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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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Profile May Be Lower But D. Wayne Still Getting It Done

Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas may not have a horse in Saturdays Kentucky Derby but he sure started the Churchill Downs spring meet with a bang, winning Saturdays Derby Trial Stakes by what seemed like a short pole.

The margin of victory of Flying First Class was 3 lengths, but it seemed like a lot more such was the dominant nature of the performance, for which the old ball coach pulled out all the stops.

Lukas has a history of prepping horses in highly graded stakes in which the horses are, by definition, ambitiously placed. In the case of Flying First Class, he raced in two graded routes off a maiden sprint win including an appearance against Curlin. If that doesnt season a three-year-old sufficiently this year, it cant be done.

Seasoning gained and conditioning achieved, next comes the turn-back into a 7 furlong one-turn, elongated sprint against non-graded winners. Flying First Class dominated with his speed from gate to wire, taking on all challenges before drawing out to an insurmountable lead leaving the three-sixteenths pole.

For good measure and to complete the play, Lukas made a late rider switch to Mark Guidry, who is rapidly approaching the 5,000-win milestone and recently announced his intention to retire late this summer. Guidry became available when his original mount, Bwana Bull, was a late scratch. Parenthetically, it would seem Lukas now owes jockey Larry Melancon another live mount.

Of course, Lukas is a great teacher. You might have noticed the added success attained last year by two former protgs, Todd Pletcher and Kiaran McLaughlin. One lesson that Pletcher has learned is imparting, Lukas style, mental toughness and seasoning to his runners.

Witness how Pletcher is training Circular Quay up to the Derby, in company with the gifted filly and heavy Kentucky Oaks favorite, Rags To Riches. She makes him work harder, focus better, get more from the work. With her racing on the inside in their trials, he toughens her up, a win-win.

Pletcher and McLaughlin, trainer of defending Horse of the Year Invasor, and Mark Hennig and Dallas Stewart, among others, have learned their lessons well. Lukas will be remembered best as the trainer of trainers and a man who revolutionized his sport, as in the 80s catch-phrase; D Wayne Off the Plane.

But Wayne Lukas has not forgotten his quarter-horse roots, either. He still knows how to get one ready, point toward an objective, and score.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Keeneland Stewards Have Worse Meeting Than Speed Horses On Polytrack

The first stewards' non-inquiry at the 2007 Keeneland spring meet occured while the whole world was watching. Teuflesberg, the Blue Grass Stakes pacesetter, was beginning to shorten stride after setting blazing splits of :51 2/5 and 1:16 3/5. In tiring, he drifted out into the path of Great Hunter, forcing his rider to take up, losing any real chance of victory. No claim of foul, no steward's inquiry, no regard for the betting public.

Superbia Est Sum Praemium, loosely translated from the Latin to mean; arrogance is its own reward.

The Keeneland stewards did it again Thursday. The incident became the talk of racing chat rooms everywhere. Fans simply couldn't believe what they were seeing in the third race: Ms Sabbatical, on the inside, was leading at the sixteenth pole. At that point, the rider of rival Lear's Princess, Elvis Trujillo, gained a narrow advantage. Soon afterwards, Trujillo raised up in the irons. Reacting to this, Kent Desormeaux did the same aboard Ms Sabbatical. Fortunately for Trujillo, his filly had the late momentum and reached the wire first by a long nose. But, again, no inquiry.

The incident resulted in the first short comment of its kind describing how the race winner finished first: "won galloping out."

Stewards in this country have a history of showing little regard for the fact that people actually wager money on horse races. Thursday's, of course, was a singular example. And an argument can be rightly made that, like the non-foul Blue Grass foul, the incident would not have adversely effected the outcome which is, of course, way beyond the point.

The disregard racing officials show for the betting public usually surfaces when a rider, the victory seemingly lost, does not persevere for second, third or fourth, as if there were no such wagers as exactas, trifectas and superfectas. Since there's no central racing authority to correct this and since there's no apparent interest from the tracks that employ them, stewards are allowed to continue adjudicating official outcomes in a non-professional, lackadaisical fashion.

Stern tongue lashings from stewards to apathetic jockeys behind closed doors doesn't get the job done. These kinds of offenses--failing to ride out a mount to the finish--should result in suspensions, not just when riders overzealously try to win.

In the 1980s at Saratoga, three stewards lost their jobs for taking down the wrong horse. In their defense, at least, it was an honest mistake. I know that first hand. They were doing their jobs and got it wrong. Unfortunately for the bettors of Allumeuse, stuff happened. But Thursday's incident and others like it are much different.

And so, to the Keeneland stewards and all racing officials that don't believe it necessary to take horseplayers seriously, I say this: If you don't like what you're doing enough to give it 100 percent, please just get the hell out of the stand.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Good Works Keep Derby Favorites In The Mix

If an interested party cares to make a gentlemans wager, I will bet that when Derby betting opens at Churchill Downs Street Sense will be favored on the first flash of live betting. Only an octopus could have supplied more ink than was given the colts Derby workout at the Louisville track.

Influential Derby observer Steve Haskin put the five-furlong breeze in :59 flat with the two best Derby workouts hes seen recently, those of Barbaro and Smarty Jones. And we know how those Derbys turned out.

Always within himself, SS finished strongly while under no pressure to do so and galloped out another furlong in :12 2/5, earning him a six furlong out time of 1:11 2/5. It was so good trainer Carl Nafzger called the move perfect before and after the work. Smart guy, Nafzger.

What impressed Haskin was the fact the colt exited the work without drawing a deep breath. Can you say Derby fit? The rest, of course, depends on how Street Sense handles 19 rivals on the track a week from Saturday. But Louisvillians love bluegrass connections and Nafzger is one of their favorite folks.

Likely post time favorite Curlin--visually impressive and undefeated--worked five-eighths at Keeneland in 1:00 4/5 with a final quarter mile of :23 2/5 on Polytrack. Trainer Steve Asmussen likes the fitness and rebounding properties Polytrack offers but also is smart enough to know the colt should have a blow at Churchill, scheduled for early next week.

Wood winner Nobiz Like Shobiz worked a purposeful five furlongs in :59 3/5 at Belmont Park for Barclay Tagg, but it was what he did after that was more significant. Gallop-out times of 1:27 for seven-eighths and 1:42 and change for a mile is almost Whittingham like, although Charlie would have preferred a strong one-mile work, not a gallop-out, over the Churchill track. But shipping in late worked for Funny Cide and trainers are creatures of habit, especially Derby-winning trainers.

Written by John Pricci

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