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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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Street Sense: A Well Oiled Machine

The leading candidate for Horse of the Year, Kentucky Derby and Midsummer Derby winning Street Sense, had his first workout since returning home to Churchill Downs following his victories in Saratogas Jim Dandy and Travers.

He continues to demonstrate that hes an equine machine. Working effortlessly, according to trackside reports, Street Sense worked five-eighths of a mile in 1:02.91 over his favorite surface.

The work might be pedestrian on its face but once again demonstrates how push-button this colt really is. Since hes been a two-year-old, Carl Nafzger has been teaching him how to run, how to distribute his energy efficiently.

Lessons learned.

Beneath Tracey Wilkes, wife of longtime Nafzger assistant, Ian, he finished in a fashion that every trainer covets: strongly and well within himself.

His opening quarter-mile of :27.20 was a laugher, even for a less accomplished thoroughbred. Then, like he does in his races, he picked up the pace on cue. His half-mile was timed in :51.20, as he willingly picked up the tempo from 13-second furlongs to 12-second furlongs.

Racetrackers call that 12-clipping, the measure of a top class racehorse under training conditions.

Then he did what he always seems to do: finish with a flourish; a final furlong in :11.71, getting stronger the farther he went. Given that he wont race again until Septembers final weekend, Street Sense went only as fast as necessary, fast enough to keep his condition and fast enough to remain sharp mentally and physically.

Many havent liked his last two races from a visual frame, not winning as impressively as he had in Kentucky, the thinking being hes just not as effective away from Churchill Downs.

There is evidence to support that notion. But theres reason, too, not to lose heart in his abilities. He needed to race closer to the pace in both recent soft-fraction starts. When the pace is honest to fast, his late run, like most horses, is far more effective.

The workout should bring a smile to lovers of the game and of good horses. Street Sense has only two starts left before he gallops off into retirement. No matter what he does in his prep, the Classic vs. the speedy and surging Any Given Saturday and, of greater significance, the older explosive Lawyer Ron will be exceedingly difficult on Monmouths speed-favoring oval.

But before beginning any meaningful analysis, remember this: Street Sense loves what hes doing, and doing what he does best: Winning.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

When Will Loss of America’s Racing Stars Stop?

On the racetrack at the end of this year, racings glamour division, will be all but gone to the breeding shed and not preparing for four-year-old campaigns.

No more Street Sense, no more Hard Spun, no more Any Given Saturday. Thankfully there will be a whole new batch come January 1.

Except, of course, for Sargent Seattle. The impressive Saratoga juvenile debut winner, like the aforementioned three-year-olds, have been purchased by various members of Dubais ruling family.

We dont know where or when Sargent Seattle will show up again. Maybe here or maybe in Dubai to prepare for next years classics.

Because thats worked so well for them in the past, I guess.

No one can blame people for selling. Racing is an expensive hobby. When offered stupid money, you dont blink when a gift horse looks you in the eye.

The three-year-olds were said to be sold for about $100 million for all three. We dont know exactly how much because the Sheikhs dont release the terms, not wanting other potential sellers to know and take advantage of their munificence.

Yeah, right.

Last week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum did it again. He took a fancy to a sprinter he coveted, the four-year-old Diabolical, one of the divisional leaders if not its top thoroughbred, and purchased him for an undisclosed amount.

But the leading contender for the Breeders Cup Sprint will not be among the horses racing at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27. In fact, hes unlikely to race again this year and is being reserved for the Dubai Racing Festival next March.

Diabolical looks like the early line favorite for the $2 million Golden Shaheen.

Traditionalists have argued with some clarity that a victory in the Breeders Cup shouldnt dominate end-of-year Eclipse Award voting. They say a Breeders Cup shouldnt overshadow the body of work accumulated during the course of an entire season. Theyre right, even if all Grade 1s arent created equal.

Its been said, and written, before. Racing is a game, not a sport. Its a business, not a pastime. Still, whats the point of investing emotion and time when the games practitioners show no respect for the games continuity and what it hopes to again sell to the sporting public?

Coming to grips with this, the sports publicists have turned their attention to the human stars, the jockeys and trainers, especially the riders. But thats been tried before and it wont likely be enough.

I dont know what can be done in light of the well named Diabolical situation and others like it. But when it became known that the nations ports would be secured by a company from Dubai, public outcry killed that deal.

Am I the only one that cares about what these wholesale purchases by foreign interests--any foreign interests--are doing to the game in this country? Over 63,000 people recently attended Sha Tins opening day in Hong Kong. Belmont Park, meanwhile, got less than 5,000.

Racings popularity is solid and gaining throughout the world. But not here. If racings leaders dont care about racings future, how can they expect fans to care about the present?

Isnt there some rule that can be adopted to keep recently purchased horses racing longer, or for American studs to be made to stand in this country? Or complete disclosure of the terms of a sale so that a surtax, a luxury tax, or export tax be imposed? Or something else? Anything else?

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Beware The Polytrack Police

In a column written by a West Coast columnist in praise of the recently concluded first-time Polytrack race meet at Del Mar, in which horses stayed sounder and betting handle grew larger, thereby creating a win-win situation for all concerned, track president Joe Harper took a Right Wing tack when attacking critics of the Polytrack surface.

Just like every suggestion to bring American troops home is met by a derogatory cut and run rebuke, the old Youre-a-Cowardly-Love-It-or-Leave-It-Commie-Loser reprimand, or when patriotic citizens are branded anti-American when they question the illegal Iraq war, Harper branded Polytracks horseplaying critics by painting them all with this one brush:

When a horse breaks down, they dont even look up. They are looking at the next race.

Of course, there are some extremely common horseplayers among us. But like backstretch cheaters, they are a slim minority. In this game built on opinion, Harper would have it that opinions are fine as long as theyre not critical ones, no matter how honest those views attempt to be.

Even Bob Baffert, who left Del Mar for Saratoga, felt the sting of criticism on this subject:

Youre vilified if you say something against Polytrackyoure saying that you dont care about your horses safety, that you dont care about their health.

Baffert might have been referring in part to trainer John Wards crack when, during the Saratoga meet, Ward, a known proponent of Polytrack and an advocate for its use, referred to Baffert and his ilk as quarter horse trainers.

Then call me a quarter horse handicapper, or worse, if you wish. I have no experience with Tapeta so I have no opinion about that surface. But I have seen Cushion Track at Hollywood Park and much prefer it to Poly. The races develop like real races there. The surface doesn't stop me from playing.

All tracks tend to develop biases over time, usually for short durations. But Cushion Track is the best of the artificial surfaces Ive seen because frontrunners on the inside and outside late-run sweepers can win on the same program. This is how racing should be.

But no two Polys seem to be created equal. And they do not stand up well to extremes in temperature. I have seen too many days when the chicklets 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 run the same all the way around Woodbine oval with virtually no substantive change in running positions. And I have seen too many days at Keeneland when speed horses had absolutely no chance.

This sport is called horse racing, not jockey adjustment racing.

Mr. Harper certainly is entitled to his opinion. And his job. But it would be good if he showed some respect for well meaning critics who disagree him.

Written by John Pricci

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