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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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New Best Friends Reunited at Horseplayer World Series

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 23, 2008--Although the two largest handicapping contests in America dont start until tomorrow; the 3-day Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans and the 2-day National Handicapping Championships Friday and Saturday at the Red Rock Resort and Casino, horseplayers from all over began converging on the Orleans this morning.

There are two ways to get into the HWS: become certified in a qualifying contest or walk in, plunk down your g-note and take a seat.

The Mardi Gras Ballroom at the Orleans is a cavernous place. When you walk inside it conjures up more World Series of Poker than Horseplayer World Series. Table after table are lined up like so many soldiers in row almost as far as the eye can see.

Randi Muniz and her contest staff barely had time to pick up their heads as players queued up to sign in, pick up their information packets, and were assigned seats from which they will view the agonies and ecstasies that will play themselves out in the next 72 hours at eight different racetracks across the country.

Edward Wright, a 51-year-old horseplayer from New York City, was one of the first seated and hes anxious for the contest to begin. Hes been waiting more than a year for it, in fact qualifying in what he termed a mini-contest at Delaware Park in early January, 2007. This made him the first contestant qualified for the fourth annual HWS and apparently he wanted to take the catbird seat in front of banks of large-screen TVs that surround the contest area.

This is Wrights second trip back to the HWS. Last year he walked in off the street, signed up and finished in a dead-heat for 27th among 715 players, taking home $1,787 in prize money.

Coming from someone such as myself, who went 0-for-14 years in the original but now defunct World Series of Handicapping at Penn National Race Course, thats a damn good maiden debut.

Wright fell in love with the game like many horseplayers do; by winning his first bet. In 1985, Wright, who prefers grass racing and uses a trip handicapping approach, walked into an NYC-OTB parlor, looked at the entries for the next race in New York and decided to play an exacta box, E-F. Back in the day, OTB used letters instead of numbers in a silly attempt at branding its product.

Wright knew what an exacta was but didnt know how to mark his slip to reflect the reverse, or boxed wager. As post time neared, and with anxious bettors behind him in line yelling horseplayer obscenities, he simply told the clerk just give me another ticket.

When Tara K.--Ill never forget her name-- finished first, and the F horse placed, the old E-F exacta, which he now had twice, paid over $500 per ducat.

For the next year, Edward Wright paid for the privilege of cashing that first bet. I started looking at the form and was betting on horses that won two or three races in a row. You know, how were they going to lose? I didnt realize it was one thing to beat $10,000 claimers three times but another to win an allowance race.

Although he lost that first full year, he really enjoyed the game. I read all the books and gradually I started to learn what to do. So how did he plan to bring home the lions share of $750,000 this weekend?

Wright was distracted before he could answer. Hey, how you doin? he asked Louis Licata of Cleveland, who went to Thistledown when he was 12 and has been playing the horses ever since. Annes with me, he informed Edward.

Anne Moore, also of Cleveland, qualified at a satellite contest for the HWS. Louis will be at the Orleans tomorrow cheering her on, but the next day hell be shooting for first prize of $500,000 in the NHC. Licata, who plays in about six contests a year, and Moore met Wright at last years HWS.

Apparently the couple that plays together stays together even when ones punting on the other side of town.

I used to play sprints, I loved speed, Licata said of his approach. But now I on concentrate on grass races. And Anne?

I love maiden races, Moore said, a horseplayer for about three years. The fewer the starts, the better. I watch the post parade and try to find the happy horse, said Moore, a student of equine body language. She can pick up kidney sweat from a half a mile away, Licata said, showing no small amount of pride.

You know, its a shame, he added, that both contests had to take place the same weekend. I love this contest. Its wide open; you can play any track you want. But the NHC is really exciting. There have eight mandatory races and when you get down to the end, everybodys looking at the same race. I think its the loudest noise I ever heard.

Wright, meanwhile, was enjoying the camaraderie of it all but was ready to turn his attention to business. Last year, the winning total [from 11 mythical $20 win-place HWS wagers on each day] was $2,929. I figure that $3,000 can win it this year. Ill just try to build a bankroll the first day then [play it off the standings after that].

There will be over a thousand horse stories in Sin City this weekend and this has been three of them. So grab those trip notes and speed figures. Its going to be a bumpy ride.

* * *

The Steam at the Orleans: The hottest bet in town doesnt have four legs, a mane and a tail. In fact, it has is 44 legs, 22 on each side of the ball. High ankle sprains to Future Hall of Fame quarterbacks notwithstanding, the New York Football Giants have been the side in early Super Bowl wagering. The Perfect Pats opened a two-touchdown favorite but are now minus-12. But its the money line thats interesting. The game opened at a somewhat moderate -500 +375, meaning if you like the Patriots you bet $500 to make $100. A c-note on the Giants gets you $375. Today at 2 p.m. EST, the line moved to -425, +325.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Saturday Roundup: Of Classy Youngsters and Old Pros

The Colts Got Class: After watching yesterdays seventh race at the Fair Grounds for newly turned three-year-olds going a mile and 40 yards, its hard to know whether Denis Of Cork is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby. But whatever happens from this point forward, know this: Denis Of Cork is a very good colt.

