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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Sunday, October 16, 2016


Breeders’ Cup Prep Season Ends Today?


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, October 16, 2016--Finally, the Breeders' Cup prep season is over, yes?

Between Saturday's action--doubtful, but perhaps BC eventful--the British Day of Champions at Ascot, and Sunday's Canadian International, Nearctic, and EP Taylor at Woodbine, how could there possibly be any more?

On Saturday. I almost was disappointed to read Todd Pletcher’s quotes regarding the victory by Theory after the Grade 3 Belmont Futurity—yet another New York stakes race that has gone back. I mean, six furlongs?

Anyway, I was disheartened because I had a Theory [sorry], possible physical issues notwithstanding, that the trainer really likes the uber impressive Saratoga maiden breaker, has a big future and thus has become his personal Kentucky Derby project.

Of course, Pletcher’s highly likely, as has been the case in recent years, to have more than one Derby starter in 2017. He might even be higher on some of his other two-year-olds. But this was different; he’s really taking his time, developing this one slowly.

Here’s the why: Didn’t think the colt needed another six furlong race in his second start after making his debut way back on July 30. What would another sprint win prove except to get a relatively painless G3 title at 35 cents on the dollar?

Pletcher said after the race the strategy was to take him off the pace, that Moves Like Ali had a lot of speed and the pole, so he most likely would need to be sent out of there, which he was, and Theory could sit just off the speed.

As the race developed, Theory was relaxed on the backside but had to be niggled on a bit to get him to go after the leader, who seemed within himself at the turn.

After Javier Castellano got him to change leads, albeit just a bit awkwardly to our liking, he lugged in for a stride or two until Castellano straightened him away.

The colt eventually won ridden out by 3-1/2 going-away lengths in 1:09.91 and it appeared to be a good learning lesson, an effort to build on going forward.

But what loaned credence to my theory, pun intended, was what happened after the wire.

At the Gulfstream Park simulcast, like at most others around the country, the sound was muted for all but the local track.

So I don’t know whether if, as in days of old, the press was informed that a certain horse would be working an extra sixteenth, or eighth, after the finish; tell-tale that a trainer thinks his runner’s a cinch to win but also that the race was meant as a bridge to something bigger.

Well, Castellano was still riding his mount after the finish line, and he didn’t begin to ease the colt until nearing the top of the clubhouse turn.

[If you want to check this yourself, you’ll probably need to also view the head-on video].

In his post-race comments, Pletcher told the NYRA press staff: “He broke alertly, put himself in a good spot, and Javier gave him a little chance to get his feet underneath him… When he called him he finished up strongly." Then this re Breeders’ Cup:

“He flicked his ears and galloped out strongly... It was everything we hoped it could be… With the way he ran, the way he galloped out and came back, I think we at least have to sit down and have that discussion."

If Pletcher has indeed given him time after the maiden win, even on a speedy Santa Anita oval, my take is that he should pass on the Breeders’ Cup. Two turns, two tough, too much, too soon.

Saturday’s big event is one of my personal favorites; the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth for three year old fillies on the grass at Keeneland. It’s also the favorite of the Phillips family, custodians of the Darby Dan Farm brand and that great broodmare band.

The gutsy, narrow victory by Time and Motion was their fifth in the race and first since the great Memories of Silver in 1996 and also trainer Jimmy Toner’s third. His first was with Tribulation in 1993.

Johnny Velazquez, as occurs so often, proved the difference, first reeling in the very game German horse, Hawksmoor, who ran too good to lose, and a flying Harmonize, who just missed.

For those who don’t know Toner, personally or by reputation, he’s one horseman who puts a smile on everyone’s face when he wins, rivals included.

And when it comes to developing young turf fillies, he just might be peerless. Good job all around.

By late Sunday evening, there will be no more preps, and it will be on to the Breeders’ Cup, right? Right?

