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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Thursday, February 14, 2008

On Balance, Pool Waters Run Shallow

Some interesting results with the release of final odds for Kentucky Derby Futures Pool I. In general, its too bad that racing limits itself in what they offer in the pari-mutuels due to a lack of investment to improve outdated software.

Its not like everyone in the business is losing money.

Anyway, a few observations on a few of the Top 23 that jumped out at us re: their closing odds. Remember that all this is relative. These are futures were talking about, and the format under which the wagering is conducted is flawed:

Blackberry Road at 47-1. Admittedly might be a tad below very top class. But he never stops trying to finish, even when he has nowhere to run. His troubled trip in the Risen Star was overshadowed by Pyros performance. Check it out, then place him on your personal horses-to-watch list.

Colonel John at 19-1. Like this colt a lot. He has class, talent and Derby style. But this seems like an underlay in light of recent inactivity.

Court Vision at 15-1. Love this colt (see 2007 Remsen Stakes) and could not be in better hands than Bill Motts. But another lacking recent activity although he does appear close to his seasons debut. Underlay.

Denis Of Cork at 47-1. If I werent otherwise distracted this weekend, might have taken a flyer here, but a small one. Hasnt proven anything yet except for boundless potential. Price is acceptable.

Monba at 16-1. We like him, and we know exactly where his fans are coming from. But at this price hes a Pool 1 underlay.

Pyro at 5-1. After the Risen Star, this is the price you knew hed be. With no-little SportsCenter types saying hes the Derby favorite, value is a thing of the past. In light of the way this pool is conducted, price is probably correct. But recall that Street Sense was 5-1 on Derby day.

Tale of Ekati at 33-1. Everybody fell in love with his Belmont Futurity and why not? But is he a true distance horse? Considering he will have only two Derby preps, the price is about right, but a bit light in our view.

Yankee Bravo at 48-1. Beat questionable competition on synthetic tracks, but I find it difficult to knock undefeated horses with his kind of acceleration. Might prove to be a real Pool 1 bargain.

War Pass at 6-1. You just knew that Pyro would become the now horse after his wow effort in the Risen Star, but he hasn't gotten close to this guy yet. Distance questions notwithstanding, the champs a square price.

All Others at 3-1. A 25 percent chance that the Derby winner is not included in the Top 23? Seems reasonable.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

For Now, Fifteen Minutes Will Have To Be Enough

NEW HAVEN, Feb. 12, 2008--In this tech age of information overload, handicappers will tell you its about the decisions you make with the data that counts.

Going into the final day of the Sports Haven Handicapping Challenge, where the drill was to turn $50 into the highest dollar amount among 252 contestants, I had $30 in my account and limited options. The leader won over $300 the day before despite a seemingly endless procession of winning favorites.

There was no need to panic but I had to put myself in a position to compete, hopefully sooner rather than later. First post for the first of five contest tracks, Tampa Bay Downs, was 12:25 p.m. I wouldnt think about my first play until 1:26, post time for Aqueducts third race.

I needed to be right--at the right price. Why should contest day be different than any other day spent at the races?

I figured Id take two or three shots with my $30. Hopefully, the racing gods would smile and the odds such that Id get value for my dollar and do some damage. I kept remembering what HRIs Cary Fotias said on the phone earlier that morning: Some of the best bets turn out to be the hardest ones to make.

Thats especially true when trying to focus on 48 races over a six-hour period, keeping one eye on the tote board, the second on the leader board, and a third on your handicapping soul. I hadnt played in one of these for some time.

Two horses looked interesting as an opening salvo. One was an 8-1 shot at Aqueduct; a seven-horse field featuring a likely overbet Gary Contessa favorite. The New York crowd tends to overbet favorites, especially those from hot barns. And New Yorks leading trainer has twice as many wins as number two. The other runner was a somewhat hidden horse-for-course at Tampa, at 15-1.

High On Freud came from a good barn, Tom Bushs, showed a new top-pace figure in his last race, was making his maiden claiming debut, switching to Alan Garcia with three purposeful works since his recent start. It sure looked like go day and, furthermore, speed from the inside won both ends of the early double.

On the first flash, the overbet Contessa morning line favorite opened at a cool 3-1. Early second favorite Karakorum Playmate (3-1) opened at 2-1, and High On Freud opened at 4-1. This was understandable: Karakorum would probably drift up, Contessas My Luckey Penney would probably get hammered down, and Freud would probably drift up, too. After all, he had been 10th and last in his debut, beaten by 22.

I was ready to place my first bet. But with post time five minutes away, Freud went from 4-1 to 3-1, then 5-2. What the hell am I supposed to do now?

