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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Friday, December 18, 2015

On the Seventh Day of Christmas… WEEKEND PREVIEW SATURDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2015

By John Pricci

Here we are, one last chance to earn a little extra cash for those last-minute holiday items.

You would think this would be be a time of the year when racing winds down and catches its collective breath. But welcome my friends to the game that never ends.

There are three stakes at Gulfstream Park Saturday including the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector; the Queens County in, well, Queens County, NY; Tampa Bay Downs gets its 2016 three-year-old prep season started, one for each sex.

Never mind that the final Grade 1 of the juvenile year goes this weekend at Los Alamitos. Last weekend it was the Starlet; this weekend, the Futurity.

But wait, there’s more! Six stakes are on the docket in NOLA, two with recognizable names--albeit even the purse for the more celebrated Tiffany Lass reduced to $50,000.

However, they are all great betting races on paper so let’s take a quick handicapping look-in at a half-dozen offerings, starting down on the Bayou:



Very competitive turf route with several prepping for bigger features some graded stakes fillies presumable getting some class relief.

Kitten’s Dumplings (4-1) is dropping out of GPW’s G3 My Charmer after beating Zloty (10-1) by 2 lengths in a listed event there previously.

Today, however, Zloty is benefitting from an eight-pound weight switch, no mere trifle that, and trainer Michael Stidham is batting .400 at the young meet through Wednesday.

But they both will have Eden Prairie (7-2) to deal with. She’s 5-for-9 on this course and 2-for-17 everywhere else, Florent Geroux re-rides her and she is defending last year’s victory in this event.

BETTABLES: Kitten’s Dumplings has been consistently fastest on the Thoro-Graph scale for the Maker barn this fall. Class relief makes him the most probable winner on recent form, even if we’re not thrilled with the 124-pound assignment. Zloty has a race at this trip that competes with the likely favorite. Given the hot barn, a 6-pound weight pull and the early odds, she could be the play. But it’s Eden Prairie that holds the key here; she owns the field’s fastest race over this course. Is she the same mare in 2015? Answering that correctly is the key to cashing.

TIFFANY LASS 1 Mile 70 yards DIRT

This two-turner goes through Cash Control (3-1), the only obvious obstacle being the #9 slip in a field of 10. Beyond that, she’s 5-for-9 lifetime and owns a (3) 2-1-0 mark on this ground, including her only run at this trip.

She’s won two of three for the white hot Brad Cox, enjoying a profitable 2015 with all runners, including a strike rate of 26% attempting to repeat. Shaun Bridgmohan has won six of his last 11 rides for this outfit through midweek.

BETTABLES: Cash Control, also cross-entered in the Blushing K.D., finds herself in a better spot here. The competition is not as deep, she’s well posted and has proven to be better on dirt than on the lawn. Brad Cox, having a profitable 2015, is likely to make the right call.



A short field of seven looks like a three-horse affair among Kid Cruz (5-2) and a pair from the ubiquitous Pletcher barn, Mylute (4-1) and Tommy Macho (2-1).

Two of the three are on the comeback trail. While many horses have improved since moving into the Pletcher shedrow, Mylute has not made a significant transition.

After taking an optional/allowances, he’s been winless for seven months. In his defense, four of those starts have come in graded company.

Three-year-old Tommy Macho is back in top form, however. After a good third to Frosted in the G2 Pennsylvania Derby, he earned a career best score in the G3 Discovery. He spots weight to his elders here but note he won both starts vs. older at Belmont Park.

BETTABLES: On recent form, the favorites are co-fastest and loom the most likely winners; we’d opt for Kid Cruz. But we will give a very long look to price shot Turco Bravo (10-1), dropping from a Grade 3, made a career best run on this ground, gets weight. and returns fresh for Contessa who’s shown a small profit with this type of spacing.



Always a competitive race on paper, this year’s renewal is no exception, one chock full of Horses for Course runners, such as:

C. Zee (5-1) has won half his eight starts on this oval with three more exacta finishes. His last GP start in February resulted in a victory in the G3 Gulfstream Park Sprint.

Stallwalkin’ Dude (9-5) returns on short rest, having won the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit two weeks ago, but quick turnarounds are nothing new for owner/trainer David Jacobson.

The five-time Gulfstream and six-furlong winner beat Grande Shores (6-1) by 6-1/4 that day while suffering through a tough trip in an apparent prep for this.

Two other surface lovers are Speechify (8-1), also a winner of half his eight starts including the 2014 Mr. Prospector and Weekend Hideaway.

