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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Sunday, June 25, 2017


Cheery Bye to Royal Ascot’s Jolly Good Show


It was just past 8:30 a.m. Sunday when I clicked on the keyboard and turned on the NBC Sports Network only to find that Royal Ascot race meet from Berkshire, which I now know is in the English countryside 26 miles west of London, is no more until June, 2018.

For the previous five days, it was, as the saying goes, as much fun as you can have with your clothes on even without America-style past performances and lacking the time to study video--where and if you could find it—but I did come up with a decent attack plan.

Start with high-profile, pointing connections, say the lads of Ballydoyle vs. the Royal Blue of Godolphin--Aidan O’Brien vs. Charlie Appleby et al—scan blue-blooded pedigrees, and horses with an affinity for the course and distance. and proper spacing.

The proper-spacing angle of the handicapping equation was more complex however as the Euros tend to run their horses back more quickly than trainers in the New World. In that case, we looked for a break between the last and penultimate races, etc., etc.

Loyal to Xpressbet who have been loyal to us since HRI’s inception in 2007, I decided my mode of play would be exactas since the ADW was offering a special promotion—winning Ascot exactas at 0% takeout. I wondered how that was possible so I read further.

I didn’t understand the 33% bonus on winning exacta plays minus the 25% takeout-- which we assumed was the track’s cut plus signal fees, et al. Common sense dictates this was the equivalent of an 8% ‘rebate’ but then math never was my best game.

However, I was willing to find out how it would shake out in four days, the first time any bonuses would be paid. Either way, a bunch of three- or four- or five-horse boxes at a $1 minimum was affordable and would keep me in the game starting Tuesday morning.

On opening day I had a provincial interest in Miss Temple City in the Group 1 Queen Anne, and the great Lady Aurelia—yes, even at this early stage—in the G1 King’s Stand. Further, I would bet to see highly touted Euro Churchill in the G1 St. James Palace Stakes.

As it turned out, Miss Temple City has yet to recapture her best form but she may be unsuited by the straight one-mile turf course, as both her G1 wins over U.S. males came rounding two turns. But Lady Aurelia didn’t disappoint. In fact, she raised her game.

With Johnny Velazquez replacing injured Frankie Dettori, Wesley Ward, the Washington Yankee in Queen Elizabeth’s Court who started this whole U.S.-Royal Ascot love affair in 2009, had her set for best, and was she ever!

Johnny just let her bound away from there, settled her into stride, moved her to the center of the course to see competition, started riding in earnest just inside the 2F marker and she rolled away powerfully, missing the course record by .01 of a second.

As for Churchill, we didn’t care for his schedule into the St. James Palace but it wouldn’t have mattered, not after seeing Barney Roy enter the course. He looked like an animated version of the Breeders’ Cup Torrie horse:

Regal in appearance, his creases had creases, he was glowing in HD and had a not-too-high strut to his stuff. ‘Barney’ dug down deep and powered away late to win the Palace with a tad in reserve as he crossed the finish line. Four starts and already two Gr1 wins.

There were so many highlights over the five days: The expected dominance of Godolphin for a bevy of trainers and Ballydoyle under O’Brien’s direction; a great swan song for recently deceased Scat Daddy, one of the most prolific turf sires we’ve seen, who had four winners in five days.

The rating-ride and clearly Race of the Meet had to be the Gr1 Gold Cup. James Doyle’s effort aboard the speedy Big Orange, who will run as fast and as far as they write races, was brilliant, holding off a flying and deserving odds-on favorite, Order Of St. George.

Ryan Moore was the meet’s leading rider, out-nodding William Buick, but Doyle impressed, too, and good to see a couple of Breeders’ Cup vets, Jamie Spencer and Olivier Peslier, use the late-run skills to best advantage. Young Kieran Shoemark shows great promise.

Other big-effort highlights included Le Brivido in the G3 Jersey, amazing Highland Reel in the G1 Prince of Wales; Atty Persse taking a Class 2 Handicap at 1-1/2 miles; the O’Brien pair of Caravaggio and Winter.

Finally, Permian, a grinder type that can sprint away late even at a mile and a half, who the G2 King Edward with authority. Will be looking forward to seeing any or all of these horses at Del Mar come November: It’s not too early to keep Breeders’ Cup stable notes.