I waited for Freud to drift back up. But after a return to 3-1 he went back down to 5-2. Not only was he poor value but was now an underlay. The decision was easy: Pasadena. After taking a clear lead following a tardy break, High On Freud stopped to a walk at the as a 2-1 choice. I dodged a bullet as Contessas horse got up on the line at an inflated 5-2.

As I was contemplating my next move, and considered calling for the check, I turned to the Tampa feed in time for the fourth race. Balanced Attack opened at 25-1. Obviously, this would be my first play of the day. I double-checked the past performances.

I didnt know low percentage trainer Hector Guerra but he was 1-for-4 for at the meet and was in-the-money with his only double-class dropdown. Jockey Irwin Rosendo was a solid 12% and was riding the 4-year-old back eight days after his return from an October layup. But all that was icing on the PPs cake. Not only did one of three lifetime wins come at Tampa but his best Equiform figures came sprinting over the Oldsmar track.

Balanced Attack, whose claiming price was cut in half at $8,000, was holding steady at 25-1 until 10 minutes to post when he went down to 15-1 in one flash. Now the win pools at Tampa are small, especially that far from post time. But it was encouraging to see a little action and, instead of going lower, he drifted back up to 20-1, then ticked down to 19, then back to 20-1. Up-and-down money on a longshot in the middle of a betting cycle is always noteworthy.

I got up and bet $10 contest dollars, and a few pocket dollars to win, too. By the time I returned to the table the horses were at the gate and Balanced Attack was 25-1.

After a contested pace, Rosendo got Balanced Attack in high gear, the momentum carrying him eight wide into stretch. But horse and rider kept persevering, getting up in the final strides. Balanced Attacked had drifted again, paid $62 straight, and the name Pricci, J. was second on the leader board, $4 from the leader.

I turned to my wife Toni and, recalling the final scene from a little 1972 gem called The Candidate, in which Robert Redford, the newly elected Senator Bill McKay, turned to his campaign manager and silently mouthed: What do we do now?

Fifteen minutes later I was atop the leader board with $334.80 in earnings. Since every contestant had to wager $2 on at least 10 races each day, I went back to the window and bet $2 to show on nine short-priced horses I thought would win but would never play because of short odds.

I made some $10 and $20 contest wagers, caught a few winners in the 4-1 range and remained in the top five until finally, with four bettable races remaining, leaders emerged with totals doubling and tripling mine. With $300 in my bankroll I decided to bet all four races, looking for fair odds on logical horses and hopefully make a winning parlay. I lost the first three bets.

But I had liked the final contest race, the 7th at Santa Anita, from early morning. I preferred Foxysox, a classy, deep-closing turn-back going down the hill. She was no cinch. In fact, four or five fillies figured very well but I thought she would be fair odds in a big field, even as the early line favorite. Might be 4-1, maybe a little higher.

I was, I think, 16th, a spot that would guarantee automatic seeding into the next CTOTB tournament at the Bradley teletheater, when the weather would be a lot warmer. Believing that 4-1 was a real possibility and that a pace meltdown loomed, I structured a ticket to cover all possibilities.

With $225 left, I bet $150 win, $25 place, $50 show on Foxysox: A win gets me a top three finish, an outside chance to win, and a berth in the National Handicapping Championship. Place would get me a likely Top 10 finish and a money prize in addition to my contest earnings. Show is good for a Top 20 finish and admission to Bradley.

Coming from seventh at headstretch, Foxysox was a fast-closing third, beaten about a half length, and galloped out in front on the turn. There was no pace meltdown. The filly ran great. Of the other four contenders I considered, one finished second.

Joe Perry, a 48-year-old Wall Street compliance manager, won his fifth handicapping contest and first at Sports Haven. He played Sunday brilliantly. With $46 in his late-day bankroll, he essentially parlayed a $4.40 winner, Clerpark in the 7th at Gulfstream, onto Payback, the $18.60 winner of the Tampa finale, bringing his bankroll to $976.50. He then bet $2 show on place finisher Rockella, who held Foxysox safe, at the finish of Santa Anitas seventh.

Some days you walk out of the racetrack winning a few dollars and feeling like a real jerk. Some days you win a little, maybe even lose a few bucks, but are satisfied you made good decisions. At the end of the day, thats all a horseplayer can ask.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

No One Ever Said It Was an Easy Game

NEW HAVEN, Feb. 9, 2008--On the first day of the Sports Haven handicapping tournament, form held. We were never close.

Oh, there was a moment or two, more than a few very good value plays; odds relative to chances of victory. We could have been luckier. Thats not an excuse, just an honest evaluation.

