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 13, 2007


Touting “American Gangster”


Its probably time that Ridley Scott enters the pantheon of the world's truly great directors--if he doesnt enjoy that reputation already.

I saw American Gangster over the weekend. It was more than worth two hours and forty minutes of my time.

Hey, had to do something until Giants/Cowboys at 4 p.m. I must say I had a better time than either of the Manning brothers--even if my daytime exacta play turned out to be not as lucky as coach Norv Turners night. But I digress.

Didnt realize this Englishman had compiled such a worthy body of work. I remembered Gladiator and Black Hawk Down. They were fairly recent. But how could I have forgotten Alien and Thelma and Louise? Or the offbeat gem, Matchstick Men?

But for the story telling, style, tension and attention to detail, it had some elements of what happens when Godfather meets Traffic: Gangster probably is better than the latter and not as good as the former.

But how many were better crafted than Coppolas 1972 epic? Citizen Kane? The American Film Institute thinks so and I can concede that. However, I do believe it was a deserving winner in a photo with Casablanca for the runner-up spot.

Anyway, if you really liked any of the above, youll probably love the best film Ive seen this year. (Havent seen all that many in what has been, for me, a disappointing year for Hollywood).

What can you say that hasnt already been said about Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe? Theyre great actors. And there was a wonderful brief cameo from Clarence Williams III as the notorious role model Bumpy Johnson, and a terrific supporting turn from Ruby Dee as the mother of protagonist Frank Lucas.

Based on a true story, the writers and director make it crystal clear that none of the narcotics trade that turned New York City into a drugs cesspool for nearly two decades would have been possible without the forces of corruption within the N.Y.C. Police Department, the Anti-Drug Task Force and the U.S. Military.

To any of my close friends, this comes with a money-back guarantee. Im afraid the rest of you are on your own.


Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, November 11, 2007


Tagg-Teaming a Pair of Graded Stakes


Funny Cide put Barclay Tagg on the map. He made the most of that opportunity then, and hes making the most of his opportunities now. In fact, hes raised the bar for himself. Kentucky Derby notwithstanding, it been a career year for Tagg.

Winning at a better than 1-in-5 rate in graded stakes this year, hes doing it with every manner of horse. He started the year on the Triple Crown trail with Nobiz Like Shobiz. Tough year for any horseman to crack this salty three-year-old bunch.

But then he put the long striding colt on the grass, and the colt took to the surface like nobodys business. It would be nice to see his owner, Mrs. Elizabeth Valando, be rewarded for her loyalty to the memory of her late husband.

She didnt sell maybe the best horse they ever had to the Darley interests, not even for stupid money, $17 million. And they raced a champion over a decade ago, a juvenile named Fly So Free, trained by the late Scotty Schulhofer.

Tagg was in stakes action on two fronts yesterday, Aqueduct and Churchill Downs, both graded events and both on the grass. The result? Tagg 2, Rivals 0.

He won the Grade 2 Red Smith marathon with a New York-bred veteran named Dave. Who knew that Dave was dying to run 11 furlongs all along? I knew he couldnt win the Red Smith; he couldnt even win a state-bred stakes at Saratoga. Hell, everyone knew he had no chance: $31.60.

But he wasnt there to saddle Dave. He was at Churchill, tightening the girth on Bit of Whimsy. Cant believe the G2 Mrs. Revere was on her dance card. Not after winning the G1 Queen Elizabeth, following her runner-up finish in the G1 Garden City. Hell, everyone knew she couldnt get beat: $5.20.

So good is this three-year-old grass filly that Tagg apparently wouldnt let her out of his sight. Neither would Javier Castellano, who went down to ride her. She spotted her rivals from two to six pounds as the 123-pound highweight, unlike Dave, co low-weight at 114.

Longshot or favorite, male or female, it hasnt mattered this season for Tagg; hes pushed all the right buttons. Four years ago he caught the brass ring with Funny Cide, but the merry-go-round is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.


Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, November 10, 2007


Big Doings for Two Future Hall of Famers


Interesting that two jockeys, Mario Pino and Garrett Gomez, were in the news this week for positive accomplishments. Interesting, too, that both were roundly criticized for their riding efforts on the same horse during this years Triple Crown.

In the case of Pino, who became the 15th jockey in the sports history to win 6,000 career races, we still dont think the knocks were completely justified.

Riding speed horses correctly is easier said than done. A delicate balance exists between rating a horse so that it is comfortably relaxed and rating one into submission, where the jockey at once is fighting his mount and allowing the competition into the race.

We can recall three that were absolutely great at this. Each is enshrined in the Hall of Fame: Earlie Fires in his prime was a dominant speed rider. And throughout their careers, Bob Ussery and Pat Day were peerless.

Fires stole more races on the engine than most jockeys win doing anything. Ussery could open long leads effectively, too, but a typical chart for one of his speedy winners would look something like: 1-hd, 1-hf, 1-1 and 1-2. Day, of course, routinely put his horse and the rest of the field to sleep. No one weve ever seen was better at saving horse, often allowing rivals to take the lead into the stretch before coming again to nail that rival at the wire.

Whenever we see Pino, he appears to combine the attributes of the three Hall of Famers. Position conscious, he puts his mounts in position to win. We thought he was victimized by circumstances in the Preakness, forced to move away from a rival bent on pressuring him at a crucial stage of the race. No one rode Hard Spun better, unless it was Larry Jones during training hours.

It is no small irony that Gomez, who will surpass Jerry Baileys all-time single-season mark of 70 stakes winners with one more stakes victory, gave one of the poorest performances ever seen in a Triple Crown race when replacing Pino on Hard Spun in the Belmont Stakes. In trying to restrain him, Gomez absolutely choked the life out of the colt.

Of course, Gomez is better than that, much better, but he simply brain-locked and robbed the colts best chance to pull off an upset. It happens. The fact that Hard Spun is questionable at 12 furlongs is and was distinctly beside the point.

Congratulations to Pino for joining the celebrated company of the Pincays and Corderos and Shoemakers and Bazes. And the best of luck to Gomez, two stakes wins shy of trumping the accomplishment of the smartest rider who ever lived.


Written by John Pricci

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