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, November 13, 2018


Making the Case for Consistency


Last week, the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation [TIF] issued a 24-page report: “Changing the Rules: Clarity and consistency in the adjudication of North American racing is possible with a shift [in] philosophy.”

Arguments on both sides of the disqualification issue come down to what the standard that guides American stewards in their process should be:

Should the order of finish change only when it costs the impeded runner a better placing or is a clear foul a foul wherever it occurs, “incidents at the start” notwithstanding?


The TIF contends there is one alternative that would result in far fewer inquiries and fewer “demotions,” as they term it.

As a result, the think tank insists that racing would get greater consistency for a betting sport upon which all stakeholders would benefit; jockeys, trainers, owners and bettors – if all understood what a foul is.

The present methodology, as defined by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, indicates that only the U.S. and Canada interpret fouls by stating “the interferer is placed behind the sufferer irrespective of whether the sufferer would have finished in front of the interferer had the incident(s) not occurred.”

A foul is a foul is a foul.

But many major jurisdictions on the continent, notably those in place in New York and California, deem the process a judgment call. To wit:

“If in the opinion of a relevant judicial body, a horse or its rider causes interference and finishes in front of the horse interfered with but would not have finished ahead of the horse causing the interference, the placings will remain unaltered.”

What was interesting, from charts published in the TIF study, was that compared to stewards in New York, their California colleagues in interpreted the language significantly stricter, proportionately resulting in more demotions.

Given that these two circuits that do the most business in America, and the fact they assess race incidences in varying degrees, it’s easy to understand why the disqualification process causes so much consternation among horsemen and horseplayers alike.

The TIF recommendation argues in favor of common-sense visual interpretation that would not demote the “obviously best” horse on technical grounds, insisting this approach would result in greater understanding of how races are adjudicated.

In my view, demotions that occur due to careless riding or wantonly obvious intimidation that the enhanced penalty structure recommended in the TIF report for jockeys be put in place.

And if the stewards then deem these incidences as actionable, their penalties, be they suspensions or fines, should be subject to the current appeals used by jockeys.

The appeals process is one of the most ill-treated remedies in the sport, if not THE most abused. It is common knowledge and an unfunny joke that jockeys delay penalties until it’s convenient, allowing them to honor stakes engagements or serve their time on dark days or during the holiday season.

The TIF Report admits that its recommendation will not eliminate stewards’ reviews in close finishes, citing two of the most controversial high profile examples of the season:

Elate vs Able Tasman in the Personal Ensign and Midnight Bisou vs Monomoy Girl in the Cotillion. The first objection was overruled; the latter sustained. Both decisions attracted loud detractors.

In order to enable the desired consistency, a good start might be a change rulings language in New York and California. We believe such a change would bring qualitative analysis on both coasts more in line because it is subject to the same interpretation by similarity in language.

In that instance, competence, objectivity and race watching sophistication would remain prerequisite. Political appointees need not apply.


Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, November 04, 2018


Breeders’ Cup Day 2: Bringing Out the Best in Man and Beast


A terrific prelude to Breeders’ Cup Saturday, the return of Florida Derby winner and Kentucky Derby show finisher Audible in the seven furlong Cherokee Run Stakes, and what a comeback performance it was.

In an effort that was largely anti-profile all weekend, Audible came from far back with a wide sweep and never stopped, finishing determinedly under the wire over a group that included several graded stakes winners.

From here it will be the one mile, one turn Harlan’s Holiday in mid-December, his South Florida return for his major winter goal, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the final Saturday in January.

Would love it if City of Light’s people decide to take a shot. The impressive Dirt Mile winner was the only horses to defeat Accelerate rounding two turns this year and his speedy style would play very well in Hallandale Beach. But first things first...


FILLY & MARE SPRINT: Shamrocks Are Lucky


The good ones make their own luck, which is exactly what Shamrock Rose did with encouragement from a quintessential Irad Ortiz race ride, who persevered between fillies to nail mid-race moving Chalon who just couldn’t stay all the way, beaten a head in the dramatic lid-lifter.

Favorite Marley’s Freedom rallied extremely wide into the stretch which was all her own doing after failing to be tactically placed early. She loomed a possible threat leaving the eighth pole but hung in the final stages. Anonymity was a good wide-rally third inside Marley, finishing a head behind Chalon and a neck in front of disappointing ‘Marley’.

TURF SPRINT: “Could You Repeat That?”


And the Stormy Liberal obliged for his repeat Sprint score, wearing down a very fast and very hard used World of Trouble, producing another heart-pounding finish, engineered by young Drayden Van Dyke, his first Breeders’ Cup win and the cherry on top of his breakthrough season.

‘Stormy’ might not have won it if were not for Van Dyke who got first jump on the field, eased his mount back in perfect position off a pace that heated up rapidly, set his mount down in the 4-path and ran down a determined rival in deep stretch, the team finishing far ahead of a too-late Disco Partner, 7-1/2 lengths behind the top two.

DIRT MILE: Can you see the light?

