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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Saturday, January 31, 2009


Greed at Heart of Latest ADW Dispute: So, What’s New in the World?


South Ozone Park, NY, January 31, 2009--More… more… more. How do you like it, how do you like it?

Or, paraphrasing the oldie but goodie drugs catchphrase: “It’s enough to make you sick. But it’s not enough to make you stop.”

As an aside, more people are collecting unemployment now than at any time since records were first kept four decades ago.

More than $18-billion dollars worth of our TARP money, public money, went to a handful of Wall Street executives as a reward for running their companies into the ground while our economic demise escalates.

Helping to finish what the real estate implosion started.

Mr. Obama, I voted for you because things were supposed to be different. So tell me. How do you like post-partisanship so far?

But you did give those Wall Streeters a good tongue-lashing. And what happened?

What happened is they won’t have to dig into their savings to pay the bills on their Hamptons get-away retreats, like I did, to eat.

Paraphrasing Keith Olbermann, make them give the damn money back, sir! Send the message that greedy, unregulated people can't steal anymore just because they can.

Or don’t.

Instead invite the other side over for more tea. Perhaps next time you may get a vote. They have one priority now: 2012.

Is Rush Limbaugh’s bully pulpit bigger than the one the American people gave you?

You have the right idea, getting more with honey than you can with vinegar. But please remember the bees are disapperaing. Like our way of life, maybe for good. This is not cyclical; it's systemic. So fix it please, sir.

Fortunately, I have all the food I can eat. It’s my children, and their children, that concerns me now.

Don’t know why I’m being so hard on you, sir. Frustration, I guess. Because the business I have chosen is no better.

No one wants to sacrifice in the racing industry, either, to find creative ways of making things work. They prefer to dig their heels in the ground and sing: More… more…more…

People in the racing business think they’re entitled to more revenue, even while the model's broken, as if they're the only ones having a tough time.

They see a customer, Las Vegas casinos, as competitors for wagering dollars, yet gladly take Vegas money in exchange for racing product. It's not a good deal unless both sides win, right?

But they want more money now, haven’t gotten it, so they’ve stopped giving the customer their product. They believe they’re entitled to more because they made a bad deal in the first place.

I went up to a mutuel clerk the other day and demanded that he pay me $11 on the 4-1 shot I just won on because I made a bad deal betting their races in the first place because the takeout rate’s too high.

He didn't understand me when I said I made a bad deal yesterday so I need to get paid today.

Truth is the Vegas casinos are doing worse than the tracks. So they have no reason, or maybe no loose cash, to pay more right now. Timing is everytrhing.

So some casinos decided they’d rather risk losing money by booking bets themselves instead of playing middle man. They refused to pay ransom on races from Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Oaklawn and the rest.

The casinos are being pennywise, the betting consortium representing the track's ADW arm say. People won’t bet on races without pictures; the casinos will lose money; it would be cheaper to meet our demands, they believe.

Meanwhile, other tracks sit on the sidelines and are waiting to see how things will shake out. If Vegas pays, the thinking goes, they’ll pay us, too.

More.. more.. more..

We all want more revenue but won’t concentrate on the conventional things that generally attract customers: Lower cost, better service, better product, innovations.

I’m not optimistic, or couldn't you tell. We’ve been doing business the same way for so long that it's too late to change; the old human nature syndrome. So it's not reasonable to think people will take less until they absolutely have to. More of he-who-has-the-hammer-wins, just like those Wall Street masters thought.

People won’t sacrifice, won’t give up their way of doing business until forced. We’re Americans. We’re entitled. And we’ll stick with our ideologies. Even if it kills us.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, January 30, 2009


Serious Derby Colts in Action This Weekend at Gulfstream Park


South Ozone Park, NY, January 29, 2009--If you’re based on the East Coast, Friday marks the traditional first step on the road to Triple Crown glory, first stop Churchill Downs on May 2.

As Yogi might say, Saturday comes early this year.

At Gulfstream Park, the old school Hutcheson Stakes is the first race out of the three-year-old blocks. Why old school? Seven furlongs, that’s why.

“The Hutch” is back in its rightful place on the South Florida racing calendar--an important beginning, not the mid-meet after-thought it’s been in recent years.