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, October 13, 2016


Tote Buster: Saturday’s Extremely Wide Open Pebbles at Belmont


This Analysis Brought to You by 123GAMING.com. For a comprehensive look at all races in today's Late Pick 4 from Belmont Park, click on http://www.123BET.com

RACE 8: PEBBLES STAKES 3YO Fillies 1 Mile WIDENER TURF


1-Enjoy Yourself (30-1) Showed some promise early in turf career but really hasn’t developed since. Has won at the trip but not over the course and her figures are lacking. Pricci Energy Rating: 66. Thoro-Graph Top: 8.75. Very tall order.
2-Believe in Bertie (10-1)** Turns back to winning distance (albeit one turn) and is on a bounce-rebound pattern. Appears best on firm footing and has excellent early speed with inside position. Three sharp blowouts for this following game placing in an Indiana listed stakes. PER: 79. TGT: 6. Exotics price potential.
3-Wild About Harry (15-1)* PERs have been improving incrementally and is (3) 1-1-0 at the trip; (4) 2-1-0 on Belmont turf. Beat state-breds going a mile two back, followed by an open company sprint. Has excellent kick but this spot saltier than she’s used to. PER: 80. TGT: 6.5. Bottom of super perhaps?
4-Ancient Secret (3-1)*** Won G2 Lake George at Saratoga then shipped to WO for Grade 3 mile off a short break but lost all chance with very-wide turn rally. Can easily rebound to form that led to four straight scores; 3-for-3 at Belmont, Chad-Irad team but poor value on early line. PER: 78. TGT: 5.25.
5-Ultra Brat (12-1)*** Seeks her third straight win while moving up in class and distance and won her course and turf debut off a break last out. Motion’s old partner Edgar in for the assignment and barn's been white hot. Bullet blowout at Fair Hill base, bred for added ground, and three sibs have won on turf. PER: 82. TGT: 8. Excellent value at early line odds.
6-Baciama Piccola (30-1) Figures have improved since adding Lasix but has not shown she’s up to this level of competition since winning a Grade 3 at Tampa last winter. Tyler G. shipping in to take the call. PER: 69. TGT: 8.25. Very tall order here.
7-Welcoming (10-1)** Finished well too late vs. weaker in 7-furlong course return, showing some affinity for Belmont turf despite (3) 0-0-3 slate. Has competitive figures but this is a tough spot to break turf maiden after three failed attempts even with highly competitive figure. Franco lands here. PER: 82. TGT: 6. Some price shot potential.
8-Insta Emma (6-1)*** Comes off impressive win over the course--her second Belmont score--and now makes suitable stretch-out for Mott--21% effective in non-graded stakes and 24% with potential repeaters. Switch to Lezcano augurs well for this barn. PER: 81. TGT: 4.75. Solid contender.
9-Stella Rose (5-1)** Fast-finish second and narrowly beaten in turf and course debut at this trip despite bobbling at the break. Chased the pace while wide throughout in G3 Commonwealth Oaks and stayed on very well late and now reunites with winning partner Rosario. PER: 79. TGT: 6.75
10-Louisville First (20-1)*** Earned field’s best last-out PER, grinding out a sprint score over state-breds in course return. Both lifetime wins on Belmont turf and talented New Yorker goes well for Cancel. May provide value on class rise into opens. PER: 84. TGT: 5.25. The value given early line odds.
11-Thundering Sky (8-1)** Was unlucky to lose Wild Applause under today’s exact dynamics in June before racing wide in Lake George. She then returned with game third in a Canadian Grade 3 coming off a short break. Right back to NY with switch to Gallardo. PER: 76. TGT: 8.25.
12-She Doesn’t Mind (7-2)*** Regressed in last following career best when third here to On Leave—who subsequently beat her again. She returns fresh with strong and steady work-line for Chad and Javier sticks. Rebound potential for barn profitable with this spacing. PER: 81. TGT: 9.25.
13-AE-Mom’s On Strike (20-1) Salty spot for winning turf debut. PER: [NA]. TGT: 6.
14-Mo d’Amour (8-5) MAIN TRACK ONLY PER: [NA]. TGT: 3.75.

For on-the-record selections, see Saturday's Feature Race Analysis


Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, October 02, 2016


Potent Prep Performances from Coast to Coast


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, October 2, 2016—If Saturday's first salvo in a series of “Super Saturday” Breeders' Cup prep programs is any indication, the seminal events figure to be something truly special.

