John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com 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 MSNBC.com, 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, October 18, 2016


A Maryland Million, a New York Showcase and Fillies in the Bluegrass


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, October 21, 2016—Finally, Fall appears to be catching up with South Florida and Saturday morning lows are expected to be in the high 60s but with sunny skies.

Wish that were the case in New York and Maryland where the predictions are for varying degrees of moisture.

And that’s too bad, what with the best Maryland-breds on display on Laurel’s Maryland Million program and Empire-breds on New York Showcase Day at Belmont Park.

Unlike some of the elites I know, I happen to love these state-bred race cards where the littler guys and gals get to race for a good payday that has the added benefit of reserving green space and jobs wherever Thoroughbreds thrive.

It would have been better had New York ad Maryland talked to each other and avoided parimutuel conflict as neither will be a successful if they hadn’t shared Saturday’s simulcast stage.

It appears that in New York, officials looked at last year’s NY Showcase card and kept it around the same weekend. Not that far back in the day, the Showcase program was always one week before Breeders’ Cup.

But since the 2015 Breeders’ Cup fell on the last weekend in October of 2015, and not its customary first weekend in November, the status quo was maintained resulting in Saturday’s simulcast stalemate.

That’s bad enough, but with sunshine in store for Keeneland’s penultimate Saturday, much of the emphasis will go there. So many races, so little intellectual bandwidth.

The linchpin of the Showcase card is the Empire Classic at 9 furlongs around one sandy turn. Without deep investigation, four horses caught my eye on the overnight: win machine Royal Posse (3-1) and 2016 TC classics hopeful Governor Malibu (2-1) are the likely favorites.

The streaking, newly constituted Wake Up in Malibu (4-1) will bring his speed into the fray and Pa Derby no-chance, wide-tripping Hit It Once More (5-1) has rebound written all over him.

The Maryland Million Classic, also at nine furlongs but a once-around-the-park adventure drew a stacked field of 11—126 horses were entered overnight on the 11-race program—but looks are deceiving here.

Seven horses are in the race because there have been made eligible to the Md. Million program via a series of nomination fees. The other four are also-eligibles: registered Maryland-breds but not by Maryland sires.

Those horses can draw into the body of the race if the field is reduced to less than six runners after late scratches. Well… alrighty then.

Of those seven, the most likely to succeed are Just Jack (9-5), a late developing gelded 3YO that’s 2-for-2 at Laurel, Admiral’s War Chest (9-2), the 2015 Maryland Classic winner and Bullheaded Boy (6-1), shipping in from New York for David Jacobson.

In the bluegrass, the always entertaining G2 Raven Run for 3YO fillies at seven furlongs is its usual competitive self with 12 entered overnight.

It’s the kind of matchup whereby if you land on the winner, even one of the early line choices, value seems assured—such is the competitive nature of the graded sprint restricted to three year olds.

The four that pop off the overnight are, from the outside in: Lightstream (3-1) who showed her brilliance right from Jump Street and Sophia’s Song (5-1) who raised her game with a very fast placing at Saratoga in her second start for Todd Pletcher.

Curlin’s Approval (8-1) 3-for-4 in South Florida and shipping northwest for Team Wolfson/Gaffalione may prove worthy and Lucy N Ethel (9-2), a 22-1 G2 Saratoga surprise September 4 who makes her first start for new trainer Tom Amoss.

You’ll have 17 minutes to bet all three with post times scheduled for 5:13 pm, 5:19 pmand 5:30 pm at Laurel, Belmont and Keeneland, respectively. Per usual, check Saturday’s HRI Feature Race Analysis for on-the-record selections.

FOR LAUREL RENOVATION PICTORIAL CLICK ON VIDEO LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmsUo5kefvI

***

Read ye, Read Ye!

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APPROACH TO WAGERING


All wagering depends on an individual’s tolerance for loss and bankroll size. We have found the best use for the categories described below is that in no instance should contenders jump up more than one level.

Depending on circumstances, a *** contender can become ****, but a ** cannot, late scratches notwithstanding. Likewise, a ** can become a *** etc., etc.

Based on the individual rankings, each bettor determines the merit and strength of the play. Two wagering “rules” that are difficult to maintain at a gambling session are a consistent approach within the diversity of possibilities and the character to stay within a comfortable betting zone: Avoid “going on tilt.”

