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, January 08, 2016

Lots to Analyze on Stakes Schedule this Weekend

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HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., January 8, 2016—Next weekend, the industry will be handing out racing’s ultimate honor in recognition of recent achievement and historical context.

This weekend, however, tracks will distribute significant pieces of hardware from coast to coast to winners of three graded stakes in South Florida, two in Southern California, notwithstanding several grade-quality fields masquerading as listed stakes.

El Nino may have a significant effect on how things will shake out in the West while in the Southwest the forecast is favorable--a good thing considering two of the three graded offerings at Gulfstream Park are scheduled on turf.

The other matches Mshawish (8-5) vs. Matrooh (9-5), and a likely supporting cast, in the G3 Hal’s Hope; think Donn prep here.

The big story, of course, is the return of 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome (4-5) in the G2 San Pascual sans Dortmund but with Hoppertunity (5-2) in the role of obligatory Bob Baffert trainee.

Three-year-olds out West will start their distance programs with the G3 Sham while five hours north of Hallandale via Alligator Alley, turf sprinters will do their thing in the Turf Dash at Tampa Bay.

New York’s Interborough for older filly and mare sprinters features the season’s debut of 2015 F & M Sprint finalist La Verdad (1/1). Let’s take a deeper look:


So, what to do with La Verdad? Flat vs. males in the Fall Highweight coming off an enervating BC Sprint placing, is the brief freshening since and class relief enough to get her back in top form? Consider the upcoming Barbara Fritchie is the career-ending target.

I don’t have an answer here and am not that curious given the early line odds. Four of the remaining six fillies have a chance to upset.

Won’t know which way to go until opening odds are posted. Room for Me (5-2), the second fastest filly on the Thoro-Graph and Pricci Energy scales, is the logical danger. But two slower price shots intrigue: Willet (12-1), 3-for-4 on the winter track and a remarkable (12) 7-3-2 at the trip; and forward-marching Dancing House (8-1), 3-for-5 including a nose defeat since adding Lasix, is returning for Kiaran McLaughlin, 25% profitable with 90-days+ returnees.


Successful runners in these races have one thing in common: They are specialists. Four of the 10 entrants; Power Alert (5-2), filly Richies Sweetheart (5-1), Beantown Saint (6-1) and Successful Native (6-1) are a combined 18-for-30 lifetime. Considering all the trips and traps in large fields, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Having said that, Power Alert (5-2) is a solid favorite--not despite the layoff but because of it. His career best effort on the Thoro-Graph scale came following a 268-day layup.

The gelded 6-year-old is 2-for-2 fresh, a graded winner getting class relief, has versatility and top connections; owner-trainer Brian Lynch and Tampa leading rider, the gifted Antonio Gallardo.

We think Power Alert is any price to key this and will include two of the three above, ‘Beantown’ and ‘Successful’, in exactas. We are desperate to get significantly slower Gallery (20-1) into the number. In his lone turf sprint, Saratoga’s Quick Call, he chased an extremely fast pace while racing very wide, was in contention at headstretch and battled gamely until tiring in the final sixteenth. He turns back off a series of routes for Michael Dini, profitable when going route to sprint.


I’ll see your Pletcher and raise you a Clement, a Mott, Matz and two Browns. In other words, this is a beauty--a stepping stone to bigger and better for sure--but still a graded opportunity for one of the nine entrants, three MTOs notwithstanding.

Todd Pletcher’s Sandiva (9-5) that will take a whole lot of beating. Pole sitting with tactical speed and Javier, newly turned 5-year-old has been working bullets at the deep Palm Beach training center, is graded placed thrice including a win, and returns with excellent spacing to a course over which she’s (3) 2-1-0 lifetime.

BETTABLES: While there are some very capable mares in here, we can’t get past the fave. We’re looking at three exotics players: Partisan Politics (4-1) returning for Chad Brown and profitable with this spacing; Tuttipaesi (6-1), a sharp prep winner stretching to her optimal distance [2-for-2], and price shot A Little Bit Sassy (15-1), who developed late last year and working strongly at Palm Meadows for her return.


While some undoubtedly are using this race as a first stop to the G1 GP Turf Handicap, it’s an important South Florida fixture and a coveted prize.

Lochte (3-1) is one of those rags-to-riches trainees for Marcus Vitali, who this time named Javier Castellano to ride at time of entry.