Old schoolers believe that seven furlongs is a great wake-up call from season-ending juvenile slumber, a spot to shake out the physical and mental cob-webs.

At the highest levels, seven-eighths might be the most demanding distance there is, requiring a blend of condition, speed and class.

The many aspiring classicists that debut in a spot like this might not be fully cranked but they do need to be fit. A trainer could do more harm than good by getting his horse blitzed first time out, possibly requiring even more time to regroup. And how much can an under-trained, non-competitive horse truly benefit from the effort? Debuts are an interesting and delicate balancing act.

Having the Hutch horses race on Friday gives accomplished runners their moment in the spotlight so that fans can assess where their favorites are developmentally even with three more months remaining in the prep process.

Saturday’s featured Holy Bull at nine furlongs gives the more advanced sophomores a chance to get started for those trainers not wishing to turn their horses back into a sprint and getting them all speed crazy.

Actually, this is a great East Coast schedule that provides something for everyone, this weekend including supporting maiden and allowance races at meaningful distances that have attracted another serious horse or two.

In fact, a one-mile maiden race for three-year-olds on Saturday will mark the debut of Nicanor, the most hyped first time starter since The Green Monkey--and we all know how that turned out.

The well documented interest in Nicanor is because he’s the late Barbaro’s kid brother from the same human connections. If fact, Edgar Prado made a public pitch to ride the colt and will his wish from Michael Matz in Saturday’s eighth at Gulfstream.

The race drew 13 entrants and Nicanor will break from post four at 4-1 on the early line. I’m as interested as anyone, but I’m not up to all the hype.

Maybe it’s because of what tragically happened to his brother that I find the interest in him tinged with a certain ghoulish creepiness. Or maybe it’s just me. But first thing’s first.

Friday’s Grade 2 Hutcheson attracted eight entrants of which three are serious Derby aspirants at this point in the season: Hello Broadway (5-2), Break Water Edison (3-1) and Capt. Candyman Can (3-1).

These are three very good colts and it will be interesting to note their progress throughout the spring.

When last seen, Break Water Edison and Hello Broadway finished 1-2 in the one-mile G3 Nashua Stakes. Both colts raced well and their Equiform performance figures were among the fastest posted by a juvenile going a mile or farther in 2008.

Each coming off a layup from November 2, Hello Broadway has worked eight times and appears the sharper of the two coming into the race. More of a forward factor, he has an edge over Break Water Edison, who’s worked 10 times in the interim.

The bad news for BWE is that his rail draw likely means he’ll need to be hustled early, something trainer John Kimmel would rather avoid. However, Kimmel and Barclay Tagg, trainer of the early line favorite, will need to keep tabs on Ian Wilkes’ colt.

Capt. Candy Man has speed and stamina when he needs it, was toughened in three juvenile graded stakes, and arguably may be the most accomplished. A little closer to the race having finished second in the G2 Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs Thanksgiving weekend, he might prove sharpest of the three.

Saturday’s Holy Bull has also drawn a sizable field, 11, with early line choices West Side Bernie (3-1) and Beethoven (4-1) drawing posts 10 and 11, respectively.

West Side Bernie, a worthy runnerup in the Delta Jackpot, and Beethoven, winner of the Jockey Club Stakes, do not have the race to themselves, especially from out there in Big Brown land.

Danger To Society is undefeated in two starts, is well regarded by trainer Ken McPeek, who’s 31 percent in 2009, nicely drawn inside and is already a nine-furlong winner over the track. Regular rider Robby Albarado is aboard the 5-1 early-line third choice.

Saturday’s opener is interesting, too, as explosive Aqueduct maiden winner Well Positioned gets his season started for owner Paul Pompa Jr. and trainer Pat Reynolds. Pompa owned Big Brown before selling a major interest in the colt to IEAH Stable prior to the Derby campaign.

And so it’s January 30, and it’s Game On.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, January 29, 2009


The Changing Face of Eclipse Accomplishment


South Ozone Park, NY, January 28, 2009--This being awards season, some final thoughts on Eclipse recognition before getting on to new business.

