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, October 22, 2017


In Need of HRI Faithful Feedback on Possible New Product for 2018


I didn’t intend to go public with these results but since I’m always looking to earn by creating useful new products, I thought it was time to try something different and frankly, can use your input.

I have a Horses to Watch betting methodology that has worked well for over four decades and, in a vast majority of this years, has yielded profitable results. I thought, why not share?

Needless to say this takes time and dedication to produce and I’m not giving “expertise” away for free. So I’m begging your indulgence and will explain further.

If you are personally interested, great. If not, your opinions would still be invaluable to me. My teeth aren’t getting any shorter. I don’t have time to waste.

I was one of the original trip handicappers in the early 1970s. It helped land me a job as Newsday’s first Thoroughbred racing handicapper, that and a Sunday column of which Horses to Watch were a popular segment.

I prided myself on knowing how to watch races, insights gleaned from countless harness racing nights at Roosevelt and Yonkers Raceways. It was my life back then and trips were everything.

In the day, I remembered all that I saw. Now, observations must go into a computer file, on convenient work sheets or handy scraps of paper, old school style. Either way, the process is all too familiar:

Write down the name, the trip note, in short-hand symbols provided me by a professional gambler from Manhattan, Paul Mellos, who also taught me about the nuances of pace.

Any horses that made the list I bet back three times regardless of how they looked on past performances. You read that correctly; blind betting on past observations, no handicapping required.

Horses were given three strikes before being stricken from the list. Once a horse won within those three starts, it also came off the list: Mission Accomplished. (But the memory lingers, feeling you know something about a particular horse no one else does).

This, of course, was at a time when replays were not available unless you went to the racetrack the next day and watched all nine races from the previous day, pan shots only; no slow-motion stretch runs.

Now, replays are ubiquitous. Consequently, very impressive visual performances and obvious trouble horses most often return as underlays. Today, good trip handicapping requires more nuance but, to be honest, nothing get passed true wise-guys.

So, thinking about a new product to go with the Tote Busters© Late Pick 4—available at JohnPricci.com on event and special race-days only—I began writing my stable-mail horses in a calendar book this summer and began keeping score.

Many of the winners came in its very next start; others coming within the three-start deadline, exactly which start went unnoted.

(Some of those will be apparent where names appear more than once. We did not start noting off-odds for non-winners until later in the process).

The Horses to Watch that follow were culled from sources listed above including table mail [the editor takes no responsibility for misspellings from the scrunched printing in my tiny calendar book—have since procured a larger one].

Again, the following horses were either coming off impressive, development-likely wins; very troubled trips; horses given a run; extraordinary workout videos and back-of-the-pack finishers that galloped out strongly:

JUNE 2017


ANTONOL, LRL: won on 6/10, $8.10
GONE AWAY, LRL: won on 6/10, $3.20
AMERICAN SPARROW, CD: 3rd on 6/10
UNCLE MOJO, BEL: placed on 6/11 @ 8-1
EL ZEAL, BEL(?): won on 6/11, $3.40
BALLAGH ROCKS, BEL: won on 6/18, $8.20
DEARIE, BEL: out on 6/22 @ 80-1
RINCE TAPAIGH, WO(?): won via DQ on 6/24, $14.00

JULY

UNMOORED, ELLIS: 2nd on 7/3 @ 2-1
AMERICAN SPARROW, ELLIS: out on 7/7 @ 12-1
GONE AWAY, DEL: 3rd on 7/8 @ 10-1
BLACKTYPE, BEL: 3RD on 7/14, (odds?)
GRAND JETE, BEL: won on 7/14, $2.70
WEST COAST, LOS AL, won on 7/15, $2.70
DEARIE, BEL: out on 7/16 at 80-1
UNCLE MOJO, SAR: won on 7/16, $7.20
GIFTED LADY, SAR: out on 7/24 @ 3-1
GREELEY AND BEN, ELLIS: won on 7/29, $26.80
PAINTER’S RAGS, SAR: out on 7/29 at 6-1
EL DEAL, SAR: won on 7/29, $7.80
COMPLETELY BONKERS, ELLIS: 2nd at 1-1 on 7/29

