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, July 22, 2007

What Will Saratoga Bring?

Octave, whose timing could have been better in terms of her standing within her own barn, much less the three-year-old filly division, won her second consecutive Grade 1 of the session yesterday, a small footnote given stablemate Rags To Riches 102-yearold historical achievement earlier in the meet.

Both fillies are now on a collision course as each is being considered for Saratogas storied Alabama Stakes, although one of them should run in the Travers. But more on that later. Were just glad the Belmont winner has gotten over the sniffles and is back in training full time.

The effort by Johnny Velazquez was a thing of beauty on the Pletcher favorite at Belmont Saturday. He simply didnt allow lone speedster Folk to get away, then timed Octaves winning move perfectly, opening just enough ground to hold off Lears Princess late.

And wasnt Lears Princess good in her real dirt debut? She has a lot of quality but probably will prove better on grass. At least now her connections know they have options.

Folk was good, too. While she had to work just a tad to secure a clear lead, she battled back gamely despite making her first start in four months and while going a mile and a quarter for the first time.

It was Octaves stablemate, however, that made this Belmont meet memorable: First the stumbling start and brilliant recovery by filly and rider. Then her trip. Its one thing to like it out there in the clear; its quite another to fire wider off the turn and widest into the stretch before withstanding the resurgence of a brilliant classic winner.

It makes you wonder whether Rags To Riches might be the best three-year-old in the country over any distance. Her pedigree was her edge in the Belmont, no question. But her talent and obvious class make her, to use a much overused and abused description, something truly special.

At this point, it cant only be about the money for her connections. The career of Rags To Riches, in the recent past, present and future, is now about historical context every time she races. Anything less would do the filly a disservice.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Can’t Anyone Here Monitor This Game?

I never got into this issue before; I was between web-sites at the time.

It has to do with NYRAs cutting off certain off-shore rebate shops and the constructing of detention barns.

These steps ostensibly were taken to satisfy the states monitor so the association could avoid prosecution and show they were good, upstanding citizens.

But I always felt this had more to do with trotting out dogs and ponies than anything resembling real reform.

I dont believe what lawmakers, the New York Times, the Albany Times Union--or any reputable newspaper for that matter--say regarding these two issues or why the actions taken by the NYRA were necessary.

To stop money laundering? Deter organized crime?


This all began because unscrupulous trainer with questionable ties was caught putting over a favorite,an odds-on favorite, at Aqueduct and bet that horse off-shore.

When the story broke, the authorities acted as if they just caught the entire Corleone family. But organized crime media stories sell papers and help get politicians elected.

Does anyone care that one of the most reputable and successful off-shore rebate shops, RGS, one that caters to some of the games largest bettors, pays higher fees than a majority of simulcast outlets? And that their handle is co-mingled with track pools?

So then why did the bankrupt NYRA hurt their own business and the taxpayers of New York State by cutting off RGS among others? For appearances sake?

Everyone knows that anytime some group in this country declares a war on anything like, say, The War On Drugs, it has failed for a lack of execution, commitment and funding.

The detention barn as a deterrent to cheaters? Sounds good. Sounds like a reasonable idea. But drug suspensions, many involving the biggest names in the game, keep getting meted out in New York. Why?

The term juice remains as relevant in New York racing circles as discussions involving Barry Bonds assault on Hank Aarons home run record are in every American city outside San Francisco.

Of course, drugs are a huge problem, in every strata of society. But detention barns on NYRAs backstretch? Talking points, little more.

When well meaning lovers of thoroughbred racing in Saratoga wonder why the racing office cards so many races for New York-breds, maybe they should look at the detention barn for the declining number of shippers.

Yes, VLT-infused purses elsewhere makes shipping to Saratoga unnecessary for many outfits. But so does the extreme and costly inconvenience of shipping into the detention barn.

John Sherriffs, trainer of the late developing Tiago, cited the detention barn and not the presence of Street Sense and Curlin as the reason hes seriously considering remaining in California to run against older horses in the Pacific Classic instead of the Travers.

New York, and every racing jurisdiction in the country, has a responsibility to increase vigilance if they truly want to deter the use of illegal drugs via use of the latest technologies or funding for needed testing research.

Solutions such as the barring of a handful of bet takers and the use of detention barns may satisfy headline writers and politicians. But they accomplish little else except to inconvenience the customers and horsemen they purport to help.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Where The Rubber Meets The Surf

Horseplayers love this time of year. Its when racings two exquisite boutique meets, one on each coast, provide glimpses of what thoroughbred racing can be when its done right.

And you cant mention one, Saratoga, without the other, Del Mar. That would be like using the name of Affirmed without completing the sentence with the name of Alydar.

(Didnt Alydar always finish second)?

Anyway, Saratoga and Del Mar are all about a respite from the same old, same old, a chance to get out of town and spend summers dog days enjoying mountain air or ocean breezes. But thats where the similarities end.

This piece might emanate from the East Coast but its not about provincial bias. Its just that when it comes to day-to-day racing fare theres simply no comparison.

Dont blame Del Mar, though. Saratogas just been at it much longer, and with better horses.

But nowhere does hope spring eternal than at the racetrack and today is, after all, opening day.

And why is this Del Mar meet different from any other?

Glad you asked, Virginia.

Gone, presumably, will be the speed-biased racing on the main track. Good-bye dirt. Good-bye Cushion Track. Hel-lo-o-o-o-o Polytrack!

The artificial surface has to be an improvement on recent years past. Certainly, Del Mar was in need of a safer oval and daily field size was in need of more participants.

Interesting to see how Polytrack effects baby racing. Not at this meet, per se, but down the road when two-year-olds stretch out in advance of the Breeders Cup Juvenile and as a foundation for the classics to come.

Del Mar already has had some problems with the new surface, albeit minor in nature. As a result of fine harrowing and the subtle changes in temperature, the surface was much faster on Monday than it was when first tested late last week.

Were sure all will make the necessary adjustments. Or try, anyway.

That aside, Del Mar is here and thats a good thing. Let the summer season begin!

Written by John Pricci

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