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, July 05, 2009


Everybody Into the Pool


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 4, 2009--There’s an excellent betting race at Hollywood Park this afternoon, the American Oaks on turf that has drawn an international field of 14 horses.

Interestingly, this is a Horseplayers Association of North America, HANA, buy-cott race. So, take a look at it and, if you have a hunch, bet a bunch. We have some ideas of our own.

Not only might you make a few dollars on today’s eighth race at the Inglewood track but it’s our way of sending a message that horseplayers can be a force for change.

The following is an e-mail we received from the HANA folks yesterday, detailing the concept for those of you who might be unfamiliar with it.

“The HANA “Pool Party" is a concept first detailed by HANA members and long time horseplayers, Mike Mayo and Ross Gallo.

“In a nutshell, we hope to pool a significant following of horseplayers, and horseplayer money each week, to bet into a specific pool, or track.

“We hope that the concept can mushroom and raise awareness of horseplayer-centric issues that can make our game a better one to play, and grow the sport of horse racing.

“No amount of betting is too small, we appreciate every dollar played.

“…Hollywood contacted Theresa Muller of HANA and specifically requested us for this week. They are going all out and the publicity will be great for our cause…

“We have a spot in the program, I believe Kurt Hoover will be talking about us on the in house broadcast and would hope we'll get some coverage on TVG.”

So, there it is. We took a look at the Equiform figures and the past performances. Here are the horses we left open for consideration in this scramble for three-year-olds on the turf at 10 furlongs:

Gozzip Girl (7-2), Magical Affair (6-1), Apple Charlotte (4-1), Acting Lady (12-1), The Best Day Ever (15-1), Well Monied (9-2) and Mrs. Kipling (6-1).

Relative to their winning chances and early line odds, the value fillies are Acting Lady and Mrs. Kipling.

Happy hunting!

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, July 04, 2009


Who Do You Like, America?


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 3, 2009--Ever since I was a kid I always loved big holidays at the racetrack.

I can remember a Memorial Day when 60,000 people jammed Aqueduct to see Kelso run in the Metropolitan Handicap. Yes, 60,000. At Aqueduct. Kelso won, like always.

Then there was another holiday card in Queens when nearly 70,000 fans went shoulder to shoulder to see Dr. Fager vs. Damascus vs. Buckpasser in the 1967 Woodward Stakes. Yes, the Woodward also was run in South Ozone Park back then.

The Woodward was particularly memorable because it was the famed “rabbit race,” the late great trainer Frank Whiteley Jr. believing Damascus needed a little help from the speedy Hedevar if he was to catch Dr. Fager.

My future bride and I were sitting in clubhouse seats on the second floor. When Hedevar took to the good doctor by the throatlatch racing into the first turn, the roar that also brought the crowd to its feet was so loud it shook the grandstand. Literally.

I had never experienced anything like it, including afternoons at the old Yankee Stadium when Mickey Mantle was hitting tape-measure jobs off the façade. Parenthetically, one came off Washington Senators pitcher Pedro Ramos. It was Memorial Day, 1956.

Frankly it’s a little scary when the second floor of any building begins to shake. As I was writing these words, I asked my now wife of 40 years if she remembered that shaking. “I’ll never forget it,” Toni said.

It’s doubtful there are many future iconic thoroughbreds competing around the country this Independence Day that will shake the grandstand. (Although there might have been had the Belmont Stakes been run this afternoon, he digresses).

But there’s interesting fare worthy of mention that might just produce a decent winning mutuel or two.

Given its problems, it’s surprising that New Jersey’s Monmouth Park could come up with $750,000 for one race, even if it the storied United Nations.

It’s unlikely you’ll find the likes of a Mongo or Round Table or Noble Dancer or Manila this afternoon but there are some good horses in the group, and some good ones in the $250,000 Salvator Mile, too, a cool million up or grabs at the Shore. To wit:

The four Salvator favorites; Smooth Air (5-2), Solar Flare (4-1), Coal Play (4-1) and Two Step Salsa (7-2), can all win. Interesting that two; ‘Play’ and ‘Salsa’, are speed horses and the other two are close-range stalkers, making it a rider’s race.

With Monmouth loving Coal Play drawn inside of Two Step Salsa with perennial leading rider Joe Bravo, we look for ’Play’ to dictate to ‘Salsa’, Garrett Gomez up. The Nick Zito four-year-old comes off a sharp work on Saratoga’s Oklahoma track, Zito a profitable 23 percent with third-off-the-layup runners.

