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, September 20, 2007


Plenty of Smoke and Fire in Kentucky Drug Cases


Once upon a time, the Commonwealth of Kentucky was the most abusive racing jurisdiction in the land when it came to lax permissive medication rules.

Given recent events thats no longer true.

Dr. Rodney Stewart was suspended a total of five years when it was discovered he was in possession of banned substances found in his vehicle and in a search of trainer Patrick Biancones three barns at Keeneland Race Course.

Four of the five years was for possession of cobra venom; one for possession of Carbidopa and Levodopa. When used in combination, these two agents increase the level of dopamine in the brain.

In tablet form, the combination of agents have extended-release properties. They are commonly used for treatment of Parkinsons Disease in humans, but there is no evidence of it ever having been used in racehorses.

This is a ground-breaking, possibly milestone case. Not only for the duration of Stewarts suspension but for the message it sends. Encouraging, too, was that the ruling was issued in Kentucky where new rules were instituted two years ago, patterned after guidelines set by the Association of Racing Commissioners International.

One can only speculate that the duration of this suspension was perhaps cumulative. Stewart previously had been suspended for failing to cooperate in a prior Kentucky Horse Racing Authority investigation. Further, he has been cited for improper labeling of medications and failing to report violations of medication rules.

According to his attorney, the medications found in the vehicle and a refrigerator in one of Biancones barns were for use elsewhere, not on racehorses. It was cobra venom that was found in Biancones barn, along with dog and cat vaccines.

It is alleged Stewart used the refrigerator for storage only and that he had no intention of using, nor did he use, the banned substances.

The Biancone case is separate. Yesterday he ended a 15-day suspension for a violation when a horse he saddled at Churchill Downs on May 3rd tested positive for caffeine and theophylline, used primarily as an asthma medication in humans for their broncodilatory properties.

Theophylline had been banned in Islamabad earlier this month and the FDA ordered it off the market in this country in 1998.

There is a long way to go in the process, obviously. But circumstantial evidence keeps piling up. In addition to the recent suspension at Churchill Downs, Biancone was recently fined for an infraction in California last January.

Biancone moved to this country after he was found guilty of violating drug rules in Hong Kong in 1999. A native of France, he previously had established a reputation as a world class horseman in Europe before moving his operation to the Far East.

A hearing on the discovery of cobra venom, a powerful pain-killer, has been scheduled by the KHRA, although no date was officially announced. An entire industry, and their fans, will be watching.

All this underscores how useful, and important, a deterrent it might be if the names of a trainers attending veterinarians were listed on the official track program. At the very least, horseplayers would be able to factor that information into their handicapping.

In a data-based game, transparency is never a bad thing, especially if theres nothing to hide.

If its too much trouble to list the vets names--since some trainers use more than one--it could be noted after the fact who the veterinarian of record was for that days winning horses. That way track program and past performance publications could list the winning percentages of veterinarians.

Hey, like trainers and jockeys, some might just be better than others. Or playing within the rules.


Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Two Racetrack Lifers Finally Win One


The clich is that the wheels of justice grind slowly. Not so in the states case against two NYRA clerks of the scales, one of whom just happened to ride a Kentucky Derby winner and was inducted into Racing's Hall of Fame 31 years ago.

In their case, those wheels crept and crawled and lurched and went nowhere.

It was as if as long as Braulio Baeza and Mario Sclafani were out there as examples, somehow corruption was being rooted out. The state ordered monitor raided Aqueduct while conducting an investigation of alleged wrongdoing at the New York Racing Association. While high level executives left town aboard parachutes made of gold, investigators had their sacrificial lambs.

NYRA was found guilty of knowingly allowing two handsful of mutuel clerks to use horseplayer's betting money for their personal needs. Subsequently, the clerks were found guilty of tax evasion and money laundering. Prosecution of NYRA in this case was deferred.

But not in the case of Baeza and Sclafani, who lost their jobs three years ago, not long after they were charged on 291 felony counts of allowing jockeys to ride from seven to 15 pounds overweight, by definition, tampering with a sporting event.

