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, June 27, 2007

Bill Larkin No Ordinary Politician

Good news travels slowly, if at all.

The Thoroughbred Times reported on June 22 that on June 13, a bill passed the New York State Senate that would support upgrades of the paddock and backstretch areas at tracks where VLTs are operational.

Its about time. And all who are tethered to racing in the state can thank Senator Bill Larkin, the bills author. Politicians generally are very easy targets but not Larkin. He seems to understand what the problems are and acts to correct them.

Imagine, a true public servant.

Part of Larkins bill is a provision that tracks allow for easy access between the racetrack and casino floor in their remodeling plans. Larkin believes any added revenue that might result from added exposure to both forms of wagering would be an aid to education and local municipalities alike.

So what if there is very little, if any, crossover between those handicapping and wagering on the races and those who stare blankly at the bright lights of a video lottery terminal? Handicapping the races does require thinking; primates can be trained to push buttons and pull levers. But I digress.

Its too bad legislation of this kind was not available when Saratoga Gaming and Raceway was remodeled recently. The harness track now has more machines than ever, more food courts, a nightclub and possibly more expansion on the way. Its all very nice, too, very well appointed.

But its sad that no work was done on the front side and particularly on the backside of the harness track. The barn area is in woeful shape and the paddock little more than a cut-out in the outer rail. The horsemen who worked there for the last three decades for virtually no purse money, requiring many of them to maintain a day job, deserved better from Delaware North. Much better.

If it werent for the racetrack there would have been no VLT operation for the Delaware North company to manage. Maybe its not too late. Maybe the company someday will rethink the way they do business.

Meanwhile, props to Senator Larkin, who mixes in the concept of fair play with good business sense.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

From Flagfall To That’s All?

Albany, NY--Yesterday at a press conference to introduce the 2007 Saratoga racing season, the New York Racing Association might have held its last as stewards of thoroughbred racing in New York State. Certainly, it was the finale under the status it currently enjoys, and has since 1955.

The elephant in the room was addressed immediately in media questions to president Charlie Hayward, who made it clear he wasnt speaking for the NYRA Board of Trustees. He said that, like most observers, he didnt know how the franchise scenario would play out but was optimistic that separation of racing from gaming could work if racing received its fair share of VLT revenue.

On matters pertaining to the sport, racing secretary P J Campo said he saw no incentive to write special conditions or bonuses into existing races that would provide impetus for fillies to take on males more regularly. He also stated that the weight allowances afforded to fillies when meeting males literally would tip the scales so dramatically that jockeys would be unable to make weight routinely at the lower imposts.

So much for outside the box speculation.

After Hayward was reminded that a new wager, the Grand Slam, debuted at Saratoga last year, he was asked whether any new bets, or a variation on existing wagers, such as the very popular 10-cent superfecta, would be introduced at the upcoming meet, July 25th.

Hayward stated correctly that new wagers require Racing and Wagering Board approval and that incremental wagering was not popular among NYRAs biggest bettors (because their bankrolls give them a substantial edge over smaller players). He also stated handle did not rise significantly at tracks where incremental wagers like the 10-cent super, 50-cent trifecta, or $1 Pick Six were introduced.

Of course, all that missed the point. Incremental wagering, eventually, would drive handle by getting more people involved; big bettors--those not betting with rebate shops on their cell phones--would still be able to use their bankrolls to best advantage and, as long as integrity of wagers are not compromised, the SRWB should not legislate how adult horseplayers bet their money.

Sadly it was more of the same from track executives; quick to deliver reasons why things cant be done instead of imagining how they might work. And, incidentally, the Grand Slam didnt hit one out of the park, either.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

NTRA Gets It Right; Will The Filly’s Connections?

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association takes a lot of heat, much of it justified. But not this time. The NTRA acted quickly and is to be commended for seizing the opportunity to promote the sport via the Internet through its latest star, Rags To Riches, the filly who beat the boys in the Belmont.

A Rags To Riches blog, to appear on the NTRA website,, will be updated by the Team Pletcher stable three times a week. Included will be a photo gallery, current race schedule, training information, video of all her stakes races, and biographical information.

Also included will be an interactive feature in which fans can ask questions of Pletcher and his stable employees. The blog is scheduled to remain on the NTRA site through the Breeders Cup. My first question would be:

Why not the Travers?

I know theres nothing left to prove after her historical achievement in the Belmont. I know, too, that if you decide to face males again, perhaps awaiting the Breeders Cup Classic is the wiser choice, especially if the favorites are the leading three-year-olds, two of which she defeated already.

If she ran in the Travers, the event would turn into a media circus. Saratogas perennial leading trainer would be besieged by the media, print and electronic. It would be a major distraction and Saratoga is demanding enough as it is.

Most of all, in staying with her own kind, she would tower over a small number of rivals in every race she runs in. Who knows? Perhaps a start on turf against fillies would be different and prove an interesting new challenge.

But its like HRIs Vic Zast said first: Whats good for the filly would be bad for the sport.

Racing fans, and sports fans in general, are only interested in one thing: Seeing her beat the boys again. Because thats a story that transcends sports.

Written by John Pricci

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