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BELMONT PARK, OCT. 15, 2016: PEBBLES STAKES 1 Mile WIDENER TURF

1-Enjoy Yourself (30-1) Showed some promise early in turf career but really hasn’t developed since. Has won at the trip but not over the course and her figures are lacking. Pricci Energy Rating [PER]: 66. Thoro-Graph Top Figure [TGT]: 8.75. A very tall order.
2-Believe in Bertie (10-1) ** Turns back to winning distance [albeit one turn] and is on a bounce-rebound pattern. Appears best on firm footing and has excellent early speed with inside position. Three sharp blowouts following game placing in an Indiana listed stakes. PER: 79. TGT: 6. Exotics price potential. [4th at 4-1]
3-Wild About Harry (15-1)* PERs have been improving incrementally and is (3) 1-1-0 at the trip; (4) 2-1-0 on Belmont turf. Beat state-breds going one mile two back, followed by an open company sprint. Has excellent kick but this spot saltier than she’s used to. PER: 80. TGT: 6.5. Perhaps bottom of supers.
4-Ancient Secret (3-1)** Won Grade 2 Lake George at Saratoga then shipped to WO for G3 mile off a short break, but lost all chance with very-wide turn rally. Can easily rebound to form that led to four straight scores; 3-for-3 at Belmont, has Chad-Irad team, but poor value on early line. PER: 78. TGT: 5.25. [3rd at 2-1]
5-Ultra Brat (12-1)*** Seeks third straight win while moving up in class and distance, winning her course and turf debut off a break last out. Motion’s old partner Edgar in for the assignment and barn's white hot. Bullet blowout at Fair Hill base, bred for added ground and three sibs have won on turf. PER: 82. TGT: 8. Excellent value on early line.
6-Baciama Piccola (30-1) Figures have improved since adding Lasix but has not shown she’s up to this level of competition since winning a Grade 3 at Tampa last winter. Tyler Gaffalione shipping in to take the call. PER: 69. TGT: 8.25. Very tall order here.
7-Welcoming (10-1) ** Finished well too late vs. weaker in 7-furlong course return, showing affinity for Belmont turf despite (3) 0-0-3 slate. Has competitive figures but this is a tough spot to break turf maiden after three failed attempts. Surging Manny Franco lands here. PER: 82. TGT: 6. Has some price shot potential.
8-Insta Emma (6-1)*** Comes off impressive win over course--her second Belmont score--and now makes suitable stretch-out for Mott-- 21% effective in non-graded stakes and 24% efficient with potential repeaters. Switch to Lezcano augurs well for this barn. PER: 81. TGT: 4.75. Solid contender.
9-Stella Rose (5-1) ** Fast-finish second and narrowly beaten in turf and course debut at this trip despite bobbling at the break. Chased the pace while wide throughout in G3 Commonwealth Oaks and stayed on very well late, now reunites with winning partner Rosario. PER: 79. TGT: 6.75
10-Louisville First (20-1) *** Earned field’s best last-out PER, grinding out a sprint score over state-breds in course return. Both lifetime wins on Belmont turf and talented New Yorker goes well for Cancel. May provide value on class rise into opens. PER: 84. TGT: 5.25. Offers value at early line odds.
11-Thundering Sky (8-1) ** Unlucky to lose Wild Applause under today’s exact dynamics in June [see replay] before racing very wide in Lake George. She then returned with a game third in a Canadian Grade 3 coming off short rest. Right back to NY today with switch to Gallardo. PER: 76. TGT: 8.25. [WON: $33.80]
12-She Doesn’t Mind (7-2) *** Regressed in last following career best when third here to On Leave—who subsequently beat her again. She returns fresh with strong and steady work-line for Chad and Javier sticks. Rebound potential for barn that’s profitable with this spacing. PER: 81. TGT: 9.25.
13-AE-Mom’s On Strike (20-1) Salty spot for winning turf debut. PER: [NA]. TGT: 6. [2ND at 51-1]
14-Mo d’Amour (8-5) MAIN TRACK ONLY PER: [NA]. TGT: 3.75.

LEGEND: Contenders sub-divided into four categories:

**** POTENTIAL SINGLES/BEST BET CONTENDERS are horses that are so strong as to be an extremely probable winner or, in some instances, represents excellent value potential in chaos races, where anything can happen. In chaos races, these “singles” should be viewed as an alternative to the ALL button, an acknowledgment that all bankrolls, whatever their size, are finite. There never will be more than two **** in any one race. In this instance, those two runners should be used exclusively in that sequence.
*** PRIME CONTENDERS are horses that constitute the basic, prime ticket. These can be singles, doubles, or any number of runners in chaos scenarios. Prime contenders, as in all categories, are based on traditionally pertinent handicapping data—speed, pace, class, connections, etc.--or are horses with significant value-potential. Hopefully, both.
** SOLID CONTENDERS are for deeper bankrolls that under different circumstances would be *** contenders. Our method dictates that their use is highly recommended, budgetary considerations notwithstanding, and are “must-include” horses on sub tickets. View them as “must-include” when potential for better-than-odds—true value—is present.
* CONTENDERS do not fit neatly into any one category and are best suited to the deepest bankrolls. They can be price plays that blow up payouts but, conversely, projected underlays. Additionally, they could be horses that send out mixed signals. Preferred plays, based on superior ability and/or value, are those listed above.

