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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Thursday, February 19, 2009


Stardom Bound: Can We Talk?


“Hey Sweetheart,

Like everyone else last weekend, I was pre-occupied with those boys that would be king of the three year olds.

But with the exception of the division's prince, Old Fashioned, and an upstart named General Quarters, it was a pair of fillies who really caught my eye.

Please don’t take it personal; it’s only handicapping. Besides, you know what I think of you.

Just in case Mike forgot to mention it, I’ve already said you deserve a chance to run in the show, the Kentucky Derby, no matter how your new barn mate Patena makes out in New Orleans next month.

Patena. What kind of name is that for a boy, anyway?

Now I don’t mean for you to get jealous, but I want you to say hello to my new, not-so-little friends.

You may already know Evita Argentina. She’s out in Southern California, just a few barns away. And you know she’s the same age, right? Well, she is.

And did you know she’s already beaten the boys? Well, she has, and not to make you jealous or anything, but they made her the San Vicente favorite. Can you imagine?

By now you probably heard that she won, coming from last--flying, just like you. And she’s already made some history. She’s only the third filly to win this race, one by a DQ.

The other? Well, not to make you feel worse, but to give you something to shoot for, it was a filly named Busher, owned by a Hollywood big shot, and she got named Horse of the Year!

Not bad for a three year old filly, right? So you can do it, too. It just takes some really, really, special like, you know, the first weekend in May in Louisville?

No, not the Friday race, silly, the Saturday one. The one everybody watches.

I’ve got to tell you. At no time was there ever a chance she was going to win that race. She was so-o-o-o far back.

And when she started running--you could tell she was going really fast--but you still never thought she’d get there. Then, maybe she could. Then it was, like, awesome.

The jockey said she didn’t even like the soggy track that much; kept on coming out of the bridle on him. You know what that’s like.

But here’s the scary part. He thinks she can run even better. Sounds like fightin’ words to me.

The people that have her say she might run in the Fair Grounds Oaks. And that’s the same day Patena runs in that Creole Derby, right?

So you can ask him what he thinks the next time you see him. Probably not until the both of you get to Kentucky.

Hope all that ice is melted by then. But enough about her.

Ever hear of Rachel Alexander? You should have, she’s been in all the papers, especially after Sunday’s race.

It wasn’t such a big deal of a race, but it was a stakes, the Martha Washington, a mile at Oaklawn Park.

I’m warning you now, don’t try to catch a replay, especially if you see Evita Argentina first. I’m afraid it’ll give you nightmares. She won so-o-o-o easy.

I know what you’re thinking; you’re the champ. The Eclipse Award has to go through you. But let‘s not get ahead of ourselves here.

What’s that? Yes, I know. The gray colt was pretty scary on Monday. But don’t think for a minute that that Friday race in Louisville is going to be any pushover.

Rachel Alexander broke her maiden on that track, placed in a couple of graded stakes, then won the Golden Rod, their big two year old stakes for fillies.

So she’ll be waiting, you know that. She likes that track, and you haven’t even run on dirt. Period. I know, it’s not your fault, didn’t say it was.

OK, I might as well tell you. She won her first start this year by eight with her jockey, Calvin Borel, looking all around the place.

Calvin? You know he’s real good in Louisville, right? Made a whole career there one day.

Look, I’m not trying to get you rank, and I haven’t lost any faith in you. It’s just that it’s not going to be as easy as last year, and I wanted you to know that.

I’m glad you’re going to run in your own backyard Oaks next. Seasoning is good for you. It’ll make you stronger, smarter.

So take good care, now. And don’t let the barn door hit you in the hindquarters.”

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, February 14, 2009


Tampa Bay Takes Spotlight with Sam F. Davis; Old Fashioned Awaits Southwest


Saratoga Springs, NY, February 13, 2009--I’m not going to quibble that Keeneland, according to the good folks at Horseplayers Association of North America, is America’s #1 racetrack. I’m partial to the one with the finish line about a four furlongs from my front porch--and I‘m lucky I can even spell algorithm.

But I will say that I thought Tampa Bay Downs might have broken into the Top 10. OK, their betting menu could be better. Why no superfectas on the first two races of the day? And I would like to see another fractional wager, like a 50-Cent Pick Four, in addition to Dime Supers.

Admittedly, Tampa’s takeout rates are a tad high, according to data at http://www.trackthieves.com, but in line with the high takeout rates virtually in place at every track in America.

Festival Preview Day is their first big event of the season, featuring two always interesting and competitive stakes; the Grade 3 Endeavor, for older fillies and mares on turf, and the Sam F. Davis, now justifiably graded, and a stepping stone to the Tampa Bay Derby, itself having become a viable Kentucky Derby prep for its placement on the calendar.

Tampa’s card today includes no less than 12 races and attracted--get this--141 overnight entrants. No wonder the entry box was a little late in closing. The racing office must have knocked on every door and found horsemen willing to comply. We don’t refer to Tampa as “the little track that could” for nothing.

