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, April 24, 2014

GUEST EDIITORIAL: Horseplayers to Churchill Downs and Industry: Wake Up!

By Andy Asaro, Horseplayer Advocate

At the end of the day, will you be able to say you did everything you could to make a difference and help a sport that like-minded people love?

The recent abusive takeout hike at Churchill Downs took everyone by surprise. Wagers on Win, Place, and Show were raised from 16% takeout to 17.5% takeout. On exotic wagers, the takeout increased from 19% to 22%.

The only message bet-takers understand is the one that ends at the bottom line. The boycott of Santa Anita was successful three years ago; this one will be, too.

Anyone interested in participating in the Churchill Downs boycott this Saturday, one only needs to bet less than usual or, ideally, not at all.

Oaks and Derby Day are huge events and the amount of play in the horizontal pools could mean the difference between profit and loss for Churchill Downs Inc. Stakes races often comprise most, if not all, the Pick 6 or Pick 4 sequences.

If everyone reduced the size of their wagers--playing smarter, not higher--handle can be impacted dramatically, perhaps 15% or more on opening night and at least 5% on Oaks and Derby Day.

The boycott isn't only about the egregious takeout increase. This is about an industry that refuses to listen intently to what their customers are saying. It happens time and again.

This is about an industry that's still stuck in the 1980s when it comes to eliminating breakage, or timing races more meaningfully and upgrading coding of the tote system so that the information you see is what you get in real time and not after a race has begun.

Horse Racing 2014 style is still being played on eight-track cassettes, as if there were no such thing as the digital age. Haven’t you had enough?

There will be no official leader of this grassroots action. It will be led by the collective “we,’ all of us. The boycott will consist of fans, bettors and other practitioners of the sport.

It’s up to each individual conscience, and every outlet, to do their utmost to spread the word. If we allow this moment in time pass without a strong response, we deserve the industry we get.

Further, if you believe that the industry should have adequate backstretch surveillance and security. Send the message to Churchill Downs by betting less, if at all. Does the Oaks and Derby have 72-hour security? What about the other graded stakes?

If you believe this industry should have uniform medication rules with consistent penalties for violators, then you might want to send a message to the industry by boycotting the Churchill Downs meet.

If you believe that minor injuries require time off and not more medication, then you might want to send a message to the industry by boycotting Churchill Downs.

If you believe that Horse Racing is the greatest gambling game of skill ever devised, then you might want to send a message to the industry by boycotting Churchill Downs because raising takeout is symptomatic of a troubling big picture.

If interested in executive salaries at CDI Inc. that have risen 240.57 %, see N>

If interested in how the state of Louisiana is dealing with the troubling care given to its flagship racetrack Fair Grounds by the CDI parent company, read mmission-defers-churchill>

I will be partnering with to spread the word about the Churchill Downs boycott. The website will be continually updated beginning Thursday, April

You can also follow us on twitter at Players Boycott @playersboycott or Andy Asaro @racetrackandy, for he latest boycott information.

Thanks for reading this and good luck to all.

Thanks to John Pricci, executive editor at, for allowing this guest editorial to be posted. John and Horseraceinsider always seem to have the best interests of racing in mind. It doesn't get any better than that.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Winning Night at the New Meadowlands

EAST RUTHERFORD, NY, April 20, 2014—On Saturday night at the New Meadowlands, Robert McMasters of Milford, Ohio won the Second Annual World Harness Handicapping Championship.

The new champion McMasters moved early and he moved late, but if you looked at the pivotal races that won him the context, the results could not have been more disparate.

What was interesting is that it appeared he had blown his 82 rivals away with the second race winner on the Meadowlands card.

How can you catch someone that cashed a $40 win, $50 place bet on a horse returning $75.40 to win and $21.40 in the middle?

And how crazy was it that McMasters needed a $30 bet on the winner of the finale, OK Fame, paying $4.20. Clearly, it takes all kinds. McMasters amassed a final bankroll of $2,968, good for $16,600 in prize money.

While Saturday’s event was the second annual as presently structured, it was the ninth edition of a national harness handicapping championship.

The night's 83 finalists had survived a gauntlet consisting of four live contests throughout the year at the host track, or needed to win one of five satellite qualifiers with partners Western Fair Harness, Pompano, The Meadows, Buffalo Raceway and Mohegan Sun. And, finally, the United States Harness Association that conducts 10 qualifying contests online.

Perhaps the worst contest player on the planet, I made four attempts to qualify online for Saturday night's event. I was buoyed by the first result in which I placed third, missing the top slot by about $3.

But after finishing, 178th, 254th, or thereabouts, over the next three contests, I decided to give my poor contest self-esteem a break and skipped the last few contests. It was better that way.

Maybe I should have contracted Bob” Hollywood” Heyden to ghost my selections. I saw Heyden between takes of the Meadowlands’ closed-circuit TV program which he’s been co-hosting for 31 years.