AUGUST

HARKNESS, SAR: won on 8/2, $14.80
TIZZELE, SAR: 2ND on 8/4 at 6-5
FLY E DUBAI, LRL: out on 8/5 @ 24-1
YOUR LOVE, SAR: out on 8/5 @ 5-1
TRICKSTER, DEL: 3rd on 8/9 @ 6-1
UNMOORED, ELLIS: won on 8/11, $6.00
SPANISH RIVER, WO, out at 24-1 on 8/12
CONQUEST CLASSIC, ARL, out at 26-1 on 8/13
AMERICAN SPARROW, BELTERRA: out on 8/17 @ 1-2
TAPERGE, SAR: won on 8/17, $5.20 (made note to bet back again next time)
PAINTER’S RAGS, SAR: 2nd on 8/18 at 5-2

SEPTEMBER


GRAND PRIX, PARX: won on 9/2, $5.20
FLY E DUBAI, LRL: 3rd at 34-1 on 9/30

OCTOBER

MAISIE, TRACK (?): out on (date?) @ 40-1(?)
HELOOKSTHEPART, BEL: won on 10/7, $11.60
TIZ MISCHIEF, KEE: won on 10/7, $8.00
LONE SAILOR, KEE: 3rd on 10/7 @ 14-1 [Breeders’ Futurity]
LIONITE, KEE: 4th on 10/7 @ 20-1 [Breeders’ Futurity] [note: Horse to Watch again]
FREE DROP BILLY, KEE: won on 10/7 at $5 [Breeders’ Futurity] (Dime Super $976.95)
TAP DADDY, KEE: 2nd on 10/8 @ 3-1
FLY E DUBAI, LRL: 3RD on 10/13 @ 10-1
AWESTRUCK, KEE: 2nd on 10/13 @ 5-2
GIFTED LADY, BEL: out on 10/14 at 5-1
ENGLISH DANCER, KEE: out on 10/14 @ 12-1 [note: improved, soft ground, bet back]
SPANISH RIVER, WO: out on 10/18 (odds?)
SANAVI, HAW: won on 10/21, paid $4.50
TIZZELLE, BEL: out on 10/21 @ 3-1--note: 3-4 wide all, too soon lead, wants 2 turns?

I made required bets on all the horses listed—without benefit of past performances analysis, a standard $20 wager, odds dependent:
At early line odds of 4-1 or less, straight to win.
At early line odds from 4-1 to 8-1, straight and place.
At early line odds of 10-1 or greater, straight and show.
I then open the past performances, handicap the race, and press accordingly, or not. (This list was compiled on 10/21/17).

***

From JUN 10 through yesterday I placed 54 $20 wagers, or $1,080. The return was $1,444 for a positive ROI of $364 based on visual research with no handicapping.

The price shots listed above that did not win filled out several handsome vertical payouts. (The Dime Super in the Breeders’ Futurity was a nice surprise but certainly not shocking).

It doesn’t sound like much money unless one considers what the average player loses over the course of five months.

What will all this “video genius” cost? I’m thinking $2 per horse--and if it doesn’t win within three starts, the $2 will be refunded.

The way it would be handled--since there’s no telling when these horses will race—is that fans/bettors would express their interest at JohnPricci.com, a “free subscription” if you will.

I then will send players the Horses to Watch to watch via personal email in advance. Each client would be billed on the last day of the month. Payments can be made by check or through PayPal at JohnPricci.com.

The e-mailing would begin starting JAN 1, 2018. It will include the horse's name and complete trip note.

So there it is. Whether you’re interested in a product like this or not, I would value your input and any positive criticism accompanied by some helpful suggestion.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Where Players Bet Matters


Despite excellent racing and full-court-press promoting by TVG’s wall-to-wall coverage, the message being sent by boycotting horseplayers is being heard loud and clear.

