, read on...

The following is a transcript from Hanson's late sports report in Dallas, Thursday, July 9:


"The Rangers are losing tonight and I'm almost embarrassed to tell you that I know that...

"I'm in my office, watching the game, and then all hell breaks loose in our city. Reporters in our newsroom were scrambling. Producers were yelling. We turned off the lights, just in case... and I kept watching the game.

"It was another shooting in America. It was in our city this time and police officers were being killed, but it was a couple of blocks away and the Rangers were being shut out.This is what I have become.

"This is what too many of us have been for a long time now. We'll fly our flags at half-mast, we'll say all the right things, we'll make promises we won't keep, and then, nothing will change. Our lives will go on, while the lives of so many others won't because we expect it now, and we accept it.

"It wasn't this way when I was a boy, but it is life in America now. Shooting a police officer is not the answer to a problem that too many people deny: Police officers are not like you and me -- they're better.

"They run into the darkened alley where we won't go. They run into the buildings we run from. They look for the person we try to hide from.

"But they're not allowed to make the human mistakes that we all make because they have the power of God strapped to their hip and the authority to use it.

"When we talk about blindly supporting the blue and when we try to show our support for these brave men and women, we fail to realize we can't defend them all and we shouldn't defend them all.

"A white man in America doesn't die for selling cigarettes on a street corner, he gets a ticket. A white man in America doesn't die for driving with a broken tail light, he gets a ticket, too. And the officers who abuse the badge and the power they have should be punished, but too many times they are not.

"But what possible purpose does opening fire on the streets of Dallas do to right the wrongs too many people deal with every day? As one of those on the city streets last night told a reporter, the shooter might have killed the good cops.

"A person of color has always hated to be painted with a broad brush -- to suffer the indignity of the stereotype so many people claim as fact. And then that killer last night did exactly the same thing -- shooting at anyone in blue, because don't we all really know, they're all the same?

"America's problem has come to Dallas now and our lieutenant governor blames the peaceful protestors, because our lieutenant governor is a fool.

"It was not just an attack on the Dallas police, it was an attack on our basic humanity and the common decency we used to cherish in America. But that's all gone now -- we lost that a long time ago.

"The Rangers lost Thursday night, 10 to 1. And I'm almost embarrassed to tell you I know that.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, July 10, 2016


Stars N’ Stripes: Shippers, New York-Breds, Grassy Euros and Return of a Turf Multi-Millionaire


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., July 10, 2016—It was a fast start to Saturday’s all graded stakes Stars N’ Stripes Pick 6 program but Joe Talamo made it harder than it needed to be for undefeated Coppa to get the proceedings underway.

The normally aggressive SoCal-based rider nearly rated his undefeated 3-year-old into submission, but clearly all’s well that ends, and at the finish it was trainer Phil D’Amato‘s SoCal-based filly holding sway in the Grade 3 Victory Ride.

Making her third lifetime start, all at the hybrid distance of 6-1/2 furlongs, Talamo allowed anyone who wanted the lead bad enough to have it, rating Coppa four across the track throughout, never moving a muscle until headstretch.

When he did, the filly showed her class, going from a pull to a drive to get there, holding off two deep-stretch challengers, one on each side. Talamo needed to resort to a strong left-handed stick to get his job done.

The surmise is that D’Amato learned what he need to know from these tactics—that Coppa can be rated and that the extra half-furlong of Saratoga’s Grade 1 Test will not be the obstacle that soils her perfect record. Better fillies, maybe, but not the added trip.

Even though the “Belmont Balcony” move was in vogue throughout the program, this is not the easiest way to win over Big Sandy—generally you need to save ground at some point. But Coppa was that good, justifying Talamo’s arguable overconfidence.

“I've been working her a lot in the morning and I definitely got to know her, where she'll sit just off horses pretty nice,” explained Talamo. “She showed her class today in running on a new track,” said assistant trainer Chris Davis. It was a lot to ask and she exceeded all the expectations."

The 3-year-old theme continued in the Grade 3 Dwyer next which, considering the $500,000 purse, didn’t draw a proven top-tier sophomore and as it turned out, the promising Economic Model did not live up to his advance notices.

Instead, the Dwyer produced the second top performance of the day by a New York bred in open company—taking some of the sting out of Economic Model’s disappointing effort, a trend that began with Saturday’s lid-lifter.

In the opener, restaurateur/breeder Louis Lazzinnaro’s Bobby On Fleek made a most auspicious debut, handling open special-weight juveniles with total authority. The Frost Giant chestnut stalked comfortably from third, took a clear lead at headstretch and drew off quickly in 1:10.78, a snappy final quarter-mile in 24.37 and the cherry on top.

Bobby On Fleek is named for the late Bobby Frankel, good friend of Lazzinnaro and, of course, winning trainer Chad Brown’s mentor. The victory surprised no one. Opening at 6-5, he remained the favorite throughout the betting and eventually paid $4.40 to win.

The owner, whose Nove restaurant is a popular Saratoga dining spot, will have a little something extra to look forward to when the world’s best sustained race meet opens on July 22.

