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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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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Saez Gets 1,000 by Giving Lea First Graded Win

HRI Staff Report

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., January 11, 2014 – For the team surrounding Hal's Hope winner Lea, there was a lot a karma involved going into Saturday's graded stakes at Gulfstream Park..

Although the Claiborne runner was regarded more highly as a turf horse, his new mentor Bill Mott thought that a dirt experiment was worthwhile, he had liked his prior main track runs that much. Further, he reasoned, let's see if we can get things going with a talented young rider that shifted his tack to New York last year and broke through on a horse called Will Take Charge.

Luis Saez won a lot of big races in the past year for several trainers while emerging as a rising riding star, but Bill Mott wasn’t one of them…until Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

"I think he’s a good rider, a good young rider. I think he’s going to be in the top echelon of the jocks,” Mott said. “I actually hadn’t had much luck with him up until today – maybe I just didn’t put him on the right kind of horses – but I’m glad we’ve finally broke through in a graded stakes.”

Saez just missed pulling off a front-running upset aboard the Mott-trained Tetradrachm in the $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G2) won by heavily favored Summer Front one race earlier.

But he came through for the Hall of Fame trainer in a big way in the $100,000 Hal’s Hope Stakes (G3). The 21-year-old jockey not only posted a 3 ¼-length victory aboard Lea, a $6.40-1 longshot, he registered a personal milestone by visiting the winner’s circle for the 1000th time during his relatively brief career.

“It’s amazing! I thank God,” said Saez, whose most high-profile triumphs of 2013 came aboard Travers and Clark Handicap winner Will Take Charge. “I need to thank the trainers, the owners and my agent (Richard Depass) too.”

Making his first start for Mott and only his third career start on dirt, Lea pressed the pace set by Csaba along the backstretch and around the final turn before taking over at the top of the stretch and continuing on to a convincing victory.

“It went really well. My horse broke so good. We followed Csaba because I knew he was the horse to beat,” said Saez, who rode Csaba to a victory in the 2013 Hal’s Hope. “At the three-eighths (pole), I had a lot of horse and when I asked him, he ran. He handled the dirt really well.”

Jackson Bend, ridden by Javier Castellano, closed to finish a non-threatening second, a half-length ahead of Neck ‘n Neck and jockey Julien Leparoux. Csaba, the 3-1 favorite and defending champion ridden by Paco Lopez, faded to sixth.

Lea, who had previously raced on turf and synthetic surfaces for trainer Al Stall Jr., ran the mile in 1:35.30 after pressing fractions of :24.15, :47.03 and 1:10.87 for the first six furlongs. Bred and owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, Lea earned $60,000 for his fifth victory in 11 starts.

“We’ve had him about 60 days and initially we were pointing him to either the El Prado Stakes or the Fort Lauderdale (on turf), and then we started looking at it and examining his dirt form, which was pretty good. He’s got two races that are actually quite good,” Mott said. “Discussing it with Walker Hancock (of Claiborne Farm), we both decided to give him a shot early in the year on the dirt just to see what direction we want to go the rest of the year.”

The 5-year-old son of First Samurai had won an off-the-turf allowance over a Churchill Downs sloppy track last June and finished a respectable fourth in the Forego (G1) over a sloppy Saratoga track in August.

“I think the way he gave us good reason for trying that (running on dirt again). I suppose now we have to decide how far we want to run him. But he looks like he’s one of those unusual horses that handles turf and dirt,” Mott said. “

Obviously, there are some big races on the dirt. His dam (Greenery) ran a mile and three furlongs, a mile and a half, so he’s got a pedigree to run further. First Samurai is doing well and starting to kick in as a stallion, so maybe he’s got the pedigree to carry him nine furlongs anyway.”

The $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 8 will be run at 1 1/8-miles or nine furlongs. Why not try? Going in, the horse and the connections will be playing with house money. If that doesn't work, there's always turf racing.

“I was just kind of considering that,” Mott said through a broad smile. “We’ll have to talk to the owners about that."

