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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Friday, May 01, 2009


Oaks Filly Rachel Alexandra Conjures Up Ruffian


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 30, 2009--It’s very possible that the best three-year-old in America runs in today’s Oaks, not tomorrow’s Derby.

It’s also likely that when two undefeated fillies meet in the G2 Louisville Stakes, only one will emerge that way, a dead heat notwithstanding.

And we don’t think it’s going to be Zenyatta that emerges with record in tact. But first, the Oaks.

I will refrain from making any comparisons between Rachel Alexandra and the great Ruffian. At this juncture, that borders on reckless.

For one thing, Rachel Alexandra, the overwhelming favorite to win today’s Kentucky Oaks, is not undefeated. In fact, she’s lost thrice in nine career starts. Neither is she jet black, as ferocious or as fast away from barrier.

But this is a new millennium. She doesn’t have to be those things. In fact, for a three-year-old to make nine starts before Oaks-Derby weekend is nigh impossible these days.

What Rachel Alexandra is is reminiscent of Ruffian.

Lots of terrific fillies have come down the center of the racetrack the last three decades but never, ever, have I been moved to invoke, what my colleague and partner, Cary Fotias, refers to as “the ‘R’ word.”

In a fashion, Rachel is an anti-Ruffian. She owns the same dominating speed, but she doesn’t run you off the track with it. Instead, she lulls you to sleep.

Then, just you’re ready to make your move against her, like some storybook little piggy, Rachel Alexandra goes wee, wee, wee all the way home.

She wins so easily that her rider, the normally humble Calvin Borel, celebrates a little too demonstrably.

I’ve subsequently learned that the filly’s trainer, 66-year-old Hal Wiggins, didn’t much care for Borel’s celebrations on horseback either. He said as much to Borel, in a nice way, and both moved on.

So Calvin was a lot more reserved when he went along for the ride in the G2 Fantasy last out. His antics in the final sixteenth of the Fair Grounds Oaks showed up the filly. This time he was more reserved.

But I can’t say I’d blame him if he got carried away again. It must be great to be sitting on top of your world and in complete control of it, too.

There are some nice fillies in today’s Oaks, the best of which is Justwhistlindixie, whose trip in the G2 Bonnie Miss was enough to get her beat. Only it didn’t. She’s a good filly.

As good as she is, however, I wouldn’t be tempted to bet her against colts. Conversely, I would have seriously considered it had Rachel’s people decided to run Saturday instead of Friday.

They talked about it briefly after the Martha Washington but decided on discretion over valor.

After last year, maybe that was for the best.

Rachel Alexandra won’t make you rich if you bet her to win today’s Oaks, but chances are you’ll be slack-jawed watching her cruise down the Louisville straight.

Meanwhile, three hours earlier, the mighty Zenyatta will attempt to win her 10th career race without tasting defeat.

Since she won the G1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn last year, we understand that she’s more than a “synthetic specialist.” She’s run six races at today’s mile and a sixteenth distance, so that’s not a problem, either.

The problem is the four-year-old One Caroline, the filly named for a popular Saratoga night spot.

The 5-for-5 filly never has taken a backward step on the Equiform performance scale. Further, she’s the controlling speed today, owns two wins at the distance and, unlike her behemoth rival, is 2-for-2 at Churchill.

We watched her win the G2 Rampart at Gulfstream Park the day after the Florida Derby and rarely is a race over several steps out of the starting gate in a two-turn race, but this race was. One Caroline was dominating.

She was a pretty picture coming down the Hallandale stretch, too, galloping beneath a motionless Edgar Prado.

If she continues to show that kind of development at 2:10 this afternoon at Churchill Downs, Personal Ensign’s winning streak will be safe for at least another year.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, April 30, 2009


Betting the Derby Is a Different Proposition


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 29, 2009--Have an opinion about which horse will win the Kentucky Derby? After all, the Derby is “America’s Race” and it’s your patriotic duty to think about which colt will win it.

But in case you might be bored with conventional Win, Place, and Show wagers, or the more exotic Exactas, Trifectas and Superfectas, our friends at Bodog have come up with series of interesting/fun Derby propositions.

Proposition wagering is one of the bigger growth sub-sets in the wagering industry. The most popular, of course, are the Super Bowl props, ranging from which team will win the coin toss, score first, or whether a team will recover a fumble and run it in for a touchdown.

In part, it’s what makes those Las Vegas hotel rooms hard to come by on Super Bowl weekend. Actually, those joints will be pretty much jumpin’ this weekend, too.

So, if you’re inclined, check out these propositions which run the gamut from sublime to ridiculously sublime.