And so might hard-boot horse trainer Bret Calhoun, who’s Fish Trappe Road made it two straight for the out-of-towners vs. the local talent and was the second Empire-bred winner of the afternoon under thoughtful handling from Luis Saez.

After a second in the Woody Stephens on Belmont Day, Fish Trappe Road got his first graded win, improving his local slate to (3) 2-1-0 and he might now be ready to stretch out further.

“I don't know if we're going to stretch him out in the Jim Dandy,” said Calhoun post-race. “We'll possibly look at the King's Bishop [7-furlong Grade 1, Aug. 27].

Chad Brown, trainer of beaten favorite Economic Model, thought the trip made all the difference. “Irad [Ortiz] said he wasn't comfortable inside, I wish he could have got him out. Saez rode a smart race and stayed in the clear. We were hemmed in the whole way.”

As expected, Aidan O’Brien’s Deauville, first-Lasix, showed his class, on the pace throughout the 10 furlong Belmont Derby and gamely withstanding a furious late run from Highland Sky who made a career best run, nearly getting there.

T.J. Comerford, assistant to trainer Aidan O'Brien, noted “the just worked out a little better for the winner. He finished stronger, had a good setup and was left with plenty of run. The best horse won and he gave a great effort."

Highland Sky has one of these with his name on it down the line. “He likes to come from behind and it's hard on him,” said Barclay Tagg. “You need a lot of luck as you have to get around 13 horses. It's nobody's fault, it's just the way he's made and the way it works."

Saratoga, here we come.

Finally, the locals got one of the graded events, running 1-2 in the Suburban with rebounding Effinex in the final strides over the very game runnerup, Samraat, New York breds completing their own exacta. Mike Smith rode perfectly, never letting the frontrunner steal off, keeping mile pressure on throughout the mile and a quarter.

“Mike never let me go more than one or two lengths in front of him. He sat right there, half a length behind me the whole way. I got beat by a nice horse but I'm glad to see Samraat back in form.”

Winning trainer Jimmy Jerkens was more reflective: "I always loved this race. When I was a little kid my father [late Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens] won this race a bunch of times with Beau Purple. He used to love to run in it any chance he could. He was a New York guy and those New York handicap races always meant a lot to him, and to me too.”


O’Brien, Spencer and first-Lasix Coolmore tried to sweep the million-dollar turf routes, also from wide berth #13, but settled for place after Catch a Glimpse, perfectly rated by Florent Geroux, had enough to get a 10th furlong, taking the Belmont Oaks and improving her turf slate to 8-for-8, ship-ins getting the money once again.

“She was the quickest of the race so it's not like I had an outside post with a horse with no speed,” said Geroux. Speed is always dangerous no matter what the distance.”

“The mile and a quarter was a legitimate concern,” admitted assistant Norm Casse. “But this filly, any time another horse comes to her, she finds another gear, and she rewarded our confidence today.” As to her next start? “It’s always race to race with her.”

Finally--oh the indignities—A.P. Indian, by way of Philadelphia, scooted up the inside beneath Joe Bravo, withstanding the sustained stretch run of Marking who finally ran to his ability but was unable to handle the final winning shipper of the afternoon.

“Horses like this make our job so easy,” said Bravo. “He breaks from the gate with control, relaxes, turns off and breathes underneath me so comfortably that all you have to know is when to pull the trigger.” Trainer Arnaud Delacour may now start looking for bigger game.

“Going forward I'll definitely take a look at the races at Saratoga and we'll keep our options open,” said Arnaud. “Joe did a great job keeping him covered up and he extended away in the stretch.”

BETS N PIECES:
It was proven once again that the best horses attract the best handle. Last week’s routine Saturday 10-race program featuring the listed Perfect Sting, the Grade 1 Acorn*, but with smaller fields overall, handled $1.7 million on track, $10.4M off track.

By comparison yesterday’s 11-race program with six graded stakes attracted nearly $2.9M at Belmont Park and just over $20M at simulcast venues.

Whether the track makes money given purse expenditures is not the point when it comes to betting. Overwhelmingly, bigger fields, lured by bigger purses and better horses, results in bigger handle—a lot bigger.

Locally, jockey Tyler Gaffalione continued his hot start to the summer meet, riding five winners on Saturday’s 12-race program. “The trainers all brought their horses over here ready to run today, deferring the credit. “They did a great job preparing them to run, I have to give them all the credit.” Gaffalione has ridden 13 winners on the first seven programs.

Little Mike, after a two year absence, is back in action today. “A lot of people are rooting for him,” said owner/trainer Carlo Vaccarezza. The 9-year-old has bankrolled $3.5 the hard way--a turf winning front-runner.

Said Vaccarezza: “Every time that we put the tack on him, he knows it means business. Just to bring him to the track we’ve had to take him with the pony, just to calm him down. His competitive edge and the fire in his eyes are still there.”

Little Mike is the pole sitter vs. six rivals in today’s seventh race and was made the 6-5 early favorite by Gulfstream linemaker Jay Stone. While the group is softer than he used to, the race is no gimme’.

* correction made 071116 2:49 pm

Written by John Pricci

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