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 21, 2009

Inaugural: Christmas Morning in America

Saratoga Springs, NY, January 20, 2009--Inauguration Day in America. Broadway in late morning was clear and sharp, like the message would be. But it was still quiet now, like just another Saratoga morning in January.

Quiet, too, inside Circus Café, at Broadway’s heart, SRO in August. Preparations were being made for its Inaugural Ball celebration, libations and food, nourishment for spirit and body, getting in preparedness.

And the people began to gather, slowly, perhaps waiting for Barack Obama to tell us all what we can do next.

Tables were beginning to fill now and people started bellying up to the bar. And the moment was at hand, and the room was becoming hushed now.

Diane Feinstein was taking the podium in our Nation’s Capital and began the process of jump-starting America.


Then there was an invocation, the swearing-in of a new Vice President. And then the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court rewrote the Oath of Office and the country’s 44th President responded and a country’s Original Sin was forgiven.

And the enduring memory will be of a young mother looking up at a television, cradling and rocking a baby in her arms, smiling at the words and images on the screen. It was warm and loving and hopeful.

Finally, the moment had arrived.

Then it was gone.

It was lunch time and Broadway was alive with energy now, people and cars in motion. And before you know it will be racing season here again and a new meeting will dawn.

And a new day dawned and America must exhibit a quality modern day life has done without for so long; patience and sacrifice.

* * *

America in Song

“I stand on the shoulders of Giants,” he said in a speech in Selma Alabama.

When all he had was a dream.

A dream on the road to becoming, at once, the 44th, and the 1st.

And he rode Abe Lincoln’s rails to complete a distant vision.

And he rode those rails all the way to Lincoln’s White House.

Come on up for the rising.

Happy Birthday to you, America.

Because you are now and forever will be, the United States of America.

It’s been a long time comin’.

And change has come to America.

And our hope is that in tough times we as a people are one.

The dignity is in the work, not in the Banjamins.

So there might be little pink houses for you and me.

One heart.. one love.. let’s get together and feel all right.

And at the end of the storm, is a golden sky

And the sweet silver song of a lark.

The world, keep on turnin’

Preachers, keep on preachin.’

Pride, in the name of love.

One more come in the name of love.

The celebration of American renewal.

The founders’ dream lives on in our time.

Workin’ on a dream.

From California, to the New York highlands,

the Redwood Forest, to the gulfstream waters

This land was made for you and me.

There’s something’ happenin’ here

And change has come to America

To touch America’s soul.

“A call to choose our better history,” is the challenge.

America, the Beautiful

From sea to shining sea.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Evening Attire: Working Class Hero

Saratoga Springs, NY, January 16, 2009--His biggest win might have come in the Jockey Club Gold Cup of 2002, and his last victory in the mile and a half Greenwood Cup at Philadelphia Park in record time, but if Evening Attire ever had to report to work daily like many of us do, he would surely arrive carrying a lunch bucket.

No modern fancy-pants of a race horse would ever think about getting the job done at age 10; he would have been retired and munching on alfalfa a long time ago. But not Evening Attire.

Actually, the old man tried retiring once before, but his A-type personality wouldn’t allow it. In fact, if he didn’t get back to work he probably would have hurt himself trying to stay active. Ultimately, a suspensory injury would force him to the sidelines late last year.

The only thing fancy about Evening Attire--a name that would belie his work ethic--was his favorite track, Saratoga. From the rear window of his stall, the son of Black Tie Affair would watch the races, the crowd noise stirring up all his pent up adrenaline.

But when he did get to run he never failed to fire his best shot.

In all, the gray gelding went to the post 69 times--unheard of in this era of the hot-house speed oriented thoroughbred--ad earned a top-three finish in 40 of those races.

He won a race at all three New York tracks, a total of 15 wins in all, nine of them stakes, including the Queens County Handicap and Saratoga Breeders’ Cup Handicap, twice.

Evening Attire earned his $2.9 million the old fashioned way; finishing on the board in a dozen more added-money events.

This is only fitting for a horse that lived and thrived in a racetrack working family environment.

Evening Attire was bred by Hall of Fame trainer Tommy Kelly, who bought his mother, Concolour, at auction, and was trained by Kelly’s two sons, first Tim, then Pat, whose wife, Karen, exercised him occasionally.

The gelding is co-owned by Kelly’s by longtime partners and friends, Joe and Mary Grant of Boston, who, although not related by blood, probably should be.

Evening Attire was the equine pet the two families shared that happened to be a damned good race horse.

The year the dappled gray won the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the families agreed, and trainer Pat Kelly concurred, that Evening Attire had earned a trip to Arlington Park in Chicago for the Breeders’ Cup.