VERTICAL and STRAIGHT-POOL PLAYERS NOTE:

**** Best Bets or Best Value plays are must-use keys first and second in some cases
*** Are best win plays and must-use key runners in exotics.
** Are best used in exacta-boxes or as saver wagers in straight pools, W-P-S.
* Are exotics wildcards either as overlays or underlays.

TOTE BUSTERS VALUE GUARANTEE: As an introduction, the cost for each day is $15 complete-- that’s two mailings for each racing day including updates, and a discounted $25 for both Friday and Saturday will be made available. Those who commit early will receive Gulfstream’s Late Pick 5 for the Dec. 5 Claiming Crown program as a free bonus for purchasing the Tote Busters Breeders’ Cup two-day package.

We believe this price point is fair, commensurate with the workload and the quality of information contained therein. For further information or to pledge your commitment, please contact me at my personal email address at HRI. The comments section is reserved for questions re the race example cited above.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, October 16, 2016


Breeders’ Cup Prep Season Ends Today?


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, October 16, 2016--Finally, the Breeders' Cup prep season is over, yes?

Between Saturday's action--doubtful, but perhaps BC eventful--the British Day of Champions at Ascot, and Sunday's Canadian International, Nearctic, and EP Taylor at Woodbine, how could there possibly be any more?

On Saturday. I almost was disappointed to read Todd Pletcher’s quotes regarding the victory by Theory after the Grade 3 Belmont Futurity—yet another New York stakes race that has gone back. I mean, six furlongs?

Anyway, I was disheartened because I had a Theory [sorry], possible physical issues notwithstanding, that the trainer really likes the uber impressive Saratoga maiden breaker, has a big future and thus has become his personal Kentucky Derby project.

Of course, Pletcher’s highly likely, as has been the case in recent years, to have more than one Derby starter in 2017. He might even be higher on some of his other two-year-olds. But this was different; he’s really taking his time, developing this one slowly.

Here’s the why: Didn’t think the colt needed another six furlong race in his second start after making his debut way back on July 30. What would another sprint win prove except to get a relatively painless G3 title at 35 cents on the dollar?

Pletcher said after the race the strategy was to take him off the pace, that Moves Like Ali had a lot of speed and the pole, so he most likely would need to be sent out of there, which he was, and Theory could sit just off the speed.

As the race developed, Theory was relaxed on the backside but had to be niggled on a bit to get him to go after the leader, who seemed within himself at the turn.

After Javier Castellano got him to change leads, albeit just a bit awkwardly to our liking, he lugged in for a stride or two until Castellano straightened him away.

The colt eventually won ridden out by 3-1/2 going-away lengths in 1:09.91 and it appeared to be a good learning lesson, an effort to build on going forward.

But what loaned credence to my theory, pun intended, was what happened after the wire.

At the Gulfstream Park simulcast, like at most others around the country, the sound was muted for all but the local track.

So I don’t know whether if, as in days of old, the press was informed that a certain horse would be working an extra sixteenth, or eighth, after the finish; tell-tale that a trainer thinks his runner’s a cinch to win but also that the race was meant as a bridge to something bigger.

Well, Castellano was still riding his mount after the finish line, and he didn’t begin to ease the colt until nearing the top of the clubhouse turn.

[If you want to check this yourself, you’ll probably need to also view the head-on video].

In his post-race comments, Pletcher told the NYRA press staff: “He broke alertly, put himself in a good spot, and Javier gave him a little chance to get his feet underneath him… When he called him he finished up strongly." Then this re Breeders’ Cup:

“He flicked his ears and galloped out strongly... It was everything we hoped it could be… With the way he ran, the way he galloped out and came back, I think we at least have to sit down and have that discussion."

If Pletcher has indeed given him time after the maiden win, even on a speedy Santa Anita oval, my take is that he should pass on the Breeders’ Cup. Two turns, two tough, too much, too soon.

Saturday’s big event is one of my personal favorites; the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth for three year old fillies on the grass at Keeneland. It’s also the favorite of the Phillips family, custodians of the Darby Dan Farm brand and that great broodmare band.

The gutsy, narrow victory by Time and Motion was their fifth in the race and first since the great Memories of Silver in 1996 and also trainer Jimmy Toner’s third. His first was with Tribulation in 1993.

