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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Friday, April 12, 2019

Looking for Victory on Debut

HOT SPRINGS—Like a #16 seed in the NCAA’s or an 8-8 NFL Wildcard playing in the Super Bowl, we’re just happy to be here.

Like those teams that have gotten lucky at least once in the past, perhaps the racing gods will smile upon us Saturday. Alas, we shall see.

My frame of reference, Arkansas Derby replays notwithstanding, is that I lived in Saratoga Springs for 16 years, Hot Springs as famed for its history as is the town in New York’s Capital District.

We made our first visit to Oaklawn Park, “Home of the Racing Festival of the South,” on Wednesday for the post draw. First visits to racetracks never gets old.

The next day a guided tour was conducted by my new BFF, Chris Robbins, who has day jobs as the CEO of Diversified Holdings of Hot Springs LLC, CEO of ThoroCap and, most significantly, an Administrator of Arkansas State University's College of the Ouachitas: Think High Priest of Geeks.

On the National Register of Historic Places, we drove through Central Avenue's Historic District to the top of the mountain in Hot Springs National Park, in the center of town hard by the Arlington Hotel where Capone stayed back in the day.

Alphonse wasn’t the sole Mafia chieftain to embrace this artistic, slightly naughty, all-seasons retreat although mostly during the racing season, of course, when he could expect run into Babe Ruth at the end of the Bambino's spring training session in Whittington Park, America’s first spring-training camp. Who knew?

Like Capone, Ruth would often frequent the town’s casinos, speakeasies and the racetrack, where tomorrow’s crowd--predicted stormy conditions notwithstanding-- could nearly double the town’s population of 35,000.

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1918, Ruth launched a mammoth home run that cleared the fence at Whittington Park and landed across the way, inside the Arkansas Alligator Farm. It was measured at 573 feet, baseball’s first 500-foot-plus homer.

Returning to a period when Native Americans enjoyed their indigenous land, to the time crime lords came to visit, Hot Springs was regarded neutral territory because of its healing waters which literally and figuratively gave life to this sector of Garland County.

Ran into Andy Serling and Steve Byk at DeLuca’s Pizzeria, voted best restaurant in Arkansas, never mind Hot Springs, in 2017. That might be a bit of a stretch, but an excellent pizza; thin crust featuring great, fresh toppings, including Arkansas grown arugula.

Some great food here; such as the prosciutto and arugula crepe topped with a light Hollandaise Sauce at Alexa’s Creperie in Rockwell, just outside city proper, and a Jalapeno Kolache Donut, thanks to Chris’ wife Donna: Picture a glossy croissant filled with a tender jalapeno hot dog. Yummy.

Wish we had a better weather outlook for fans and first-time visitors alike. Today is sunny but very cool. Arkansas Derby day will be cooler yet with an inch of rain predicted. Inconvenient? Probably. A Derby form cloud? Most definitely.

But we’re very happen to be here to find out. With any luck, a personal reprise of last year’s first round UMBC NCAA upset would be nice.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Raceday Medication Banned in California Following 22nd Fatality

An Open Letter to the Racing Industry

By Belinda Stronach

What has happened at Santa Anita over the last few weeks is beyond heartbreaking. It is unacceptable to the public and, as people who deeply love horses, to everyone at The Stronach Group and Santa Anita.

The sport of horse racing is the last great sporting legacy platform to be modernized. If we expect our sport to grow for future generations, we must raise our standards.

Today, I'm announcing The Stronach Group will take the unprecedented step of declaring a zero tolerance for race day medication at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields. These Thoroughbred racetracks will be the first in North America to follow the strict International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) standards.

We have arrived at a watershed moment. The Stronach Group has long been a strong advocate for the abolishment of race-day medication, but we will wait no longer for the industry to come together as one to institute these changes. Nor will we wait for the legislation required to undertake this paradigm shift. We are taking a stand and fully recognize just how disruptive this might be.

This mandate encompasses a complete revision of the current medication policy to improve the safety of our equine and human athletes and to raise the integrity of our sport.

These revisions comprise best practices currently employed at racetracks around the world:

•Banning the use of Lasix.
•Increasing the ban on legal therapeutic NSAIDS, joint injections, shockwave therapy, and anabolic steroids.
•Complete transparency of all veterinary records.
•Significantly increasing out-of-competition testing.
•Increasing the time required for horses to be on-site prior to a race.
•A substantial investment by The Stronach Group in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
•Horses in training are only allowed therapeutic medication with a qualified veterinary diagnosis.

Additionally, it is time to address the growing concern about use of the riding crop. A cushion crop should only be used as a corrective safety measure. While we firmly believe our jockeys have not purposely been mistreating their mounts, it is time to make this change.