The course lover has won six of 11 starts and his recent 3F Palm Meadows blowout was the fastest of the week. He’s pole sitting and is ready to rock but will have to be. This 11-horse scrum is highly competitive. The problem is the alternatives are hard to separate.

BETTABLES: Lochte rates strongly to win this despite the 123-pound assignment. After that, we’re considering possible upsetters War Correspondent (4-1), a course lover training steadily for Christophe Clement at Payson Park since early November and “now horse” Heart to Heart (6-1), a four-time graded winner as a 2015 4YO and breezing well for Brian Lynch at PMM. He’s 3-for-4 beneath Leparoux who re-rides here.


Three of the eight entrants expected to attract most of the parimutuel support have compelling records; the issue is those triumphs came on turf, not over anticipated-sloppy two-turn dirt. What to do?

Good question: Three of the runners are Doug O’Neill’s, two are Bob Baffert’s, and another comes via Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer. Even without unknown conditions, we’d have left five of the nine open. Consider:

Rare Candy, very well bred for wet, made one start on dirt, beaten 7 lengths by presumptive champion Nyquist. That’s worthy of respect in today’s Grade 3. Dressed in Hermes impressed on Del Mar turf and has enough wet-track pedigree and Mike Smith.

There’s Found Money, 1-for-1 at the trip and 2-for-2 on the strip; I’malreadythere, twice graded placed on dirt, including the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity behind Mor Spirit; and Baffert’s pair of Collected, second to ‘Hermes’ in the grassy G3 DeMille, and Let’s Meet in Rio, who jumped up first time going long and has two-sided wet breeding.

A pair of 6-1 shots are interesting as potential win plays; Rare Candy and recent maiden breaker Let’s Meet in Rio, the “other” Baffert. We’re most likely to go there since the Flatter colt jumped up first-time long at Los Al. Probably prudent to complete exacta box with Baffert early favorite Collected (3-1). Price is a big win key here.


Expectations are high that the track will be under water by late afternoon according to Racing Secretary Rick Hammerle Thursday morning.

As the world knows, California Chrome is an extremely popular dual classics Horse of the Year champion making his first start since last year’s Dubai World Cup and who’s never run on a wet track.

But he trained well on it said straight-shooting Art Sherman and we’re taking that to the bank. If you haven’t viewed it yet; find his most recent workout at Santa Anita; six furlongs in 1:10.03 with a strong gallop out.

If this is as advertised, a prep for a return to Dubai, it needs to be a strong effort to go against the world’s best at 10 furlongs off a single race. He’ll probably be 80-90% fit but the plus is handled Meydan dirt very well. He has a strong wet pedigree and may be controlling speed.

: If he handles the conditions, this one could be over early with the classy returnee setting or stalking the pace and in control. Because of the unknown and the layup, early line 4-5 odds may be available ante post; those are fair odds. Exacta possibilities are obviously Hoppertunity (5-2) and two price shots; strong-working slop winner Point Piper (10-1) and successful wet-tracker Mystery Train (30-1) getting Mike Smith.

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Written by John Pricci

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Friday, January 01, 2016

On Gettin the New Money

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By John Pricci

Three things: Happy Birthday Thoroughbreds! Turn the page; you’re even! The Derby prep season is on!

Of course, it’s all well and good to rejoice and enjoy the sport but, to be honest, it’s better when you win.

So let’s celebrate all the above by starting with the prep season and more at Gulfstream where two sophomore stepping stones are offered Saturday; the Hutcheson and Mucho Macho Man, and in New York where three-year-olds take center ring in the Jerome.

Not only those but there are three more events on the five-stakes Hallandale docket, so we’ll stay on the East Coast.

The prototypical Saturday card at Gulfstream at this time of year, the program features five maiden races--four maiden allowances and a claimer on turf—to go along with those five added-money events.

Three of the Gulfstream stakes are graded, the six furlong G3 Hutcheson; the G3 Old Hat for fillies at the same trip and the G3 Dania Beach for 3YO turf colts. Also featured is the listed Mucho Macho Man at one mile. At the Big A, it’s the G3 Jerome.



A bit of a Rubik’s cube, with Awesome Banner (7-2), Full Salute (9-2), Noholdingback Bear (3-1) and Sheikh of Sheiks (9-5), all capable in this seven-horse lineup. Awesome Banner just might be a freak.

After breaking maiden in his 4-1/2 furlong track record debut in June, today will be start #2. Why no races in between? A small knee chip was removed after that race but it was not, according to connects, a huge issue. He’s ready to run, but this is a big leap.

