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 27, 2008


Curlin’s Desert Prep Doesn’t Make Sense


Horse of Year Curlin will begin defense of that title tomorrow with a prep race for the $6-million Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba Race Course.

Trainer Steve Asmussen was masterful in his handling of last years three-year-old dual titlist. Indeed, he had the goods to work with, but thats not always a guarantor of success. In 2007, Steve Asmussen hit all the high notes.

But I dont understand shipping the colt half way around the world just for a prep race over the track. The Nad Al Sheba surface never has beaten any of Americas big horses before according to their trainers at the time. What makes Asmussen think that the surface might defeat Curlin on March 29?

Perhaps he doesnt want to be second guessed. Curlins principal owner, Jess Jackson, is doing a sporting thing, not a money thing, running Curlin at 4. Maybe the trainer figures he needs to do everything by the old school handbook; getting a race over the track whenever possible.

But this time that doesnt make sense. What could be a better surface than Fair Grounds to prepare a horse to run on the moon if its trainer wanted?

Why, after a horse becomes acclimated, is it advisable to stay in a foreign climate longer than necessary, risking the old "second-start climate bounce?" Of course, bounces don't happen in every case. But it happens often enough to horses that ship, especially over long distances.

The worst of it is that Curlin must spot five rivals 15 pounds while under a staggering 132 over the about-distance of a mile and a quarter under lights in the desert. He will be facing outclassed rivals, perhaps, but thats not a given.

Hell be meeting a strong recent winner over the track, and facing an entrant from the remarkable Mike de Kock shedrow, an outfit thats been winning everything in sight over there.

I understand; theres a $6-million rainbow at the end of this prep road. But if youre thinking this will be akin to, say, the conditions under which another of last years champions, War Pass, made his return last weekend, youd be mistaken. And so would Mr. Asmussen. There is, after all, the remainder of the season to consider.


Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, February 24, 2008


At Gulfstream, a Pair of Perfect Preps


Nick Zitos back, and hes back in a big way.

War Pass is back, and he may be back in a bigger way.

As this is written, its 30 minutes after the juvenile champion made his three-year-old debut in a one-mile allowance race, and I have this question.

Just exactly when is Cornelio Velasquez going to allow the undefeated speedster to run this year? It certainly wasnt yesterday.

Before, I thought that comparisons to Seattle Slew were premature. And while Im not quite ready to go there yet, it might be part of some future conversation.

War Pass ran virtually one-paced--fast for common racehorses, routine for him--and went the distance in 1:36 3/5 without drawing so much as a deep breath.

While watching te replay of yesterdays five-horse field, it was hard to envision how much the colt has matured physically from his juvenile year. But he did make his rivals, with the possible exception of stablemate Web Gem, look like they were still juveniles while he was preparing for a sophomore fall campaign.

His race proved little, except that he was back and has lost none of his vaunted speed. And he looks like hell be hell to pay in the Tampa Bay Derby, Mar. 15.

In tomorrows trades, youll read much about the slow Fountain of Youth pace, moderate final time of 1:51 4/5, and the attendant controversy. While that would be correct on all counts, it wouldnt be germane to the quality of this prep.

The Fountain of Youth was a good race for the first four finishers, especially the second and third horses.

Nick Zitos winning Cool Coal Man sat the perfect pocket trip from the pole, Kent Desormeaux allowing the colt to take full advantage. Coal Man showed a good turn of foot to take command at headstretch, essentially winning those needed graded-stakes earnings right there.

But you had to be impressed more by runnerup Elysium Fields, a come-again place finisher following a wide, stalking trip.

Bill Mott had to be pleased, too. His Court Vision was an excellent third with a 6-path rally into the stretch and strong acceleration off the lethargic pace. And Z Humor, who finished fourth, showed a lot more life than he did at Tampa only eight days prior.

For Court Vision, it was a terrific race to build on, just like that of War Pass. And for the rival Hall of Fame trainers, its game on, indeed.


Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, February 23, 2008


Game’s Greats Will Be Denied Hall of Fame Admission This Year, Too


I believe Im rethinking my stance on how thoroughbred greats human and equine are voted into Racings Hall of Fame. Im now thinking there should be more than one admitted per category, per year, if deserving.

And Im thinking, too, that if none are truly worthy of the pantheon then they shouldnt get it just because we have to have a ceremonial celebration every Saratoga racing season. But more on that when we get closer to casting ballots.

For me, its easy separating Inside Information and Silverbulletday from Sky Beauty and Open Mind. I know were picking at nits here, but it seems that domination among equines should be the deciding factor. Dont think Open Mind had that; Sky Beauty did, but never won outside New York. And I still have a problem with that.

If I could, Id vote for both Inside Information and Silverbulletday. I cant.

Manila was a terrific turf horse and was dominant, but for me theres that pesky body of work bugaboo. And, yes, Tiznow was the first repeat winner of the Breeders Cup Classic. But 8-for-15 doesnt an immortal make. So it might finally be Best Pals time. Seventeen stakes wins from two to seven is supposed to count for something.

Alex Solis? Im a frayed knot. Randy Romero is lucky to be alive much less a winner of more than 4,000 races. And he handled pressure, getting the undefeated job done with Personal Ensign. But Edgar Prado is eligible, has dominating numbers, and looks like a first-rounder.

Old school trainer Bobby Wheeler cant get a break. Before there were such things as graded stakes, he was winning them. In fact, the races he won that are now graded means he won 26 percent of the graded stakes he entered. He won back-to-back Santa Anita Derbies for C.V. Whitney, one with a filly, Silver Spoon.

Carl Nafzger became eligible this year. How can he be denied? No problem, he wont. Wheeler will be denied and shouldnt be. And, for me, thats the problem I have with the system this time. No Inside Information and Silverbulletday. No Bobby Wheeler.

When it comes time to vote, Ill play the hand Im dealt. But Im sure I wont like it.

CORRECTION: According to Mike Kane, information officer of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, both Carl Nafzger and Edgar Prado were eligible for Hall of Fame admission prior to this year. They appear on this year's ballot after being approved by the Hall of Fame nominating committee. My assumptions were incorrect. Mea culpa.


Written by John Pricci

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