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Caught In a Polar Vortex

SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY, January 8, 2014---At about 10 minutes after midnight on New Year’s Rockin Eve with the ABC camera spanning the humanity to the strains of Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”

It was at this moment, as Ole Blue Eyes was about to begin this refrain, Toni Pricci jumped in with her own unique interpretation of the lyrics:

“I Want to Wake Up In a City That Never Sleets…”

“I know, I know," I said. Six more days and we’ll be having drinks with tiny little umbrellas in them.”

Then, from the Arctic it came; not a bird, not a plane, but a polar vortex.


Alas, it was no joke. Historically low temperatures, at least 15 deaths and counting, stranded travelers (hello?) wholesale school and business closings, power grids straining, etc., etc.

The amount of fallout from this calamitous climate change (is this still deniable, Mr. Trump?) is understandable, the very least of which was our arrival in South Florida, namely Gulfstream Park.

Departure was scheduled for early afternoon Tuesday then came an announcement from my carrier, Jet Blue Airlines, that flights from all three major metropolitan area airplanes and Logan in Boston had been cancelled.

Jet Blue, already playing catchup from last week’s storms, absolutely made the correct call here. I applaud new airline regulations requiring pilots to get sufficient sleep before punching their personal time clocks.

I called an audible, not wishing to be stranded without a car at JFK International or go for $200 for a bust-out room at some hotel near the airport. The airline was not penalizing its passengers for a decision it made and waived all rescheduling fees, so I jumped at the opportunity.

The first two calls were unilaterally aborted by 1.800.Jet-Blue due to extremely high call volume so I decided to wait until after midnight. This time the prompt said “the wait will be more than 30 minutes.” I thought it best to roll the dice.

My call was answered in about an hour, reasonable under the circumstances, even at 1:40 a.m.

I was able to appropriate two of the last three seats on a jet plane that, God willing, lands safely at the cocktail hour Friday evening. How civilized. As of late Tuesday night, the first availabilities were next Monday and Tuesday.

Had I not gotten through when I did, I would have missed Saturday’s G2 Ft Lauderdale Handicap and the G3 Hal’s Hope, featuring a couple of interesting Donn Handicap prospects, otherwise known as half the Late Pick 4.

Most New Yorkers took the event in stride, which is to say somewhat impatiently, and only one issue ruffled my feathers.

On Tuesday, the day we were originally scheduled to fly, the local TV networks I said that the airports were averaging delays of 29 minutes. Maybe we could have gotten out of Dodge almost as scheduled. I chose instead to disbelieve what I was hearing.

Our host came home that night and couldn’t wait to get completely inside before blurting out. “You guys made the right call. CBS Radio is reported that thousands of people are still stranded, no room at the airports, can’t get a hotel room. Many people have been there for days…”

Blogger to talking heads: In an emergency, pick up the phone and fact check you lazy sons of bitches. No one, especially seniors, should be made to curl up inside an airline terminal, even one as nice as Terminal 5.


In every equine division and almost every human division, Eclipse Award voters--nearly 92 percent of those permitted to cast ballots did--voters didn’t miss a trick. The three top vote getters in each of 17 categories resembled cold trifecta boxes.

The press release that made the announcement identified three potential Horse of the Year Champions; Mucho Macho Man, Will Take Charge and Wise Dan, the latter, the defending titlist, considered an odds-on favorite to repeat.

There was one category, that for Outstanding Trainer National, that raised some eyebrows. On the same day the National Baseball Writers announced their class of 2013-14 of which Bobby Bonds and Roger Clemens failed to qualify, for obvious reasons, so, too, was it surprising that, given 2013 events, Bob Baffert would be a finalist.

Baffert had his usual highly productive year, led by his excellent work with Secret Circle, New Year’s Day and Game On Dude. But the Hall of Famer has set the bar so high that it could be argued 2013 was somewhat un-Baffert-like. And, like Bonds and Clemens, there was the heavy baggage. It wasn’t as if the accomplishments of another Hall of Famer, Shug McGaughey, weren’t enough to hit the board.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Between the Fences, 2014 Looks Promising

SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY, December 15, 2013—There’s nothing like an electrifying performance by a 2-year-old to warm the cockles on a snowy, Christmas-is-coming weekend.

