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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Saturday, May 26, 2007

You Know It’s Hard Out There For A Jock

Jockeys are in the news this weekend. For most, it wasnt very good news. Andrew Lakeman, a regular exercise rider for Allen Jerkens, who rides occasionally for Jerkens and Kristina Dupps, remains in critical but stable condition in North Shore University Hospital following a spill on Friday at Belmont Park.

The news could have been worse, since the original diagnosis was severe head trauma. He did, however, suffer spinal trauma in the fall when kicked by a trailing rival, according to NYRA president Charlie Hayward, who visited Lakeman yesterday. Norberto Arroyo Jr. suffered an accident as well and, while not as serious as Lakemans, nevertheless will miss six weeks with a broken clavicle.

Meanwhile, all Mario Pino lost was a mount, that on Hard Spun in the Belmont Stakes. Pino will be replaced by Garrett Gomez but will continue to ride the barns other horses, said trainer Larry Jones. Cant believe that it was Jones who made the call to sack Pino.

Were thinking that if owner Rick Porter could fire Smarty Jones trainer and hire Jones, he can fire Hard Spuns rider and hire Gomez. We blogged it before: Pino was the victim of circumstances in the Preakness.

He would have been criticized just as vociferously had he allowed C P West and Edgar Prado to get the jump on the overmatched leaders, either getting Hard Spun trapped behind dead horses or engaging in a senseless head-to-head duel with the longshot, who raced well but was not a serious win threat. Pino did the only thing any self respecting race-rider would do and got fired for it.

Meanwhile, Johnny Velazquez has picked up the mount on Slews Tizzy in the Belmont. The recent Lone Star Derby winner worked well for the Belmont over the weekend, as did Imawildandcrazyguy. Curlin will have a scheduled breeze tomorrow and Carl Nafzger will make a Belmont decision on Street Sense Tuesday. Curlins work is unlikely to affect his Belmont prospects. Nafzgers decision will likely keep his colt in the barn. A difficult and frustrating game, this.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pino Should Retain Belmont Mount On Hard Spun

If Hard Spun runs back in the Belmont Stakes, he might be accompanied by a new partner. His connections are considering replacing Mario Pino. Wonder what took them so long to complain?

The Insider is not endorsing a jockey change for the Derby runnerup and Preakness third. Indeed, when Pino made his move, at once it was the right, and questionable, thing to do. He and his mount were victims of circumstance.

There is no doubt that C P West and Edgar Prado forced Pinos hand. In fact, any time a horse comes outside to press a forward-racing rival--at the same point C P West began breathing on Hard Spun--youd want your jockey to move away from the potential trap and not lose out to a rivals forward momentum.

There was pressure of another kind, too. The fact that Pino is the current king of Maryland was a major pre-race storyline. But what many perceived as an advantage was not. The pressure to win a classic immense, especially on your home grounds. Unlike the Derby, Hard Spun and Pino were supposed to be a major threat this time.

By definition, the move was premature, but it was made while the colt was still in hand. Pino did not want to get stuck behind tiring horses, and he wanted to avoid a head-to-head battle with a longshot rival. His instincts were good but, for Pino, it was either the rock or the hard place.

The Belmont, of course, presents a new set of problems. Few jockeys outside of the top riders in New York and California have experience in mile and a half races. The Elmont oval is so expansive that even local riders sometimes are tricked into moving too soon, not realizing how the fast the pace really is. Horses gallop along on that wide, bucolic backstretch. It makes the Belmont homestretch appear longer than it really is.

Its not like a rider switch would be like going from some 10-pound apprentice to a Hall of Famer. If he made a mistake, it wasnt a horribly conceived one. Pino gets along with Hard Spun really well. He shouldnt lose the mount because Curlin and Street Sense outran him in the final quarter-mile of the Preakness.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Jockey Santos Likely To Call It A Career

Unless he turns out to be another athlete who just cant walk away when it's time, it is anticipated that jockey Jose Santos will announce his retirement from riding the Friday before the Belmont Stakes. Its a case of one painful injury too many that left him one precarious fall away from possible permanent disability.

This is a jockeys life, one of guiding 1,100-pound highly strung beasts while in close quarters in the starting gate and often during a race, a career defined by split-second decisions made at 40 mph without the ability to call a T-O, baby.

Pound for pound, jockeys are among the greatest athletes in sports, certainly among the bravest. And the least understood, or appreciated.

In his prime, which began in this country in South Florida, Santos dominated his competition. Position-conscious and aggressive, he rode the sweet spot in almost every race, becoming the most sought after rider on that circuit. It was the same when he switched his tack to New York.

In the Big Apple, Santos learned patience--some say to a fault--but it was a style that trainers on the good-horse circuit demand. But he remained a great rider of speed horses and developed into one of the best grass riders in the game, where his gift for position and patience often paid great dividends.

He won classics with Lemon Drop Kid and Funny Cide, won an Ohio Derby with Skip Away, and rode champions such as Fly So Free, Meadow Star, Cryptoclearance, Gulch, Criminal Type, Rubiano, Chief Bearhart and Fleet Indian, among many others. Santos has ridden 4,084 winners from 25,936 starters for a worthy career win percentage of 16%--17% in stakes races--and has finished in-the-money 44% of the time. Its been a Hall of Fame career.

Santos suffered fractures of the T7 and T8 vertebrae in a spill last February. Attempts to stimulate bone growth to aid his recuperation have failed, and he has been in constant pain during the rehabilitation process.

Simply stated, Santos cannot risk the possibility of another spill. Jockeys put danger on the back burner as part of their lifes work. But they cannot, nor should they, ride with fear.

Written by John Pricci

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