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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Friday, October 03, 2008

From Wall Street to Main Street to Union Avenue

Pardon the interruption, but I’d like to say something here.

I believe that Wall Street is Main Street. “Bailout” doesn’t sit well with many Americans. Can’t blame them even a little. And the media is playing to that rage. “They ought to help out the people, the little guy,” was one gray-bearded loaded-question response on the 11 o’clock news Wednesday night. “We shouldn’t have to bail out fat-cats on Wall Street who gambled and lost.”

Yes, the “recovery” bill needed better language, transparency, fail-safe measures and all the rest. But Wall Street is Main Street. Because what about the middle class guy that worked hard, got a good job with a management-matched IRA plan, is now in his 60s, retired, and his 401K is all he’s got?

He’s hoping for a liquidity injection, I’ll bet. I know I am. So is Warren Buffet, the greatest handicapper who ever lived, who doesn’t need the cash but termed the current crisis an “economic Pearl Harbor.” Because that’s what it is when small businesses with a track record of success can’t get a loan, under the golden arches or anywhere else.

Banks aren’t lending money to other banks in this environment. C’mon people!

This recovery bill is nowhere close to perfect but is much more than a Wall Street bailout which, on its face, is exactly what it is. But only in part. Let me put it terms than an aspiring Vice-President might ask:

“Need a new car, do ya’?”

There was a recent quote from a Presidential candidate that made sense. But only one. And it wasn’t from the guy who suspended everything, only didn’t, ran back to Washington, accomplished zero, then took credit for acting quickly. Laughable if it weren’t so serious. Another reason why people hate the machinations of Washington D.C.

At least, the quote from the other candidate had a common sense quotient: “What this bill does is to keep a crisis from becoming a catastrophe.” I leave it to you to figure out who said what.

Meanwhile, I hope the media keeps the light shining and the pressure on, and that the people keep the pressure on the media to do that job responsibly. It would be a nice thing if those footing the bill had some say in all this, yes?

And does this sound like socialism? Surely hope not; my plate’s already overflowing.

Gambling, including betting on horses, once was considered to be recession proof. But that doesn’t seem to be true anymore, in case you’ve missed those downward spiraling handle figures from all across the country.

Churchill Downs figured it out many months ago. They don’t want to start a short-sell run on the common shares so they stopped making their daily handle figures public. It might give the wrong impression. As it turned out, they worried in vain. Short selling, anyone?

The current recession--interesting how so many politicians, media, or even the Six-Pack Joes still won’t call it what it is--doesn’t figure to help racetrack handle despite the fact that the information and data keeps getting better all the time. Why?

Because the game’s getting harder all the time, that‘s why.

Three surfaces demand more time for daily research. Security issues notwithstanding, late betting patterns rob from bettors the ability to know they’re making the proper bet relative to value. The best horse and the best bet, mutually exclusive events, can exist within the same race.

Today’s players have become more sophisticated. They’re beginning to cannibalize each other. And usurious takeout rates make it impossible for even the most sophisticated whales to profit without rebates. So what shot does the weekend warrior have? Guess.

What does all this mean to me? It means it’s time to jump into the pool with both feet! I know, I know, if my timing were any better I’d be a dancer.

The times are tough and might get a whole lot tougher, well into 2009, at least, especially if the House of Representatives fail to see the urgency. Unless, of course, they could sneak a few pork barrels of their own into the chamber.

Yes, times are tough and tough times demand tough measures. It’s time for me to start betting in earnest, probably after Breeders’ Cup which, artificial surface or not, still remains one of the best betting opportunities of the year. Then why the delay?

Because that same Breeders’ Cup and HRI will make heavy demands on my time and because the Pro Ride surface at Santa Anita likely will remain a work in progress right up until post time on “Ladies Day.”

And so it would be a bad spot to begin wagering as if my fiscal life depended on it, because it just might. Nothing that’s happened lately has given me confidence that all of it’s not just one big old boondoggle.

As risky as gambling for a living might be, I’d rather depend on myself. I did it before on a small scale and was moderately successful. This is different. But at least I can look in the mirror and not question my motives. I just can’t afford to sit around and do nothing.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Legendary Hall of Fame Riders Deserve Better

Can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before. If I have, forgive the replication, but it’s just so infuriating.

The first time I became aware of the Breeders’ Cup Legends Tour was in an e-mail several months ago announcing the event. I believe I mentioned at the time that it seemed counterproductive for Santa Anita to host the final leg of the tour, an actual race where entries are drawn by lot, on the weekend prior to Breeders’ Cup event days.

Sorry, but this is more than a provincial happening, more than a Breeders’ Cup promotional effort to heighten awareness in the local market to sell whatever tickets might be left, or to burn the dates of Oct. 24 and 25 into the brains of simulcast players everywhere.

The Jockey Legends Tour, brought to you by Breeders’ Cup, my name for the event, is a living history of the sport that’s so much bigger than a mere marketing tool. Jockeys are the thoroughbred racing athletes who walk around on two legs, and speak actual words.

For the love/hate relationship that exists between racing fans and the game’s saddlesmiths--fans do both, sometimes simultaneously and with impunity--fans never seem to ignore them. Even the casual sports fan might get interested in an event like this. In Kentucky, Pat Day is more popular than any horse could ever be.

Yes, it takes riding a lot of favorites to win 4,000 or 5,000 or, incredibly, 10,000 winners. But I apologize again. I’m from the Jockey-as-Pilot School. I'm not the one that relegates them to the role of Jockey-as-Passenger.

