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 09, 2008

Jockey Franchise Plan: Too Little, Too Late

I have written many stories about how jockeys are the worlds greatest underappreciated athletes. They are not passengers; they are pilots.

Often to their physical detriment, jockeys have to make outdated weights, control thousand-pound beasts while threading their way through narrow openings, and make the kind of split-second decisions that separate victory from defeat, all without benefit of a pensive timeout.

Yesterday, the New York jockeys officially entered the local franchise morass. Johnny Velazquez, sounding more like Barack Obamas campaign chairman than Board Chairman of the Jockeys Guild, called for legislators to initiate change by better incorporating OTB systems into the income sharing process and maximizing all revenue streams eventually lead to a long-term industry solution.

Velazquez, representing both local and national groups, is, of course, correct regarding whats needed for the industry as a whole and for New York in particular. But my question is this:

Where have you been, diminutive DiMaggios?

As a group, the local New York riders are a little late in recognizing the problem to the point of their own participation, yesterdays press release stating what is uppermost in the minds of local riders, 13 of whom adding their names to a roster in support of Velazquez.

Beyond calling for change, it would have been better had the riders proposed a plan, or at least some idea of how the situation might be resolved. The solution neednt even be correct. God knows no one has supplied the right answer yet, and theyve had nearly six years to find one.

Now it seems like jockeys want to make the quantum leap from rock stars to socialists. It doesnt work that way, and it leaves something of a bad taste.

The most cynical among us might question their motivation, arguing that their positions address mostly whats in their own best interest.

For the good of the industry, the release said, purses and awards need to be increased. Horsemen need to have a voice in the process, becoming partners in racing as enterprise.

But most horsemen are hands-on caretakers, and trainers have been part of the franchise process from day one. The only jockey we remember taking an active interest is the retired Jerry Bailey. Bailey is a spokesman for Excelsior Racing, the outfit approved as the next franchisee by Gov. Patakis Ad Hoc Committee until sitting Gov. Eliot Spitzer decided nuts to that.

Perhaps more to the jockeys point is the statement that New York racing should adopt the California initiative; that the jockeys pension fund be underwritten by a portion of the proceeds from Advanced Deposit Wagering platforms and that legislation be enacted to increase mount fees.

Personally I dont have a problem with any of the wish-list demands. But lets not forget that jockeys are willing risk-takers, private contractors who are entitled to a fee for basic services and a healthy percentage of the winning purse. And lets remember, too, that the least successful day-to-day journeyman in the New York jocks room earns six figures a year while taking none of the monetary risk.

With all the problems facing New York racing, mounts fees and jockey pensions are back-burner issues that should not be insinuated into what has been an impossibly stagnant and shameful scenario. Jockeys should be smart enough to know that timing is everything.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Curlin: Welcome Back

When a horse breezes a half mile in a half-hearted :53 2/5, it doesnt make headlines. Unless, of course, that critter is certain-to-be Horse of the Year 2007, Curlin.

Its a tribute to his handiness and growing maturity that he could even go that slow--unless it really was meant to be a two-minute-lick gallop and he was caught a half mile in fifty-three and change at Fair Grounds last weekend.

Either way, its good that hes back on the racetrack, and better now that Jess Jackson owns 80 percent of him a determination was made that hell race this year as a four-year-old.

The official announcement hasnt been made yet. But Curlin will run again this year in a bid to defend his impending Horse of the Year title.

The $6-million Dubai World Cup in March is out there as a major challenge. Thats a lot of money and prestige.

But this country still has plenty of prestigious races and it would be fun to see one of our own race here, without concern for how a Dubai hangover might compromise the rest of his 2008 schedule.

Unless the plan is to run him only four or five times the rest of the year--prior to the defense of his Breeders Cup Classic title.

Heres the early/mid season match Id love to see: Curlin vs. Midnight Lute in the Metropolitan Handicap on Memorial Day at Belmont Park. We know he likes Belmont, right?

And, while hes certain to attract major dollars as a potential stallion, winning the Met Mile could send his stud fee through the roof.

Trainer Steve Asmussen caught him galloping out five furlongs in 1:06 and change and hes planning to schedule his first serious workout Saturday.

Guess if Asmussen is starting him out this early, Dubai is very much on the radar screen, with a possible prep beforehand.

But it really doesnt matter where or when, only if. And the fact that thats no longer in question is a big deal for the game.

Curlins an important horse, one on the verge of true greatness. The only thing lacking is a substantial body of work. Fortunately, his majority owner will give racing fans an opportunity to see Curlin prove his greatness.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Slouching Towards Louisville

Dont look now but New York-breds are still getting it done in open company, and one of them, Giant Moon, might just have taken a few of baby steps toward that big dance the city of Louisville hosts each year in early May.

Giant Moon kept his undefeated record in tact with a fourth consecutive score, only this time, in open company, only this time, from a stalking position and not on the lead. Or maybe it doesnt matter at all because he, like Sinatra, has to do it his way.

He does as little as he has to, said winning rider Ramon Dominguez. Ramon said he feels like hes falling asleep on you going down the backside, trainer Rick Schosberg explained further. But once he gets a little tap, he takes off. He does the same thing in the mornings, which is not a bad thing. But wed like to get it under control.

Sounds like Schosberg doesnt appreciate the pins and needles he sits on while he watches his undefeated colt race. Last time, the colt won by setting a soft early pace stalked by Spanky Fischbein, and won the eyeball battle with him through the stretch.

Saturday, it was Spankys turn to set a soft early pace while Giant Moon stalked him. Different strategy; same result.

The two were on even terms approaching the final sixteenth when Giant Moon surged to win by a narrow margin in 1:41.14 for the mile and 70 yards while spotting Spanky four pounds, 120 to 116.

I thought I had Giant Moon for a second, but hes a pretty good grinder, said Mike Luzzi of the runnerup. Hopefully, well get to meet Giant Moon again.

Careful what you wish for.

Schosberg said he might go for the colts fifth straight in the Whirlaway on Feb. 2 or await the heavy heads in the always competitive Gotham, Mar. 8.

This was a little closer than we like to do it, said Schosberg of the recent time between starts leading up to the Count Fleet.

Perhaps Schosberg should be careful what he wishes for, too. The Gotham usually is run at faster than a 12-clip all the way around, and a mile and a sixteenth is a little more demanding.

But if you train racehorses for a living, including young ones who learn their lessons willfully and at their own pace, you cant help but dream a little. For its not every day you saddle an undefeated three-year-old, even this early in the year.

Written by John Pricci

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