It might be 20 years since I saw him last and he was anxious to show me a pin commemorating his admission to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame. Heyden, celebrated many times within the industry, just happened to have the Hall of Fame pin in his pocket.

He could not have been more proud, or more deserving, harness racing’s best walking encyclopedia since the late Ed Binneweg of the late Long Island Press.

Harness racing, thanks to the recent success of the New Meadowlands under the stewardship of owner Jeff Gural, is trending upward. Given the new facility, and always accommodating staff, it’s not difficult to understand why.

It’s always fun to spot talent first hand and while I’m well aware of the genius of a Tim Tetrick and Yannick Gingras in the bike, I got my first look at Corey Callahan, who won two of the first three races on the Saturday program after having driven six winners the night before. Controlled aggression is always the key to good horsemanship whether on a horse’s back or behind one in a bike. Callahan seems to time his moves perfectly.

When I first met Hayden, the legendary John Campbell was in the bike winning a half-dozen races a night. But it’s good to know that if you’re looking for the next George Sholty or William “Buddy” Gilmour, you can go home again. Fun at the races; what a concept.

Written by John Pricci

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Monday, April 14, 2014

California Chrome Notwithstanding, Derby Chaos Reigns

SARATOGA SPRINGS, April 14, 2014—Barring last-minute qualifiers from Saturday’s Lexington Stakes and late injury defections, the field for the 140th Kentucky Derby is all but set. And if there weren’t a modicum of clarity at the top, the Derby field--at least from a handicapping perspective--is in disarray.

California Chrome is a clear cut Derby favorite and solid support can be garnered for Santa Anita Derby runnerup Hopportunity, Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong, and undefeated, albeit lightly raced Florida Derby winner, Constitution. After that, it’s Katy bar the door.

With three weeks remaining, the Derby 140 picture is so muddled that fans might have an easier time making a case for California Chrome to become thoroughbred racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner than for any of his rivals to upset the Derby applecart.

How in the name of sanity are handicappers supposed to evaluate Saturday’s winner in Hot Springs in a Derby context in that not only did Danza’s win come in his second run this season, his fourth lifetime overall and his first start around two turns, but the Grade 1 was his “a other than" win?

In short, what does his victory say for the vanquished?

Ride On Curlin is hickory, honest, and his development has been managed adeptly by trainer William Gowan. With rating tactics, we thought he had an excellent chance to upset the Arkansas Derby and indeed finished up very nicely for the place. But should the top Derby contenders be very afraid?

Formerly undefeated Bayern showed in his third lifetime start that he’d prefer to run freely rather than be rated, at least at this point of his career. But what can anyone expect from such an inexperienced young horse in three weeks time?

Clearly, Strong Mandate has not yet made the transition from 2 to 3. Tapiture, high on everyone’s list going into the Arkansas Derby as the co-favorite, might have run himself out of serious Derby contention with a good, albeit wide, mid-race move that he failed to sustain.

Even back in the day, it was unreasonable to expect anything near a peak performance for any three-race Derby prepster, but the time you least want a letdown is in the final tune-up. And then you had better be going in the right direction at the finish, not retreating slightly as Tapiture did Saturday.

As for the Blue Grass, who knows? When Street Sense prepped on Polytrack prior to his 2007 Kentucky Derby victory, he was a champion at 2 and had a strong Northern Florida campaign that winter. Coming from arrears with a fast finish behind Dominican in slow time was just what he needed.

Dance With Fate was an impressive Blue Grass winner, giving him two wins on synthetics, one on turf, and was second in the G1 FrontRunner on Santa Anita dirt at 2. The last Blue Grass winner to repeat in the Derby was Strike the Gold 23 years ago but Dance With Fate is peaking right on schedule.**

It should be noted that Blue Grass runnerup Medal Count, who broke maiden going a mile in his racing debut at Ellis Park last year, trained well at his Churchill Downs base but never has run for money there. His pedigree certainly is long enough and lack of conditioning won't be a concern.

Can’t imagine what Lexington Stakes last-gaspers have in store for the Derby faithful, but this certainly looks like a year when adaptability and good training over the Churchill Downs strip could pay off handsomely in the storied mile-and-a-quarter-without-any-water.

HRI Derby Power 10 Consensus, Week 8 (reflects two dead-heats):

1. California Chrome—32
2. Constitution—28
3. Wicked Strong—22
4. Hoppertunity—18
5. Wildcat Red—15
6. Vicar's In Trouble--11
7. Intense Holiday—10
8-tie General A Rod—7
8-tie Samraat--7
10. Danza—6
11-tie Candy Boy--5
11-tie Chitu--5

**Subsequent to posting, connections of Dance With Fate announced they will skip the Derby in favor of giving their horse more time between starts

Written by John Pricci

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