Having said that, I predict that today’s handle will be up over last year’s, thanks to a six-figure Pick Six carryover, a pool that features $1 wagering and not the standard $2 in non-jackpot scenarios.

But that, too, is beside the point.

While unofficial handle at racing’s other top tier venues, Belmont Park and Santa Anita is up significantly, Keeneland’s is down considerably by comparison for the period of OCT 6 through OCT 15.

Courtesy of industry consultant Michael Antoniades, Belmont Park handle for eight racing days was $71,531,890 compared to 64,032,440 year over year, an increase of $7,499,450 on 75 races each year.

Santa Anita handle over the same seven-day period over 62 races, the same number as last year’s was $63,013,409 vs $56,274,507 year over year, an increase of $6,738,902.

At Keeneland, meanwhile, which had the same eight racing days as in 2016, handle decreased by $6,228, 353 going from 2016’s $71,484,762 to this year’s $65,256,409.

A coincidence, I think not. While the Lexington oval suffered through one horrible weather day—sloppy and off the turf—it also set a fall record for attendance this past Saturday of 29,000-plus fans.

Another metric is also telling. Belmont Park’s handle per race showed an average gain of nearly $100,000 per, while Santa Anita’s per race handle increased by almost $109,000.

At Keeneland it was the opposite, as per race handle slid from a 2016 average of $940,588 to $847,485 this year, with one more race. Two Bigs + $100K. One Big -$93K, give or take.

And there’s one more coincidence to consider, if you will. Last year, racing from OCT 7 through OCT 16, Keeneland was the per race handle leader at $940,588; Santa Anita’s was $907,653, Belmont’s $853,765.

In 2017, Keeneland’s handle went from first to third among the Big Three: $847K+ vs. Belmont’s $953K+ and Santa Anita’s $1M+.

The numbers are far from definitive, of course, but the message is clear: Where Horseplayers Bet Their Money Matters.

There also is an early indication that while compliance has been spotty at best, there may be some indication that the new tax laws might be making a difference when applied to boxcar payouts.

Had there not been a boycott in place, there is reason to believe that Keeneland could have been the biggest beneficiary with, on balance, their larger and highly competitive talent-laden fields.

There are other factors at play, as there are anytime comparisons such as this one are made. How it all turns out in the end is still anyone’s guess. Keeneland will continue to race through month’s end.

In the meantime, however, the boycott has made a difference.

While the desired goal being that takeout rates return to its levels of just this spring, that is unlikely to occur. If any track is in a position to take a haircut, it’s Keeneland.

But this is where greed can be a good thing; no one likes losing money. Just ask the closest horseplayer.

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, October 17, 2017

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, October 05, 2017


Final Q & A on Horse Racing Integrity Act 2017


HOW LONG HAS WHOA BEEN IN EXISTANCE AND MANY MEMBERS DO YOU CURRENTLY HAVE?
WHOA was founded in 2012 on a phone call with lobbyist Frankie Trull. She suggested that lobbying as an alliance of individuals would be more powerful than each of us lobbying on our own. As an alliance, WHOA has given us common ground. From those early days with 10 original members, WHOA’s membership has grown to over 1,500 members who have endorsed our pledge and signed on to the WHOA membership roster. http://www.waterhayoatsalliance.com/join.shtml.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE ITS MEMBERSHIP, PRIMARILY, BREEDERS AND OWNERS?

WHOA is a grassroots group of like-minded Owners, Breeders, Trainers, Jockeys, Equine Practitioners, Industry Professionals, Handicappers and Racing Fans who stand against the permissive use of performance enhancing drugs in American horse racing.
WHOA’s membership is open to anyone with a stake in the racing game. It includes all racing disciplines: Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Quarter Horse.
The membership breaks down as follows:
Owner/Breeders 45%
Industry Professionals 15%
Equine Practitioners 1%
Trainers 4%
Jockeys <1%
Handicappers 2%
Racing Fans 16%
Horse Lovers 17%

HOW MANY TRAINERS ARE MEMBERS OF THE ORGANIZATION?
There are currently 54 trainers in WHOA; 10 of them, Hall of Famers.