Trainer Mike McCarthy and Javier Castellano sure could, setting sail for the lead after an even start with City of Light from the pole out of the mile chute and was never seriously threatened in a sparkling display of speed and power, reaching the half in 45.16 and the wire in a gaudy 1:33.83.

Seeking the Soul showed his talent and fondness for Churchill Downs with a strong finishing runnerup as hickory three-year-old Bravazo was a solid show finisher down the center of the track. Odds-on Catalina Cruiser broke out of hand from his outside slip, quickly got back in the race but was exposed when the real running started at midturn.

FILLY & MARE TURF: Sisterchampion

It came down to the two favorites, the European vs. the home team: USA…USA…USA! By a nose, Sistercharlie’s and Chad Brown’s and Johnny’s. The finish was thisclose, and if Wild Illusion wasn’t so fussy at the gate, requiring a blindfold, and a tardy break, who knows? But she had every chance but Sistercharlie and Johnny were relentless.

And, so, instead of three straight Grade/Group 1s and a second victory for Appleby’s team on the day, it was Chad’s second and the slow pace and a couple of pound break for the three-year-old didn’t matter. The Filly & Mare Turf was her fourth G1 this year and her two defeats were by less than a half-length—a neck and a head. And she will return in 2019.

THE SPRINT: Back to Back to Back to Back

Repeat winner are rare in this event and here you have an outfit, Rockingham Ranch et al and trainer Peter Miller doubling up in the Turf Sprint with Stormy Liberal and The Sprint with Roy H., whose whole season was predicated on this race.

To get it done, Miller reached out for Paco Lopez for the winning Santa Anita Sprint Championship—another repeat score—and then this, assuring a consecutive Sprint title. Paco assured a perfect outside stalking trip and Roy H. was there when called upon.

Promises Fulfilled set insane fractions of 21.35 and 44.21 but Roy H. was on the leader at that point, Paco looking for competition. But the champ was even better than last year. Favored Imperial Hint, without his usual gas, made a late bid for third but never threatened. Whitmore tipped off the fence late to secure the place.

THE MILE: Omens Galore


In what turned out to be a stage setter for Juddmonte Farm and Frankie Dettori who rode him to victory in the Gr3 City of York, Expert Eye, under the supervision of European ace, Sir Michael Stoute, Expert Eye came with his devastating turn of foot to get up in the last two strides despite ground loss at the turn, nailing Catapult at the line.

Catapult ran too good to lose and it seemed like a good omen for trainer John Sadler, whose Breeders’ Cup futility continued but the fresh Del Mar Mile champion was loaded all the way, and vanquished all but one. Analyze it showed the courage he had lacked in recent starts, out-nodding premature moving Divisidero for third.

And it wasn’t a bad omen for Enable either, who would take the stage 30 minutes later.

THE DISTAFF: And the Fairest of Them All Is…

Monomoy Girl, the fairest all year. Indeed, no filly finished ahead of her this year, all but one of those in G1 company, but she was placed second in the Cotillion after intimidating rival Midnight Bisou throughout the stretch run. And what about her first run vs her elders, including the enigmatic Abel Tasman? No worries.

Her best was more than good enough against 10 rivals, stalking the pace throughout nine furlongs until Florent Geroux pulled the string at headstretch. And thus she put together what many are saying is the best season by a sophomore filly since Zenyatta. No arguments here.

Wow Cat from last of 11 and was a strong finish second by a half-length over always trying Midnight Bisou. Abel Tasman, put in the race early by Mike Smith, back up through the field and finished last for the second consecutive time. The filly runs like she wants to go home.

THE TURF: History, No Longer In the Waiting


Would Enable become the first Arc winner to win the Turf, score her 10th victory in 11 lifetime starts, finally give John Gosden his first Turf win since the inaugural and Frankie his 16th Breeders’ Cup victory? Yes, yes, yes and yes. But it wasn’t the easiest of trips.

Oh, she was close enough, had forward position, was in the better footing but never really looked all that comfortable, surrounded virtually every step of the way.

As the inside horses tired Frankie guided his filly into the 4-path at the turn, the momentum carrying her 6 wide into the lane, at which point her younger, class rival Magical got the jump inside as the two fillies set sail for the wire.

It was a great battle and the champion prevailed. “She conquered America,” and the Arc winner’s hex in the process, overcoming, injury, sickness and a tough race coming off one lone prep on synthetic over outclassed rivals that couldn’t warm her up on her best. It was nine lengths back to show finisher, the ever tenacious, stretch-running Sadler’s Joy.

THE CLASSIC: Now, Can California and Sadler Conquer Churchill Downs?

Hadn’t had much luck in the past, Accelerate was facing four in five rivals in his home state, was he soft going into his final prep or was he over the top? And there was the Sadler 0-for-44 factor. The best thing he had going for him was 10 furlongs and a white hot Rosario.

It turned out he needed every inch of that mile and a quarter and a contested pace in front of him. And it all worked out, the 5-year-old got his trainer off the Breeders’ Cup duck by winning his fifth Grade 1 of the year, his fourth at the classic American distance.

