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 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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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Curlin’s Desert Prep Doesn’t Make Sense

Horse of Year Curlin will begin defense of that title tomorrow with a prep race for the $6-million Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba Race Course.

Trainer Steve Asmussen was masterful in his handling of last years three-year-old dual titlist. Indeed, he had the goods to work with, but thats not always a guarantor of success. In 2007, Steve Asmussen hit all the high notes.

But I dont understand shipping the colt half way around the world just for a prep race over the track. The Nad Al Sheba surface never has beaten any of Americas big horses before according to their trainers at the time. What makes Asmussen think that the surface might defeat Curlin on March 29?

Perhaps he doesnt want to be second guessed. Curlins principal owner, Jess Jackson, is doing a sporting thing, not a money thing, running Curlin at 4. Maybe the trainer figures he needs to do everything by the old school handbook; getting a race over the track whenever possible.

But this time that doesnt make sense. What could be a better surface than Fair Grounds to prepare a horse to run on the moon if its trainer wanted?

Why, after a horse becomes acclimated, is it advisable to stay in a foreign climate longer than necessary, risking the old "second-start climate bounce?" Of course, bounces don't happen in every case. But it happens often enough to horses that ship, especially over long distances.

The worst of it is that Curlin must spot five rivals 15 pounds while under a staggering 132 over the about-distance of a mile and a quarter under lights in the desert. He will be facing outclassed rivals, perhaps, but thats not a given.

Hell be meeting a strong recent winner over the track, and facing an entrant from the remarkable Mike de Kock shedrow, an outfit thats been winning everything in sight over there.

I understand; theres a $6-million rainbow at the end of this prep road. But if youre thinking this will be akin to, say, the conditions under which another of last years champions, War Pass, made his return last weekend, youd be mistaken. And so would Mr. Asmussen. There is, after all, the remainder of the season to consider.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

At Gulfstream, a Pair of Perfect Preps

Nick Zitos back, and hes back in a big way.

War Pass is back, and he may be back in a bigger way.

As this is written, its 30 minutes after the juvenile champion made his three-year-old debut in a one-mile allowance race, and I have this question.

Just exactly when is Cornelio Velasquez going to allow the undefeated speedster to run this year? It certainly wasnt yesterday.

Before, I thought that comparisons to Seattle Slew were premature. And while Im not quite ready to go there yet, it might be part of some future conversation.

War Pass ran virtually one-paced--fast for common racehorses, routine for him--and went the distance in 1:36 3/5 without drawing so much as a deep breath.

While watching te replay of yesterdays five-horse field, it was hard to envision how much the colt has matured physically from his juvenile year. But he did make his rivals, with the possible exception of stablemate Web Gem, look like they were still juveniles while he was preparing for a sophomore fall campaign.

His race proved little, except that he was back and has lost none of his vaunted speed. And he looks like hell be hell to pay in the Tampa Bay Derby, Mar. 15.

In tomorrows trades, youll read much about the slow Fountain of Youth pace, moderate final time of 1:51 4/5, and the attendant controversy. While that would be correct on all counts, it wouldnt be germane to the quality of this prep.

The Fountain of Youth was a good race for the first four finishers, especially the second and third horses.

Nick Zitos winning Cool Coal Man sat the perfect pocket trip from the pole, Kent Desormeaux allowing the colt to take full advantage. Coal Man showed a good turn of foot to take command at headstretch, essentially winning those needed graded-stakes earnings right there.

But you had to be impressed more by runnerup Elysium Fields, a come-again place finisher following a wide, stalking trip.

Bill Mott had to be pleased, too. His Court Vision was an excellent third with a 6-path rally into the stretch and strong acceleration off the lethargic pace. And Z Humor, who finished fourth, showed a lot more life than he did at Tampa only eight days prior.

For Court Vision, it was a terrific race to build on, just like that of War Pass. And for the rival Hall of Fame trainers, its game on, indeed.

Written by John Pricci

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