As opposed to his debut, where he lagged behind the field and looped them all going seven furlongs, he broke sharply from post six of seven, with a very short run to the first turn.

Calvin Borel never had a chance to save ground, so he didnt. He allowing the son of Harlans Holiday to settle off a dawdling pace in the middle of the sloppy Fair Grounds track.

So, four across the track he raced throughout his second lifetime start. Borel asked for winning speed approaching headstretch, the colts momentum carrying him out even wider. Horses usually chuck it at this point, especially young ones, but not Denis. The momentum carried him to even terms with the leaders, where the stretch battle began.

Second choice Unbridled Vicar emerged from between horses and it looked as if his softer trip would prove the difference. It didnt. Borel began scrubbing Denis right-handed and they edged away in the final strides.

All this off a hungry pace of :25.32, :49.89, 1:14.50 and 1:40.37. The final time was 1:42.83. Some observers might be discouraged that he wasnt more dominant. Not me. He answered a big question yesterday. The colts got class.

Evening Attire Just Never Stops Trying: Before thinking that Evening Attire has lost a step to age--now that hes no longer a nine-year-old--did you see him finish yesterday?

No, he didnt win the mile and a sixteenth Aqueduct Handicap, but his class and courage got him a runnerup finish behind a talented, back-in-form Angliana.

The old boy was running good early on, after his usual slow start. Down the backside he was in the bridle, but well behind a solid pace set by dueling Pink Viper and Judiths Wild Rush. The pace battle did them both in and Angliana was in the best spot to take advantage.

And it all happened so fast. Just when it appeared Judiths Wild Rush opened what looked like an insurmountable lead, having disposed of Pink Viper, here comes Angliana to grind the leader down for the scroe.

The co-pacesetter was the likely runnerup at that point but the big gray just kept chugging. Angled off the inside by Ramon Dominguez, the 10-year-old found his best stride and willed his way forward, nailing Judiths Wild Rush right on the line.

Even in defeat, he gives you a show.

Tagg May Have Second Derby Horse: Its been acknowledged that Barclay Tagg has a classy three-year-old named Tale Of Ekati on the Derby trail. Yesterday at Gulfstream Park he might have found another.

Elysium Fields shot through on the fence approaching headstretch, took command soon after straightening away, and widened his margin at the finish beneath Eibar Coa. The bad news is that it was his first win in for tries. The good news is that it came in his first start at nine furlongs.

Elysium Fields should have won his Florida debut at Calder but suffered a wide-throughout journey breaking from the extreme outside in a field of 10. He was much luckier yesterday, sitting behind a contested pace and saving ground. Once he opened a clear lead, he was gone.

By El Prado from the Silver Hawk mare, Dreams, hell run all the way to 10 furlongs and beyond. The question is whether he can get there fast enough.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Race and Horse to Watch at Fair Grounds

The feature race for me today doesnt have a name. The seventh race at the Fair Grounds is a preliminary allowances for three-year-olds at a mile and 40 yards.

As a self-described wiseguy, I use the term feature race to describe my best value play of the day. Not this time. The value I would get is nonexistent and the colt is no cinch given the race dynamics. Unless hes as special as I think he might be.

Denis of Cork is quite possibly my Derby horse. Other wiseguys know all about him. After today he might even break into the bottom of some Top Ten Derby lists you see around. Or he could disappear completely. Thats the thing about developing young stock.

Before getting to Denis, I was interested to see this week that Nick Zito plans to bring out certain juvenile champion War Pass in Florida next month, then take the Street Sense path to Tampa. After that, the Wood, then hopefully on to Louisville. Sounds like a perfect schedule.

The 2007 two-year-old that impressed as The Juvenile Most Likely to Succeed in Louisville on Mays First Saturday was Remsen winner Court Vision. Havent even seen his name on the work tab yet. Hes probably with Bill Mott at Payson Park, 90 minutes up I-95 from Gulfstream Park. I assume the Hall of Famer has a plan.

Denis of Cork (5-2) will break from the disadvantageous 7 post in a field of eight, with a short run to the first turn. Post probably wont matter. Hes likely to just fall out of there and Calvin will take him straight to the fence. From there, his Derby education will begin.

Havent seen the Equiform figures and cant make an educated guess about his chances until I do. On paper its clear the Mott-trained Hes The Commander (4-1) should be, and will be, the likely favorite, unless the crowd overbets Denis.

The Commander has a tactical speed edge, a better post, the benefit of a winning race over the track, and Robby Albarado continues to win both big and easy.

Like we said before (Jan 4, 2008 HRI archives), Denis Of Cork might be very special. His debut victory was among the most impressive weve ever seen. (You can see for yourself, CD, Nov. 6th race). Moreover, it came at seven-eighths over the Derby track and he did it the right way, increasing his tempo with every stride.

He broke his maiden with a dramatic 5-path sweep. Lets see what Borel does with him today around a second turn. Im not likely to be betting, just watching. Either way, its the race Im looking forward to most. Check him out for yourself. It might be worth it.

Written by John Pricci

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