Smooth Air, making his first start for Chad Brown, is sure to benefit from his tough trip placing in the Met Mile. Given his tactical speed, inside draw and regular rider Lopez, he figures to get the jump on Solar Flare. Race shape and strong company lines make Smooth Air a most probable winner.

The United Nations is more vexing. What will the course be like, exactly? That, and the trip, are the key here. Major horses are Banrock (6-1), Court Vision (3-1), Spice Route (4-1) and Presious Passion (9-2), half the field after the anticipated program scratch of Better Talk Now.

Splitting hairs, New York-bred Banrock is extremely sharp, unlucky to lose to Presious Passion in the Monmouth Handicap prep, and attracts turf ace Bravo from the pole. He’s unknown at the distance but early line odds are fair enough to find out.

Spice Route is a proven G1 marathoner and attracts Eddie Castro, a profitable turf ace who’s riding at 25 percent clip this meet. ‘Spice’ might be better going a tad farther. Presious Passion is a remarkable turf speedster who carries his brilliance virtually any distance and is a four-time course winner.

While figures somewhat belie the fact, Court Vision’s action appears better suited to firmer than softer ground. His numbers at four indicate continued forward development. The promise of a realistic pace should only help Gomez time the late move better. He has the edge in a very competitive renewal.

Across the Hudson, Belmont Park is offering an all stakes Pick 3 including the G2 Dwyer, G1 Prioress and the G2 Suburban.

A mile and a sixteenth bridge to Saratoga’s Jim Dandy, the Dwyer features Warrior’s Reward, the colt that started the dustup resulting in Tim Woolley’s firing of Calvin Borel. The 9-5 Dwyer favorite is the most probable winner.

‘Warrior’ just missed in the G3 Northern Dancer after finding himself on the lead, probably not his best game. This is his “prep” for the Jim Dandy, but given two very sharp morning trials at his Churchill base, we’re expecting close to his ‘A’ race here.

Kensei (6-1) is interesting. He is the early pace--if Edgar Prado elects that tack--and was an excellent third despite much trouble when beaten by Munnings in the G2 Woody Stephens.

Kensei’s never been beyond 7-½ furlongs but has excellent performance figures and enough bottom-side pedigree to get him at least this far. From a betting perspective, keeping bias-aided romper Just Ben (2-1) out of the first two slots could pay dividends.

Despite imposing recent performances, we’ll try to beat the Evans-owned entry, Cat Moves and Light Green, favored at 3-1. There’s just so much gas in this rare G1 for three-year-old fillies at six furlongs. Heart Ashley (4-1), Gabby’s Golden Gal (7-2) and On The Menu (6-1) are formidable.

Heart Ashley, coming off an Equiform “soft win” pattern, earned an exceptional figure two back at Aqueduct. She can lead or stalk. Gabby’s Golden Gal has conditioning turning back from her Acorn Stakes score.

‘Gabby’s’ internal six-furlong figure in the one mile G1 was excellent, but the effort was a significant lifetime best and was bias-aided. On The Menu, likely the value here, is coming off a New Pace Top with an excellent go-back figure. She’s seven weeks fresh and could upset at a price.

Asiatic Boy (5-2) has had a wonderful career oversees, as his $3-million in earnings attests, and his excellent, troubled second in the G1 Stephen Foster was first rate. But he will have to be at least that good or better to handle favored It’s A Bird (2-1), the most probable winner.

The Marty Wolfson ship-in has the best recent figures and is likely to sit a perfect stalking trip with plenty of speed signed on to this. The key, of course, is which runner will be best suited to Big Sandy’s mile and a quarter with its dog-leg start.

Good wagering, and Happy 233rd America.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, July 03, 2009


Regulators Fiddle While Horseplayers Burn


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 2, 2009--At Monday’s press conference trumpeting the upcoming 2009 Saratoga race meet, NYRA President Charlie Hayward announced new directives sanctioned by the State Racing and Wagering Board Chairman that would allow superfecta wagering with fewer betting interests.

For thoroughbred tracks in the state, the Board has given permission to conduct superfecta wagering with seven program betting interests. The wager would remain viable if there is a late scratch after the horses leave the paddock that reduces the field to six interests.

As racetrackers say, “close, but no cigar.”

This SRWB rules change doesn’t go far enough and hence is less significant than it should be. Indeed, it’s an improvement. It makes it unnecessary for the racing office to hustle some no-chance entrant just to make a potential superfecta race go, and saves the tracks and the state money by making refunds in the above scenario a non-starter.