Very early in the Gulfstream day, the skies opened. It took little time for the track to be downgraded to sloppy and for the turf races to be rescheduled. Scratches ensued. Im out; one track down, four to go.

Not much doing for us at Tampa. There were the turf races, of course, yielding my only winner from 10 plays. Daniel Centeno just owns this course. Wagering cycle went from 5-1 to 4-1 while they were on the backstretch: $10 for every deuce. Big deal.

Concentrated on Fair Grounds, the track we analyzed on Capital OTBs Handicappers Report, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., before stopping at Nicks in Schenectady for a bacon, egg and cheese to go.

(Sorry, theyre called hard rolls everywhere but you cant find the real deal anywhere outside the five boroughs. But a nice sandwich nonetheless. Got us to I-90, to I-91 south, merging into I-95 at New Haven. To this point, a wintry mix pelting the windshield notwithstanding, karma was good).

The six winners from 11 races we picked on TV didnt help in the tournament. Too many short prices; useless in contests. Bummer was we werent making our usual exotic plays. Keeping focus is hard enough.

You know how this story ends: Had two small superfectas. One paid $469 for a buck, cold, the 5-2-4-6, Graeme Six getting it done in the Pan Zareta for Tom Amoss.

Started with a 23-1 chance on the grass, a Proctor layoff, in the opener. Ran well, finished fourth, after favorite got loose in soft fractions. Then a 7-1 shot next. This one ran well, too. Another fourth, also losing to a loose-on-lead favorite.

Oh, so its going to be one of these days.

Passed on Graeme Six, which we made a big TV speech about. Didnt think 3-1 was the way to go at the time. The price looked much bigger after the race.

Switched to Aqueduct. A big figure sprinter way up in class; sign of confidence from the barn. Bet smartly but a good price, even if he looked a bit toppy. You can bet bounce candidates if given fair odds. But it doesnt stop them from regressing. Chased the pace comfortably. Tired badly; poor performance.

Back to Fair Grounds, back to the grass. Fair odds at 4-1. Euroears won his fifth straight without defeat. What a nice racehorse.

Santa Anitas second race; 7-1 looked like right price. Price shot entered turf stretch eight wide, finished like a rocket, beaten four lengths, galloped out in front. Of course he did. Thank you for nothing Mr. Espinoza.

Back to Tampa turf. Another 7-1 chance; should finish strongly and get it done. He did, but didnt; third, yet another paceless race. No more Tampa on this day.

Back to NOLA. Sterwins runs great. Too far back, too wide, too much to do. Third at 6-1. SoCal shipper Daytona goes first half mile in :48.55. You could hear them laughing in Arcadia. Could have handed Dan Hendricks and Mike Smith his 10 percent right there. Youve got to be kidding, loose for 150K? Please.

Jolie The Cat is slow but was 2-for-2 at Fair Grounds. The pole; perfect trip, why not? Indian Blessing is the champ but vulnerable over a mile. Saved by the wire. Proud Spell chased her home in the Juv Fillies. Did so again in the Silverbulletday, making more favorable impression in defeat than winner in victory. Jolie was terrible.

Calvin Borels Derby ride on Street Sense was a thing of legends. His performance on 7-1 Blackberry Road not so much. Wouldnt have mattered. Maybe, maybe, could have been second best.

Now let me say this: Shaun Bridgmohans performance on Pyro, who won the Risen Star as much the best horse in his seasons debut, was every bit as good, maybe better, than Calvins Derby ride. Run to the replay center! Check it out. Let us know what you think.

Always err on the side of price. Thats the rule. Between Pectoralis Major (14-1) and Pleasantly Blessed (7-1) in the Fair Grounds ninth. Pectoralis had a major wide trip. Lonnie Meche, replacing Garrett Gomez on Pleasantly Blessed, saved all the ground--from post 10! Won the re-bob over favored Lady Digby.

Took 19-1 on True Crusader in the Fair Grounds finale after Lochinvars Gold ran dismally in the fifth at Santa Anita. The Crusader made a good very-wide rally but never threatened. Cowboy Larry Jones had returning Bronze Metal ready to run off the screen. He did, at an inflated 9-1. I thought about him, but not long or hard enough.

Ive got $30 of my original $50 bankroll left. The leader has about five times more. Got to go. Only 48 races to look at. Its 11 p.m. Been up since 6 a.m. The things we do for the love of sport.

What would we do without tomorrow in this game? The doors at Sports Haven open at 10 a.m. Im there, and Ill be ready.

Written by John Pricci

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