Note: that some odds might change due to the post draw:

Will any Horse win the 2009 Triple Crown?
Yes +600
No -1100

2009 Kentucky Derby vs. Ricky Hatton/Manny Pacquiao Fight: 135th Kentucky Derby-Winning Margin vs. Number of Knockdowns in the Fight
Derby Winning Margin -3 (+170)
Number of Knockdowns Pacquiao/Hatton +3 (-250)

Will NBC best its previous Kentucky Derby Nielsen rating high of 9.3 achieved in 2001 with its presentation of the 135th Kentucky Derby?
Yes +155
No -225

2009 Kentucky Derby - How many different horses will race caller Tom Durkin (NBC) call as the race leader?
Over 5 -120
Under 5 -120

2009 Kentucky Derby - How long will it take Leann Rimes to sing the national anthem at the 135th Kentucky Derby?
Over 1 minute 54 seconds -120
Under 1 minute 54 seconds -120

2009 Kentucky Derby - What color will Leann Rimes’ hat be at the 135th Kentucky Derby?
Blue 5/6
White 5/2
Grey 4/1
Red 6/1
Black 8/1
Purple 10/1
Any Other Color 3/1

2009 Kentucky Derby - How long will the it take to sing "My Old Kentucky Home” at the 135th Kentucky Derby?
Over 2 minutes 17 seconds -120
Under 2 minutes 17 seconds -120

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will the winner of the 135th Kentucky Derby be bred in Kentucky?
Yes -2500
No +1250

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will the crowd attendance exceed that of the 157,770 of 2008
Yes +125
No -165

2009 Kentucky Derby - How many lengths will the winner of the 135th Kentucky Derby win by?
More than 2 lengths 6/5
2 lengths 7/1
Less than 2 lengths 1/1

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will a horse win the 135th Kentucky Derby wire to wire?
Yes (Horse Wins 135th Kentucky Derby Wire to Wire) +550
No (Horse Wins 135th Kentucky Derby Wire to Wire) -1100

2009 Kentucky Derby - Who will NBC Horse Racing Analyst Gary Stevens pick to win the 135th Kentucky Derby?
PIONEEROF THE NILE 1/1
I WANT REVENGE 7/5
GENERAL QUARTERS 5/1
Any Other Horse 2/1

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will the winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby win the 2009 Preakness Stakes?
Yes (135th Kentucky Derby Winner Wins 2009 Preakness) +225
No (135th Kentucky Derby Winner Wins 2009 Preakness) -350

2009 Kentucky Derby - What will the odds of the pre-race favorite be at post time in the 135th Kentucky Derby?
Over 7/2 -140
Under 7/2 EVEN

2009 Kentucky Derby - Official Winning Time
Over 2:01.60 -190
Under 2:01.60 +155

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will the winner of the 135th Kentucky Derby complete the race faster than the 2:01.92 of Big Brown in 2008?
Yes +125
No -165

2009 Kentucky Derby - What will be the time of the first quarter mile of the 135th Kentucky Derby?
Over 0:23:00 -125
Under 0:23:00 -115

2009 Kentucky Derby - Official Win Mutual Payoff
Over $18.50 -125
Under $18.50 -115

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will 2009 Kentucky Derby all sources handle exceed the 2008 Kentucky Derby all sources handle of $114,557,364?
Yes (2009 All Sources Handles Exceeds 2008) +350
No (2009 All Sources Handles Exceeds 2008) -700

2009 Kentucky Derby - What will the total on-track wagering handle of the 135th Kentucky Derby be?
Over 12 Million Dollars +110
Under 12 Million Dollars -150

2009 Kentucky Derby - Winning Saddlecloth Number
Odd -115
Even -115

2009 Kentucky Derby - What will be the winner of the 135th Kentucky Derby's starting gate?
Gates 1-5 1/1
Gates 6-10 5/1
Gates 11-15 9/2
Gates 16-20 7/1

2009 Kentucky Derby - Which will be greater, the margin of victory between the Derby winner and second place finisher or the second place finisher and third place finisher?
Winner - 2nd Place -180
2nd Place - 3rd Place +140

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will a Todd Pletcher trained horse win the 135th Kentucky Derby
Yes (Todd Pletcher Horse Wins 135th Kentucky Derby) +400
No (Todd Pletcher Horse Wins 135th Kentucky Derby) -900

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will Todd Pletcher have a horse finish in the Top 3 of the 135th Kentucky Derby
Yes (Todd Pletcher Trained Horse Finishes Top 3) -200
No (Todd Pletcher Trained Horse Finishes Top 3) +155