While the latter is only 1-for-5 on this strip, that win came in the Sunshine Millions Sprint in January, a career best run for the Speightstown 5YO who comes off a dominatingly fast confidence booster at ‘Calder’ last out.

BETTABLES: But in the face of all these Course Horses, we want the much improved three-year-old X Y Jet (7-2), in relatively light and more than capable of leading these on a merry chase throughout beneath recent revelation Emisael Jaramillo. .



It’s only three-quarters and we have no idea whether these colts will make it all the way to the Tampa Derby, much less the one in Louisville, but it’s a start.

Four of the 11 entrants clearly have the best chances: Li’l Meatball (3-1) won the Florida Juveniles Sprint at ‘Calder’ last out and worked a bullet 5F before shipping north. Long on experience, be ships north for David Braddy with regular partner Miguel Vasquez.

Ishaq (5-2) is either a sucker play or the second coming, winning his debut by 10 going 5-1/2 over the track for Efrem Loza Jr., 3-for-5 at this stand and 37% effective with 2YOs.

Formal Summation (3-1) ships from SoFla for Kathleen O’Connell, who’s certainly no stranger to this circuit. He won the 5-1/2 furlong Laurel Futurity three back in the slop.

Jay’s Way (5-1) is the most interesting. Trying to rebound from the G2 Nashua behind the undefeated Mohaymen after showing early speed going a flat mile. Uber talented Antonio Gallardo takes the call from Jamie Ness, 27% profitable in non-graded stakes.

BETTABLES: The play must be to find out just what Ishaq is made of, coming of a 10-length romp his racing debut over the track in sensationally fast time going 5-1/2 furlongs against seasoned rivals as the favorite. Found Summation has experience, exits a Nov 28 race that already has produced a winner, and he worked a solid 5/8s at demanding GPW. But 5-2 would be an absolute must. Royal Almighty (8-1), from the live Dennis Ward shed, has exotics prospects.


The Inaugural’s filly counterpart has drawn nine juveniles including an uncoupled pair from trainers Ralph Nicks and Eoin Harty.

Nicks, who also has an Inaugural entrant ridden by main SoFla man Tyler Gaffalione, has entered the speedy and versatile Kandoo (5-2) and possible rebounder R Kinsley Doll (3-1) with Gallardo.

Harty, whose two runners race without Lasix for Godolphin and Bill Casner, respectively, entered Conflate (6-1), in from Hawthorne with four works over today’s track, and interesting price shot, Slip of the Tongue (15-1), who had every excuse to lose her recent maiden breaker but refused to be denied.

BETTABLES: Since that maiden score at Presque Isle Sept. 23, Colonel John filly shows a string of nine works; four at Tampa including a bullet 5F in 1:00 on Dec. 8. Conditioning will not be an issue since all three runs came going a mile over Pid’s Tapeta surface. Harty recently sharpened her with a half-mile breeze in 48 2/5, 3rd fastest of 103 peers this week in Oldsmar. At half that early quote, Slip of the Tongue would deserve a prominent spot on the ticket.

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Written by John Pricci

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Diversity the Buy-Word on Saturday Stakes Docket

HALLANDALE BEACH, DECEMBER 11, 2015—Call it Simulcast Potpourri or, to put it in conventional terms, there’s something for every handicapping taste all around the USA this Saturday.

Start anywhere you wish: The first graded stakes of the Gulfstream Park championship season? Check: the Grade 3 Rampart for fillies and mares going a flat mile.

Like state-breds? We’ve got those from coast to coast. Down NOLA way, it’s Louisiana Champions Day for all those foaled in Bayou Country, not just Cajun-breds.

On the Left Coast, Cal-bred colts will be in action in the King Glorious Stakes at Los Alamitos, only the first half of a stakes double into the day’s lone Grade 1, the Starlet for juvenile fillies.

The boys are going a two-turn mile, incidentally, the girls an extra sixteenth if they want to earn a Grade 1 title and the major share of a $300,000 pot.

At the Big A by the Sea, New York-bred ladies are getting together for a two-turner, the Bay Ridge, at a mile and a sixteenth, the first added money event on the Aqueduct winter track this season.

Not knowing where to begin ourselves, we’ll begin with the letter ‘A’.


Clearly, there’s something here I’m not getting. How does Temper Mint Patty rate to be the early line 2-1 choice? Yes, she’s G3 placed and this is a restricted event and, after all, Todd Pletcher and Manny Franco are 3 for their last 5 through Wednesday’s races.

