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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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Rags to Riches, the Filly That Saved the Belmont

The seven horse field consists of two tiers, the first led by Preakness champion Curlin, the fast and consistent Hard Spun, and the filly, Rags to Riches, who could be any kind as racetrackers say. A couple of lengths separate them on performance figures after adjusting for the fillys sex allowance of five pounds. A couple of lengths is not much going a mile and a half.

The second tier consists of Tiago, seventh in the Derby but for his connections the Belmont couldnt come soon enough. Mike Smith said he learned a lot. Probably did. William Kaplan said hes been pointing Imawildandcrazyguy to this race since January. January. C P West finally had his break-through race in the Preakness. Conventionally, it was a perfect prep for the Belmont. Slews Tizzy is the only one who appears in danger of being outclassed, but has won two recent graded stakes.

Without Street Sense, a huge loss, this Belmont turned out to be as good as it could get. The second tier horses have a punchers chance, remote, but a chance nonetheless. And picking the winner from among the big three is not easy.

The good news for morning line favorite Curlin (6-5) is that hes apparently held his form very well. "Hes more chiseled now and still has that beautiful stride. It gives us a lot of confidence going into Saturday," said assistant trainer Scott Blasi at Wednesday mornings post position draw at Belmont Park.

"Ive said it for months; we may be hailing Curlin as a super-horse," said Hard Spuns trainer, Larry Jones, who was pleased by his colts final relaxed breeze over the weekend. "Were trying to confuse him," joked Jones. "If the fifty-seven-and-three [Derby workout] didnt confuse him, maybe the one-oh-three will."

Jones believes, too, that the filly has earned her shot. "I wouldnt be surprised if theyre putting [carnations] on her when its over." Rags to Riches drew the outside slip, post seven, right next to Hard Spun. It will be interesting to watch the first turn tactics unfold between Garrett Gomez on Hard Spin and Johnny Velazquez on Rags to Riches.

Should the filly win, it will be, of course, trainer Todd Pletchers first victory in a classic. How would it feel to accomplish that? "Until I win one I cant answer," Pletcher said. "But [Rags to Riches] is a good-sized filly and most good fillies Ive seen have been pretty big fillies."

And running against colts? "I might have run a two-year-old against colts, but there are so many opportunities for [older] fillies that theres no reason to try it." So why this one? "Because shes a half [sister] to Jazil, last years Belmont winner, and she has Belmont winners on both sides of her pedigree."

In fact, she has six Belmont winners in her first three generations, according to Steve Haskin of "Bloodhorse."

Its the kind of pedigree that helps make Belmont 139 so interesting. And not that easy.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Its Game On for Belmont Stakes

Elmont, NY--The Belmont Stakes lives, thanks to the promise that two legitimate three-year-olds--one perhaps a special horse--will be entered at tomorrow mornings draw for Belmont post positions.

Her name is Rags to Riches and she already is a special filly. A victory in the Belmont would put her in rarified air, indeed. Only Ruthless and Tanya have beaten the boys since this race was first run in 1867.

Win or lose, Rags to Riches gives the Belmont what it sorely needed; box office, Digger notwithstanding, of course. Already a three-time Grade 1 winner this year, she already is the highly likely Eclipse Award winner in her division.

But with an upset on Saturday, however, and a clean slate against her own kind the rest of the year, Rags to Riches suddenly is in the conversation for Horse of the Year. Easier said than done, of course, but she is a bona fide contender.

Nick Zito said it best after the Preakness, and said it again when he let it be known that C P West would be the seventh horse entered in Saturdays race: He proved he belongs with these horses, was his quote moments after C P Wests strong fourth-place Baltimore run.

I heard the band, and the next thing I was marching, Zito said, too, as if his colts Preakness werent an excellent prep for the Belmont. Somehow I dont think this decision was made yesterday.

Starting to get a little excited about the race now. Curlin clearly is a deserving favorite. But the Test of the Champion seldom is easily won.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sheikh Mohammed, Please Buy My Web-Site?

The GIsland, NY, June 4--Sheikh Mohammed, I have a favor to ask. Would it possible for you buy my web-site, or at least take a small equity position?

I realize we dont have much of a track record yet, but were a comer. And I know how fond you are of finding potential, then buying it, at any cost. No worries. Were still in the business of selling in America, and no man, no matter how flush, should ever turn down what the street calls--no, not that street, but what any street in New York City calls "stupid money." Copious dollars, in polite company.

If I had access to--and Im not being greedy here--a little "silly money," then I wouldnt have had to drive south from Saratoga for almost four hours on a wet, windy and winding Taconic to cover Saturdays Belmont Stakes--the one with Digger, not Derby Winner. You do remember the Belmont, yes?

That was the American classic you skipped last year with the Near-Great-But-Well-Never-Know Bernardini because your brain trust figured his loins were worth more than his legs.

Hi ho, Hi ho, its off to stud we go

But if I had some silly money, I could kick back and watch the Belmont from the box seats. I wouldnt have to wonder if your purchase of Street Sense had anything to do with the decision of Mr. Tafel and Mr. Nafzger not to run in this mile and a half race, the way Bernardini didnt run in his mile and a half race.

It could have been a coincidence. Probably was. Although I tend to look on the bright side, my downfall.

But when did you find the time to buy Hard Spun? Wow! Who knew anybody could buy a Derby Exacta? And you own his daddy, too? Must be nice to be able to afford two of everything. (Promise Ill be extremely reasonable during the negotiations, even maybe throw in the webmaster. He works for a prince now, but probably would like to work for a sheikh).

Sorry about the bit of bad luck you had. The Curlin deal was put together in February and apparently you had some friends over for the Super Bowl that weekend and missed out. The Derby Trifecta. Bet no ones done that deal yet. Nobody said this game was easy, right?

Thing is I dont resent anyone for selling his property to the highest bidder for beaucoup bucks. Money can do wondrous good things for people.

I can remember a time when racing thoroughbred horses used to be a privileged way to make a living. Legend says it all started when one man said to another "my horse is faster than yours," and asked him if he wanted to bet on it?

Sorry, I forgot. Betting is not allowed in Dubai. Only on cell phones.

I find it amazing when a great horserace can distract people from the world's troubles, if only for a few minutes. Guess thats why I drove south, to be distracted for a few minutes by an athletic contest among some of this countrys best stock, two of which you now own. Pity we wont see one of them on Saturday. Hes such a terrific racehorse!

But the other reason I made the drive instead of watching on television was to cover the event for HorseRaceInsider, which I might let go dirt cheap by your standards.

The other day one of our readers posted a comment that people like myself and like thinking fans are the real anachronisms, and not the distance of the Belmont Stakes.

So please, just consider my proposition. Its not as much fun anymore. A lot of the drama is missing from the opera now. I think I'd like to live modestly on my pension in Saratoga, but I could use a little help.

No disrespect, but its not like you cant afford it. There is the $17 million you saved when Mrs. Elizabeth Valando turned down your offer because she made a wish on a potential star to win a Kentucky Derby for her late husband. But Nobiz Like Shobiz couldnt get the job done and now some people on the backstretch are saying Mrs. Valando made a bad no-deal.

Ill be thinking about her on the drive home and wonder how she celebrated Belmont day. Then, reluctantly, Ill accept that I just have to keep punching away at these keys. Its OK. Its a privilege to write about people like Mrs. Valando, people who really get it about racing. And I probably dont need the money as bad as I think I do.

Written by John Pricci

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