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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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tagg-Teaming a Pair of Graded Stakes

Funny Cide put Barclay Tagg on the map. He made the most of that opportunity then, and hes making the most of his opportunities now. In fact, hes raised the bar for himself. Kentucky Derby notwithstanding, it been a career year for Tagg.

Winning at a better than 1-in-5 rate in graded stakes this year, hes doing it with every manner of horse. He started the year on the Triple Crown trail with Nobiz Like Shobiz. Tough year for any horseman to crack this salty three-year-old bunch.

But then he put the long striding colt on the grass, and the colt took to the surface like nobodys business. It would be nice to see his owner, Mrs. Elizabeth Valando, be rewarded for her loyalty to the memory of her late husband.

She didnt sell maybe the best horse they ever had to the Darley interests, not even for stupid money, $17 million. And they raced a champion over a decade ago, a juvenile named Fly So Free, trained by the late Scotty Schulhofer.

Tagg was in stakes action on two fronts yesterday, Aqueduct and Churchill Downs, both graded events and both on the grass. The result? Tagg 2, Rivals 0.

He won the Grade 2 Red Smith marathon with a New York-bred veteran named Dave. Who knew that Dave was dying to run 11 furlongs all along? I knew he couldnt win the Red Smith; he couldnt even win a state-bred stakes at Saratoga. Hell, everyone knew he had no chance: $31.60.

But he wasnt there to saddle Dave. He was at Churchill, tightening the girth on Bit of Whimsy. Cant believe the G2 Mrs. Revere was on her dance card. Not after winning the G1 Queen Elizabeth, following her runner-up finish in the G1 Garden City. Hell, everyone knew she couldnt get beat: $5.20.

So good is this three-year-old grass filly that Tagg apparently wouldnt let her out of his sight. Neither would Javier Castellano, who went down to ride her. She spotted her rivals from two to six pounds as the 123-pound highweight, unlike Dave, co low-weight at 114.

Longshot or favorite, male or female, it hasnt mattered this season for Tagg; hes pushed all the right buttons. Four years ago he caught the brass ring with Funny Cide, but the merry-go-round is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Big Doings for Two Future Hall of Famers

Interesting that two jockeys, Mario Pino and Garrett Gomez, were in the news this week for positive accomplishments. Interesting, too, that both were roundly criticized for their riding efforts on the same horse during this years Triple Crown.

In the case of Pino, who became the 15th jockey in the sports history to win 6,000 career races, we still dont think the knocks were completely justified.

Riding speed horses correctly is easier said than done. A delicate balance exists between rating a horse so that it is comfortably relaxed and rating one into submission, where the jockey at once is fighting his mount and allowing the competition into the race.

We can recall three that were absolutely great at this. Each is enshrined in the Hall of Fame: Earlie Fires in his prime was a dominant speed rider. And throughout their careers, Bob Ussery and Pat Day were peerless.

Fires stole more races on the engine than most jockeys win doing anything. Ussery could open long leads effectively, too, but a typical chart for one of his speedy winners would look something like: 1-hd, 1-hf, 1-1 and 1-2. Day, of course, routinely put his horse and the rest of the field to sleep. No one weve ever seen was better at saving horse, often allowing rivals to take the lead into the stretch before coming again to nail that rival at the wire.

Whenever we see Pino, he appears to combine the attributes of the three Hall of Famers. Position conscious, he puts his mounts in position to win. We thought he was victimized by circumstances in the Preakness, forced to move away from a rival bent on pressuring him at a crucial stage of the race. No one rode Hard Spun better, unless it was Larry Jones during training hours.

It is no small irony that Gomez, who will surpass Jerry Baileys all-time single-season mark of 70 stakes winners with one more stakes victory, gave one of the poorest performances ever seen in a Triple Crown race when replacing Pino on Hard Spun in the Belmont Stakes. In trying to restrain him, Gomez absolutely choked the life out of the colt.

Of course, Gomez is better than that, much better, but he simply brain-locked and robbed the colts best chance to pull off an upset. It happens. The fact that Hard Spun is questionable at 12 furlongs is and was distinctly beside the point.

Congratulations to Pino for joining the celebrated company of the Pincays and Corderos and Shoemakers and Bazes. And the best of luck to Gomez, two stakes wins shy of trumping the accomplishment of the smartest rider who ever lived.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Gordon Gekko Was Wrong

Arcadia, Ca.--Though much of the racing industry has been concerned with the ominous state of affairs in New York, California is not the land of milk, honey, hay, oats and water it used to be.

While industry leaders in the Golden State have been dancing and spinning around the issue, insiders firmly believe that 2008 will be the last year of racing at Hollywood Park.

Like New York City, and Saratoga, for that matter, they sure love building their condos out West.

Bye Bye Hollywood; Hello High-Rise.

The closure of Hollywood Park would be a disastrous development for the state of the game in California. The same arguments one hears regarding the possible future sale of Aqueduct and its effect on the quality of downstate New York racing applies equally to Southern California.

Horseplayers cannot live by Santa Anita alone.

The Hollywood meet that began yesterday is an important event on the national calendar. Its fall meet alone has helped decide Eclipse championships for both equines and humans; in jockey races when money and riding titles are on the line, or when the Breeders Cup Juvenile events failed to clarify the issue of divisional supremacy.

Hollywood Fall whets the appetite for the prestigious Santa Anita winter meet. The way Belmont Spring sets the stage for Saratoga.

For Southern California, racing at Hollywood Park is no extravagance. But California racing people say they are powerless to erase the graffiti they see on the wall.

As an aside, I wonder how the advocates for privatization of New York racing--you know, making the New York tracks accountable to stockholders--would view the sale of Hollywood Park by Churchill Downs Inc. to the Bay Meadows Land Co. should Hollywood be shuttered in 2009?

And so racing in California is now the favorite to finish a bad second to shareholder value. But what can you expect when a publicly owned horseracing company must value dividends over their primary responsibility, the horse racing business?

So why shouldnt the fate of Hollywood Park be different from the uncertain future faced by the once great American middle class? Just take a good look around this country: How do you like greed now?

Written by John Pricci

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