But she had to be urged just to grab the early lead in the G3 Comely last time before finishing 7th of 10, beaten 16 lengths. I’ve drawn lines through many races but I’m not as forgiving with chalk types.

Now Sheriffa is co-highweight beneath 124 pounds and Cornelio Velasquez, but she’s earned that assignment having won four of her last six, including the New York Stallion in her 7-furlong main track finale last time out.

Further, she’s 2-for-3 on this surface and 2-for-4 at this longer and trip and 6-1 is too inviting. Stallion runnerup Saythreehailmary’s and Flipcup, back from Canada, are logical dangers. Storied Lady at 20-1 has super-exotics appeal switching to Kendrick Carmouche; she’s 4-for-8 on this ground and 0-for-13 everywhere else.

BETTABLES: We’re taking Sheriffa--3-1 would be fair odds in this spot—and hoping to hit the board with Storied Lady.


In all, there are eight state-bred stakes at disparate distances, surfaces and purses—and that doesn’t include three G2s for Quarter Horses on a 13-race program. Parenthetically, I never knew Q-H races were graded; one never stops learning in this game…

LOUISIANA CHAMPIONS TURF: The 1-1/16 miles for 3YOs & up is interesting simply because String King (8-5) is in it. The gelded 7YO owns a lifetime slate of (38) 18-9-3, is a six-time winner over the course and loves the trip, having won 9 of 16 attempts.

Two things intrigue us about him: First, he was bred, owned and trained by the same man, Charles C Smith, and he’s made Mr Smith an almost millionaire with earnings of over $980K.

Secondly, he’s giving Well’s Gold (6-1) six pounds, a horse he was all out to beat in September. The likely controlling speed is well drawn and clearly was prepped for this on dirt at Delta Nov. 14. He’s improved for trainer Dewaine Loy; how much we will see.

BETTABLES: We can’t beat the early favorite here and won’t try, but we will try to get McGehee’s Mercy (15-1) into the exotics. She’s shown an affinity for FG and switches to Robby Albarado.

Tom Amoss saddles early line favorite Heitai (7-5) who appears to be far from unbeatable. Top Cat Boogie beat him last time and is back again; the neck victory costing him a mere pound on the scale.

The interesting challenger is Jockamo’s Song (10-1) who’s done his best when the white hot Michael Stidham [(23) 9-5-4 here through Wednesday] tightens the girth. Last out, blinkers were removed and the gelded 3YO won off by 6-3/4s. Mitch Murrill re-rides.

We’ll try to get both of the above in the number but are torn between Too Dim (6-1) and Skip the Pinot (8-1) for the win spot. At anything close to early line odds, we could bet both to win and key them in multiples; can’t decide just yet.

LOUISIANA CHAMPIONS CLASSIC: The linemaker has this a two-horse affair between Mobile Bay (9-5) and The Pickett Factor (2-1) but One Man’s King (9-2) is interesting.

Mobile Bay is the most accomplished, having won the G2 Super Derby followed by a show finish in the G3 Ohio Derby. Freshened two months, he returned to win the Zia Park Derby, all wins beneath Edgar Prado, taking a return call here. He rates to be the favorite despite a wide draw.

The Pickett Factor chased the pace throughout before tiring in the Super Derby, his only defeat in four starts rounding two turns. Also freshened, he returned to win the state-bred Gold Cup at Delta. He’s likely to sit a good trip off a contested pace and get first run on the favorite.

One Man’s King improved off Joe Sharp’s claim for Ken Ramsey last fall, who also entered Know You Now (30-1), likely to be employed as a rabbit for his late running mate. ‘King’ was also cross-entered in the Turf; take note.

BETTABLES: The only horse we’d consider to win is Mobile Bay; any price near the early line is acceptable. Along with the two mentioned above, we’re adding Stormdriver (6-1) to the exotics mix.


There are four hundred-granders on the Hallandale docket Saturday afternoon of which the Rampart is the first, going as Race 3.

Trainer Marty Wolfson seems to have this flat mile surrounded with three of eight mares entered: recent returnees Cali Star (3-1) and Curlin’s Princess (12-1), who finished third to ‘Star’ in a Nov. 18 GPW allowances, and Best Behavior (5-2), back from a July layup.

Cali Star is very sharp, winning her mile return by 5, albeit rounding two turns. Curlin’s Princess appears the type who will benefit from her effort. Both her lifetime wins have come at GP, including a sloppy one-turn mile two back, and she gets a new rider in Luis Saez.

