Pricci's Saratoga Diary
For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at

Saturday, August 03, 2013


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 3, 2013—It was the Sunday morning after the 2002 Breeders’ Cup. I was in the Arlington Park press box fielding phone calls about the unusual Pick Six payoff, completed by Classic upsetter Volponi just 15 hours earlier.

At that point I had been recently converted to performance-figure handicapping and was able to divine the Classic winner. That Breeders’ Cup yielded my first five-figure winning day.

Bobby P, who was working for NYC-OTB at the time, cornered me and wouldn’t let me go, telling me about the great figures produced by a professional horseplayer from Queens. “Bobby, I’ve got something that isn’t broke; why should I fix it?”

But he wouldn’t let me go. Desperately, I said “OK, send me a copy of the guy’s book and I promise I’ll read it.”

“Blinkers Off” arrived a few weeks later with a warm inscription from the author who was familiar with my work at Newsday. It was the first time I saw the name Cary Fotias in print.

One evening I sat down with his book in front of the TV with a yellow Hi-Liter, figuring I would outline the sections that interested me, promising myself to investigate any new handicapping principles to be found therein.

I wound up highlighting entire sections on virtually every page. It was clear that this was my introduction to an entirely different animal from the traditional Sheets format. Fotias included half-mile figures and, in sprints, two-furlong figures, as well.

Cary’s Equiform figures spoke to my trip-handicapping roots--adding science to an art form that effectively quantified visual perceptions. It wasn’t long before I realized that I had developed a keener insight into condition and development than horsemen did.

Don’t take my word on that. Here’s a third party opinion from a post that appeared at the day after Cary died: “Cary stood on the shoulders of giants but he was also a genius. He was influenced by Ragozin and Sartin, but expanded their ideas.

“Like Ragozin, Cary made figures, but like Sartin, he added velocity to the mix. Cary's creation was velocity-based pace figures that were used to identify not only the fastest horses but also horses coming into or falling out of peak condition…

“I doubt anyone has ever used such high level math and extensive research to design a system to make figures… I have never known of any other figures that were made at the high level of Cary's numbers. His methods were revolutionary.

“Huey Mahl was a rocket scientist who liked to predict the trajectory of horses running around a track. Cary Fotias was a professional horseplayer who could have calculated the trajectory needed by a rocket to land on the moon.

“He came up with so many new concepts that he had to devise names for them -- Reversal, New Pace Top, Cyclical Pace Top, Plunge Line, and my personal favorite -- Turf Decline Line, etc. I don't know of any other handicapping author who presented so many unique, even revolutionary, ideas in one book.”

And this from Ph.D James Quinn’s review of "Blinkers Off": “A new voice for the new millennium belongs to Cary Fotias and he comes in loud and clear. His contribution is both contemporary, one might even say postmodern, and significant.

“He uses velocity-based pace numbers and energy distribution concepts to identify horses coming to peak condition. The horses can be expected to deliver their best efforts next time, and many do.

“A number and variety of figure analysts have depended upon numerical patterns to infer improving form, even peaking form, but none has succeeded with a high degree of reliability, until now.

“A new and important author and book that can enhance handicapping proficiency is always cause for celebration. This one is cause for jubilation.”

Soon after finishing the book, I called Cary to say how much I enjoyed it, learned from it and that perhaps we might have lunch the next time I came to town.

And so I arrived one day about 10:30 a.m. We talked incessantly—well, Cary talked incessantly, stopping only to interrupt himself. At times, the conversation was of a philosophical nature; life, family, the game. We didn’t have lunch until about 3 p.m. and I didn’t leave his office until 10 that night. It was as if we had known each other our whole lives.

At Cary’s memorial service I learned that I wasn’t unique in feeling like a special friend; far from it in fact. Wednesday began sadly, slowly became a mini laugh-fest and, inevitably, a love-fest. “I never saw so many grown men cry,” said his mother, Anne.

Again, don’t take this on faith: “Cary Fotias was a wonderful man. He was never out to hurt anyone or put anyone down. He was as honest and trustworthy as anyone I have ever met…

“It is hard to describe Cary. He was complicated and stood steadfast to any position he held… He enjoyed nothing more than a great story with his friends… I don't know if we will see another Triple Crown. But if it happens I will be there with thoughts of Cary and my father. All my love, J.D.”

“He was the best friend possible,” said Peter Arnold, a graduate school classmate at Indiana University, informing us that “Cary got his M.B.A. with distinction. He loved games of all kinds, was a true renaissance man. He even wrote poetry.”

From HRI “Players Up” contributor Indulto: “I just read about the passing of Cary Fotias. It's strange but I feel very sad in the way I did when John Lennon died--someone I had never met somehow had a tremendous positive impact on my life… He seemed to be the Benjamin Franklin of Horseplaying--a technological and philosophical innovator, as well as a personal liberty advocate.

Wrote Joel Cohodes: “I was a high school buddy and poker player… We went to Vegas three times before we were 18. He was incredible at card counting back then.

“We went to our 40th reunion... ‘Greek’ asked for the microphone and read a poem that he wrote. Not sure what the hell the poem was about, but it made sense to Cary. That was the kind of guy he was… you never knew what was coming. I will miss my one of a kind, broke-the-mold friend.”

From Bill Feingold: “The network of friends centered around him will only get closer. One of a kind indeed. The sadness right now is almost unbearable but I know over time it will be replaced by a stream of happy shared memories and the ongoing preservation of how Cary thought, shared and lived.”

Said Dale Miller: “One of the most unique and nicest people I've ever known. The first Saturday in May will never be the same.”

From Steve Walters, on Cary's way of interrupting himself: “Often, in the onrush of his thoughts and memory… everything he remembered had such immediacy for him, [that it] was still somehow unfolding, allowing the wildest connections to declare themselves. [This] goes to the special quality of his energy and intensity… it had a lot to do with his being startled, stopped by his own astonished sense of things…

“In my copy of “Blinkers Off,” his inscription speaks to this… ‘life is not a riddle to be solved but a mystery to be experienced’… Here are a couple short segments of a letter he sent me back in 1979 that might stand on their own and help to fill out his portrait:

" ‘Someone once said that intelligence is the ability to accept two paradoxical thoughts or ideas simultaneously--I hope that's true. I wish I could be with everybody I love at the same time--physically, I mean-- but I guess that's impossible, so I try to do it spiritually."

Cary’s kindergarten buddy, Bruce Kittles, agreed with Feingold that the best description of Cary may have come from the noted European handicapper, Nick Mordin, who said it for anyone lucky enough to meet Mary’s beloved husband: "Cary was the loudest, funniest, smartest and nicest man I've ever known."

Written by John Pricci

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