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 HorseRaceInsider.com.
 

Friday, September 09, 2011


Wait Until Next Year


SARATOGA SPRNGS, NY, September 9, 2011--Well, HRI regular “Easy Goer,” and some others out there in handicapping land, here are the results of “Team Cugini” at the recently concluded Saratoga race meet.

According to the race results tabulated by my handicapping partner, Mark Cusano, Team Cugini finished in a dead heat for fifth of 25 published handicappers at the recently concluded Saratoga race meet.

Cusano, producer and host of the popular magazine program “Down The Stretch” each Saturday on the Capital OTB Television Network for the past 17 years, enjoys a reputation that is above reproach.

Meaning that if there errors in these tabulations, it would be the result of a missed scratch here or there, a Main-Track-Only selection that fell between the cracks; in short, an honest mistake.

If you asked anyone on this list who knows Cusano, they would testify similarly.

Like the Saratoga riding title, handicappers point for this meeting. As such, it’s a very big deal. When I was at Newsday, at the end of each meet, the newspaper would publish the results on how members of the Newsday consensus box fared.

Back in the day, the New York Post would give its leading consensus-box handicapper a small bonus. As I recall, however, Newsday was the only metropolitan area newspaper at the time to publish a handicapper’s Return On Investment.

But unlike the Capital District, where top class Thoroughbred Racing is the sports franchise, metropolitan area dailies just never paid that much attention to it, News and Post intramurals notwithstanding.

That’s not the case here, where racing is woven into the fabric of the community.

This is the only town I’ve ever lived in where I didn’t feel compelled to apologize for being a horseplayer. Not in a town that supports two racetracks--located down the block from one another; “the flat track” and “the harness track,” as they are known. These people get it.

The following is a copy of the e-mail sent by Cusano to representatives of those newspapers which were tabulated. Other handicappers of public record not tabulated here are invited to amend these results in the comments section for all to see.

[That would include me, where I select the feature race of the day for WNYT, an NBC-TV affiliate, and WOFX radio, a member of the Clear Channel group of stations in Albany, NY. After scratches and a cancellation, my across the board slate read (33) 12-6-8, the same stats reflecting the selections made on this site during that period].

“Here are the final totals for the 25 newspaper handicappers I have. Other than Nick Kling’s total--which he verified--the Saratogian’s other number are [subject to verification].

1. Bill Taylor – Saratogian 135
2. Tom Cavanaugh – NY Daily News 128
3. Jerry Bossert – NY Daily News 120
4. Dave Litfin – Daily Racing Form 115
5. Mark Cusano/John Pricci – Schenectady Gazette 114
5. Matt Graves – Albany Times Union 114
5. Nick Kling – Troy Record 114
8. Deb Little – NY Post 113
9. Mike Jarboe – Albany Times Union 111
10. Liam Durbin – Saratogian 109
11. Bill Heller – Schenectady Gazette 108
11. Dave Little – NY Daily News 108
13 Kyle Brownell – Glens Falls Post Star 106
14 Tom Law – Saratogian 104
15 Tim Wilkin – Albany Times Union 102
15 Ed Fountaine – NY Post 102
17 Mark Hoffman – Recorder 101
18 John DaSilva – NY Post 100
19 Capital OTB – Albany Times Union 99
20 Trackman – Daily News 98
21 Vic Cangialosi – Post 97
22 Dan Lauletta – Daily News 95
23 Daniel Feiss – Saratogian 86
24 Anthony Affrunti – Post 83
25 Mike Lipack – Daily News 75

If there is anything here that is inaccurate, please let me know.”

On balance, it was a difficult meeting for everyone not named Bill Taylor, Jerry Bossert or Tom Cavanaugh, the top three finishers. Favorites won at a rate of 1 out of 3, about average.

As a member of Team Cugini, I selected only the dirt races. Mark Cusano got the worst of that deal. The sprints were relatively predictable day after day, having a fair share of “automatic” short-priced favorites.

The turf races, on balance, were a lot more unpredictable, given the usually larger field size and where having a good trip plays an inordinate role in determining any outcome. To do well on turf, handicappers have to be good and lucky.

Taylor and I were colleagues at the Saratogian where I made selections for seven years. He is now and was then a formidable adversary, the Russ Harris of the Capital District. His current colleague, Nick Kling of the Troy Record, refers to him as “The Machine.”

Taylor, whose day job is running a trading desk for a bank, sees similarities between the two. “It’s kind of the same thing,” he said in the Saratogian Tuesday. It’s all numbers, watching trends. It’s very much like [handicapping races].”

If he makes trades on Wall Street like he selects horses, he should be retired by now. Going 135 for 395 is otherworldly, trust me.

“When I’m picking for the Saratogian, I’m always looking for the most probable winner. I’m looking to get as many wins as I can. That doesn’t mean that if a horse is 2-5 I’m going to bet that horse even though I put him on top.”

Saratoga 143; 315 days and counting…

Written by John Pricci

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