BETTABLES: Best Behavior has run well when fresh in the past and she’s been working bullets over this surface since October for her return and Johnny Velazquez gets the call. Her Thoro-Graph figures point the way here, but we’d like to get 2-1 or greater for our money.

The outsiders we’re using in Kathleen O’Connell trainee Legal Laura (8-1). She comes off a sharp Florida-bred stakes score at and also Stiffed (6-1), who returns with good spacing and Paco with an affinity for this surface..


This should be a good betting race. At first glance we left six of the 11 entered open but the most intriguing are Found Money (7-2), Record Highs (5-1) and Viviendo El Sueno (5-1).

Found Money is the early favorite and he may have found his ideal level here. He won a short open-company stakes at SA this spring and placed in two state-bred stakes at Del Mar this summer.

Last out, the long-striding colt ate a lot of muddy dirt in the G3 Delta Jackpot before making a good inside-out run on the turn that carried him wide into the lane. He finished with interest [see replay] to earn fourth money. Fast footing and the two-turn Los Al dynamics should fit perfectly.

The other two exit the same fast sprint won by speed-stalker Xingontothebone, who will not get that scenario here. Record Highs appears ready to stretch out off a wide, late rally try that looked very much like a distance prep. Rafael Bejarano, aboard for the first time that day, rides him back for Carla Gaines.

BETTABLES: We’ll take Record Highs to win, needing 4-1, and exacta box with Found Money, and keying those two in exotics with aforementioned Viviendo El Sueno and Tough It Out (4-1), going turf to dirt for Los Al boss Philip D’Amato.

G1 STARLET STAKES: Nine were entered in this with Bob Baffert, Philip D’Amato and Jerry Hollendorfer each dropping in a pair. The major players are Stays in Vegas (7-2), Pacific Heat (3-1), Surfside Tiara (6-1) and Street Fancy (5-1) in another interesting betting affair.

Stay in Vegas is 4-for-5 lifetime including her two recent wins on grass but note that Hollendorfer is a profitable 25% going turf to dirt. Perhaps a score here will take a modicum of sting out of the loss of Shared Belief for Jungle Racing et al.

Impossible to knock Pacific Heat who won her two lifetime starts by a combined 18-1/4 lengths, showing versatility on Pricci Energy Ratings and excellent paired figures on the TG scale. Joe Talamo rides back for Peter Eurton.

Hollendorfer’s other filly, Surfside Tiara, is interesting. She came from far back following a slow start, finishing fourth, beaten a scant length in the Desi Arnaz beneath Bejarano. Hall of Fame Hollendorfer is also 25% profitable stretching out of consecutive sprints.

Street Fancy endured a troubled break in that same event, finishing well too late under Mike Smith who rides distance-meant filly back for Eurton, profitable (26%) when stretching out off back-to-back sprints.

Taking Surfside Tiara to win at 7-2 or greater, keying her exotically with her main rivals above.

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Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, December 06, 2015

Back To The Present

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., December 6, 2015---According to the calendar, the racing year that never ends is winding down, but you wouldn’t know it by watching the races of late.

Last week at Aqueduct, Tonalist took the Cigar Mile, New York’s final Grade 1 of 2015, with an electrifying finish when all appeared lost three furlongs from home.

And that herculean run came only two hours after Kiaran McLaughlin showed that he had another top Kentucky Derby prospect in Mohaymen, who raced nine furlongs in a take-notice 1:50.56.

Recall that fillies generally mature faster than the boys, so when Lewis Bay took 1:53.41 to win the Demoiselle an hour earlier, Mohaymen’s clocking should have been typed in bold.

Better yet, his re-break, sprint finish through deep stretch revealed a dimension not usually seen in youngsters, especially going this far and around two turns for the first time.

Because of its timing and distance, the Remsen should be more a barometer of Derby success than it is, but this Shadwell colt, now on Lasix after he “trickled” while winning his second start, could change recent Remsen/Derby history.

Nothing excites quite like an undefeated two-year-old. Mohaymen shipped to Florida the day after the Remsen and McLaughlin noted post-race that there were 60 days until Gulfstream Park’s Holy Bull Stakes.

Mark January 30 on your calendars.

When Tonalist fell back on the turn following a half-mile in a pokey 48.50 despite the urging of Johnny Velazquez, all appeared lost.