Following the JCGC, Mary Grant was approached by a bloodstock agent working for a sheikh and offered her more money than she probably had ever seen to sell the horse. “Evening Attire is not for sale at any price,” Grant told the agent.

Last October 25th, Evening Attire was brought to Belmont Park one last time. The visit included a final circumference of the paddock ring and culminated in a warm winner’s circle celebration before family members and a good number of the normally hardscrabble New York fans.

It is fitting that Evening Attire has retired to a life of leisure at Akindale Farm in upstate Pawling, New York, owned by the late horse owner and philanthropist John Hettinger.

Dedicating his life‘s mission to the abolition of horse slaughter, Hettinger dedicated his farm to the rescue, rehabilitation and retraining of retired thoroughbred racehorses.

Also fitting is that the NYRA would honor this local equine legend by renaming the Aqueduct Handicap the Evening Attire, in memory of this rare animal’s class and heart.

And what better place to do so than at Aqueduct, a workingman’s racetrack hard by Jamaica Bay in Queens, New York.

In the absence of a firm opinion in the Aqueduct feature race this afternoon, players might consider a $2 hunch play on Judiths Wild Rush.

Like Evening Attire, Judith’s Wild Rush seems to give his all every time out, he’ll be a fair price, and it would be appropriate if the 90th renewal of this newly renamed handicap were won by an eight-year-old gray horse, a grandson of Black Tie Affair.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, January 16, 2009

For 2008 Season, Fans Decided Triumph Trumped Tragedy

Saratoga Springs, NY, January 15, 2009--The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has announced the 2008 “NTRA Moment of the Year” as voted by the fans.

The last-to-first victory by Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic earned that distinction, outpolling, in order, Big Brown‘s Kentucky Derby victory, and the tragic image of Eight Belles pulling up after the finish of the Roses Run.

Interesting that the favorite for 2008 Horse of the Year, Curlin, whose victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, making him racing’s first $10-million earner, would place him no better than fourth from a list of 12 dramatic images or historical achievements of the past year.

Virtually ignored were Peppers Pride--a filly who labored in obscurity while setting a modern North American record with her 17th consecutive victory racing in her home state of New Mexico--and the powerfully comprehensive victory of the filly Goldikova over older males in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

The NTRA Moment of the Year was launched in 2000 starting with a review of the dramatic racing events of 1999. The purpose was to give fans a voice in the Eclipse Award process, having them choose either from the array of human emotions or dramatic displays of equine athleticism.

Two things were striking about the results from the past 10 years that unfortunately says something about why thoroughbred racing has had hard time reaching anything close to a mainstream audience:

Indications are that the public seems to care more about the wide range of human emotions racing elicits than they do about these athletic animals and perhaps, similar to what has been said about NASCAR fans, the macabre possibility of extreme danger.

The first-ever “NTRA Moment of the Year” was the unforgettable scene involving a jockey, the late Chris Antley, who jumped off his injured Triple Crown mount, Charismatic, after the finish of the Belmont Stakes until help could arrive.

In 2002, the passing of Seattle Slew, the last living Triple Crown winner, was the moment fans chose to remember. In 2006, it was the emotional scene at the New Bolton Center as Barbaro fought for his life after breaking down in the Preakness Stakes.

That would be three horrific moments in the last decade that made the ultimate indelible impression upon racing’s fans. Not quite sure if that says more about the sport or more about its fans.

On balance, Tiznow’s ultra courageous victory over Giant’s Causeway in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic; Afleet Alex’s superb athletic victory in the 2005 Preakness, and Rags To Riches stunning defeat of Curlin two years ago at Belmont Park also made the fans’ personal highlights reel.

But that makes it a three-memory dead-heat between triumph and tragedy. Not quite sure what that means either, but the tragedy quotient among racing fans seems disproportionately high.

Clearly, the big picture perception of what immediately comes to mind for racing fans is something the racing industry needs to work on.

Either way, a decade’s worth of Moments forms an interesting list. But I wonder what qualified as the NTRA Moment of the Decade?

They were, in order: Antley and Charismatic; Tiznow and Giant’s Causeway; Tiznow’s dramatic Classic repeat over Sakhee; Seattle Slew’s passing; Funny Cide’s Kentucky Derby.

These moments were followed by Birdstone’s Belmont Stakes upset of Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex’s Preakness victory, Barbaro’s recovery; Rags to Riches’ historic Belmont upset and Zenyatta’s Ladies Classic.

I’ve narrowed my list down to Afleet Alex and Rags to Riches. Ultimately I decided that I might see another filly win the Belmont before I could even conjure up an equine acrobatic stunt like Afleet Alex’s ballet in Baltimore four years ago.

Written by John Pricci

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