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will Saeed bin Suroor and Godolphin Racing trained horse win the 135th Kentucky Derby
Yes (Godolphin Racing Horse Wins 135th Kentucky Derby) +850
No (Godolphin Racing Horse Wins 135th Kentucky Derby) -1700

2009 Kentucky Derby - Will Saeed bin Suroor and Godolphin Racing have a horse finish in the Top 3 of the 135th Kentucky Derby
Yes (Godolphin Racing Horse Finishes Top 3) +250
No (Godolphin Racing Horse Finishes Top 3) -375

2009 Kentucky Derby – Godolphin Racing Head to Head – Desert Party vs Regal Ransom
Desert Party -125
Regal Ransom -105



Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, April 25, 2009


For Handicappers, Keeneland a Humbling Experience


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 23, 2009--It likely will come as no surprise to most of you that I’m not as smart as I think I am.

People say “hey, you’re that handicapper, right?”

I say, “No, I just play one on TV.”

But that’s the way I feel as I look back on the 2009 Keeneland spring meeting that concluded Friday.

I’m a huge fan of the good-horse circuit.

I love the smell of bluegrass in the morning.

Even on good days, most horseplayers are humbled six times per racing card. Keeneland didn’t humble me this year. Bludgeoned would be more apt.

And there’s no comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in this. Misery loves company, true. But for me that excludes the racetrack. To be successful, horseplayers must maintain their equilibrium: Never too high; never too low.

For those who love the challenge of handicapping, or those who on occasion must try to make a few dollars, each new set of past performances brings with it a sense of renewal.

And never has so much information been made available. Every manner of speed figure or trip note, and trend analysis that has gone way beyond the realm of niche data.

Keeneland recognizes how difficult their Polytrack is for handicappers to conquer. Their officers know how to read a balance sheet. But they made a commitment to a synthetic surface and they’re sticking to it.

They’ve even compiled some data--most of that database inconsequential, unfortunately--in the hopes that this “Polycapping” information will help players understand what they’re dealing with.

Remember, this is a track that a couple of decades ago didn’t even have a track announcer. Not that you needed one back then. Any horse that showed speed on the rail won. It was an “easy game,” provided, of course, you knew which speed horse to back.

But today’s Keeneland is different; way different. Polytrack cuts down the speed. Races are dominated by last-run types but that’s not automatic either. Timing is everything, you see.

But even armed with this knowledge, it doesn’t help me to know how a particular race will be run, no matter what my speed figures and trip notes and trainer stats say.

When Keeneland finally moved into a new racing age, it embraced the challenge of simulcast competition. A character generator now tells you where every horse in the field is. It was the best gift an inveterate race-watcher could have. Give Woodbine its props on this, too.

In Lexington, where tweed jackets and leather-patched elbows are never out of style, but where betting was an afterthought, there are now 50-Cent Trifectas and Pick Fours, Rolling Doubles and Dime Supers.

In a relatively short period of time, Keeneland has done more for rank and file bettors and racing fans than older, more established tracks in urban areas.

Still, it’s considerably easier for me to cash a bet at Philly Park or Pimlico than at Keeneland--and not just because good horses produce more competitive racing.

It’s because I personally couldn’t find a seam in the Polytrack zone, and I hear the same thing from a majority of players I speak with. Having cut me teeth on harness racing, trip handicapping is all I knew. At Keeneland I have no idea what the hell I’m looking many times.

Jockeys won’t openly criticize the surface for the record but some absolutely loathe it, saying they can’t ride their horses the way they’re supposed to be ridden because if you want to ride a race more aggressively you’ll empty out before the real running starts.

The Keeneland surface suits the strength of a Gomez, the patience of a Leparoux, the guile of a Velazquez. Pat Day would have loved Keeneland’s Polytrack.

When the new surface first opened, it wasn’t long before I noticed the unusual nature of race shape developments. But even now that it plays faster, it’s not easier to conquer.

On days when water tightens the surface dramatically, and pace horses perform better than usual, it’s still a tough read. You simply can’t take what you’re seeing to the bank.

At least I couldn’t. I never got into a rhythm this spring--as important to a horseplayer as it is to a quarterback or a pitcher.

So, until fall, it’s on to Churchill Downs, where results are a little more fathomable. A say a little more because horse racing in Kentucky’s a little different.

Is it me, or are there just a lot more inscrutable wake-ups?

Either way, it will be good to get away from the Lexington track where, on balance, for 18 days each spring, the racing is the best in the world. The results, not so much.

Written by John Pricci

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