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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Monday, June 18, 2007

What, No *#@$%^&* Sopranos Now?

Had a great Fathers Day.

The Oklahoma training track, brunch, followed a movie, Hatties fried chicken (best on the planet) then home for dessert; Haagen Dazs coconut-pineapple ice cream--out of mango, I did get a 2-for-$5 courtesy slip, a fair trade, considering mango is that good--with a dollop of Ben N Jerrys chocolate fudge brownie on top. A nice sandwich.

A great Fathers Day indeed, until 9 PM, EDT, that is.

No mob boss of a North Jersey crime family ever again. Tony Soprano will exist only in urban mythology, probably what creator David Chase intended, once the saga went beyond its original 13-week run.

Poor Chase. Everyones mad a him. And for days the New York tabloids fueled the vitriol. A Whacky Ending, said one. Sopranos Whack Fans, said another.

More fans were angrier with Chase than with Carl Nafzger, spouting more epithets than youd hear in an OTB parlor.

Heres my take, hoping to provide some comfort and context:

First, the Sopranos is a work of fiction. Fiction. Even A J realizes that now. Chase has been playing us since episode one. Why should the finale have been different? And is it fair to expect that any episode would be better than the penultimate, maybe televisions best hour ever?

I dont think so.

What did everybody want from Chase, a neat bow? Lifes not like that. What the artist gave us was closure on his leading character, without whom there would not have been such a successful "family" series.

Tony was, for all his malaprops, a complex character. He was clinically depressed. Guess thats one price you pay for being a sociopath.

But he was relatively healthy at the end, having told A Js psychologist about how his own unhappy childhood because I could never please my mudda, he said. She was a difficult woman. Could the Tony of 1999 admit that?

He reconciled with sister Janice, sharing a tender moment as they had a final, loving laugh at Bobby's expense. "If you ever need anything, you know where I am." Remarkable, considering their bone of contention was always about her scheming to get money.

Closure for the Sopranos began when Tony and Carmela learned at the family visit with the Parisis that Meadow would be offered an entry position at a law firm for $175,000. Werent papa and mama just kvelling with pride after hearing that?

Maybe now Meadow can afford to take driving lessons.

Could the old Tony have forgiven Paulie for refusing to be upped? Considering he thought about killing him a few times, I dont think so. More progress. Eventually Paulie agrees.

And the closure and bon ami at Holsteins (best onion rings in Jersey), when A J reiterated to his father the value of making a positive from a negative. Huge progress for A J, considering the place he was in four episodes back.

Now hell probably wind up with an Oscar nomination for Cleaver II, the sequel. On his way, he already drives a BMW.

Do BMWs even have catalytic converters? Hmmm.

Sure looks like the Carm of Journeys small town girl is going back into the spec house business. From the renderings, it looks like the new place is on the water. Probably where she and Tony spent that delightful weekend with Bobby and Janice, right?

Under the boardwalk, out of the sun, under the boardwalk, well be havin some fun

And now Meadow finally finishes double parking, runs toward Holsteins. The man at the counter walks into the mens room (dont know if it had a commode with a box and one of those chain things, you know, perfect for taping guns behind).

Two more guys walk in. The trucker in the booth is getting antsy. Then comes the last two words you'll ever hear before Chase pulls the plug, from Journeys singular, Dont Stop Believing.

Dont Stop. Fade to black.

I won a bet, predicting Tony would live. Including Hard Spun, I went 1-for-2 that weekend.

Life goes on. Tony is alive when last we see him. The tension in that final sequence is what the Sopranos live with for the rest of their lives.

But it might take John from Cincinnati to snap Silvio out of that coma.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Sun Shines Bright On Foster Program

With the Triple Crown now history, racings second season began fittingly where the classics begin every year, at Churchill Downs. The day was billed as Stephen Foster Super Saturday and when you put on a show like they did yesterday in Louisville, you can call it anything you want.

The centerpiece, naturally, was the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at nine furlongs and was the penultimate leg of an all-graded-stakes Pick Six. But you cant really have a big day of racing at The Downs without a race for three-year-olds, right?

Chelokee, impressive winner of the Barbaro on the Preakness undercard following his troubled third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby in his previous start, stalked a slow pace three wide, took the lead on the final turn, was outrun in midstretch, then came again to beat Zanjero by a head. Sam P., like Zanjero a victim of Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby, finished third.

(In this crop, it seems, even Grade 3s result in stretch long battles and a camera is needed to settle the issue).

What impressed was Chelokees will to win. Racing on the pace is not his best game, yet he won both recent starts on the pace. Hes getting closer to the big boys, and girl, with every start.

The Foster pre-race storyline was whether the streaking Master Command would finally get his Grade 1 title. The winner did, but it wasnt the Foster favorite.

Flashy Bull, also a winner on the Preakness program, has come into his own as a four-year-old. He was very competitive on the classics trail last year but it looks like Kiaran McLaughlin has finally figured him out.

Master Command raced dully in a poor performance, but stablemate Magna Graduate nearly saved the day for the Pletcher crowd. However, his late run down the center of the track fell a nose short at the wire. Flashy Bull swept to command into the lane but it took all of Robby Albarados urging to get the job done.

The excellent 11-race program was an exciting and meaningful day of racing. But no-o-o-body picked six. Winners of five collected a $1,300 consolation and Sundays carryover at Churchill is $51,000-plus.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On Belmont Day, Joe Torre Dropped The Ball

When you look inside the numbers of the 139th Belmont, it was a disaster but not calamitous.

Betting was virtually flat. While handle was down compared to last year, comparing seven-horse fields with the dozen that went postward last year would be unfair. Actually, on-track handle of $9.5 million set a non-Triple Crown Belmont day record.

Attendance figures were calamitous, however. From high atop Belmont Park late last Saturday afternoon, the joint sure looked like it was jumping. There wasnt much blank space between apron standees and there were fannies in virtually every seat.

Surveying the crowd, I told some colleagues Id take over 67,000. What I missed, however, was that the famed backyard was more spacious than filled, and apparently everyone was outside and not inside Belmonts humongous grandstand and clubhouse.

Someone came up and asked my former Newsday colleague, columnist Joe Gergen, how many people do you guys have here today?

Everybody whos not at Clemens, answered Gergen.

Less than 47,000 people saw history made when Rags To Riches beat Preakness winner Curlin and the rest of the boys in the Belmont, but that wasnt the big news in New York last Saturday.

Baseball mercenary Roger Clemens, his return to pinstripes already once delayed, would finally take the mound for the Yankees in the Bronx. As far as I know, each stride he took toward the hill touched the ground before he got there.

Its true that the filly was a last minute Belmont entry and there wasnt much time for publicists to bang the drum. So until the filly reached the finish line a head in front of Curlin, the major Belmont storyline was still the absence of Kentucky Derby-winning Street Sense.

While he certainly had no obligation to do so, Yankee manager Joe Torre, whos enjoyed his share of successful high profile days at the races, could have done his other favorite sport a solid.

Torre was part owner of Sis City, winner of the 2005 Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland, and Wild Desert, winner of the $1-million Queens Plate that same year. The Queens Plate is the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

So would it have mattered all that much if Clemens started the following day against the same team? Certainly George Steinbrenner, owner of Kinsman Stable, could relate. And if Clemens had started Sunday, he still would have been ready for the Mets series this weekend. Either way, Clemens gets wall to wall coverage from the New York tabloids.

Were not saying Torre is at fault here. But he might have helped to make a positive out of a negative. Instead, as far as racetrackers are concerned, starting Clemens on Belmont day made him look clueless.

Written by John Pricci

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