Johnny Velazquez, as occurs so often, proved the difference, first reeling in the very game German horse, Hawksmoor, who ran too good to lose, and a flying Harmonize, who just missed.

For those who don’t know Toner, personally or by reputation, he’s one horseman who puts a smile on everyone’s face when he wins, rivals included.

And when it comes to developing young turf fillies, he just might be peerless. Good job all around.

By late Sunday evening, there will be no more preps, and it will be on to the Breeders’ Cup, right? Right?

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, October 13, 2016


Tote Buster: Saturday’s Extremely Wide Open Pebbles at Belmont


This Analysis Brought to You by 123GAMING.com. For a comprehensive look at all races in today's Late Pick 4 from Belmont Park, click on http://www.123BET.com

RACE 8: PEBBLES STAKES 3YO Fillies 1 Mile WIDENER TURF


1-Enjoy Yourself (30-1) Showed some promise early in turf career but really hasn’t developed since. Has won at the trip but not over the course and her figures are lacking. Pricci Energy Rating: 66. Thoro-Graph Top: 8.75. Very tall order.
2-Believe in Bertie (10-1)** Turns back to winning distance (albeit one turn) and is on a bounce-rebound pattern. Appears best on firm footing and has excellent early speed with inside position. Three sharp blowouts for this following game placing in an Indiana listed stakes. PER: 79. TGT: 6. Exotics price potential.
3-Wild About Harry (15-1)* PERs have been improving incrementally and is (3) 1-1-0 at the trip; (4) 2-1-0 on Belmont turf. Beat state-breds going a mile two back, followed by an open company sprint. Has excellent kick but this spot saltier than she’s used to. PER: 80. TGT: 6.5. Bottom of super perhaps?
4-Ancient Secret (3-1)*** Won G2 Lake George at Saratoga then shipped to WO for Grade 3 mile off a short break but lost all chance with very-wide turn rally. Can easily rebound to form that led to four straight scores; 3-for-3 at Belmont, Chad-Irad team but poor value on early line. PER: 78. TGT: 5.25.
5-Ultra Brat (12-1)*** Seeks her third straight win while moving up in class and distance and won her course and turf debut off a break last out. Motion’s old partner Edgar in for the assignment and barn's been white hot. Bullet blowout at Fair Hill base, bred for added ground, and three sibs have won on turf. PER: 82. TGT: 8. Excellent value at early line odds.
6-Baciama Piccola (30-1) Figures have improved since adding Lasix but has not shown she’s up to this level of competition since winning a Grade 3 at Tampa last winter. Tyler G. shipping in to take the call. PER: 69. TGT: 8.25. Very tall order here.
7-Welcoming (10-1)** Finished well too late vs. weaker in 7-furlong course return, showing some affinity for Belmont turf despite (3) 0-0-3 slate. Has competitive figures but this is a tough spot to break turf maiden after three failed attempts even with highly competitive figure. Franco lands here. PER: 82. TGT: 6. Some price shot potential.
8-Insta Emma (6-1)*** Comes off impressive win over the course--her second Belmont score--and now makes suitable stretch-out for Mott--21% effective in non-graded stakes and 24% with potential repeaters. Switch to Lezcano augurs well for this barn. PER: 81. TGT: 4.75. Solid contender.
9-Stella Rose (5-1)** Fast-finish second and narrowly beaten in turf and course debut at this trip despite bobbling at the break. Chased the pace while wide throughout in G3 Commonwealth Oaks and stayed on very well late and now reunites with winning partner Rosario. PER: 79. TGT: 6.75
10-Louisville First (20-1)*** Earned field’s best last-out PER, grinding out a sprint score over state-breds in course return. Both lifetime wins on Belmont turf and talented New Yorker goes well for Cancel. May provide value on class rise into opens. PER: 84. TGT: 5.25. The value given early line odds.
11-Thundering Sky (8-1)** Was unlucky to lose Wild Applause under today’s exact dynamics in June before racing wide in Lake George. She then returned with game third in a Canadian Grade 3 coming off a short break. Right back to NY with switch to Gallardo. PER: 76. TGT: 8.25.
12-She Doesn’t Mind (7-2)*** Regressed in last following career best when third here to On Leave—who subsequently beat her again. She returns fresh with strong and steady work-line for Chad and Javier sticks. Rebound potential for barn profitable with this spacing. PER: 81. TGT: 9.25.
13-AE-Mom’s On Strike (20-1) Salty spot for winning turf debut. PER: [NA]. TGT: 6.
14-Mo d’Amour (8-5) MAIN TRACK ONLY PER: [NA]. TGT: 3.75.

For on-the-record selections, see Saturday's Feature Race Analysis


Written by John Pricci

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