Full Salute is also getting a class test but he’s long on experience; a 7-time starter that has three wins and seconds including two listed stakes. The speedy race shape will suit.

But ‘Bear’ and ‘Sheikh’ are the two that impress as possible “best horses.” ‘Sheikh’ won the BC Juvenile Sprint at Keeneland last out, defeating ‘Bear’ who was making his dirt debut off an impressive synthetic introduction. Both are coming in off New Pace Tops.

BETTABLES: Honestly, we don’t know what to do. The one that interests us most is Noholdingback Bear who could surge forward in a big way here, now with two races and dirt track experience. At 3-1 or less, will key in exotics; we’d bet to win at 7-2 or more.


This one’s interesting even for a short field. The fastest horses on any scale are My Dear Valenzuela (15-1) and Lucy N Ethel (8-5) but there are issues with both. Ballet Diva (9-5) belongs here, too, but will she be pressured from the pole or just scoot away?

Will a fast 5-1/2 furlongs translate into six in the case of ‘Valenzuela’? No idea. Is the latter, a filly shipping into this off short rest, capable of a repeat effort? However, she is trained by the super Ramon Preciado so that question could be moot.

Catira Rock (6-1) intrigues at a price. She’s won two over the track and at today’s trip, her last race here was a solid move forward and she should be able to continue progressing. Whatever. It’s the race shape and switch to Zayas that seals this deal for us.

BETTABLES: As it almost always is, horizontals notwithstanding, it’s about price, and we must get 9-2 or more since ‘Rock’ is going from 25K sellers into a Grade 3. We are talking young, fast developers so the tote rules. We will key ‘Rock’ in all positions with her two rivals above and include the very fast Ballet Diva (9-5) in the exotics mix.


The only safe prediction we’ll make is that three, four, or more of the 10 entrants will race in Grade 1 company before 2016 ends. We will look at four of them here; Isotherm (6-1), Mountain Music Man (7-2), Life Imitates Art (4-1) and Ray’s The Bar (3-1).

‘Ray’s’ is the unluckiest trip runner in the field not named Isotherm. The former was eliminated completely at the quarter-pole in the BC Juvenile Turf and many thought his trip was the difference between winning and losing the G3 Pilgrim. So there’s that and Javier; that makes him 3-1.

Isotherm is the kind that always will be compromised by a deep-closing style. And that makes it between the uncoupled Chad Brown ‘Life’ and Todd Pletcher’s ‘Music Man’. Both will gets lots of tote attention, of course. We’ll shade Todd’s runner because he’s handier and is well posted with Johnny.

BETTABLES: We’re looking to bet Mountain Music Man to win, minimum of 3-1, and an exacta box with Life Imitates Art. Isotherm and Ray’s The Bar are included in our super-exotics mix.


For our money, it’s the ship-in vs. the local, and the interloper is from the Mid-Atlantic, not New York or Kentucky.

As racetrackers say, Awesome Speed (9-5) could be any kind. After a clunker debut, he was a stylish winner over 11 Laurel rivals and returned to win the James F. Lewis there despite being pressed throughout. Clearly fastest on the Thoro-Graph scale, he’s working strongly at Palm Meadows for Alan Goldberg-profitable with shippers and in 2015 overall, and gets Joel Rosario here.

But we love the racehorse Fellowship (5-2). This hard knocker is (7) 2-3-0 in life and showed huge kick winning the In Reality here around two turns. This is a flat mile but he showed versatility when second in a subsequent sprint before placing again in the Smooth Air, a GPW two-turner. But both wins came here and today’s strong pace will suit nicely.

BETTABLES: At early line odds, neither Awesome Speed nor Fellowship are particularly attractive win plays even if they are most likely to succeed. We’d require at least early line odds on the former and a tad higher on Fellowship. Given early odds, recent maiden breaker Aggressive Driver is interesting at 6-1 early odds picking up JR.



There are some nice potential kings running in Queens this weekend and perhaps a very legitimate Derby contender: Flexibility (1-1).

Donegal Moon (15-1) is the obligatory Pletcher entrant who, after breaking maiden around two turns at Keeneland, set the G2 Remsen pace but tired abruptly.

Bird of Trey (10-1) is the most interesting of the price shots. He has the most experience and comes off an energy-distribution Reversal on the Pricci Energy scale, apropos of Birdstone progeny. He should stretch nicely off his 7-1/4 length Penn Nursery score; Kendrick Carmouche rides for John Servis.

