Sunday, December 23, 2018


‘Tis the Season


This didn’t start out as a Christmas column. That would have been expected and I would have believed it to be a little cliché for my journalistic bent.

Unexpectedly, however, we gained lots of perspective this last month, which sounds a lot like another dreaded cliché for anyone facing trying or difficult circumstances.

In my case I’m thinking more trying than difficult, even if more woods remain to find one’s way out of. Know that I’m not the kind of horseplayer who shouts “you got this” as your best bet approaches the sixteenth pole.

And if this game hasn’t humbled you, you’re not an inveterate horseplayer and life has taught you absolutely nothing.

Tis the season for thoughts and prayers and daily thanksgiving, a practice for all seasons. Consider this example from the other day.

As a neighbor, I behave as any typical native New Yorker would; keep your head down and mind your own business. I’ve found that it’s always best in these scenarios to heed the advice of Broadway Danny Rose’s uncle: Friendly, not familiar.


Gail and Ray live next door and while Toni does the stop-and-chat as good as anyone ever has, I remain a pleasantries-exchange type.

The doorbell rang several days after I was sprung from UM’s Jackson Memorial Hospital and there stood Gail giving Toni a welcome-home, he’s-going-to-love-it giant cupcake. I never thought I would be on their radar. What a lovely, humbling gesture, I thought.

My recent albeit still ongoing experience has taught another lesson: Prayers work. Be it from family, close friends, or the devoted HRI Faithful, beseeching a Higher Power has borne fruit—at least thus far. Slow and steady not only wins races but brings inner peace.

Tis the season, after all, when peace and love come back into fashion--holiday blessings that doesn’t come replete with dollar signs.

By extension, it could be that the thoughts and prayers of well-meaning people is started to reap dividends for my country, under siege from without and, most troubling, from within.

I’ve spent time searching for mindless, escapist TV to aid in the recovery process, fare that would of a restorative nature. Didn’t care to watch my TVG; Sorry, no critical thinking now if you don’t mind.

But the events of the past week were inescapable and once again I was trapped by the 24-hour news cycle. And no American alive today has seen anything like this; not Meacham, not Beschloss, not Kearns-Goodwin.

It will take a decade, maybe longer, for things to normalize, if indeed there is any hunger for that. For such a fast country we sure are slow learners, if-at-all.

But there is hope because facts are slowly beginning to win the day again, and the ship of state once again may sail. But first comes survival, not the given today that it was when the 2018 Advent Calendar first appeared.

One day we may recovered from the events of Nov. 8, 2016. This isn’t about distinguishing one ideology from another. It’s about the survival of a democratic republic in which no individual is above the law, nothing less--the pillar of America.

Some comparisons can be made to Thoroughbred racing. Like the electorate, the modern game seems split 40% horsemen on one side; 40% fans and gamblers on the other. It’s a battle of control for the 20% in the middle who will decide the sport’s future.

In an effort to find restorative relief, as above, we have not watched televised racing except for major horses online since DEC 6. And here’s the bad news for the industry: I can’t say I missed it.

Saratoga and Keeneland notwithstanding, prime time Gulfstream is my favorite meet to participate in. Big, quality fields of open races is, at once, aesthetic and betting nirvana.

For me, this is a first. I’ve been betting on horses since I was 13, 61 years ago. Later, as a junior at Bishop Loughlin Memorial in Brooklyn, I was a minor celebrity when after collecting $22 from classmates, I feigned illness, left school early and took two trains and a bus to Aqueduct.

I bet the wad, plus $20 of my own on Red Belle to win the Interborough Handicap, a Hobeau Farm trainee conditioned by Allen Jerkens, long before anyone called him “the Chief.” She went wire to wire and paid off a 5-2, if I recall correctly.

For 24 hours, the ability to pick a winner made me more popular than B-Baller Larry Lembo, later the most celebrated zebra in college-hoop history, and more than then-sane Rudy Giuliani in the next homeroom. But enough digression.

As 2019 approaches, I considered some of the issues covered by HRI staffers and contributors this year: Raceday medication; super-trainer dominance; Thoroughbred retirement vs. its shameful alternative; excessive whipping; special betting access and potential past-posting; high takeout vs. rebates and legal sports bet’s dual-edged sword.

I predict that if these issues are not resolved, the game will not survive. Wrong? I’m a naysayer, prophet of doom? There’s too much money and influence in the game? It’s too big to fail?

That’s where the industry, and status quo short-term thinkers, are wrong:

The American public, the same that’s slowly wising up about the Criminal-in-Chief, is not on your side. In a recent poll, America indicated there #1 concern is not global warming, attacks on the democratic process, or the immigration game; its animal cruelty.

They don’t understand that racing, even with therapeutic medication is OK because the animals don’t get to choose. And far too many of them, even the healthy ones, are slaughtered when their utility as glorified moneymakers is gone, absent a second career.

A former American institution, the circus, is gone. So is dog racing in South Florida, where the Sun Sentinel recently reported that if the current adoption process doesn’t speed up satisfactorily, thousands of dogs will be euthanized.

On opening day of Gulfstream’s championship meet, PETA members lined up outside the gates. Thoroughbred racing is their next target. Who knows what one high-profile breakdown in a high-profile nationally televised event would bring?

But the end doesn’t always come with loud bangs but with barely audible whimpers.

I will never stop writing about the game that has given my family a good life, a living that if fortune hadn’t interceded instead would have been a hobby with no chance to give back.

Isaac Goren, Doctor of Eastern Medicine and my spiritual advisor, told me he’s never worked with another group that was more passionate than racetrackers. His observations to their devotion and love of animals is, in almost all cases, on point.

I can never repay the game that’s been so good to me but tis the season for love and thanksgiving, even as passion ebbs.

It is said that the only battles worth fighting are those you can’t win, but the kind of effort that requires takes its toll, after decades of trying and realizing that you’ve hardly moved the needle.

To all: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Healthy New Year


Written by John Pricci

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