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, December 12, 2007

New York Racing Running Out of Hope for Timely Settlement

With 18 days remaining to the end of racing in New York for the year, and possibly beyond, no progress has been made made in Albany.

It seems all parties are content to treat New Yorks racing industry with the same respect it normally reserves for the budget process: It will get done when it gets done. So what if its late?

Nobody in the Assembly, absolutely nobody, knows whats going on, Assemblyman Roy McDonald of Wilton told the local newspaper, the Saratogian.

Instead of sitting by our phones, we should be in Albany at our desks, doing things, McDonald added. Its a terrible way to do business. Its so unprofessional its embarrassing.

The State Senate will be in the Capitol today, presumably doing something. The Assembly will not.

Dont suppose that matters. The Democratic majority in the Assembly is expected to rubber-stamp whatever compromise is reached between fellow Democrat Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the Republican Senate led by its Majority Leader, Senator Joe Bruno.

The whispers and hunches we hear, and have, is that the Governor will get off the 30-year extension for the New York Racing Assn and perhaps try to convince the Assembly to accept a casino operation at Belmont Park.

For this, Bruno gets off his state-appointed public authority plan and actually allows NYRA to conduct its marketing and simulcast operations, like any real company. It could be, too, that he wants Capital Play to replace Excelsior Associates as the gaming operators.

The NYRA would probably have to cave somewhat and seriously reduce the current number of NYRA-elected Trustees on its Board. And, of course, cede the the title of the properties to the state.

But, at this point, who really knows anything?

Theres no date for the Assembly to return to Albany this month, and there wont until some progress is made between Spitzers and Brunos people. A Bruno spokesperson said that some progress has been made and that theyre really arent any differences that cannot be overcome. But don't be surprised if that involves a short extension beyond the Dec. 31 deadline.

So all this is unprofessional and embarrassing. Thats true. But theres another word for it, as this situation affects every citizen in this state. That word is criminal.

Written by John Pricci

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For Now, New Breeders’ Cup Races All About the Handle

I fully expect that when all precincts are heard from, the addition of three new Breeders Cup announced on Monday will not be reviewed favorably. On balance, those critics by definition would be correct.

The newly created Breeders Cup Turf Sprint, Dirt Marathon and Juvenile Fillies Turf does not add prestige to the overall event and in all probability weakens it from a prestige perspective.

New Breeders Cup races are superfluous when measured against the intent of the events founding fathers, unless the races properly result in the creation of new divisional championship categories. Talk about the age of specialization.

However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Expansion in major sports has not blunted their popularity nor has it muffled the enthusiastic cheers of its followers. But expansion undoubtedly has compromised overall quality, the New England Patriots notwithstanding.

Consider: Does expanded racing opportunities really do any more harm to the collective quality of the thoroughbred sport than does the premature retirement of its athletes?

When added to the new races introduced this year at Monmouth Park, the three new races brings the total of Breeders Cup events to 14, double the original magnificent seven, and expands purse opportunities from racings original $10-million Day to a two-day $25.5-million bonanza.

Between 1984 and today, the term World Championships was added to the Breeders Cup brand and that does have a modicum of truth to it. There has, after all, been significant European participation, albeit preciously little from anywhere else.

The six new races, and the Filly & Mare Turf, for that matter, do nothing to enhance that world championship concept. All they do is further segment existing championship divisions. And while that might be more ecumenical, it does nothing to define true greatness.

The sport of racing has always been a business but never more so than it is today. And since the true measure of the modern games popularity is betting handle, from a business perspective Breeders Cup event days have been a huge success.

More than $27 million was wagered on the first two-day Breeders Cup card, on races that were neither inspiring nor memorable and were run under abysmal conditions. The wet track at Monmouth that Friday reduced the races to truly chaotic events from a handicapping perspective.

With three more Breeders Cup branded events scheduled for the last Saturday in October, 2008 at Santa Anita Park, that Monmouth handle figure easily could double.

Despite their chaotic nature, turf sprints are popular with bettors due to the generally higher payoffs. But they prove nothing from a sporting sense and wont until theyre recognized with their own Eclipse category. Further, the Turf Sprint has a high probability of adversely impacting the quality of the Mile field.

Think a lot of horses were cross-entered this year? Wait until next year.

The Juvenile Fillies Turf is a natural extension to this years Juvenile Turf. But until they get their own Eclipse category, all juvenile turf races will be are terrific betting races and another opportunity for owners and trainers to earn more black type. Even if these races remain non-graded, Breeders Cup winner will appear in bold black type in sales catalogues.

All this is in sync with the reality that too many graded races exist already, blunting a horses true achievements at the sports highest levels.

Racing in America has lived with the fact that this fractured sport is less than it can because of provincial competition. Now it seems the same might be said of the international racing: Its every continent for itself.

Until such time that thoroughbred racing has uniform drug rules and an international schedule that makes sense, every region in the world will host its own version of World Championships. For the time being, more will be just have to be more.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ellis Pick 4 Operation A Success, Patient Dies

As it turns out, Ron Geary, the new track president at Ellis Park, was a lone voice crying in the wilderness of bettor-friendly racetrack owners. Looks like the bad guys won again. What a surprise.

In case you missed it, Geary stated at last weeks Racing and Gaming Symposium, hosted annually by Arizonas Racetrack Industry Program, that his Henderson, Kentucky track would no longer offer a Pick Four with four percent takeout, the lowest taxed wager at any track, anywhere.

Overall handle at Ellis was lower this year than in 2006, but none of it can be attributed to the Pick 4. Geary did not quote figures but did say that Pick 4 handle improved. (HRI researched the figures several times during their 2007 meet and found Pick 4 handle up significantly).

Geary noted, too, that handle in the straight pools on the final four races, which were part of the daily Pick 4 sequence, also increased.

So the wager was a win-win for Ellis and Pick 4 bettors but ultimately was unsuccessful because it did not make enough of a positive impact to be renewed. While he didnt state the reason publicly, politics is at the heart of this problem. Yet another surprise.

Lower takeout is the enemy of racetrack operators and off-track bet takers because it costs them revenue in the short term. And in this instant society, good ideas will not be given sufficient time to catch on. Tracks simply are unwilling to allow lower takeout wagers the time they need to make it a revenue winner--especially those tracks needing to protect and enhance shareholder value.

Not all of Elliss simulcast partners offered the wager, citing financial, programming, and regulatory issues. The tracks that did offered the Ellis Pick 4 did so reluctantly as an accommodation.

As the new owner/president of a track trying to re-invent itself, Geary is under pressure to be less intrusive with his off-track partners. At the same time, his stated goal is to enhance Elliss national reputation as a player friendly venue. He's one of the good guys.

Like Hyman Roth, who always made money for his partners, I must realize that the bottom line is, well, the bottom line and that Geary has an obligation to the simulcast community. But he cares deeply about his on-track fans and, to that end, will offer a new wager, details about which will be released in early 2008.

Geary would be well advised to offer the promised innovative wager on-track only, with a similarly extremely low takeout. If his simulcast partners want it, fine. If they dont; no harm, no foul. Geary shouldnt force a short-term loser down the throat of his business partners.

But if Ellis is to deserve a reputation as a true player-friendly track, Geary needs to finish what he started. If it was right then, it is right now.

Written by John Pricci

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