John Pricci 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, 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, March 05, 2008

Time for Louisiana Derby to Become a Nine-Furlong Grade 1 Event

A terrific supporting card, including three Grade 2 stakes and several overnight stakes, will accompany Fair Grounds showcase event, the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby to be run on Saturday.

The entire card has been drawn, but more on all the races this coming Saturday in this space. What Id prefer to concentrate on instead is the mile and a sixteenth Louisiana Derby.

And therein lies the rub: The mile and a sixteenth Louisiana Derby.

The Louisiana Derby is a storied event and the highlight of the always-entertaining Fair Grounds meet. You would think that with its history and roster of winners it would be a Grade 1 by now.

I wonder if the graded stakes committee takes the distance into consideration when it awards grades each year. They will say it doesnt, but I wonder.

The spring preps on racings major circuits all conclude with 9-furlong events. Were talking Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby, Illinois Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass and Wood Memorial here. Isnt it about time Fair Grounds, now under the Churchill Downs flag, lengthen its premier prep to a mile and an eighth?

Time was when the Fair Grounds was only considered a stepping stone to a final Derby prep. Its scheduling on the docket likely will insure its position as a penultimate prep. But it could be a great spot for a coming out party for two-prep trainers.

Now, even the Sham Stakes and Fountain of Youth are a mile and an eighth. Theres no compelling reason preventing the Louisiana Derby from being one, too.

There are other considerations. With the Fair Grounds becoming a more popular alternative to Florida as a winter base in recent years, the Risen Star has grown in significance.

Because of its place on the calendar and its mile and a sixteenth distance, the Risen Star has become a great spot for a seasons debut. (See Pyro). But it can lead to something more significant. Lengthening the Louisiana Derby to 9 furlongs accomplishes that and it could make the Risen Star even more popular.

With training schedules trending more toward two-prep campaigns, two 9-furlong races seem more desirable than two preps where one is shorter in distance, even if it is a natural distance progression from one to another.

Theres a third consideration, too. Im not sure that belly-to-belly mile and a sixteenth prep races accomplishes or proves anything not already known. And perhaps theres even a fourth: the City of New Orleans deserves not only a 9-furlong Derby prep but a Grade 1 event that can stand on its own.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

California Dreamin’ On a Winter’s Day

If you dont love whats going on this afternoon in Southern California, it may be time to take up a new hobby.

Hows this for a Pick 3? The Grade 3 Sham, featuring the match between El Gato Malo and Colonel John, followed by the G1 Kilroe Mile, War Monger meets Artiste Royal meets Out Of Control, and ending with the 14-horse Santa Anita Handicap?

Considering the past performances, its hard to envision Colonel John stopping El Gato Malos undefeated streak. If it happens at all, it would more likely would be in the G1 Santa Anita Derby when both colts should be at or near tops.

The Colonel has missed some training due to the inclement weather and that will make it extra difficult for him to overcome Malos tactical and conditioning advantages. That, or he just might be as talented, period. Coast Guard is not as accomplished right now but is developing beautifully. Regardless of which colt wis it, the Sham is sure to be instructive.

The Kilroe is usually a competitive beauty and never is easily won. This edition doesnt figure to change that. War Monger is very sharp, having won as the overbet favorite on the Sunshine Millions program. But his PPs indicate that he wants more than eight furlongs. However, hes sharp enough, owns a good one-mile figure, and if the pace is hot enoughwell, you know the rest.

Out of Control has not started since winning the G2 Oak Tree Mile last fall. But this is Bobby Frankel were talking about here. With him, often times the longer the layoff, the better. Frankel is a profitable 28 percent efficient with lay-ups of 90 days or more. The five-year-old is training purposefully and regular rider Michael Baze has the mount. Frankel's other runner, Storm Military, has attracted Gomez and, like War Monger, is a "now" horse and merits respect.

Artiste Royal also appears to want more ground. But this is Neil Drysdale were talking about here. Under the trainers care, Artiste Royal was classy enough to defeat the remarkable old pro The Tin Man in the G1 Clement Hirsch on this course last fall. He has not started since the Japan Cup. Did we mention it was Drysdale tightening the girth?

Finally, and I know Ive said this before, only this time I mean it: No more last chances for Tiago. Hes making his third start off a layoff. Hes coming up to the distance perfectly. He has a favorable draw and plenty of speed drawn outside to set the table for his late kick. Hes worked very well three times since the Strub. Today must be the day.

Standing in his way, among many others, is Go Between, an impressive winner of the Sunshine Millions Classic over the track; Awesome Gem, G1-placed last year and third to Curlin in the Breeders Cup Classic, and the super sharp Monterey Jazz. All figure to be formidable rivals.

But you can decide all this for yourself. The sequence begins with todays seventh race from the Great Race Place.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

For Pyro, Two’s Company

All eyes, including those of trainer Steve Asmussen, will be on Horse of the Year Curlin Thursday morning EST as he preps against five rivals for the Dubai World Cup under 132 pounds and regular partner Robby Albarado.

Not a bad treat for the final Thursday of February.

But soon comes March and April and May, especially May, when Saturdays loom largest. And none of this was lost on Asmussen last weekend in New Orleans.

At his Fair Grounds winter base, Asmussen was putting some final touches on a few of his 2008 three-year-olds, the would-be Curlins of this Triple Crown season.

The would-be Half-as-Good-as-Curlin might be something Asmussen would accept. That might be good enough this time around. Its why they run races, to find out.

Pyro is, of course, Asmussens Great Dark Bay Hope, and apparently an unusual horse, too. It takes an unusual racehorse to win the Risen Star in a hopelessly-beaten-one-minute-to-electrifying-the-next fashion.

Pyros unusual in another manner: He works in the company of stablemates to relax, and thats not quite by the book. Company works commonly are designed to pick up the head of lethargic workers, bring out their competitive juices.

Not Pyro. Company helps him settle down. Go figure.

But thats a good thing, obviously. In a previous work, a loose horse on the Fair Grounds racetrack got the Louisiana Derby favorite all stirred up. But in the company of workmate Zanjero, Pyro breezed through six furlongs in 1:14, nice and easy.

The tack worked so well that Asmussen will return to the same playbook, this time choosing a different sacrificial lamb, for a workout scheduled for next Monday.

And theres more bad news for Asmussens rivals, too. Z Fortune, the winner of the Risen Star had Pyro not dropped into the race at the eighth pole, is becoming more athletic, maturing at the right time. Getting lighter on his feet, the trainer said in published reports.

Z Fortune will try Denis Of Cork, among others, in the Rebel Stakes a fortnight from now at Oaklawn Park, a track where it can pay to be light on your feet. Getting out of Pyros long shadow probably helps, too.

Written by John Pricci

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