And it all started with the latest embodiment of what “America’s Horse” should look like. Or, as race caller Michael Wrona described it: “California Chrome was awesome again in the Awesome Again.”

Never has the brilliant five-year-old chestnut been better than he is right now. The same can no longer be said of champion mare Beholder. The six-year-old mare is still extremely competitive and someday might even benefit from her preferred stalking trip.

But make no mistake: Four-year-old Stellar Wind is for real. And as for Songbird making it a three-way in the Distaff? Well, she’s Songbird after all.

In New York, the glitz was less shiny. In some cases, a lot less.

It was clear on the final turn of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic that the mighty Flintshire was struggling on the wet ground. His fans and backers now must wait until his feet hit Santa Anita's new billiard-table turf carpet at Santa Anita. Thus far it looks and acts as advertised; a great surface

In the Grade 1 Vosburgh, speedy longshot Green Gratto took the rapid X Y Jet by the throatlatch early and set the table for late runners on a sealed wet track that did the favorite no favors. Still, we thought he should have hung in there a little bit longer.

While European turf runners routinely clean the clock of their American rivals, it will take their best to handle impressive juvenile Oscar Performance, who appears all set for an Eclipse Award leading role in the Juvenile Turf.

As for older dirt mares, It might not have been the most sterling edition of the G1 Personal Ensign ever staged. Either that or goo-loving Forever Unbridled made the competition look ineffectually outclassed. She was brilliant, taking the lead entering the stretch while Joel Rosario sat motionless.

Out West, Klimt made his pre-race notices seem hyperbolic when measured against his Forerunner performance. In fairness, his tardy beginning did him no favors, nor did the wide rally to follow. And it’s very possible that 2-for-2 Gromley is the better prospect five weeks from now, and in 2017. John Sheriffs’ charge is certainly interesting in that context.

Can’t say the same about the Chandelier fillies, however. It was a two-speed number all the way around as chaser Noted and Quoted got the best of rail-running pacesetter With Honors in deep stretch.

The result was a lot like the Awesome Again and Zenyatta as frontrunners dominated the order of finish. Yes, they were the best horses on paper, but the Chandelier fillies were 7-1 and 9-1, respectively, needing a final sixteenth in a breathless 07.15 to get their jobs done.

Aside from the benefit of a race over the BC track, nothing in the Grade 1 mile and a sixteenth should scare away any would-be challengers.

As for G1 turf fillies and mares in California, the same can be said of uber sharp, superbly prepared Avenge. She was life and death to get the final sixteenth of the 1-1/4 mile Rodeo Drive.

At Churchill Downs, it’s hard to imagine even the much maligned and racing’s favorite PC punching bag, Maria Borell, doing less to prepare champion Runhappy to run a flat mile in his first start since last year’s BC Sprint.

Admittedly, the Churchill surface was wet fast and demanding, and Runhappy was pressed much of the way from the inside by Mr. Z. Approaching the 3/8s, Edgar Prado let out a notch of rein and Runhappy responded but never shook clear.

Ridden hard in deep stretch, he could not hold third after the well prepped Tom’s Ready, loaded on the backside throughout beneath B.J. Hernandez, took command from the 4-path soon after entering the straight.

Iron Fist finished very well late to secure the place and galloped out with good energy. He can go forward off the effort. But as far as stretching Runhappy out, or even returning in the Dirt Mile, the inclination off Saturday’s performance is to not bother.

Of course, there could have been some mental rust at play and the trip would indicate that Runhappy did enough to get fit to make a defense of his Sprint title. Whether he’s the same horse, however, is anyone’s guess at this point.

Sunday morning at Chantilly made for great racing on TV, four races including the lynchpin Prix de L’arc de Triomphe. The early card featured two noteworthy performances.

National Defense, Criquette Head’s “best two-year-old,” was impressive. He was a relaxed leader that in the end showed a sharp turn of foot and more than enough stamina for the trip.

Arc winner Found is a special mare. Last year’s defending BC champion burst through a narrow seam and powered home, continuing her history of success over male rivals.

While no Arc winner ever repeated in the Breeders’ Cup, she could be over the top and still handle American fillies, unless some of her European peers have something to say about that.