In addition to a good number of shippers, including five for the Sam F. Davis--four from South Florida and one from New York--six jockeys: Johnny Velazquez, Kent Desormeaux, Joe Bravo, Jose Lezcano, Rene Douglas and last year’s Eclipse Award apprentice, Pascacio ‘Paco’ Lopez, a real natural and wise beyond his years, are shipping in, too.

The southern-based talent joins a colony that features local heroes Daniel Centeno, Carlos Montalvo, Ronald Dale Allen Jr. and Rosemary Homeister Jr. And if you don’t regularly follow the Tampa circuit and have not seen Centeno ride there, you had better hurry. The young man could move his tack anywhere.

The Sam F. Davis is the next step for several developing three year olds trying to validate a position among the division’s elite, including the two early line favorites, Free Country (3-1, McPeek/Desormeaux) and Atomic Rain (7-2, Breed/Velazquez).

Both are coming up to the race the right way. On the Equiform scale, Free Country earned a new pace top and remained undefeated in two starts while moving up in class and distance. Atomic Rain, who finished second to Old Fashioned in last year’s Remsen, has not taken a backward step in four lifetime starts.

But they had better have their dancing shoes on. There are several very fast locals. Both Musket Man (9-2) and Top Seed (6-1) are fast and undefeated in three starts. General Quarters (8-1) has the most experience, is fast and well drawn inside. All three have not proven themselves going long but have a race over the quirky Tampa surface, an important edge.

Two other invaders have done well around two turns, however. Cliffy’s Future (10-1), who last raced on Aqueduct’s winter track, owns the fastest two turn figure in the field. A. P. Cardinal (8-1)--hopefully to perform better than Louisville did in South Bend Thursday night--is up from South Florida after showing signs that he’s learning to distribute his energy more efficiently.

So will any of these become major divisional players the way Any Given Saturday and Bluegrass Cat did several years ago? Will any subsequently run in the Kentucky Derby, the way Smooth Air and Big Truck did last year? That’s why they run the races. Scheduled post time is 4:48 p.m. EST.

Protem Kentucky Derby Favorite Debuts Monday

For Derby Futures players, it’s unfortunate that a bet on Old Fashioned will have to be made completely on faith. The pool closes Sunday night; the race, the one-mile Southwest Stakes, goes on President’s Day afternoon at Oaklawn Park.

Who knows? If the stylish, undefeated winner of the nine furlong Remsen Stakes at 2 can win all his preps and enter the Louisville starting gate on the first Saturday in May, maybe then the graded stakes committee will see fit to elevate the Arkansas Derby, scheduled to be Old Fashioned’s ultimate Derby prep, to Grade 1 status. But, I digress.

Three days ago, Old Fashioned had his final workout for the G3 Southwest, five furlongs in 1:00 2/5, termed breezing. The gallop out beneath jockey Terry Thompson was six furlongs in 1:13 2/5. Ramon Dominguez, his Remsen partner, has the return call for trainer Larry Jones and owner Rick Porter, who raced Hard Spun and ill-fated Eight Belles in the last two Kentucky Derbys.

Wednesday’s move was his fourth published workout since the Remsen, a total of 19 furlongs in all. Two were of the bullet variety; Wednesday’s, which was also published as a half-mile in :48 2/5, and his five furlong work from the gate January 29 in an eye opening :58 4/5, also termed breezing.

Of course, Old Fashioned will be fresh in his first start of the year, the first of two prior to the Arkansas Derby. According to published reports he could face as many as nine rivals, perhaps more, including the very fast, very sharp Silver City.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, February 13, 2009


Tampa, Oaklawn Join Derby Trail on Futures Pool Weekend


Saratoga Springs, NY, February 12, 2009--With 78 days remaining until Kentucky Derby 135, time has come to jump into the fray. But we’re doing so slowly, somewhat reluctantly. Call it fear of the unknown. The really unknown.

With last year’s Breeders’ Cup championships run on a synthetic surface, and with the acknowledged division leaders, including juvenile champion Midshipman, being trained in Dubai, what are we to make of their form on Derby day?

Triple Crown developments are slowly starting to take hold. Yesterday at Nad Al Sheba Race Course, Vineyard Haven, the second most accomplished juvenile of 2008, had his season’s debut in the G3 U.A.E. Guineas, along with mates Desert Party and Regal Ransom. VIneyard Haven was a one-paced fourth.

What will yesterday’s result mean? For that matter, what will the results of any synthetic surface prep mean on May’s first Saturday? Thus far, synthetic prep stars and those having classics tune-ups on foreign shores are 0-for-Kentucky.

This weekend's races might yield some light on what we’ll need to know if the aim is to score out on Derby day. And isn’t that the point of all this?

At Tampa Bay Downs, the little track that could, the three year old program earnestly gets underway in tomorrow's Sam. F Davis, accorded Grade 3 status this year. It’s the first of four graded preps for this holiday weekend. We'll preview those races in tomorrow's post.

Saturday also features the G3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, while on Monday Santa Anita's G2 San Vicente is certain to get some aspiring classicists started.

The headliner of the weekend, of course, will be Monday's G3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, kicking off the Arkansas route to its Derby and beyond.

