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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Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Hot News From South Florida


There were two news items out of Florida early this week that were, at once, surprising and pleasing.

The fact that Jorge Chavez rode four winners for four different outfits on Monday hints that Chavez might really be back this time.

After returning too soon from an injury a few years ago, his many fans, myself included, thought he was ready to assume a customary spot in the top five of any jockey colony he joined, especially after he won a graded stakes for Bobby Frankel, of all people.

Thats not Frankels bad, just unusual for any jockey, even one as talented as Chavez, to ride a stakes winner for a trainer whos not a regular client.

But on Monday Chop Chop, so-called for his unusual north-south whipping style, did it the old-fashioned way--his way--riding for everybody.

It was the success he enjoyed during his heyday, the late 90s, that eventually earned him a winning Kentucky Derby ride aboard Monarchos, trained by another sometimes client, Kentucky horseman John Ward.

It was Chavezs aggressive riding style that endeared him to New York regulars. That, and his indefatigable late finishes. You never saw Chavez styling, ever, just riding hard to the finish, horse after horse, race after race. And hes nearly peerless on wet racetracks.

So, after getting some ink in the racing media a fortnight ago for victories and in-the-money finishes aboard longshots, getting his mounts to outrun their odds, hes gotten better stock.

From virtually nowhere, Chavez ranks sixth in the Gulfstream Park jockeys room, just behind fifth leading rider Eibar Coa, who sits aboard no shortage of live stock.

The other pleasant surprise was the announced return of the Saratoga Grade 1 Hopeful winner, Majestic Warrior.

Of course, he was going to make a three-year-old debut eventually, but it turns out to be sooner rather than later, the Louisiana Derby on Mar. 8.

Its not an unlikely spot Hall of Famer Bill Mott has chosen for one of his classic hopefuls. The timing is better for this colt--starting in early March as opposed to later in the month--and the Fair Grounds' long stretch suits the colts come-from-behind style.

But its a little unusual to choose such a difficult spot for a return from a lengthy layoff. The Derby colt that most people are talking about at the moment is Pyro, given his Risen Star effort, and Pyro is scheduled to run back in the La. Derby.

Mott is right when he says that no Derby prep is going to be easy from this point forward. But its what he didnt say that impresses most, that hes not concerned George Steinbrenners colt would embarrass himself against such a celebrated rival. Interesting, indeed.


Written by John Pricci

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Monday, February 18, 2008


Fierce Wind Blows in Tampa; a Turf War in Today’s Southwest


It appears that Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito will bring a lot more than numbers to this years Kentucky Derby chase.

Its one thing to talk about potential, quite another to deliver on that promise. Fierce Wind did just that in Saturdays Sam F Davis at Tampa Bay Downs.

Winning the eight and-a-half furlong test over an often quirky Tampa surface was no small feat. In two short months, Fierce Wind has proven himself to be quite the road warrior.

First there was his lengthy maiden breaker over another quirky oval; Calders. Then came a nine furlong win at Gulfstream. Turning back with faster and tougher is difficult when coming from the preliminary allowance ranks. Fierce Wind made it seem like no big deal.

The decreasing victory margin and favorable pace setup is besides the point here. The only thing that mattered was the win and a good clocking of 1:44.18 off moderate, albeit contested, fractions.

Beneath Cornelio Velasquez, Fierce Wind made a four-path off the pace sweep, a difficult transition from a front-end Gulfstream win at nine furlongs. He held off two quality rivals; Big Truck, a quality juvenile who needed the recent Hutcheson, and Smooth Air, who won that useful Grade 2 harbinger.

Bill Mott favorite Z. Humor raced as if badly in need of the race, although his effort can be mitigated somewhat in that it came at Tampa: Racing head to head throughout-- much less a three-horse battle--is not the way to fame and fortune in Tampa two-turn events.

With Anak Nakals sharp breeze for Sundays important and competitive Fountain of Youth, and with War Passs continued strong workline in advance of the Mar. 15 Tampa Bay Derby, among others, Mr. Zito is deep in talented sophomores.

* * *

Todays Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park should uncover a lot more about Denis of Corks true quality. Two-for-two, including a Churchill Downs maiden breaker and a two-turn Fair Grounds allowances over a sloppy track he appeared to dislike, we shall see whether he is the road warrior that Fierce Wind proved to be.

