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 26, 2019

Speed and Class Prevail on Pegasus Day at Gulfstream

January 26, 2019--At the top of the Hallandale stretch, Pegasus III was all anyone who loves the game could hope for in the World Cup Invitational Stakes; the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner vs. the Dirt Mile winner, about to go stride to stride one last time before being sent home.

But as quickly as the drama was unfolding, it ended. A just crowned champion male handicap runner met his match, and then some, over a speed biased sloppy racetrack as City of Light gave Accelerate more than he could handle.

An uber confident Javier Castellano had a plan that could not have worked any better. He had the Cigar Mile winner in his sights who whole way, stalking comfortably until the right time, mid-far-turn at Gulfstream Park.

By headstretch, Accelerate did just that, trying to cut into the leader’s margin. But Joel Rosario didn’t have enough speed underneath him and City of light had more than enough, leaving a Horse of the Year candidate and 10 other supporting players gasping in his 5-3/4 length, sudden 1:47.71 wake.

The conditions for horse racing in South Florida Saturday were less than ideal for a precious few who found cover and betting windows and television monitors, handicappers throwing last night’s figures out the door, searching the form for any horse with tactical speed and a fondness for wet going.

Horses with tactical speed and enough class to kick home to the finish post won every race run over a sealed, sloppy track inundated by rain storms that appeared more appropriate for summer’s humid hotness than a balmy winter championship season.

Three graded grass stakes remained on the turf and they were formfully won the way most grass races are won in South Florida or anywhere else on the planet, by horses with the best late kick or the best ground-saving trip.

The latter, Zulu Alpha’s, saved ground and took the slippery 12-furlong G3 McKnight, book-ended by a pair of late ralliers; Si Que Es Buena in the G3 La Prevoyante and Bricks and Mortar, who kicked home strongly to win the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Invitational Turf.

Coming Sunday: A Deeper Dive into a Pegasus Day notebook

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Eclipse Form Holds Thursday Night at Gulfsteam

While there was some drama attached to Thursday night Eclipse Awards ceremony, none of the outcomes really could be considered surprising.

The most contentious categories featured the sport’s two-legged competitors as Chad Brown won his third straight Outstanding Trainer Eclipse over Triple Crown-winning Bob Baffert.

Good things happen when you saddle 20 Grade 1 winners in a single season.

The jockey category was dramatic as well. Irad Ortiz Jr., with an assist from his Eclipse winning client, won out over ‘Money Mike’ Smith, who took down graded states all over the country throughout 2018 and never blinked in the glare of the Triple Crown spotlight.

Speaking of Justify, perhaps his winning margin over Horse of the Year rival Accelerate was more commanding than expected, given the amount of conversation on the topic. His curse-breaking run of 112 days garnered 191 of the 249 votes cast.

The winners in the more contested categories were deserving as Jaywalk’s dirt overcame Newspaperofrecord’s turf brilliance among the juvenile fillies; John Gunther as 2018’s Breeder over prolific Winstar Farm. The Juvenile Fillies was a surprisingly wide margin of 214-31.

Finally, Sistercharlie’s four Grade 1s over Enable’s precedent winning Turf, a sprinter as Male Turf champion in a disappointing year for distance-running grass specialists with Unique Bella’s brief campaign enough to secure Female Dirt honors. The vote was close: 130-119.

This year, the voters were disinclined to reward one-race outlander achievement; witness the 85-66 of Stormy Liberal over Mile winner Expert Eye. (Don't personally believe these divisions are comparable in prestige or achievement, complete dominance notwithstanding, although 'Stormy' was a BC repeater).

Two elements of the TVG broadcast made me smile: Chad Brown showing a sense of humor when musicians attempted to play him off, and the fact that the program itself ended 18 minutes early at the home of the post drag.

Wished, however, that some of the winners were a bit more generous accepting their honors. Thought Kenny Trout might have tipped his cap to Accelerate’s great campaign and that Chad might have acknowledged what Mr Baffert achieved with Justify.

Two charming moments for me came from the riders; Irad dedicating his award to brother Jose—reciprocity for last year—and likable young apprentice Weston Hamilton, who could not have been more appreciative and humble.