The Southwest features the debut of Old Fashioned, certain to close second choice to “the field” in Kentucky Derby Futures betting that opened yesterday. The Remsen winner is training right along while put under no pressure by trainer Larry Jones.

A new wrinkle has been added to futures betting the year, the Derby Futures Exacta, unavailable this weekend but offered by Churchill Downs’ in Pools 2 and 3.

Future wagers are always risky, a sucker play on their face. But Futures Exacta has the potential for yielding serious windfall payoffs by increasing the level of difficulty, yet allowing for defensive plays on a pay-for-play proposition. But the future is now. The following is a thumbnail sketch of 23 individual Pool 1 entrants, in alphabetical order:

Beethoven: Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner was better-than-looked fourth in Gulfstream’s Holy Bull. Fails Dosage parameters at a lofty 5.86. Developing nicely.

Big Drama: Winner of five straight including quickly run Delta Jackpot missed Holy Bull with minor injury, which could be disguised blessing. Dual dosage qualifier; good development pattern.

Capt. Candyman Can: Impressed winning the Hutcheson, showing another dimension. Strong dosage profile. Fastest race at 2 was Churchill two-turner.

Chocolate Candy: Good third in classy CashCall Futurity at 2 then won California Derby stylishly this year. Working bullets for tomorrow’s El Camino Real. Slow but developing nicely. Has dosage pedigree, connections.

Flying Pegasus: Never a backward step and a promising wide-trip second in the Risen Star. Capable of improvement, but must answer the distance question. Dual Dosage qualified.

Friesen Fire: Gutsy score in Risen Star and apparently is learning to rate. Certainly fast enough for Larry Jones. By A.P. Indy and a dual qualifier, it won’t be pedigree that beats him. Still needs settling.

Giant Oak: Good second in Kentucky Jockey Club at 2 then suffered through horrendous Risen Star trip at 3, but still finished up willingly. Has dosage qualified pedigree and potential to improve greatly.

Haynesfield: Visually impressive New York-bred winner of the open Whirlaway, his fourth straight score, winning by wide margins. Certainly fast enough and has dosage pedigree but 10 furlongs seems far.

Hello Broadway: Kin to Nobiz Like Shobiz stayed gamely for place in Hutcheson season’s debut. Has Derby style, connections, looks, very strong dosage profile and certainly ran fast enough at 2. Interesting at sufficient odds.

I Want Revenge: Just missed, then good three-year-old debut behind Pioneerof the Nile. Dual dosage qualified, but on the slow side and lacking dirt form to date.

Midshipman: Juvenile champion training in Dubai is fast and classy, a dual qualifier with a strong dosage profile. Will get dirt experience in the Emirates--then he has to ship back.

Notonthesamepage: Positively brilliant and an impressive winner of the Spectacular Bid. Cannot conceive his getting the Derby distance.

Old Fashioned: Fast, classy and still untested winner of the nine furlong Remsen at 2 working well for season’s debut on Monday. A dual qualifier with excellent performance figures, he’s the protem Derby choice to send Larry Jones riding off into the sunset.

Papa Clem: Certainly has improved with distance racing and just missed in the recent Robert B. Lewis. Dosage qualified but with slow performance figures and no dirt form to dirt.

Patena: IEAH purchase was a very good second in the Lecomte, flattered when Friesan Fire came back to win. Dosage qualified, with heavy classic wing values. But figures look explosive and he goes first-time Rick Dutrow in Louisiana Derby. Wise guy play.

Pioneerof the Nile: On a classy roll for Bob Baffert and really impressed after angling out to flurry home in the Robert B. Lewis. Showed development, leaving room for more, in the Lewis. But, then, there’s the dirt. Very nice colt.

Silver City: Romped in Oaklawn’s Dixieland sprinting, now gets tested by Old Fashioned on Monday. Seriously fast colt with a win at Churchill has good dosage profile and the potential to become a player.

Stardom Bound: Juvenile filly champion showed her considerably class taking the Las Virgenes under less than perfect circumstances, now will try males in Santa Anita Derby. A dual qualifier with room for further development time-wise, she’s never run on dirt.

Taqarub: Very fast and undefeated in three starts has yet to race beyond six furlongs. Dosage qualified but I have my doubts vis a vis the trip. Fountain of Youth should provide some clues.

The Pamplemousse: Upset the now sidelined Square Eddie in the San Rafael for second straight two-turn win without defeat for stretchout ace Julio Canani. Dosage qualified, he’s never regressed but at some point must try dirt. Goes next in the synthetic Sham.

This One’s For Phil: Exploded for Rick Dutrow in Sunshine Millions Sprint. Dosage qualified, he appears certain to regress next out in the Fountain of Youth. If he doesn’t, that Secretariat bronze in the Belmont paddock better expect company.

Vineyard Haven: Second most accomplished juvenile of 2008, he was rated into submission then ran on one-paced in yesterday’s U.A.E. Guineas, appearing short of condition. Dual qualifier should benefit from the debut. For $12 million, he had better.

West Side Bernie: Was a very good third in Holy Bull when compromised by extreme outside position. Graded stakes toughened and a dual qualifier, his performance figures put him in Derby contention at this juncture.

Written by John Pricci

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