Hayward also indicated that the Board is working on changes that will affect Pick 3, Pick 4 and Pick 6 wagering and, most significantly, a rule allowing uncoupled entries in all races. In addition to being a “purse-money-only” handle saver, it also increases field size and wagering in a significant way.

We queried the State Racing and Wagering Board Wednesday regarding multiple-race wagers and the status of allowing uncoupled entries. “It’s not soup yet,” we were told.

I’m aware that good food takes time but this stock has been cooking for some time. A change in the coupled entry rule has been at issue for as many as four years, when then NYRA executive Bill Nader, now with the Hong Kong Jockey Club, was the point man.

How hard is this, really? Senseless delay costs the state’s taxpayers money, although it’s good for job security for political appointees when they can say improvements are in the pipeline. Permitting uncoupled entries, now way past overdue, helps horseplayers and the state alike. Stop “protecting” thinking horseplayers from themselves.

We have often stated here and in other venues that NYRA, with the possible exception of Keeneland’s racing association, has been more responsive to bettors than any other major jurisdiction. Acknowledging that there are more pressing matters at hand, NYRA’s responsiveness to bettors recently has begun to wane.

On this site May 30, we wrote a piece on the handicapping researcher known to his colleagues as “Vinman.” He e-mailed us to say that he had sent a nine page letter to Hayward and COO Hal Handel including 25 pages of attachments with spreadsheets charting betting handle.

Vinman studied the $1 Pick Four and Pick Five at last year’s Oak Tree-at-Santa Anita meet, the 50-Cent Pick 5 at Monmouth Park on Breeders Cup weekend two years ago, and a $2 Pick Six with mandatory payout offered by Hollywood Park. Here were the findings:

The Pick 6 with mandatory payout attracted handle of $3.3 million, a record for a non-Breeders’ Cup pool. After a 50-Cent Pick 5 went un-hit for three consecutive nights at Balmoral, a harness meet, the carryover reached $76,000. Handle on the fourth night was $218,384. The 50-Cent Pick 5 was hit, paying $18,192.70.

Vinman then projected how much wagering would be generated on a 50-Cent Pick 5 at Saratoga extrapolated from 2008 Pick 4 handle. Using the Pick 5 Oak Tree handle as a base and weighing it against the Pick 4 pool as a percentage of handle, an assessment was made of the Pick 5’s popularity.

Based on analysis of the data model above, handle on a Travers day 50-Cent Pick 5 would have reached $389,318. Further, 50-Cent Pick 5 handle for the 2008 meet would have exceeded $100,000 on eight days.

Using supporting data, Vinman, who convinced Nader to move the conclusion of the Pick 6 to the final race on the card because the inevitable dovetailing with bettors hedging wagers in the Pick 4 pool theoretically would--in addition to reducing the handicapping workload--result in increased handle. So he suggested an addition to the 2009 Saratoga betting menu on an experimental basis.

The proposal included a 50-Cent Pick 5 with carryover; a 50-Cent Trifecta, popular in many jurisdictions; a $1 Pick 6 with mandatory payout and a 50-Cent “Daily Showdown” with carryover, modeled on the West’s “Place All.” He reasoned that the many casual fans attracted to Saratoga are intimidated by handicapping and betting. Fractional wagering would keep costs to a minimum during the learning process.

As stated, changes in the wagering menu requires SRWB approval. No one can blame the association for not wanting to confuse the uncoupled entry issue with how wagering works. Uncoupling entries have been a priority for years but hasn’t been achieved due to unconscionable SRWB foot-dragging.

Our original blog received many comments: Patrick Lamoreux, a parimutuel data analyst at Prairie Meadows racetrack, wanted a copy of Vinman’s spreadsheet data, as did Bruce, “Indulto” and “rwwuple,” who has “supported a $1-Pick 6 with mandatory payout for some time…”

Said Paul Stone: “Fractional betting is the best idea racing has had in decades. The propositions advanced are intellectually inspiring. Reducing cost through fractional betting may ignite some interest…Saratoga attracts many novices…”

Bruce thinks Vinman “may have only scratched the surface of 21st Century betting options…” Anthony Kelzenberg, who knows Vinman since the early 1990s, described him as “a guy who loves racing and is a real ‘analyst’ [having] a lot of integrity…”

Hopefully, he’s a man of patience, too. As of Wednesday Vinman’s yet to receive a reply from the NYRA, one way or another. Thank goodness he didn’t try to contact the SRWB, as I did Wednesday.
No one’s gotten back to me, either. Sometimes, a non-response says it all.

Written by John Pricci

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