These modernizations are in addition to the previously announced commitment to the continued engagement of outside experts to regularly review our dirt, turf and synthetic courses for consistency, composition and compaction to create the safest racing surfaces in the world.

We will be continuing our daily conversations with industry stakeholders to further define these transformative guidelines. But make no mistake: these changes will be implemented. The time to discuss “why” these advancements must take place is over. The only thing left to discuss is “how.”

There are some who will take a stand and tell us that it cannot be done. To them we say “the health and welfare of the horses will always come first.” We also say '”not only can it be done, it is what we are doing.” Racing at Santa Anita and Golden Gate is a privilege, it is not a right.

Ultimately, we recognize the owners and trainers of these horses have the final responsibility to assess their fitness for racing and training. Our goal is to make every resource available to aid them in that determination. We are all in this together to make the horse the first priority.

Our COO, Tim Ritvo, has been a horseman for almost four decades. As he said, “The time has come for this industry to evolve. It must do so for the sake of the horses and the people who depend on this sport for their livelihoods. Moving to international standards will help to set the right foundation for racing and fairness. We love the sport of horse racing and want it to succeed today, tomorrow and long into the future.”

We've spoken with the California Horse Racing Board and they will be holding a meeting on March 21 at which the situation at Santa Anita Park will be addressed. In the interim, Chairman Chuck Winner told us he personally appreciates the initiatives that The Stronach Group announced today. The Chairman said, “The safety of horses and riders has been, is, and will be the primary concern of the CHRB. The CHRB has been working with The Stronach Group and the various stakeholders to achieve a common objective, which is the best possible conditions for the health and safety of our equine competitors.”

Organizations who advocate for animal welfare have also affirmed their support for these measures. Kathy Guillermo, Senior Vice President for PETA said, “PETA thanks Santa Anita for standing up to all those who have used any means to force injured or unfit horses to run. This is a historic moment for racing and PETA urges every track to recognize that the future is now and to follow suit. This groundbreaking plan will not bring back the 22 horses who have died recently, but it will prevent the deaths of many more and will set a new standard for racing that means less suffering for Thoroughbreds.”

These initiatives are a seismic shift in how the sport has been conducted for centuries. We are pleased that Stuart S. Janney III, Chairman of The Jockey Club, which has long supported the Horseracing Integrity Act, said, “We applaud The Stronach Group for its announcement today to effect sweeping changes at Santa Anita, which would bring them on par with the strict standards seen in major international racing jurisdictions.”

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, has also voiced their agreement with these new changes. Joe Harper, CEO said, “Del Mar has and will continue to support discussions and implementation of measures that enhance the safety and welfare of our athletes. We are committed to working with Santa Anita, The Stronach Group and other industry stakeholders to continue to improve.”

We recognize this will impact our field size as horses and horsemen adjust to this new standard. There will be horses that will not be able to race because they have required medication to do so. For those horses, we are prepared to dedicate the capital required to rehabilitate, retrain, rehome and provide aftercare for them. They deserve nothing less.

We are taking a step forward and saying, quite emphatically, that the current system is broken. While the cause of the injuries on the racetrack might be varied, they have one thing in common: the industry has yet to do everything that can be done to prevent them. That changes today.

First and foremost, we must do right by the horse. When we do right by the horse, everything – everything – will follow.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sport, Centeno. Escape Possible Scandal, Injury at Tampa Bay Downs

By John Pricci

When it comes to horse racing, Twitter is the social media of choice. It’s fast, informative and engaging, everything you want to stay connected to your vocation or avocation of choice.

Too often, however, issues arise too quickly, the message is under-informed and engagement quickly goes off the rails. And given that human nature is what it is, c’mon, who doesn’t love a good “fix” yarn every now and then?

That was the case on a rainy Wednesday in Oldsmar Tampa where Daniel Centeno, perennially 1-2 in the jockey standings every year, jumped off 11-10 favorite R Baby Driver with victory assured several jumps before the finish post.

From the pan shot, it was impossible to immediately say what happened. It could have been interpreted that either R Baby Driver swerved and Centeno performed an unintended flying dismount or something sinister had just happened.

In the moment, this too was my reaction.

Twitter blew up immediately. To paraphrase: “Centeno bailed off the favorite so that Goforthegusto, at 113-1, could win.” And it didn’t stop there. Tweets appeared claiming that a knowing bettor made a $35 late double wheel going into the card’s final race.

The sport’s general lack of transparency and cautionary overreach helped to inflame the situation. Horseplayers could, and should be, seeing red flags, especially those watching on TVG and might not have seen the Tampa Bay Downs’ Twitter update.