The Jockey Legends Tour will have its second stop today at Belmont Park, where several retired Hall of Fame riders among Bailey, Cordero, Day, Hawley, Krone, McCarron, Pincay, Stevens and Vasquez are scheduled to appear.

The Tour began in Boston several days ago. I missed it. And I must have missed the memo, too. Had no idea. And this is my living, such as it is.

I get repetitive e-mail blasts on everything from breeding news to upcoming marketing confabs, which are much appreciated. There’s much to stay on top of in this game. But this was a big deal, one requiring extra effort.

Tomorrow the Tour rolls on to the Meadowlands, Saturday to Laurel and Sunday to Philadelphia Park. The following Thursday and Friday, it stops at Keeneland and Arlington Park. The Tuesday and Wednesday after that, Lone Star Park and Sam Houston, etc., etc.

See the trend here? My question is this: How does racing reap the benefits from this when fans are either at work, or just AWOL, period?

And why wasn’t the Tour announced much, much earlier, when there actually were 2008 budget dollars available for promotion by the tracks as well, where more races between these greats could have been conducted?

Why isn’t the Tour a Saturday and/or Sunday event, maximizing exposure? What if racing held a real special event and nobody came?

Please, someone in authority, comment on this below. Show me the error of my ways. I’ve been wrong before; I work at a disciple in which if I’m wrong two out of three times I’m considered a genius.

The riding legends, among the greatest the game has ever seen, were driven to greatness. This might be a small-handle betting exhibition to some, but don’t try selling that notion to a Cordero, a Bailey.

Of course, there’s an economic component involved for some of the jockeys, but most if not all, I have to believe, want to give something back to the game, want to compete again on some level. I would like to experience them experiencing that. In person. Live.

I can’t be at Belmont Park today. Nor will I be in California the weekend before I’m scheduled to arrive for HRI’s coverage of Breeders’ Cup’s silver anniversary program. I’ll miss the Legends race by a couple of days.

I’m sure I’ll get to see a videotape replay, or something on YouTube, someplace, somewhere. But I won’t be able to go down to the paddock, gauge fan reaction, perhaps even whoop and holler it up myself.

From time to time, it is acknowledged that jockeys don't get their due as athletes. Making dangerous decisions at 40 miles per hour without the luxury of calling a timeout to plot strategy; racing being the only sport in which an ambulance follows people while they perform their day jobs.

Maybe next year--if there is a next year for this event--more fans will be given a better opportunity to see some of the sport’s true greats in action. The fans and Racing Hall of Famers deserve nothing less.

Written by John Pricci

Comments (7)


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Takeout Keeps Rising Every Day

As a horseplayer, I’ve paid taxes all my life, beginning with my junior year in high school, then college and, finally, as a working professional. It’s called parimutuel takeout. I’m sure I’ve put thousands of children through school. I take pride in that.

Of course, none of this makes me qualified to be an economics wiz--you know, just like our elected friends inside the Beltway. But I’m going to comment on what’s happening these days, anyway.

I never thought I’d be rooting for a measure that, upon wakening some morning in the very near future, I’ll be out seven large.

But you’ve got to spend money to make money, right? But like Congress, both sides, right or wrong, who’ve been drilling the administration’s economic advisers, I want earmarks. Let the FBI figure out what and who went wring. Just give me my piece of the action.

When you go to a racetrack broke and a buddy puts you in action, you share your winnings with the lender. At least that’s what my first crew did, not every time, but often enough.

It’s about camaraderie, a sense that we’re in this battle together, us against the world. It makes both parties feel good about themselves, about being equals, about not being identified solely by the amount of money in your jeans, the kind of thinking that probably got us into this mess in the first place.

Does that, technically, make me a socialist?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with no inclination or special knowledge of racing, by the way, had it right on a weekend talk show when he said it’s a great capitalist society when you‘re making money, but when the ship starts taking on water captains of industry morph into socialistas.

Eventually the pullers of strings will do what they have to and bailout Wall Street. Because like it or not what happens on Wall Street, pardon the expression, trickles down to Main Street.

Heard something on TV about the $700 billion: The fifth largest economy in the world could exist on it.

This whole thing of ours, America, and the rest of the world, needs a safety net. Without an infusion of confidence that real money brings, credit conditions will worsen, the economy could stop in its tracks, housing would collapse further, costing jobs, small-business creation, and it would cut all life-lines to Main Street. It‘s real, so do it.

So I‘ll roll the dice but I want a piece of the action. What, I can only share in the socialism portion of the program? Congress, both sides, can‘t fold, and can’t take on faith what this administration tells it. You only need master handicapping 101 to read those past performances.

I‘ll roll the dice because I have no choice. And if those loans turn out to be any good, give my kids a tax break against all this debt they‘ll be forced to carry. Give them something, anything. This crash will probably cost us some form of health care relief, if that were even real.

So, increase the value of distressed assets, or whatever it is you say you have to do. Keep the student loans and the auto loans and the rest of the economy going.

But don‘t cave on the rest. Show some guts and character in these tough times. Deep-bronze the parachutes. Regulate, Give us real transparency. Trust no one until they earn your trust.

But taxpayers deserve a piece of the action, too. That's the way we used to do it at the track. Besides, they’ve already paid the takeout.

Written by John Pricci

Comments (5)


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