And I’m thinking now Clint Eastwood must know how Jess Jackson felt, and vice versa.

Actually, there might have been more justification for snubbing Eastwood and his “Gran Torino” than overlooking Jackson’s contributions to his industry this past season.

After all, 2008 was a year when those who toil in the Hills of Hollywood enjoyed an excellent season and gave so many superb performances.

Could it be, I’m wondering, in light of last year’s Screen Actors Guild strike, that perhaps Hollywood’s practitioners saved their best efforts for what is referred to in the sports world as a “walk year?”

Actually, it wasn’t so much that Jackson wasn’t honored as the sport’s leading owner as much as it was that he didn’t even make the cut.

A ludicrous disgrace.

Jackson campaigned the defending Horse of the Year to a repeat title in thoroughbred racing’s defining category, first one in over a decade.

I can remember when, back in the day, justifiably or not, that probably would have been enough.

But no need to pine nostalgic here. An in-the-money finish, at least, was certainly deserved, for all the well documented reasons.

While Jess Jackson is a man of extraordinary means, he’s no member of racing’s good old boy network. Whenever he saw something wrong or unfair, he spoke his mind.

And good old boys don’t do that.

The fact that he did so in front of a Congressional hearing eliminated any chance he might have had at winning an industry popularity contest.

But even if he had finished third in the final accounting, the vote still went to the wrong owner.

I am no Frank Stronach apologist, but running a racetrack operation and a breeding and racing empire are vastly different areas. Sometimes this line is badly blurred.

Stronach the racetrack operator and Stronach the owner-breeder don’t belong as part of the same currency much less the flip side of the same coin.

But the balloting in the owner category could just as well have been conducted in Daley’s Chicago or on the Redneck Riviera.

According to Daily Racing Form reports, sixteen individuals or consortiums received votes among the 242 ballots cast, and Stronach nosed out IEAH Stable and partners, 47-46.

With Jackson not making the cut, IEAH, with 11 Grade 1 victories with eight different horses, was a prohibitive choice. If not, the competition would most likely come from Zayat Stables, not Stronach.

But even as IEAH was the choice of two of three voting organizations, the National Turf Writers and DRF staffers, the fix was in when NTRA racing officials at Stronach-owned voted for their man by a 17-4 margin.

While racing secretaries by trade are considered great handicappers, perhaps it’s time to suspend their voting privileges if conflicts get in the way of objectivity.

Balloting history is replete, not only in the above example, with racing executives voting for the owners and trainers who brought the “big horse” to their racetrack…as if soft highweight assignments weren’t enough inducement.

This obvious conflict of interest should no longer stand.

And neither should categorizing owners as separate entities, effectively punishing partnerships.

Balloting data supplied to voters does not currently include listings of such partnerships under the “graded wins” or “earnings” categories of listed rankings.

Consequently many IEAH winners, like West Point Stable in 2007, weren’t included. For voting purposes in the future, horses should be listed in the names of the managing owners that do the syndicating. Until a better solution comes along, that would be more equitable.

Further, votes should not be accepted nor calculated until after New Year’s day so that late-season graded wins and earnings won’t be marginalized. Late season results could prove the difference in categories that are too close to call.

In the age of Internet voting, there’s no reason why voters shouldn’t be made to wait until the last possible moment before casting a ballot.

Additionally, an Eclipse panel created among representatives of the three voting blocs should be empowered to suspend future voting privileges of individuals it deems as not taking their responsibilities seriously.

Fair minded people will know it when they see it. There simply was no reasonable defense for not casting championship ballots for Zenyatta or Stardom Bound, no justification whatsoever.

That’s what abstentions are. Wouldn’t it have been more honest had a voter abstained rather than cavalierly cast a ballot for Ginger Punch, and Sky Diva and Rachel Alexander, respectively, in the older mare and juvenile filly divisions?

And hasn’t time come to consider a category for Synthetic Surface Performer of the Year, or something to that effect? Current voting reflects the results of competition on two surfaces, only now there are three.

If the Eclipse Awards are to have clarity and worth in the future, periodic tweaking must acknowledge the sport’s changes and more sincerely validate accomplishment.

Written by John Pricci

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