Back home, the Florida Sires Stakes series continues to grow in both stature and box office. Saturday’s Final Sire Stakes card was up 53% year over year. The day’s all-sources handle was $9.4 million.

Commerce for the entire 3-day series, launched on August 6, represented a 41% increase for the combined trio.

Additionally, total handle for the Summer Meet that began April 4 and ended Saturday was up 14% year over year. Gulfstream Summer booked nearly $557 million in bets.

Beyond that, Saturday’s nominal feature had national implications. Three Rules remained undefeated becoming the fourth male to sweep the Sires Stakes series since the 1984 inaugural. He won the three races by a combined 22-1/2 lengths, taking his two turn In Reality debut by 10 dominating lengths.

Thirty two years ago, Smile was the first juvenile colt to sweep the series and two years later won the BC Sprint. There’s a chance that Three Rules won’t have to take that long. Think five weeks hence.

Coming Tuesday: Racing Rules Need Amending; Officials Need to Do Their Job


Sires Stakes Notable Finishes from Saturday October 1


RACE 10 MY DEAR GIRL STAKES 2YO Fillies 1-1/16 Miles

5-Dude Fantasy (6-1): Earned competitive PER in MSW debut, has two-turn pedigree, and returned in nine days for first of three works for this; Tyler on re-ride for top juvenile connects. (won, 9.80)
6-Surprise Wedding (10-1): Trainer Fawkes took complete base on balls vs. maiden claimers in very educational winning debut; ears pricking and geared down at finish. Way up in class and distance but showed high promise. Check replay for yourself. (2nd, $2 ex.133.60)
11-Fleet Dude (12-1): Snatched victory from defeat’s jaws in two-turn maiden breaker on turf in Indiana last out. Super trainer Cox has [4] 2-1-0 slate shipping here and is field’s lone starter with two two-turn runs. Attracts Cornelio; very interesting. (3rd, $1 Tri 617.60)

RACE 11 PANAMA CITY STAKES F&M 1 Mile TURF

4-Jodesanimaux (15-1): And yet another course lover—3-for-4 here, 1-for-7 anywhere else--and last win was at this trip. Ships in off two WO preps for Casse and Panici has been riding this course well recently. Appears well intended and at a square price, too. (won, 17.80)
11-Dad’s Princess (12-1): Uncoupled Biancone runner showed marked improvement in last after removal of blinkers. A course winner, mini-turnback suits her well; owns two sharp breezes and Cornelio sticks. Things to like. (2nd, $2 ex. 207.60)

RACE 12 IN REALITY STAKES 2YO 1-1/16 Miles

2-Three Rules (3-5): Four-for-four lifetime with Cornelio, overcoming hoof issues, a fever, and a popped abscess winning his last. Has more than enough speed and pedigree for this. Blowout fastest of 57 peers last week. Nicely drawn and Pinchin barn profitable first-time long and in non-graded stakes. (won, 2.60)
3-Thegreatcollection (12-1): After beating maiden claimers here, went to Evangeline and won a wet-track sprint stakes, remaining undefeated. Barn 33% profitable with potential repeaters but not known for ability with stretch-outs. (2nd, $2 ex. 20.40)

RACE 13 MAIDEN SPECIAL WEIGHT 2YO F 7-1/2 Furlongs TURF

3-Bella Vincenza (3-1): Showed improvement in last two starts after adding first-Lasix then blinkers subsequently. Strong half mile breeze for this since recent tough trip, his style suits the dynamics and is drawn favorably for Gold and Panici. (won, 5.60)
5-Aquemini (9-2): Suffered through wide journey when second in 5F debut on grass vs 10 rivals. Nicks 24% profitable with second-timers and a worthy 32% with second-timers on turf. Gaffalione sticks, good energy distribution in debut and bottom side goes long. Value at early line odds. (2nd, $2 ex. 17.40)
6-Pachamanca (20-1): Finished well when third to Aquemini in 5F turf debut then lost all chance on first turn in subsequent two-turner at this trip vs. males, a race producing a next out winner from as many starters. Back with fillies with switch to apprentice and first-Lasix. Exotic prospects. (3rd, 18-1. $1 Tri 82.00)



Written by John Pricci

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