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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Tuesday, September 11, 2007


When Will Loss of America’s Racing Stars Stop?


On the racetrack at the end of this year, racings glamour division, will be all but gone to the breeding shed and not preparing for four-year-old campaigns.

No more Street Sense, no more Hard Spun, no more Any Given Saturday. Thankfully there will be a whole new batch come January 1.

Except, of course, for Sargent Seattle. The impressive Saratoga juvenile debut winner, like the aforementioned three-year-olds, have been purchased by various members of Dubais ruling family.

We dont know where or when Sargent Seattle will show up again. Maybe here or maybe in Dubai to prepare for next years classics.

Because thats worked so well for them in the past, I guess.

No one can blame people for selling. Racing is an expensive hobby. When offered stupid money, you dont blink when a gift horse looks you in the eye.

The three-year-olds were said to be sold for about $100 million for all three. We dont know exactly how much because the Sheikhs dont release the terms, not wanting other potential sellers to know and take advantage of their munificence.

Yeah, right.

Last week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum did it again. He took a fancy to a sprinter he coveted, the four-year-old Diabolical, one of the divisional leaders if not its top thoroughbred, and purchased him for an undisclosed amount.

But the leading contender for the Breeders Cup Sprint will not be among the horses racing at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27. In fact, hes unlikely to race again this year and is being reserved for the Dubai Racing Festival next March.

Diabolical looks like the early line favorite for the $2 million Golden Shaheen.

Traditionalists have argued with some clarity that a victory in the Breeders Cup shouldnt dominate end-of-year Eclipse Award voting. They say a Breeders Cup shouldnt overshadow the body of work accumulated during the course of an entire season. Theyre right, even if all Grade 1s arent created equal.

Its been said, and written, before. Racing is a game, not a sport. Its a business, not a pastime. Still, whats the point of investing emotion and time when the games practitioners show no respect for the games continuity and what it hopes to again sell to the sporting public?

Coming to grips with this, the sports publicists have turned their attention to the human stars, the jockeys and trainers, especially the riders. But thats been tried before and it wont likely be enough.

I dont know what can be done in light of the well named Diabolical situation and others like it. But when it became known that the nations ports would be secured by a company from Dubai, public outcry killed that deal.

Am I the only one that cares about what these wholesale purchases by foreign interests--any foreign interests--are doing to the game in this country? Over 63,000 people recently attended Sha Tins opening day in Hong Kong. Belmont Park, meanwhile, got less than 5,000.

Racings popularity is solid and gaining throughout the world. But not here. If racings leaders dont care about racings future, how can they expect fans to care about the present?

Isnt there some rule that can be adopted to keep recently purchased horses racing longer, or for American studs to be made to stand in this country? Or complete disclosure of the terms of a sale so that a surtax, a luxury tax, or export tax be imposed? Or something else? Anything else?


Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, September 09, 2007


Beware The Polytrack Police


In a column written by a West Coast columnist in praise of the recently concluded first-time Polytrack race meet at Del Mar, in which horses stayed sounder and betting handle grew larger, thereby creating a win-win situation for all concerned, track president Joe Harper took a Right Wing tack when attacking critics of the Polytrack surface.

Just like every suggestion to bring American troops home is met by a derogatory cut and run rebuke, the old Youre-a-Cowardly-Love-It-or-Leave-It-Commie-Loser reprimand, or when patriotic citizens are branded anti-American when they question the illegal Iraq war, Harper branded Polytracks horseplaying critics by painting them all with this one brush:

When a horse breaks down, they dont even look up. They are looking at the next race.

Of course, there are some extremely common horseplayers among us. But like backstretch cheaters, they are a slim minority. In this game built on opinion, Harper would have it that opinions are fine as long as theyre not critical ones, no matter how honest those views attempt to be.

Even Bob Baffert, who left Del Mar for Saratoga, felt the sting of criticism on this subject:

Youre vilified if you say something against Polytrackyoure saying that you dont care about your horses safety, that you dont care about their health.

Baffert might have been referring in part to trainer John Wards crack when, during the Saratoga meet, Ward, a known proponent of Polytrack and an advocate for its use, referred to Baffert and his ilk as quarter horse trainers.

Then call me a quarter horse handicapper, or worse, if you wish. I have no experience with Tapeta so I have no opinion about that surface. But I have seen Cushion Track at Hollywood Park and much prefer it to Poly. The races develop like real races there. The surface doesn't stop me from playing.