But after watching him fly through the final sixteenth to win the Cigar by a neck over stablemate Red Vine, it called to mind Jack Buck’s post-Kirk Gibson call; “I don’t believe what I just saw.”
Good news is that Tonalist will return for another season of racing; thank you for that, Mr. Evans. That takes a modicum of sting out of the fact we no longer will be able to enjoy Shared Belief.

A gelding, we were looking forward to several years of potential great performances. This is one tough game.

As a minority owner in Lucky Mathieu, a winner of the 1991 Palisades Breeders’ Cup Stakes at The Meadowlands and Grade 3 placed at Belmont Park, I know how it feels to experience this kind of loss. It’s a feeling that never leaves you; regrets to all the connections.

Claiming Crown Finds a Good Home

There’s something about successful events that brings a special kind of energy to racetracks. The Gulfstream Park Championship Meet that began Saturday played out in a three-dimensional setting that veteran New York horseplayers would call an Aqueduct day.

The atmosphere may have been dark, dank and dreary, but the people in the building brought good energy to the day even as most often were forced to seek shelter from the gusting winds and sometimes pelting rain.

Still, the sealed main track was in good shape and, while wet tracks generally produce a bias favoring speed, the surface played fairly for the most part, albeit more tiring as the day progressed.

And wouldn’t you know it? Todd Pletcher started where he left off the last 12 years, winning the lid-lifter with Stradivari, a soon-to-be three-year-old that won by a short pole after stalking the leader throughout.

This Medaglia d‘Oro was bred for distance and a wet track but his bottom side in not particularly strong. But he will bear watching under dry conditions whenever he shows up next.

Not to be outdone by, well, himself, Pletcher won the only other race on the otherwise all-Claiming Crown card with the debuting Zulu, a $900,000 two-year-old purchase by the Coolmore team in March.

Zulu turns out to be a Bernardini colt with speed, and he drops from a mare that has produced 8 winners from 9 starters, including two stakes winners.

And he can sprint, stopping the timer in 1:10.08, shading 25 in the final quarter-mile after being pressured throughout.

But it was another human star who stole the show, defending riding champion Javier Castellano winning four of the nine Claiming Crown events, including the centerpiece Crown Jewel with Royal Posse, reveling in the slop for Rudy Rodriguez who also saddled runnerup Mr. Palmer.

Peter Walder won two Claiming Crown events with new acquisitions for Loooch Racing. The only surprise in this regard is that Ken and Sarah Ramsey, the all-time leading Claiming Crown owners, failed to win a race despite a half-dozen chances.

The four-year contract governing the Claiming Crown, the brainchild of Canterbury Downs, has expired and we can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be renewed here. Thus far, it’s been a win-win-win; for horsemen, venue and bettors alike.

PR Disaster Avoided By “Corrected” Hi-5 Rollover Wager

The Hi-5 “new twist” rollover wager, the only bet in the game’s history that would have featured a 100 percent takeout, has been modified.

Originally, the wager would only be paid off to a single winner, akin to Gulfstream’s popular jackpot wager, the Rainbow 6.

Whereas multiple winners of Rainbow 6 share in the spoils, the “new twist” Hi-5 would carry over to the next race despite having been won by multiple players, which would have breathed life into the old Abbott and Costello racetrack gag: “They’re Off, You Lose.”

Like myself, many dislike this wager, and raising the cost from 50-Cents during the “Calder” experiment to $1 at Gulfstream will prove counterproductive, in our view. In order to create a jackpot, you first need seed money.

Not all Hi-5 pool figures were available in Saturday’s BRIS result charts, but from what we could glean, total handle on the Hi-5 for 11 Saturday races was a mere $22,477.

This rings true since we were watching handle figures throughout the day. With “0” minutes remaining to post, handle totals from six of the races we charted were $1,085, $1,919, $1,652, $2,289, $2,192 and $1,704.

The largest jackpot carryover we noted was just over $5,600 prior to the 8th race.

Now, all winners of Hi-5 will share in the pool but there are no consolations. Bettors no longer will be paid off on, e.g., a 1-2-3-all-all combination. The entire pool will carry over to the next race. The takeout rate is 18%.

Adding a second 50-Cent Pick 5 beginning with the first race should be a winner at the bottom since it gives sequential players a chance to bet the sequence they believe gives them their best chance.

Gulfstream has given up on the $5 quinella that was offered on the GPW final race. How about this experiment? How about a $5Q on the feature race of the day at a significantly reduced takeout rate, or with a bonus to winners?

Written by John Pricci

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