WHEN WAS THE BARR-TONKO BILL ORIGINALLY INTRODUCED AND WHAT IS ITS CURRENT STATUS?

The Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 was introduced June 3, 2015. This bi-partisan effort is lead by Congressman Andy Barr (R-KY) and Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY). Both are co-chairmen of the Congressional Horse Caucus. Sadly, the original legislation never made it to committee, but during that time new industry groups worked with legislators and industry leaders to make improvements to the bill. The Coalition for Horseracing Integrity (CHRI) was founded with three original members: WHOA, the Jockey Club and the HSUS. CHRI now boasts 17 members who are working to promote passage of the legislation.

The Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017 was reintroduced on May 25, 2017. H.R. 2651 includes new provisions to the original legislation that include: all racing disciplines, no race day medication and oversight by the FTC. All of the changes were supported by WHOA. The CHRI and its member organizations have been assured by Energy and Commerce leadership that the bill will move to committee this fall. Monthly D.C. fly-ins are being held to push for passage and grow support in the house. Currently there are 85 co-sponsors of H.R. 2651. The senate version of the bill promises to be introduced in the coming weeks.

ARE YOU DISAPPOINTED IN THE LACK OF A FINAL SOLUTION THUS FAR?
It is frustrating that the industry cannot come together to support clean racing either through the National Uniform Medication Policy or federal legislation appointing USADA as the independent anti-doping agency responsible for horseracing in the U.S. Polls consistently show that the American Public wants clean and fair sport.
But racing has no national cohesiveness because no single organization has been appointed to deal with its problems. Everything is regulated from state to state. So we are trying to adopt and pass something on a national basis.

HOW MUCH OF A HINDRANCE HAS NATIONAL AND REGIONAL HBPA BEEN TOWARD WHOA’S EFFORTS?

In general, WHOA’s stand on medication, medication reform, uniform penalties and testing, and so on, are opposed by the HBPA. The HBPA has been very active in lobbying against the current legislation.
The HBPA claims to be against the use of performance enhancing drugs in Thoroughbred racing, yet we have never seen any evidence to support this policy; they have gone so far as to fund legal defense of horsemen accused of breaking the law.

WHERE WILL THE FUNDING COME FROM?

Under HR 2651, the Horseracing Anti-Doping Agency (HADA) will not receive any federal funding. Its initial budget and any subsequent budget that exceeds a prior year’s budget by more than 5 % would require approval by 2/3 of its board, meaning that at least three industry board members would have to vote in support. The cost of HADA’s operations would be allocated to states on a per start basis and the states will have the opportunity to choose whether or not it collect the fees from the industry as they so choose or to let HADA do so.
Due largely to HADA’s anticipated out of competition testing (OOCT) protocols (which is in line with the RMTC’s recently approved OOCT program), there will be increased costs – which will impact the states differently due largely to the disparities in their current testing budgets. The end result of having the HADA program with robust nationwide OOCT testing (which is far from the case currently) is that US racing will have a worldclass anti-doping and medication control program to help ensure the safety of our athletes and the integrity of our product.

WOULD WHOA ENDORSE A POLICY THAT COULD POTENTIALLY USE AN INFINITESIMAL PORTION OF FUTURE AUCTION SALE REVENUES--SAY 1/2 OF 1 PERCENT—TO BE DIVIDED TO UNDERWRITE TESTING AND AFTERCARE INITIATIVES?
The Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA) is a grassroots movement of like-minded individuals who support the passage of federal legislation to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport of horse racing. Period. As a grassroots alliance, WHOA does not have a board of directors, WHOA simply has a specific mission statement to stay true to. WHOA relies on it supporters to act as a decision-making body should the case arise.
So while some members may or may not agree to a particular policy, WHOA keeps its blinkers on and stays focused on our goal: The appointment of an independent anti-doping program run by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). WHOA believes that USADA leadership will solve the problem of widespread drug use in American racing and put U.S. racing jurisdictions in step with international standards.
It is obvious that after years of committee review and discussion, America’s racing industry cannot police itself by eliminating the proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs in our sport, nor does it possess the power to adequately punish the purveyors of these drugs.

WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATE ON THE POSSIBLE EXPANSION OF OUT-OF-COMPETITION TESTING?

Without a national program and budget, it is up to each state racing authority or individual racetracks to initiate and fund such initiatives.

HOW MUCH IS THE RELUCTANCE OF HORSEMEN TO GIVE UP THE USE OF RACEDAY LASIX BEEN A FACTOR IN PROGRESS OR LACK THEREOF?
It has been the elephant in the room.

HOW DISAPPOINTED IS WHOA THAT THE US TROTTING ASSOCIATION RECENTLY RELEASED A STATEMENT THAT IT WOULD NOT SUPPORT THE BIPARTISAN HORSE RACING INTEGRITY ACT OF 2017?

While we are disappointed, we are not surprised, as the pro-medication forces among the troops of participants in harness racing are very strong.

WILL THE RECENT SUPPORT OF AN ORGANIZATION SUCH AS THE ASPCA MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE IN WHETHER THE LEGISLATION WOULD BE ADOPTED?
According to recent polls by Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) https://media.gractions.com/130D0DEC14413A987751556AFC00A53D2C17D6F9/a566eb73-01bc-4b5e-af87-282581fd7c46.pdf the American public supports medication reform. Therefore, groups like HSUS and the ASPCA, who represent national animal welfare concerns are powerful allies and will help educate and organize the general public.
Doping destroys public confidence in racing, defrauds the betting fan, weakens the genetic pool and, most importantly, puts the life and limb of our equine athletes and their jockeys at risk.

WHAT OTHER NATONAL ANIMAL RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS WOULD IT TAKE TO MAKE THE AMERICAN PUBLIC ACCEPT THE NOTION THAT THE HORSE RACING INDUSTRY, CONTRARY TO POPULAR PERCEPTION, TREATS ITS ANIMALS EXCEPTIONALLY WELL?

To have the support of HSUS and ASPCA on a national level speaks volumes.

IF THE HRIA IS ADAPTED, HOW LONG DOES THE ORGANIZATION THINK IT WOULD TAKE TO BENEFIT FROM THE BREEDING OF HEALTHIER HORSES THAT WOULD NO LONGER BE PERMITTED TO COMPETE USING RACEDAY MEDICATION?
It took 30 years to get to this point…three generations. So to turn the tables back, it may take the same period to return to “clean” bloodlines. But with infusion of the international market, it could be shorter. Whatever the case, if our industry is to reclaim its place in the international market, we must breed a horse who runs on his own merit and ability… and not chemical ability.

WITHOUT WHOA, OR ORGANIZATIONS LIKE IT, SHOWING THAT THE INDUSTRY IS SERIOUS ABOUT LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD FOR ALL IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE HORSES AND RIDERS, WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF RACING SURVIVING IN THE LONG TERM?
WHOA has raised the bar and encouraged industry groups to take a stand against the status quo. WHOA has given members a platform to share their common belief in clean sport and drug-free racing. WHOA has given members a voice by standing together for the common good.
If WHOA can continue to push the boundaries, raise awareness and demand that U.S. racing eventually joins other international horseracing jurisdictions and IFHA rules of racing, our grassroots efforts will have paid off.
Horse racing will always be with us. But it will never be as popular or widespread as in the past, like many other forms of entertainment and gambling. Racing has encountered a number of things that have diminished its footprint.
As rural life changed and cities developed, the disappearance of the horse on roads and farms changed people’s tastes. NASCAR has flourished as people embraced those speedy machines. Racing at one time had a virtual monopoly on domestic gambling. Today there are any number of ways one can place a wager.
Racing has been slow to adapt to the changing landscape, but there are many passionate supporters of the game and they are sure to develop strategies that will allow the sport to be conducted in the future.

Written by John Pricci

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