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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Tuesday, November 27, 2007


A Sad, Sad Celebration


South Ozone Park, NY--I wish I could say I enjoyed myself more at Aqueduct last Saturday. I so looked forward to the Cigar Mile program that included the Remsen and Demoiselle for colts and fillies, respectively, horses that will celebrate their third birthday in another five weeks.

As it turned out, the live card was terrific. Now A Victor showed in the Discovery that he could be a significant four-year-old in 2008. Of course, Street Sense and Hard Spun, to name two, won't get that chance.

Mushka was super impressive swooping the group in the Demoiselle. Court Vision was a game and classy winner of the Remsen. And, as fans will note again and again in the future, it's no disgrace to finish second behind Daaher, racings newest star. Protem sprint champion Midnight Lute has nothing to be ashamed of.

But as I looked around the Aqueduct grandstand--there were 4,712 people in attendance--it was impossible not to think about the current morass which is the franchise situation. Its not that the totally unfair and disingenuous Capital Play spots honestly depicted the state of NYRAs New York City track, but the Big A is in significant stages of disrepair.

For someone who spent 20 years of his professional life there on a daily basis, it was depressing.

With no infrastructure money available, fixing Aqueducts myriad problems was unrealistic. Worse, however, is what this situation has done to the morale of the hard working people who put on the show. They appeared to be on automatic pilot, just going through the motions.

When I asked a colleague who works there every day why there was no all-stakes Pick Four carded, I was told its because nobody cares anymore. When I asked why there was no mutuel clerk in the press box to take wagers on the Churchill program that began at 11:30 a.m., he added: Remember where you are. Dont expect things to be the way you think they should be.

Finally, when the clerk arrived, in plenty of time for the live program, I asked if I could purchase a betting account card to replace the one I misplaced. Ill have to get you one, I was told. I could call a supervisor to come up here, but they probably wouldnt.

Oh.

Instead of a celebration of the last Grade 1 of the season on the final weekend of racing before the winter surface opens tomorrow, I saw people that were in a mental state of life support, servicing their customers professionally but joylessly. There was no energy in the press box or, for that matter, the parts of the building I walked through.

The only anticipation was that of people waiting for one last shoe to fall. And while they were doing a slow burn at a racetrack in Queens on the final big New York Saturday this year, the only sound coming from Albany was that of fiddle players giving thanks because department stores had opened for business at 4 a.m. the previous morning.


Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, November 24, 2007


Three Year Old Foils Lute’s Eclipse Bid


South Ozone Park, NY--This three-year-old class of 2007 just keeps right on winning.

The hero of yesterdays Cigar Mile wasnt even a blip on the screen when Street Sense and Curlin and the filly Rags to Riches were doing their thing all spring, summer and fall. Daaher spent his summer learning how to become a race horse. He learned so fast that in a matter of three months hes become an A+ student.

The final day of what used to be the end of the New York racing season--when New York had a season with a beginning and an end--dawned brightly. It featured the final Grade 1 of the year in which a horse was bidding for a second Eclipse title in the same year and a pair of demanding distance tests for youngsters of both sexes. What would the future hold for the sophomore class of 2008.

Midnight Lute came to New York seeking a third consecutive Grade 1 and the title of older handicap champion. Certain to be voted sprint champion by virtue of his Forego and Breeders Cup Sprint victories, it was a risky gambit off such an enervating win. But Bob Baffert knows a thing or three about winning previous Cigar Miles.

What Baffert couldnt anticipate is that Kairan McLaughlin was laying in wait with a three-year-old, a sophomore still eligible for preliminary allowance conditions last August 25. But win that condition he did, the following day at Saratoga, by a disdainful 13- lengths.

For an encore, McLaughlin stepped Daaher up to G2 company and turned him back to a mile. Despite stumbling at the start of the Jerome, he comfortably chased a half mile of :44 2/5 and was 2- lengths in front at the end of eight furlongs in 1:34 1/5. From that moment, McLaughlin pointed toward yesterdays race.

After entertaining Xchanger for a quarter mile following a stumbling start, he cleared to reach the half-mile in :46 1/5 and six furlongs in 1:09 4/5. While Mike Luzzi engineered this solid pace while keeping something in reserve, Garrett Gomez was looming up wide with Midnight Lute.

It wasnt GGs finest moment on the strategy scale, but it wasnt going to matter.

Luzzi put his three-year-old in a drive and Daaher sprinted away from the protem sprint champion with yet another sub 24-second quarter, stopping the timer in 1:33 3/5.