But the Southwest is loaded, maybe not with future classicists, but as a terrific betting race and a useful three-year-old barometer.

Denis of Cork (8-1) has a new rider, Robbie Albarado, which means either David Carroll swapped one Cajun rider for another, or Calvin Borel jumped off to ride Delta Jackpot dead-heater Turf War, which, along with Riley Tucker, earned the best juvenile figures among Southwest starters.

Early line favorite Turf War (3-1) has been prepared at Mark Casses Canadian base and shipped south for a recent blowout over the track. He appears very well intended but taking a short price, the way fellow dead-heater Z Humor raced at Tampa, doesnt seem prudent. But he just might be the best horse.

Unlike Z Humor, whose workline appeared to be geared toward fitness, Mott looks to have put Riley Tucker (9-2) on the fence, asking for more. His works look sharp on paper and stable rider Kent Desormeaux makes the trip to Hot Springs. When last seen, Riley Tucker was second in the G3 Arlington Washington Futurity to Wicked Style, the subsequent winner of Keenelands G1 Breeders Futurity. Post position 10 of 11 doesnt figure to help, however.

Sierra Sunset (4-1) has been keeping good company in Southern California and it will be useful to see how the Cal-bred stacks up in this foray into the southwest. One local horse that appears worthy of note is price shot Isabull (15-1).

While not as fast as some of the favorites, Isabull is on a good line. He was second in his prep over the track. Last fall, he was beaten less than five lengths by well regarded Monba. Isabull worked sharply twice since the Smarty Jones, including a 4th best of 131 three-year-olds to work that week at Oaklawn.

Interesting to note, too, that he shared that tab with Silver Edition (8-1), another Southwest contender breaking from the rail for Wayne Lukas and Joe Bravo. Oaklawn favorite Tim Doocy will take the re-ride on Isabull.


Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, February 16, 2008


Sam F Davis Tops Slow Weekend for Derby Hopefuls


Not a whole lot going on to entice most Triple Crown Saturday warriors, but the Sam F Davis is very interesting. It marks the return of Z Humor, which gets Bill Mott started on the road to Louisville. He is the 9-5 early line favorite and Garrett Gomez, who continues to shop for a Derby mount, comes cross-country for the ride.

Nick Zito, back on the Derby Trail in a big way this season, will start Fierce Wind, a runaway winner at Calder and Gulfstream in both recent starts. He recently worked a half mile for this in :49 2/5, termed breezing, at Palm Meadows.

The work was the second fastest of 77 three-year-olds to work the distance that week at the Magna training center. But turning back from nine furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth vs. faster, and tougher, stock will not be easy.

Three others of interest are Big Truck (6-1) for Barclay Tag and Eibar Coa, Smooth Air (9-2) for Calder-based Bennie Stutts and Manoel Cruz and a third sharp Calder worker, the underrated Wise Answer (4-1)..

Big Truck was a promising juvenile last year but a major disappointment in the Grade 2 Hutcheson in his seasons debut. He figures to benefit from that experience, however, and todays added distance suits as well.

Hutch winner Smooth Air will try two turns for the first time. While not stoutly bred, hes got enough pedigree to get the trip, and has enough speed, class and heart to seal the deal. Throw in a pair of hot locals and youve got a pretty damn good prep for the Tampa Derby, Mar. 15. David Brownlee's Wise Answer earned an excellent figure at this distance three back and could prove the betting value here, breaking from the pole beneath talented Jose Lezcano.

The associate feature, for fillies and mares on the turf, is the mile and a sixteenth G3 Endeavour, which marks the seasons debut of both turf specialist and 2006 juvenile champion Dreaming of Anna, and the G1 Alabama runnerup and Gazelle winner Lears Princess, who is 2-for-2 on turf. Several top Gulfstream riders are shipping north for the afternoon.

The other featured event for three-year-olds is extremely low profile, the Borderland Derby at Sunland Park. Two strong local outfits, those of Henry Dominguez and Chris Hartman, will have starters in the five-horse field. But expect Steve Asmussens Poni Colada (8-5) and Doug ONeills No Jeopardy (5-2) to view for favoritism and the major share of the $100,000 purse.


Written by John Pricci

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