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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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Nurture Meets Nature, Finally

When you grow up on the streets of Corona, New York, and betting the races come as naturally as playing stickball and softball in Linden park, you dont later in life become a breeding weenie.

At the time, it was the night sport that first afforded the opportunity to play the races; you didnt pay much attention to pedigree at Roosevelt Raceway--Where It All Began, Where Its A Shopping Mall Today.

It didnt matter much exactly which Hanover horse or what Adios horse won a harness race. Hell, a sub two-minute mile was the huge deal back then.

So, when we discovered the flats, breeding wasnt all that important. The only crosses you knew about back then were lefts and rights, and the occasional uppercut.

But I did note that everything seemed to be by Bold Ruler. Then later, when I started getting paid to live this life, it was Mr. Prospector winning everything important. To his fans, he was Mr. P.

And there was the great Northern Dancer, too. And Danzig. Finally, Storm Cat. You just couldnt help but notice their influence.

In the last decade, pedigree handicapping has become highly fashionable. And you need to keep up if only to know what the crowd is thinking.

But what happened on the racetrack last weekend, given the totally uncanny influence the 15-year-old stud Smart Strike had on the results, is mind boggling to me. Yes, Im aware of the role of the dam in all this.

Crude or not, you could always hear an old-school racetracker describe a debut winner from a classy mare thusly: Sucked good titty.

But last weekend it was all about the sire. I just cant fathom how one stud on one weekend can dominate three disparate Grade 1 races; one at six furlongs, another at a mile and a quarter, both on dirt, and a third at a mile and a half on grass.

Is this the first time this has happened? Who knows? Theres no real clearing house for racing statistics like this that's easily accessible. Some enterprising computer geek might create an Elias Sports Bureau of racing. Another story for another day.

Its no wonder, then, that Smart Strike is the leading progeny earner in the sport this year. His stud fee has tripled to $75,000 in the last three years. Two things are certain: It will cost much more to breed to Smart Strike in 2008. The other?

Hell be represented on Breeders Cup day by at least three horses which, at this early stage, are unlikely worse than third or fourth choice in the Sprint (Fabulous Strike), Turf (English Channel) and Classic (Curlin).

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Fractional Superfecta Wagering Comes to New York: What A Concept!

Little has changed since the first time I entered a New York racing press box and was summarily warned that just because something is a good idea, and works very well elsewhere, that it automatically would be instituted in New York.

Why not? I asked.



Not Invented Here.


I had three reasons to go to Belmont Park last Sunday: the Breeders Cup Preview program; an absolutely beautiful fall afternoon perfect for going to the races and, of course, the 10-cent superfecta.

Well, it was about damn time.

Ive been betting the fractional super at the Saratoga Harness simulcasts and Capital Off-Track Bettings Teletheater for over a year now, but not until Sunday was I able to get down on track in New York.

Of course, fractional betting should be available everywhere now!

There are no excuses. The software programs are out there. So are the players who want and support them. And so are the opportunities to make money, given the high priced payoffs.

Why not get the little guys involved, anyway? And why not give the intermediate and bigger boys more leverage for the wagering dollars?

I agree with the whales and with track executives, that the Pick Six should remain a $2 wager. The Pick Six is about carryovers, and handle does grow exponentially as the size of the carryover pool increases.

However, offering a 50-cent trifecta, as is done at several tracks currently, wouldnt be the worst idea, either. Neither would a $1 Pick Five with a mandatory payout, or a 50-cent Pick Seven.

The problem is getting the State Racing and Wagering Board to agree quickly to anything practically takes an emergency session of the State Legislature. The process is just so silly.

Big bettors are concerned that fractional betting takes away the edge their larger bankrolls provide. But the majority of $1 and $2 bettors generally are not as sophisticated as the big boys. Why not invite everybody into the pool? The more the merrier. Whats to be afraid of?

Like somebody actually has a lock on this game!

The betting menu in New York doesnt go far enough; its not complete enough. Only three superfectas are carded daily plus any Grade 1 race with a $500,000 purse.

Like half-million dollar Grade 1s grow on trees.

The SRWB, meanwhile, wont allow superfectas in races with stable entries. As if the fans couldnt figure out that if the order of finish in a race were, say, 1, 2, 1A, 3, 4, the winning superfecta ticket would read 1,2,3,4 which includes the actual fifth-place finisher. And they already compensate for that kind of result in the trifecta.

Give players a little credit. Were adults playing an adults game. Stop protecting us from ourselves.

Fractional betting in super exotic pools levels the playing field for all horseplayers. Not only is that eminently fair but its also good business.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Race for Horse of the Year Wide Open

Elmont, NY--Going into the Jockey Club Gold Cup, racing fans had to wonder whether they were looking at a present and perhaps future true star as Lawyer Ron stepped onto the track in the centerpiece of Belmont Parks Breeders Cup Preview program.

And what a long, strange trip its been.