In foiling Midnight Lutes bid for a second championship this season, McLaughlin enjoyed a happy unintended consequence.

The leading contenders for handicap champion until yesterday were defending Horse of the Year Invasor, and record setting Spa handicapper Lawyer Ron. The retired defending champ, now back in the hunt for champion handicap horse, is, of course, a former McLaughlin trainee.


* * *


Seven late developing three-year-olds got things under way in the G3 Discovery Handicap, a condition thats something of an oddity for the age group. And it just might be that the connections of lightly raced Now A Victor now have a higher profile four-year-old season to ponder. A neck defeat in the G3 Pegasus is the only thing that stands between the Yankee Victor colt and an undefeated record in a four-race career.

Stalking Shopton Lanes pace comfortably throughout, he was set down by Johnny Velazquez soon after straightening away into the stretch then was driven to a hard fought victory in 1:50 for the Michael Trombetta-trained favorite. Shopton Lane was a very game second, a neck in front of Dr. Vs Magic.

It was baby ladies first in the Demoiselle and it gave Velazquez a natural double. Mushka circled the field from last behind a contentious pace and drew off through the final furlong for Bill Mott.

Argue that Mushka received the perfect set up, but its unusual for a filly to show such sustained power. Her final furlong was a very worthy :12 3/5 and the final time of 1:51 3/5 compared very favorably to the older G3 colts. The Empire Maker filly, up in class and distance, was stretching out off a one-mile maiden win.

To say that she has a promising future would be to understate the case.

In the Remsen, Mott got his natural double: The hard way. With the leaders battling three across the track at the top of the Big A straight, odds-on Court Vision and Eibar Coa were stuck behind the proverbial wall. It took nearly a furlong for Coa to find a seam. Or you might say he created his own, bumping Trust N Dustan out of the way. Once he secured room, the team set sail for Atoned, who appeared home free. Close, but no cigar mile.

Court Vision showed the kind of determination you want in a colt about to celebrate his third birthday. Determination is another way of saying class. A winner of the G3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs Oct. 28, he shipped in for the longer Remsen rather than remain in Kentucky for the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at 1-1/16 miles, won later in the afternoon by Nick Zitos Anak Nakal.

It took the very troubled Court Vision nearly a full second longer to get the job done than it did his female mate. This doesnt disparage him; only elevates her.

Either way, most of the juveniles weve seen this year have some pretty big horseshoes to fill when the first of next year rolls around.


Written by John Pricci

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Friday, November 23, 2007


Future on Display Today at Churchill


Earlier this week, we did our commercial for tomorrows Cigar Mile program at Aqueduct, one of our favorite days on the New York calendar. But today theres a bonus.

This morning Ill be keeping one eye on the live Aqueduct program and the other on the press box television, the one featuring the Churchill Downs simulcast.

The card at Churchill is my co-favorite of the fall meet in Louisville. Its called Star of Tomorrow II and it features a dozen races for juveniles, starting at 11:30 a.m.

My other favorite? Stars of Tomorrow I, which I missed because it was on the Sunday after Breeders Cup.

Note to Churchill: The day is too good, too interesting, to be a kind of scheduling afterthought. Its a Saturday event! And promote the hell out of it so that no one, including those who really look forward to it, misses it.

The Churchill co-feature is the Grade 2 Golden Rod for fillies at 8.5 furlongs. The feature, at the same distance, is the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes for colts.

But take a glance at the rest of the Churchill card. Full fields at every level, many at meaningful distances. Turf, too. Upsets will abound--a good thing for the Dime Superfecta crowd.

The Golden Rod features the undefeated Pure Color, 3-for-3 for Bob Holthus including the G3 Pocohantas over the track, vs. Bill Motts Sunday Holiday, third in both the G1 Frizette and G3 Tempted.

As a prelude to the Ky. Jockey Club, a preliminary allowances at a mile features Jedi Code, an impressive maiden winner for Ian Wilkes, ridden by Calvin Borel. The colt is 1-for-1 at Churchill after getting blinkers and Lasix. The competition is Web Gem, from Team Lapenta/Zito, and Monla, who came from the clouds after a poor star to beat 11 rivals impressively in his Keeneland debut for Todd Pletcher.

In the Jockey Club, it will be interesting to see how Wicked Style rebounds from his Breeders Cup Juvenile slop debacle and if Cool Coal Man, another Lapenta/Zito colt, can make it 3-for-3 around two turns.

Dont be too surprised then if several, if not all, of these return for the feature race on Mays first Saturday of 2008.


Written by John Pricci

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