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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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Rarified Air in Loaded Hutcheson

Very often people in my business will use the term good betting race in various constructs. It can be a big race without a marquee performer, a nondescript big race with a big field, or just a plain bummer.

But thats not the case at Gulfstream Park today where the prime time event is the Grade 2 Hutcheson for newly turned three-year-olds at seven furlongs. It has drawn a full field of 10 in which nine horses, on their best race, are within about three lengths of each other.

Not only that but many of them are attractive horses with considerable upside, no matter what their optimal distance turns out to be. Some might make the Kentucky Derby starting gate; others maybe the Breeders Cup Sprint.

So what we have here is a good field and a good betting race. Heres a thumbnail sketch of the group, in post position order, with early line odds and their best Equiform performance figure in parenthesis:

8-1 Tiz It (72.75). However, is still a maiden and never has raced beyond six furlongs. Johnny V. rides back with a bullet :59 at Palm Meadows.

6-1 Grand Minstrel (73.5). Became a man with his top figure score last out in the Capote, earning a career best pace figure, too. Jimmy Jerkens had a good 07 at GP.

6-1 Cool Coal Man (73.5). Strangled in poorly executed rating try in Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. Classy turn-backs always dangerous; one of two uncoupled Zito horses.

3-1 Halo Najib (73.25). Another classy turn-back just missed in Court Visions Iroquois. Trainer Romans profitable going route to sprint.

10-1 Smooth Air (73.75). Florida-based sprinters do pretty well against national rivals in this race. Floridas leading rider Manoel Cruz in the boot.

8-1 Silver Edition (73.25). No seven furlong form but, hey, its Lukas.

15-1 Big Truck (71.75). Talented New York-bred but not likely ready for these.

15-1 Notgivenmyloveaway (72.5). Coming off new pace top, Pennsylvania-bred not yet Smarty Jones.

10-1 Golden Spikes (73). Needs seven furlong form.

4-1 Coal Play (72). Good figure going a mile at Belmont; career pace top in last. Forward looking.

My thinking is that as closely as these horses figure--thisclose--and with so many on positive lines, I wont be accepting a short price. And that Smooth Air has the best upset chance.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Derby Colts, Gulfstream, Off and Running

The Road to the Kentucky Derby has begun. The Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby has been run and Gulfstream Park opens this afternoon. Given that the Fair Grounds has been in action since Thanksgiving, and Santa Anita since the day after Christmas, its time to begin paying attention again.

Todd Pletcher, in winning his first graded stakes of 2008, has 55 more to go before reaching last years total. But its the G1 Kentucky Derby that Pletcher wants most and his Tropical Park Derby winner Cowboy Cal put him squarely on the right path.

Is he concerned Cowboy Cals winning effort came on the turf? Not at all.

Were taking the Barbaro path, Pletcher deadpanned following the Calder stakes. But dont think for a minute the remark was made tongue-in-cheek. Cowboy Cal won the nine furlong race impressively, drawing off strongly through the stretch, mostly on his own, and was timed in 1:46 4/5, identical to Barbaros clocking two years ago. Pletcher is considering the Fountain of Youth on the main track next, on Feb. 24.

The Florida-based three-year-olds wont be back in the spotlight until Saturdays Hutcheson Stakes, so Gulfstream will get under way with the South Beach Stakes on the turf for Florida-bred fillies and mares.

The resurgent Bill Mott will team up with stable rider Kent Desormeaux to send out South Beach favorite Quite A Bride (9-5), a mare high on early speed with a modicum of class, a G3 winner that finished third in a G2 at Keeneland when last seen under tack.

(For bettors of this favorite, it is hoped Desormeaux doesnt brain lock the way he did on a Mott turf favorite in yesterdays third race at Calder. See replay, watch this exhibition, then put Scolara in your stable mail). But, as for Quite A Bride, quality speed and an inside post looks like a formidable coupling.

It will be interesting to see how Mystic Soul (4-1) does in the East. Shes a classy Californian making her first start off a lengthy layup for trainer Wesley Ward, a profitable 27 percent efficient with new acquisitions. If shes to seriously challenge the favorite, shell have to overcome an extreme outside position.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Few Resolutions Truly Worth Keeping

Lets see, the first resolution Im highly likely to break is to not get emotional about a horse. Wall Streets despicable Gordon Gekko was probably right when he advised Bud Fox the same thing about stocks.

But stocks are pieces of paper. They are neither majestic, nor handsome, fiery, brave or charismatic. I know the emotional affair Ill have with a thoroughbred is the first knock-out performance I see by a newly turned three-year-old on the road to Louisville.

Then Ill assess what all my colleagues are writing or saying and spend the rest of my Triple Crown chase trying to beat that horse because all the value has gone out of his portfolio.

I promise not to be upset with Bobby Frankel but I will, either the first time he says something stupid or, after Country Star embarrasses every filly she beats on her way to Louisville, he milks every bit of Derby publicity he can generate then runs her in the Oaks, anyway.

I wont write down all my bets. I refuse to keep track of my action for the first six weeks then get tired, bored, have my Pilot run out of ink, and stop. I already know that my areas of emphasis will be young horses, from maidens to stakes, turf races at any level, and any added-money race for horses of all ages.

These are races where I have an edge because Ill outwork the competition or because four decades of practice comes in handy. Another resolution I might keep is to stay clear of turf sprints. No one I know can figure these things out consistently, even if they know enough to key on the specialists which dominate winning results.

Another resolution Ill break is my promise not to play more than two simulcast tracks at a time. But I know Ill find a maiden, turf, or stakes race irresistible, then wonder why I lose my patience when I cant find the data I downloaded.

I promise to keep my composure when dealing with well-known disingenuous owners, trainers, jockeys and politicians from both sides of the aisle. But theres no chance, no chance, Ill ever be able to pull this off.

Instead, Ill find myself smiling when I walk away from horsemen who think Ive just witnessed my first horse race. But politicians who show no respect for my BS meter will just tick me off.

I resolve not to beat myself up after I find a handicapping nugget I overlooked for lack of focus, or for a Super Dime I lost because I didnt complete the play. And I will call the man in the mirror a stupid SOB and remind him that if a horse can be fourth, it can finish third.


Hey, I just remembered a few resolutions Im likely to keep. I will avoid small-field, wet-track races--especially when the program seller tells me speed is golden when I walk into the track--all low-level claimers at high-profile venues, and late-run-biased Polytrack surfaces. Horse racing is hard enough; jockey racing is impossible.

Theres one more resolution Im likely to keep: Never again to believe would-be presidential ideologues who justify their position by swearing that we have to kill our enemies there so we wont have to kill them here. Or put my trust in an opposition party that failed to meaningfully address the illegal acts of our executive branch and for essentially rubber-stamping the loss of our constitutional rights in the name of homeland security.

Written by John Pricci

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