There were all those speed crazy wins at Oaklawn Park en route to last years Kentucky Derby. No matter how much Bob Holthus and John McKee tried to slow him down, they couldnt. But even though he was headstrong to a fault, he would win anyway.

Then came the Kentucky Derby. Tough post, tougher trip. He finished nowhere.

After some R & R, he reappeared in the St. Louis Derby. I didnt remember there was such a thing. However, there he was, and he won it, looking a little more settled, a little more mature, in the process.

But then came the Super Derby where he reverted to his headstrong ways. He opened a clear lead, setting a strong pace for the Louisiana Downs surface and could not hold Strong Contender safe as the odds-on choice.

Exit Holthus. Enter Todd Pletcher, at first, to no avail. Even more headstrong in Louisville than he was in Bossier City, he chased speedy fractions again before finishing off the board behind Invasor, Bernardini and Premium Tap in the Horse of the Year crowning Breeders Cup Classic.

At 4 he came out firing for Pletcher. A little more settled, he won an allowance come-backer in Florida before shipping back to his old Oaklawn stomping grounds and won the Grade 2 Oaklawn Park Handicap by open lengths. Clearly, he had made the transition from 3 to 4.

Turning back in distance for the Met Mile off an Oaklawn two-turner was near impossible, especially with a streaking Corinthian waiting in the wings. But after mid-moving from the rail to take the lead between calls, finishing third to Corinthian by little more than a length was at least a moral victory.

Entering him back in three weeks in the G3 Salvator Mile made no sense, unless, of course, youve got the Classic in mind. Lawyer Ron finished second to a hot, streaking Monmouth lover named Gottcha Gold.

Back with rest for the storied Whitney in Saratoga, he blew the doors off 10 rivals running nine furlongs faster than anyone in this history of Saratoga ever did. For an encore, he doubled his Whitney winning margin to win the Woodward by 8- lengths as he widened his lead with every stride. In its way, it was more impressive.

So, Lawyer Ron reached his full potential in Saratoga as a 4-year-old. Or is he simply a horse for the Spa course, albeit a great one? A new training style employed by a new teacher, added maturity. Budding superstar, or equine flavor of the month? That was the Jockey Club question.

As it turned out, however, Pletcher was right. Dont know why everyones down on Curlin, the trainer said this week. I dont see how you can say anything bad about whats done or what he will do in the future.

Like pull the minor upset in the JCGC at Pletchers direct expense and run himself right back into the Horse of the Year picture.

It was a finish that didnt deserve a loser as the 3-year-old and the 4-year-old raced head to head down the long Belmont straight. Only this time, it was Steve Asmussens horse on the outside, it was the Asmussen horse that would win this photo, just as the Pletcher trained filly Rags to Riches won the Belmont Stakes photo, a picture that would have made Curlin the protem Horse of the Year champion following the Jockey Club.

With the popular Street Sense tasting defeat Saturday at Turfway Park, with Lawyer Rons newly minted invincibility dulled, and with Curlins deceptively clever neck victory in 2:01.20, its a whole new ballgame. The Breeders Cup. Starting to get real interesting about now.

Completing the all Grade 1 Pick Four were:

The Vosburgh: You rarely see a two-speed number at the Grade I level sprinting. But Fabulous Strike and Talent Search hooked up from the jump, raced through fractions of :21.89 and :44.51, at which point Talent Search shortened stride while Fabulous Strike was resurgent under the crafty Ramon Dominguez. Discreet Cat stalked in perfect position beneath Garrett Gomez but was one-paced through the stretch, clearly a horse that needed the effort. He should get enough out of the race to contend going a mile and 70 yards at Monmouth Park. Todd Beattie said he would train the winner up to the Breeders Cup Sprint.

The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic: Talk about scraping paint! Johnny Velazquez was trapped aboard heavy favorite English Channel but he squeezed through a narrow opening on the fence and drew off to become only the third horse to win this race twice and become Americas best hope to win the Breeders Cup Turf. Figure that hell be double tough since he won the G1 United Nations over the Monmouth grass the last two years running. After getting through and winning the race by 2- lengths, he galloped out strongly and was about 15 in front of the group in less than a quarter of a mile.

The Beldame: It appeared Velazquez would get his natural double aboard Indian Vale, again saving ground with horse into the stretch. Instead, it was Dominguez who would get his second G1 of the day and third winner overall aboard stretch running Unbridled Belle giving Pletcher his second G1 of the day. Pletcher had started the weekend 4-for-31 at Belmont Park and things got worse when Wait A While disappointed in Saturdays Flower. But Pletcher fillies finished 1-2 here and the upset winner of the Delaware Handicap on July 15 won here, too. Shes in the Breeders Cup Distaff. It was her first win in five starts at nine furlongs and three starts at Belmont Park. Ginger Punch could have clinched the Eclipse title for older fillies and mares with a Beldame victory, but instead settled for third. Resultantly, this category, like that Horse of the Year, is wide open.

Written by John Pricci

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