Yesterday those charges were dropped for lack of evidence. A representative of the Toledo Scale Co. testified that scales were calibrated only up to 115 pounds, with a margin of error of one pound. Consequently, Saratoga County Court Judge Jerry Scarano agreed that the state failed to prove its case.

Sclafani has been working part time since the charges were first made. Baeza has been unemployed, although his son, Braulio Jr., who works for the NYRA, was promoted from an internal departmental job to the steward's stand. Many found this to be not coincidental.

These men now can get on with their lives. But the last three years are gone to them forever. So, what happened to the man in the state attorney generals office who originally leveled those charges? In case you havent been following this story, that man became governor of New York State.


Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Has Rags to Riches Run Her Last?


Would any racing fan truly be surprised if it turns out that Rags to Riches has run her last?

They shouldnt. I know I wont be.

If thats what happens, that would be too bad. A filly who beats colts, a filly who shaves, doesnt come along in this country very often.

Maybe no one should be surprised by what happened in the Gazelle.

The filly has been trying to tell us something for the past three months, something that, when I asked Todd Pletcher a question about early one morning last month in Saratoga, it should have made me surmise something might still be amiss.

So, did you figure out what happened? I asked, following Pletcher on foot as he rode off behind a set he was sending out from his barn over to the Oklahoma track for training.

Theres nothing to figure out, he said.

Oh.

It certainly was nothing to figure out from radiographs, nothing that several pairs of examining veterinarian eyes could see, nothing that the games most dominant trainer whos won Eclipse Awards the last three years could find.

Maybe the filly cant figure it out, either. But she certainly has been telling us something these past three months.

Workouts dont abort themselves. Fevers dont spike for no reason.

Because sometimes things happen to even the most robust racehorses, especially a filly stout enough to look a classic-winning colt in the eye for the final two furlongs of a grueling marathon and outfinish him with a final quarter-mile of less than 24 seconds.

A hairline fracture of the right foreleg is not a career ending injury. With sufficient time and good care, it will heal itself completely. Rags to Riches figures to get plenty of both.

Or just maybe this case is different. Maybe theres something that technology and trained eyes cannot see, cannot figure out. All thats left to consider is the evidence.

The aborted workout, the spiked fevers. You may not be able to see it, but the body certainly was saying something.

That something manifested itself once the Belmont Stakes winner was put under pressure by a talented rival of her own sex, one that would be undefeated in six starts herself if not for falling short in two races by a total three-quarters of one length.

Rags to Riches changed leads awkwardly when challenged, over to her right leg, the one with the mushy looking ankle. But she kept trying, unable to re-seize the winning momentum.

Trained eyes that watched her in the Gazelle could only surmise one thing: She needed her first start in 98 days, physically and mentally.

As it turned out maybe she needed more time, putting more distance between her first race back after running that final quarter mile of the mile-and-a-half Belmont in under 24 seconds.

No one could see it, but she was trying to tell us something, in her training, in her stall and, ultimately, last Saturday on the racetrack.

The classy winner that she beat in the Belmont, looked like no world beater himself in his next start last month at Monmouth Park. To many, it looked like Curlin needed his race, too.

Or on Haskell day was Curlin, too, trying to tell us something?

But hes been training steadily since then for his next start, the prep that will take him back to Monmouth for a chance to regain some of his tarnished stature.

Rags to Riches will not be going to Monmouth Park, however. Her season ended in the Gazelle, completing a body of work that will carry her to a divisional title no matter what happens for the rest of this month and next.

Because you shouldnt lose a job, or a title, because of an injury, no matter what Lady Joanne and Lears Princess do.

It turned out that some of racings best practitioners, and the latest technology, couldnt figure anything out. The man who knows her best said there was nothing to figure out.

But there was. And Rags to Riches has been telling us that for the last three months.

Someday shell tell us when she wants to resume her career. Only no one should be shocked if she doesnt.


Written by John Pricci

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