But before jumping on any 2014 Kentucky Derby bandwagons, or a 2013 Eclipse Award for juveniles scenario for that matter, a few thoughts. Second things first.

In my view, Shared Belief, as impressive as he was, might be suffering from what likely will prevent Mucho Macho Man from becoming the 2013 Horse of the Year. While the accomplishment is huge, it appears too little too late.

Wise Dan remains the heavy favorite to repeat as best in show by virtue of the fact that Grade 1 scores in the Awesome Again and Breeders’ Cup Classic does not a Horse of the Year championship make.

And you thought the 2013 scenario was vexing?

However, there is a belief shared by virtually everyone who watched the G1 Cash Call Futurity that Jerry Hollendorfer’s colt is—at least, and all other things remaining equal—a serious race horse.

And know that when it comes to Eclipse Award voters, an undefeated 3-for-3 slate is an attractive championship package. What to make of the fact that the victories came on All Weather surfaces will likely be debated sometime in the future.

A mile and a sixteenth in 1:42.16—the final sixteenth in 06:17--is a worthy performance on the clock, and his 5-3/4 length victory margin was inarguably visually impressive.

Sitting off a 131.10-1 leader might be just what the trip doctor’s ordered; the fact that the speedy gelding didn’t NEED the lead is a positive for a horse with potential world class aspirations.

While we’re no fan of All Weather surface racing, Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track was, from Day 1, always the least offensive, acting very much like a dirt surface in almost every way; it doesn’t penalize speed in the manner of Polytrack, and horses actually finish-up, not plod home.

But it isn’t dirt, making it less-than as a Derby barometer. And the Candy Ride-Storm Cat mare, while looking good on paper, doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of mile and a quarter fans.

There were, however, some good colts behind him. Runner-up Candy Boy, who made a wild, mid-race run beneath the extraordinary Gary Stevens, is a promising runner and, unlike the winner, has dirt experience—a good second going long at Santa Anita.

Tamarando and Bond Holder, respectively, third and fourth yesterday, are both Grade 1 winners. And while Tap It Rich and Kobe’s Back are not nearly as accomplished, both are certainly better than they appeared on the day.

Meanwhile, high profile owner Jim Rome has made one hell of a parlay, taking a portion of that $2.7 million he received for the sale of dual Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Mizdirection and buying into the Shared Belief partnership.

We wish the gelding luck if for no other reason than the publicity could garner for the game in the run-up to Derby 140.

Thank You Willis Horton

Yes, and the game thanks you, too, you and the rest of the Horton family that wants to see certain-to-be three year old champion Will Take Charge back for a four year old campaign.

And, while we’re at it, a belated thanks to Dean and Patti Reeves, Kathy Ritvo and Finn Green for managing the career of this baby huey type whose growth spurts finally have caught up to his considerable scope.

The fact that both of these guys like to hear their feet rattle and have something they’d like to prove in the 2014 Classic, is a happy coincidence.

At least one good thing is coming out of Breeders’ Cup’s Santa Anita three-dux.

There is some unfinished business with respect to WTC’s future, a pending syndication deal that likely will have an effect on the colt’s schedule leading up to the Classic.

But we like the idea that Darrell Wayne is talking Donn Handicap for a possible season’s debut as a prelude to the Big ‘Cap.

Willis noted that while $10 million is a strong temptation, horses always don’t come back all that great after running in the Dubai World Cup, a notion worthy of a papal proclamation.

Lukas also mentioned the Whitney at Saratoga and other traditional prestigious fixtures in what clearly appears to be the road taken to a possible 2014 Horse of the Year title.

The gauntlet has been laid down. It will be interesting to see if the MMM camp picks it up or takes a Wise Dan-type path back to the Classic.

Written by John Pricci

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