Catholic Boy never had a chance, virtually eliminated at the start, McKinzie, the other marquee three-year-old was not well enough prepared, wasn’t good enough, or both. Mendelssohn is brilliant but 10 furlongs looks like a half-furlong too far. Thunder Snow needs a rider to replace the whip-happy one he has, one seemingly overmatched against America’s best.

Mind Your Biscuits suffered through a wide trip but never really fired, West Coast hasn’t won in a long time now, Yoshida could not extend his big 9-furlong another strong eighth-mile and only trusty Gunnevera, who makes big runs in big spots, made a very good one right to the end but was no match for a faster rival, the best handicap horse in America.

Written by John Pricci

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Through the Breeders’ Cup Looking Glass: Horses & Races to Watch


PART 1: Future Stars Friday:

Said it before and will re-state: Love the new Friday concept since the future is what this game’s always been about: This year’s juveniles are next year’s Classicists.

A preview of the preview began in the Street Sense, the race before the Juvenile Turf Sprint. The embarrassment of 2-year-old riches continued for Mr. Baffert: Improbable is a stone runner and young Drayden Van Dyke has broken through in a big way…

On Tuesday, we’ll look at the aesthetics of Breeders’ Cup, handle business, live attendance, venues and the controversial Eclipse issues in several categories. But while the action is still fresh…


JUVENILE TURF SPRINT: BULLET-IN

As the schedule would have it, Baffert and Todd Pletcher go back-to-back. Credit the trainer who knew what he had, debuting Bulletin is a listed Gulfstream Park stakes in debut, which he won with authority.

On Friday, he made the start look bad as Javier—he has achieved one-name status—caught a flyer and the colt did the rest, powering away through the lane as clearly best over the filly Chelsea Cloisters who was ultra-good in defeat.

So Perfect finished with decided interest on the best part of the “good” course—the 3-to-4 path while another O’Brien trainee finished gamely inside; Sergei Prokofiev raced better than it looks on paper. Favorite Soldier’s Call was eliminate at the break; slow 2-3 lengths at start, steadied hard between shortly thereafter.

JUVENILE FILLIES TURF: Extremely R-eli-able


I hate it when in the rush to storylines, hyperbole becomes normalized. In the case of Newspaperofrecord not only will we admit it was justified but, just possibly, at this stage, Chad Brown-trained filly might be ahead of Lady Eli developmentally. It’s Sunday morning and Irad Ortiz has yet to let the undefeated filly run.

East finished strongly in the 6-path to snatch second in the final strides as Stellar Agent was an extremely good third rallying in the slowest, part of the wet course inside. Ortiz was also Lady Eli’s partner, a 2-3/4 length winner of the JFT but, for the record, this miss won hers by 6-3/4s, wow!

Words of wisdom on naming filly from owner Seth Klarman, via Bloodhorse Editor Alicia Wincze Hughes Twitter feed, for those still interested in learning tribe-free: "I think this is an important time for journalism....we believe in searching out facts and that society needs to get back to facts and truth.”

JUVENILE FILLIES: Cash Is Queen


In another year, and extremely likely now, Jaywalk’s totally comprehensive victory, coupled with her Grade 1 Frizette, her fourth straight win since adding Lasix, will earn a much deserved Eclipse. Talent-wise, however, is she Newspaperofrecord’s equal? Let the first Breeders’ Cup Eclipse debate begin.

The very talented runnerup, Restless Rider, will live to fight another day while show finisher Vibrance—on a rail that did not appear the fastest part of the drying dirt surface—ran an excellent race, giving way only in the final few strides.

JUVENILE TURF: Made in Great Britain

With William Buick driving furiously and timing his late move precisely, Line of Duty was very stout in the late stages for a victory that was more impressive than a chart might indicate. Buick saved ground, edged out for room midturn, wisely waited to angle 5-wide in the straightaway then powered home.

Uncle Benny stretched out nicely from sprints, as his pedigree indicated he would, a good, very well ridden 2nd beneath Irad. Show finishing pressed throughout pacesetter Somelikeithotbrown, ran too good to lose, narrowly beaten for it all.

The only quizzical moment was why the steward’s took so long to decide on a possible disqualification. The first two horses came together late--more of a brush than a bump—the outside coming in under right-handled pressure with the inside runner coming out first, under a left hand. More dramatic “thoroughness” than was called for in this spot.

JUVENILE WINNER “Would Not Get Beat”

That’s what trainer Baffert told anyone who would listen pre-race and Rosario took the words to heat, riding Game Winner in much-the-best fashion. Racing four to five wide at every stage, the undefeated three-time G1 winner would not be denied, once again lengthening stride as the wire approached.

Runnerup Knicks Go apparently in no fluke. He cashed the pace of the disappointing Complexity throughout, took command at headstretch and battled the winner until inside the final sixteenth. Longshot Signalman finished best of all—third—and galloped out in front before reaching mid-clubhouse turn in a promising performance.

The win gave Rosario—who would also take the curtain-closing Marathon with Rocketry—the very-early favorites for both the Derby and Oaks. Of Baffert’s four Juvenile victories, a healthy Game Winner would be the first to run back in the ensuing Kentucky Derby.

SATURDAY: Stay tuned

Written by John Pricci

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