Flexibility is developing beautifully on the Thoro-Graph scale; a series of fast races on a tight pattern. Irad Ortiz Jr. rides for Chad Brown. The bay Bluegrass Cat colt was second twice to undefeated Mohaymen, including the Remsen.

BETTABLES: You won’t get rich…unless. Flexibility is a deserving favorite and likely to be even money or less. Will include Bird of Prey in two-way exactas and may add last-out maiden breaker In Equality (20-1) to super-exotics; needing 12-1 minimum to do so.


As you might surmise, wide open is what one expects from a large field of turf sprinters. Not sure if it will be a trip or a trap at this juncture but I confess that I likely will break one personal handicapping “rule.”

Generally, in a field of proven turf runners, we let grass-debut types beat us. Not willing to do that today as this looks like the perfect breakthrough spot for Bayerd (9-2).

Class relief, speedy race shape, outside post, mini-turnback and a switch to 25% FG rider Florent Geroux points the way. Of those that have run on turf, Reflector (12-1) is on a healthy line and is an overlay at early line odds.

BETTABLES: May make two win bets here, price dependent. Certainly will shade Bayerd but demanding in the neighborhood of 3-1. Reflector will get a win play for sure; 6-1 to 8-1 seems fair enough. Either way, will include both in the exotics mix.

See today's Feature Race Analysis section for selections

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Tis the Season…to Open Santa Anita WEEKEND PREVIEW DECEMBER 26, 2015

By John Pricci
Exclusive to

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., December 24, 2015—If Saturday is December 26 then it’s opening day someplace, and that place happens to be what the publicists call “The Great Race Place.”

Hey, if I owned a racetrack with the San Gabriels as a backdrop, that’s what I’d call it, too, that or something equally ostentatious.

What makes the day special for us is that, at once, it signals the end of one year and the beginning of the next campaign simultaneously.

So how will the year end? Which horses will present themselves, in the hyperbolic words of another industry giant, to be the stars of tomorrow? Doesn’t matter, since it promises to be a good show either way.

For this Eclipse voter, one of today’s three Santa Anita features, the Grade 1 La Brea, is needed to settle some unfinished voting business. My ballot was torn between Cavorting, the 5-2 La Brea favorite, and the remarkable win machine, La Verdad, for female sprinter.

At this posting, my lean is toward the latter; but the La Brea will settle it. An excellent performance by the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained filly will push me in Cavorting’s direction. So we shall see.

Coast to coast, this is one crazy, event filled weekend, East Coast sport an entertaining prelude to Santa Anita which will also hosts the G1 Malibu, featuring protem Sprint champion Runhappy, the Grade 2 Mathis Bros (turf) Mile, and the Grade 3 Daytona.

After all, what would a Santa Anita opening be without at least one downhill turf sprint?

Before that, players must course through a pair of stakes sprints in New York--the Gravesend and state-bred Damon Runyon; a trio of Grade 3s from Gulfstream—the Sugar Swirl, McKnight and La Prevoyante, and three listed events in Bayou country; the Woodchopper, Pan Zareta and Pago Hop.

The following is a handicapping look-see of what’s in store while the rest of this crazy world goes exchanging, refunding and bargain hunting. Perhaps we can divine one or two of the latter variety from somewhere between the fences Saturday afternoon.


Normally, we would overlook a six-horse field that includes two 4-5 early line favorites--that’s no typo. Both are trained by Todd Pletcher, which no one disbelieves. But on both the Pricci Energy Ratings and Thoro-Graph scales, Sudden Surprise is the more likely to succeed around two turns Saturday afternoon.

BETTABLES: The only way to take money from today’s 2nd race is to have Taoiseach (5-1), with winning two-turn from and winter-track experience, completes the quinella/exacta. With the “other” 4-5 shot out of the mix, value seems assured.


For the record, highly accomplished New York-bred Palace is a deserving favorite (2-1). But based on 2015 form, not so fast. Still, that doesn’t make our task easier. If I were assured that fresh Jake N Elwood (5-1) would shake loose, he’s the value play. But he must break sharply from his pole position.

Should there be a contested pace, Fabulous Kid (7-2), one of two uncoupled Jacobson entrants, has the style to get the job done given suitable dynamics.

BETTABLES: At 48 hours pre-post, we’ll wager on Jake N Elwood to win at 4-1 or greater and key-box exactas with Fabulous Kid and Palace. The latter just missed despite a troubled start in the G3 Fall Highweight and drops 11 pounds off that assignment.