Eclipse voter participation was nearly 92% of 271 eligible voters. Clearly, turf writers take their responsibility a lot more seriously American voters for public office.

HALLANDALE BEACH, January 25, 2019

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Great Draw for Both Pegasus World Cup Favorites

January 22, 2019--With two pills left to draw, the #3 and #12 slips were still open. And which one would City of Light, Breeders’ Cup Mile winner and only horse to defeat Horse of the Year finalist Accelerate this year, leave from?

Sighs of relief came not only from the connections of City of Light, who drew #3, leaving #12 to speedy Cigar Mile winner Pattern Recognition, but from Gulfstream management who won’t have to deal with post position queries this time around.

Further, the draw sets up a dramatic race throughout as the favorites will be on or need the pace throughout, certainly in close proximity to each other. Both Breeders’ Cup winners have won sitting off fast-early rivals.

The first two editions of the Pegasus World Cup may have had more glittering star power going in, but this edition is a much more interesting event and compelling betting race.

Yoshida, a Grade 1 winner on dirt and turf, of course, drew post #2 and was installed the 5-2 choice for the inaugural running of the Pegasus World Turf. Drawn to his inside is the uber-talented European filly, Magic Wand, a 9-2 choice for trainer Aidan O’Brien.

OAKLAWN OPENER: In case you hadn’t noticed, the Smarty Jones was not run on Martin Luther King Day because with the Oaklawn meeting ending later this year—Kentucky Derby day—the lid-lifter was pushed back to this coming Friday.

The 2019 Smarty Jones has been drawn and attracted a field of nine, including an uncoupled trio from Steve Asmussen, with Springboard Mile winner Long Range Toddy and tough–trip Springboard runnerup Bankit, an accomplished New York-bred, topping the list.

Like the Springboard, the Smarty Jones is a two-turn mile and all top contenders are working well. ‘Toddy’ benefits from his tactical speed and pole position while Bankit will appreciate the pace plethora up front. Larry Jones will saddle the talented, fast working Super Steed, his two-turn debut. Gray Attempt is the 5-2 ML favorite from post #8. [See Friday’s FRA for betting strategy].

SUPER MANIA: As the HRI Faithful are painfully aware, my unofficial wedding anniversary is Super Sunday each year as Toni and I were married a half century ago, the same day a quarterback named Joe Willie made good on a promise.

First up, a tip of the cap to HRI’s sports maven Marc Lawrence, who provides the best upset picks from his popular Playbook newsletter and who has had a good playoffs run, predicting Sunday that the underdog Rams would win the NFC Championship on the field.

An aside: Given the crossover between horse racing and sports these days, Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman posed a question on Twitter Monday, stating simply “Del Mar stewards or NFL refs: Discuss.”

A temporary shut-in these days, I have watched more live sports than usual of late, including the NFL playoffs, and Sunday’s games were very entertaining, especially the nightcap.

As a native New Yorker, I am obliged to hate the Patriots—you know, the “cheating” coach and QB. However, politics and provincialism notwithstanding, the Killer Bs [including Bronk--not the horse] are awesome, the best trio I have ever seen. And I’m not alone.

For the uninitiated, a few sports books open football betting to a select few wiseguys who wager into the opening line and, depending on which way the smart money goes, a public betting line goes out to the gamblers.

Well, between wiseguys and the fans, the Rams went from 1-point favorites to 2-point underdogs by early Monday.

Last year, over $158 billion was bet on the Super Bowl, about $5 billion of that in Las Vegas. Helped by silly prop bets on such things as the coin toss or duration of the national anthem, online bet-takers handle the bulk of the action these days.

Interesting to note, especially for Stronach Group watchers, that there is a bet drag on the Super Bowl every year, almost all the money bet in the last two days of the fortnight leading up to the big game.

In addition to some key propositions, bettors love Futures action. How about this, then? Before the first snap from center this year, the Patriots were 5-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl. But before the Playoffs began, the Rams were 5-1 to win it all. Go figure.

By the way, for those who believe SB 53 will be a high-scoring affair, the opening Over/Under is 58.

Written by John Pricci

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