All tracks tend to develop biases over time, usually for short durations. But Cushion Track is the best of the artificial surfaces Ive seen because frontrunners on the inside and outside late-run sweepers can win on the same program. This is how racing should be.

But no two Polys seem to be created equal. And they do not stand up well to extremes in temperature. I have seen too many days when the chicklets 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 run the same all the way around Woodbine oval with virtually no substantive change in running positions. And I have seen too many days at Keeneland when speed horses had absolutely no chance.

This sport is called horse racing, not jockey adjustment racing.

Mr. Harper certainly is entitled to his opinion. And his job. But it would be good if he showed some respect for well meaning critics who disagree him.


Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, September 08, 2007


Bruno Playing Politics With Future of New York Racing


With the opening of the Belmont Fall meet yesterday and todays graded stakes offerings, this was supposed to be an upbeat look ahead at the Grade 1s to follow, all of them leading up to the Breeders Cup World Championships at Monmouth Park later next month.

But after doing some surfing of recent developments following a few days of down time at the conclusion of a truly exciting, albeit enervating, Saratoga racing season, it was relegated to the back burner for this:

Gov. Eliot Spitzers proposal giving the New York Racing Association franchise rights to run New York racing for the next 30 years in return for clear title to New Yorks three major-league thoroughbred properties is already under siege from his political rival, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

I understand that compromise is the nature of politics; giving something to your opponent in exchange for something you want. But Bruno is using his power to usurp whats in the best interests of New York racing even while he insists hes a big fan and has the health of the local industry uppermost in his thoughts.

Really?

According to a story on bloodhorse.com, the State Senate is considering creating a super agency that not only would have complete control over the racing franchise but also pick the bidders who would run all aspects of the racing and VLT operations. Further, the new agency would have the authority to pick other bidders, too, those responsible for everything from tote operations to maintenance. Everything.

Somebody has to stop this madness. But everyones scared to death of a man many have called the most powerful in the state.

Might doesnt have to make right.

What this is all about for Bruno is getting his players a place at the trough. He believes the racing/gaming pie is big enough to include a more universal approach in running it, mentioning such out-of-state interests as Churchill, Magna and Woodbine, with a super agency of his houses creation to control it all.

Can someone explain how does this makes New York racing better? Could this plan be any more transparent?

Whats the real agenda here? For all intents and purposes, this has the appearance of a covert state takeover, so that, what; Brunos associates can later gain a foothold through some kind of future compromise?

Racing needs more autonomy not more control. It cant get anything done now. The State Racing and Wagering Board doesnt even grant permission for tracks to change the betting menu without some big song and dance. Installing a 10-cent superfecta is still be treated like a matter of national security.

Another state agency? Thats just what New York needs. Were doing so good in this state now that corporations wait in line to leave. Been doing just that for years, actually. Like its citizenry, businesses cant afford the taxes here.

For its part the NYRA is getting what it deserves. From the time Kenny Noe Jr. took over the reins--then left two steps ahead of delayed prosecution--the NYRA has been kowtowing to Bruno.

Tell me if you think this is a coincidence. On the Friday before the Travers, Bruno made an announcement about the progress being made on the issue of horse slaughter. Great. But did it have to be made in the winners enclosure, before banks of television cameras and note-padded reporters, a half hour before the days first race?

Carl Nafzgers Travers press conference that week was held behind the jockeys room at 11 in the morning . It was seen live by about 10 racing fans looking on from the other side of a fence.

Later Friday afternoon, Bruno was introduced again, this time to present a trophy following an overnight stakes. On the following afternoon, Travers day, one of the few non-stakes on the card was named the Joseph L. Bruno.

There wasnt enough lip balm in Saratoga the next day to soothe the chaffing caused by all that smooching up.

Getting more people involved to run racing in New York, including day to day operations like tote and maintenance, is counter-productive and just a bad idea. If Bruno feels that Spitzers Memorandum of Understanding with NYRA went too far, was too one-sided, hes not alone in that.

But deal with that issue. Put in safeguards guarding against future abuses by the franchisees. Write legislation guaranteeing that the quality of New York racing be preserved and enhanced through an equitable split of gaming revenue. Be comprehensive. Do a good job at your scheduled meeting Sept. 12.

But please stop with the power politics and get the right thing done. Bruno, Spitzer, et al, are elected officials. Theyre supposed to work for their constituents. Its too bad that, elections notwithstanding, the man in the street runs a bad second to friends sitting in board rooms.


Written by John Pricci

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