As it turned out, I cashed enough winning $1 multi-horse exacta boxes that on Friday morning, a C-note appeared in my account that wasn’t there when I powered down on Thursday night. Cool.

On a personal note, my wife Toni accompanies me everywhere whenever she can, whether it be big race days, taking photos for this website, or on early backstretch mornings for bacon, eggs, coffee and workouts. But betting and watching races on TV, not so much.

But she was with me every morning for virtual Ascot—I beat her for a buck head-to-head when I took the Queen and the color blue for Thursday’s Royal procession—loving all the pomp and circumstance the pre-game had to offer; fashion, color spectacle and the like.

God willing, we will celebrate our 50th anniversary at Royal Ascot in 2019. I spoke with my daughters Friday night, suggesting that they start saving their money now.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, June 09, 2017


HRI STAFF SELECTIONS, BELMONT 149


TOM JICHA

1—Senior Investor: Will be running late, not sure others will be
2--Irish War Cry: The remaining class but a short price
3—Multiplier: Another who should like distance
4—Gormley: The best of those near the lead.

MARK BERNER


1--Looking At Lee: Suited by race shape, distance and jockey switch.
2- J Boys Echo: Excuses in last two and should like added distance.
3- Irish War Cry: Didn't show his best in the Derby; figures closely here.
4- Tapwrit: Lost all chance in last two outings; competitive on best effort.

INDULTO


1—Gormley: Preakness skipper has 2 G1s in 3 prep wins
2--Irish War Cry: Preakness skipper has 2 G2s in 2 prep wins
3--Lookin at Lee: Consistency, defections, and new rider enhance potential
4--Senior Investment: Improving contender outfinished ‘Lee’ in Preakness

JOHN PRICCI

1—Tapwrit: Derby “sneaky good” indeed; right style, dynamics, post, rider, fair odds.
2--Irish War Cry: Most probable winner, but not a great wager as the favorite.
3—J Boys Echo: Better than generally rated and last two can be forgiven; price shot.
4—Gormley: Fast, game, well drawn, money rider, right style and offers value, too.
5--Lookin At Lee: Uber consistent, excellent local work, reliable exotics player.


Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, June 06, 2017


When Testing a Champion, Everything Matters


One day after these thumbnail sketches were posted, it was learned that Classic Empire has had a re-occurrence after the foot abscess that hampered him in Florida this winter. Consequently, he has been declared from the Belmont Stakes. Hopefully for all concerned, this turns out to be a mid-season blessing. No easy game, this...

The first big handicapping lie I can remember with respect to the Belmont Stakes is that at a mile and a half, post positions don’t matter.

My position, regardless of surface, distance, configuration—whatever the parameters may be—is that post positions always matter. Post positions determine tactics and tactics determine race shape. Period.

So, as we await the pulling of the pills for Saturday’s "Test of the Champion,"--to be streamed live at noon Wednesday at http://www.nyra.com and the NYRA Now app, including the Met Mile and Woodford Reserve Turf--here are profiles of the expected entrants as of mid-afternoon Tuesday.

Horses listed alphabetically:

THE Grade 1 BELMONT STAKES 3YO 1-1/2 MILES

EPICHARIS: His head defeat to Derby jumping-jack Thunder Snow [subsequently a very good 2nd in Epsom Derby] stands between this grandson of Sunday Silence and an undefeated five-race career. A tactical speedster with a very stout pedigree, he looks seasoned enough to handle the demands of the Champion’s Test. Has appeared quite handy in morning jogs and gallops. Legitimate dark horse has targeted this for some time.

GORMLEY: Needs to put it together once and for all. Never had a chance in rough house Derby, not to mention breaking from slip #18 on the inside-speedy sloppy strip. Owns solid pedigree for the route and another with a nice blend of galloping speed and heart, as was demonstrated when chasing the Santa Anita Derby’s hot pace then sticking it out for the win. Has worked thrice since the Derby, increasing the tempo and distance coming up to Saturday’s marathon.

HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME: Even today, $200K for offspring of a new unproven sire is a sizable some, so his name might be well earned. And his form is better than it appears on paper, benefiting from class tests in Louisiana and Illinois. He overcame a slow pace to win a recent Churchill allowances, has worked crisply since, and Dallas Stewart has several examples of horses outrunning huge odds in big spots. But this is a giant leap for a horse whose breeding line is dubious at the trip.