Wanting to learn more I went to two ADWs I frequent, my default Xpressbet and less frequented Neither had head-on replay video. Those for the seventh and ninth races were available, but not the one in between. This is not a good look.

Here’s a timeline of events from the moment Centeno did a premature Dettori jumps before reaching the winning post:

R Baby Driver was seen running off rider-less while bearing out but apparently going soundly. The official chart noted the horse walked off under his own power. One bullet dodged. Centeno’s condition was the urgency that remained.

The good news as reported by TVG via Tampa Bay’s twitter response was that Centeno walked back to the jock’s room unassisted, was alert, suffered leg contusions but no apparent broken bones.

Tampa Bay Downs has long had safety measures in place. In the room, Centeno was examined by a certified, senior EMT who administered a concussion protocol. The test indicated that the rider did not require hospitalization and was allowed to return home.

If Centeno were scheduled to ride in the finale, he would have been taken off that mount. The rule at Tampa is that any jockey who suffers a spill must be taken off his mount if he were scheduled to ride in the following race.

When it comes to racetrack accidents, especially gruesome scenes in which either a catastrophic breakdown occurs, a rider appears seriously injured, or both, racetracks show the replay up to the point that the incident occurs; a sensible public policy.

Wednesday’s incident was different. Unless Centeno or R Baby Driver were unable to walk off the track, there was no reason to eschew the head-on replay, which would have nipped uniformed innuendo in the bud and avoided inevitably trendy bad racing news.

After making inquiries, Tampa Bay official Margo Flynn contacted the TV department on Thursday, a dark day, and had the head-on view posted.

Racing’s overabundance of caution and natural tendency to keep things in house was the philosophy that may have influenced one Tampa steward to decide, not knowing the extent of Centeno’s condition, to err cautiously and that no head-on vantage would be broadcast.

The final element which led to twitter hysteria was the result of premature analysis by an observer that irregular betting patterns were in play. However, a subsequent review of betting patterns by the Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau yielded no red flags.

Our empirical review of prices and payoffs, and a subsequent handicapping review, looked reasonable. Behind the 113-1 winner was a 69-1 runnerup followed by an 11-1 chance to show. From a pool of $69,849, a 50-Cent trifecta paid $51,724 to one ticket holder.

The late double, combining a $228.60 with a $3.80 winner paid $335 for $1. By comparison, a parlay would have returned $433. An underlay? Arguably, yes. But aren’t there something like three of four wise guy double probables every day at every track?

The lesson here for racing’s social mediators is that we need to be careful not to rush to judgment. Whether we are suspicious or trusting, the need to trust but verify is the proper tack.

BETS ‘N PIECES: Goforthegusto was an extreme overlay in a large field of bottom-level maidens. And anyone who watched Wednesday’s races over a tightly sealed, sloppy track witnessed one thing: a very strong bias favoring frontrunning speed.

I had looked at the eighth race because a Horse to Watch arrived via stable mail. I analyzed the race and didn’t like his chances. In fact, I thought the Georgina Baxter-trained, Daniel Centeno-ridden heavy favorite couldn’t lose.

I handicapped the finale for late double possibilities. Saratoga County had one run in a Gulfstream maiden allowances last year. He showed high speed, finished in the money, earned a layover Thoro-Graph figure and rated to be a cinch if fit. I bet a cold double.

Indeed, the payoff would have been small but the reward merit the risk. Of greater significance, there also was a chance to make a small score in eighth race verticals with the aid of a bias.

And so I looked for early speed: #2 Capable Man and #10 Goforthegusto figured to open daylight in the 7-furlong sprint, the outside horse owning a tactical wide-draw advantage. At the break, Capable Man showed nothing but Goforthegusto was able to shake loose.

Below are two small action wagers I made, hoping to score out. In addition to using Goforthegusto behind the winner came #1, a pick-up-late-pieces type, and #4, a well spotted Gulfstream ship-in. I used all four beneath R Baby Driver. You know the rest…

Xpressbet February 13, 2019 3:51 PM 750460 Race 8 Tampa Bay Downs $0.50 TR (PWHL) 8 / 2, 10 / 1, 2, 10 Bet $2 $0

3:53 Online Gaming Tampa Bay Downs R8 $0.50 Trifecta Key 8
1,2,4,10 $6.00 $0.00 $0.00 Resolved

I wound up minus a few dollars for the day but the analysis was good and I had a good chance to win a lot for a little. What more can a horseplayer ask?

BTW: I put #4 Falconer, the fifth place finisher, in my stable mail. Knocked off stride at the break, he rushed up wide down the backside, dropped over to the inside at the turn, and continued very gamely through the finish line.

©John,Feb 17,2019

Written by John Pricci

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