This event is highly competitive, as most turf races in New Orleans are. But this field was oversubscribed as 15 3YOs were entered overnight.

Two of the early line choices; Wireless Future (7-2) and Chip Leader (4-1), figure prominently with a recent race over today’s course. In our view, however, the linemaker hung up too much price on Granny’s Kitten (10-1).

The only races in which this colt was not competitive were a pair of Grade 1s and a recent G3 at Hawthorne in which he was forced nearly 8-wide into the lane, losing any real chance.

Mike Maker’s trainee was competitive enough to seriously challenge the streaking and talented Force the Pass in the Penn Mile this spring, and also finished well for place at this trip in Indiana’s Centaur.

Last out, the Kitten’s Joy colt made a premature move in CD’s G3 Commonwealth going longer, now drops back into listed company at his best distance. Maker hasn’t had much success with Albarado recently, but perhaps the pair can break through in this spot.

BETTABLES: We’ll take Granny’s Kitten to win at 6-1 or greater and key-box exactas with Wireless Future and Chip Leader.


The best events that bettor-friendly Tampa Bay could come up with Saturday were a pair of allowance events, one featuring a vulnerable favorite, Mulino (2-1), and a very solid second choice, My House (5-2).

Mulino hails from the Mott barn that has been 25% efficient in his when shipping into Oldsmar, 27% when using Fernando De La Cruz. Two starts back he made a huge forward move at Belmont going 6F, then regressed next out at Aqueduct.

Will he rebound? Well, stretching out again and from the pole, we’re not interested in finding out at 2-1.

My House, meanwhile, has run as fast but with greater consistently, does his best running around one turn at today’s trip or at a flat mile.

Nicely drawn outside, Sandino Hernandez Jr. has made a career shipping into Tampa successfully (30%), mostly with Daniel Centeno, the rider here. Additionally, Hernandez is a profitable 27% turning back from routes to sprints.

BETTABLES: Taking My House to win at 2-1 or greater.


Whenever you think of jockey who ride for Todd Pletcher, the names Velazquez and Castellano leap to mind. Seldom does one think of Luis Saez, who’s starting this meet the way he did last season: Hot.

Further, in his last four rides for Todd, he’s won three and finished second, through Wednesday.

Today the team hooks up with a late developing 4YO filly that never has taken a backward step on the TG scale, improving incrementally including her most recent effort; a strong, wide rally third from far back in the G3 Long Island at the trip. It was a very solid introduction to graded company.

Leaving from slip 4 in a field of 12—half saddled by Chad Brown and Christophe Clement---English Channel filly has enough tactical gas to be placed wherever Saez thinks she’s comfortably in rhythm and he knows the filly, having won three of six starts on her, never finishing off the board.

BETTABLES: We’re betting Gotachancetodance to win at 4-1 or greater.


At the end of the day, headlines, win or lose, will find Runhappy (6-5, G1 Malibu), Cavorting (3-1, G1 La Brea) and Om (5-2), G2 Mathis Bros Mile) getting most of the attention. A brief word:

Runhappy is a sprinting freak but there are obstacles to overcome here, namely a hard fought Sprint victory; the talented, lightly raced pair from McLaughlin (Marking & Watershed) and Bob Baffert returnee Lord Nelson, conqueror of Texas Red this spring.

Cavorting will have her hooves full with La Verdad protégé Hot City Girl, and Om will have 11 rivals to deal with after leaving from post 10 going a two-turn mile. All will be formidable; all will be favorites.

Richard’s Boy (6-1) may not be that quote at post time but is highly unlikely to go favorite; that distinction figures to go to No Silent (7-2) with Gary Stevens for Gary Mandella.

Richard’s Boy is a gelded 3YO developing rapidly for Peter Miller whose next downhill defeat will be his first in three tries on the Hillside Course. He prepped for this nicely going 5F at Del Mar November 12, followed by four subsequent works including two bullets.

Victor Espinoza re-rides the Cal-bred that owns laudable versatility, having won by leading throughout or running down leaders from close range. Post 1 can be the good news or the bad news, but that’s Espinoza’s problem.

BETTABLES: Taking Richard’s Boy to win at 4-1 or greater, an exacta box with No Silent, and will try squeezing Holy Lute (9-2) and price shot Somethings Unusual (20-1) into the exotics.

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On the record for running totals purposes, selections are posted in Saturday's Feature Race Analysis

Written by John Pricci

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