IRISH WAR CRY: We applaud Graham Motion’s decision to enter after the Curlin chestnut “told” him to do so. He regressed badly off a lifetime best effort in the Holy Bull and bounced again off a huge Thoro-Graph top in the Wood, going from serious contender entering the Churchill far turn to empty entering the stretch. Had two in-reserve stamina builders at Fair Hill base, his 1:14 six-furlong company breeze Sunday the convincer. Rates among division’s very best.

J BOYS ECHO: His Gotham was a coming out party, a career best in which he beat subsequent Preakness-winning Cloud Computing by a comprehensive 3-1/2 lengths. Following his New York run came rough trips in both the Blue Grass and Derby, especially the latter. It didn’t take long before Dale Romans jumped off the fence and into the Belmont with both feet. His recent five furlong breeze was his best work ever, Romans said. Has the right style and pedigree for the job; improvement expected.

LOOKIN AT LEE: We understand that he hasn’t finished first since the Ellis Park Juvenile, but since stretching to two turns we’ve never seen him give a poor effort; in fact, to the contrary. A last-run finisher, he sprints home late regardless of pace, distance or surface, showing an affinity for two-turn racing against the division’s best. Half-mile blowout Sunday was excellent, finishing up as if it were a spirited gallop. Steve Asmussen reunites 2016 Belmont-winning team, tapping Irad Ortiz Jr. Pedigree won’t stop him.

MEANTIME: Cannot be too quick to dismiss a horse due to having only four career starts. After a second to Patch in a Gulfstream flat-mile debut, he turned back to finish third to highly promising sprinter Time To Travel before breaking maiden by 7-1/2 lengths in a nine-furlong, two-turn debut. Finished second to undefeated Timeline in the Peter Pan, the traditional local prep. He’s the only runner with a recent race over the track. Solid five furlongs Saturday convinced Brian Lynch to take a shot. ‘Money Mike’ Smith lands here!

MULTIPLIER: Love his progress into this as he shunned the Derby on short rest after his breakthrough Illinois Derby to run in Baltimore, showing lots of determination by beating half the field despite impeded stretch progress--after first altering course at headstretch--a better-than-it-appears running line. Peaking for Brendan Walsh who said the colt is a difficult ride and that Joel Rosario will benefit from his recent Preakness experience.

PATCH: Didn’t get enough credit for his Louisiana Derby placing as a third-time starter. Blind in his left eye, he broke from post 20 on Churchill’s sloppy, inside strip. After getting sloughed at headstretch, beating six horses was some kind of miracle. Recent company work impressed favorably and pedigree is among fields’ stoutest. Agree with Mr. Pletcher that his grinding style suits the task and the colt reunites with Johnny, aboard for lone win. Being lightly raced is a concern, but 12 furlongs often is a great equalizer.

SENIOR INVESTMENT:
Entered the Preakness having won three of his last four then finished boldly down the center of the strip to finish third. The fact that everyone saw it might result in a lower price than reality dictates—he was 11-1 when he won the Lexington and 31-1 in Baltimore. Stamina exists on the bottom side of his pedigree and all siblings are winners--and not necessarily early developers, so there are things to like. Does added ground mitigate his late burst? We’ll find out in four days.

TAPWRIT: Right up there with Classic Empire in suffering through horrendous trip at Churchill. How he managed to rally as well as he did to finish ahead of 14 rivals is a credit to his talent and tenacity—and he probably got nothing out of his Blue Grass. When I think about how this race might be run, I recall the bold sweep he made on the turn at Tampa and maintained his momentum to the finish, albeit at 1-1/16 miles. That gives him Belmont style. Has worked thrice since the Derby; intriguing player.

TWISTED TOM: Think Chad Brown got lucky in Baltimore with a horse who sat a garden pocket trip to win his first classic? Maybe so, but that luck was in our view the residue of design: He passed the Derby in favor of the Preakness with Cloud Computing and he’s skipping the Belmont with that one because of 12-furlong doubts--and he's been dying to run Twisted Tom a mile and a half. Undefeated in three starts since adding blinkers, he worked a strong five-eighths Saturday and gets first-time Javier. Ignore at your peril.

Written by John Pricci

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