John Pricci 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, 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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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Easily Lies This Crown

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 24, 2009--With one exception, this will be the last Saturday we’ll be scouring the country for nationally featured racing programs and potential plays.

That’s because Saratoga Race Course will throw open its gates for the 141st time starting Wednesday, through Labor Day, September 7.

The exception from my Spa duties will come Sunday, August 2, a.k.a. Haskell Day. Because you make exceptions when a Preakness winning filly is scheduled to meet the Belmont Stakes winner and another talented male who at this stage already has beaten his elders. It's a big deal.

So we’re going to the Jersey Shore, too, where we'll blog live from Monmouth Park throughout Haskell day. And, with seven other stakes races being offered, we might even find a horse or two to bet on. But that's a coming attraction.

Today, meanwhile, via the miracle of past performances and simulcasting wagering sites, we’ll be visiting the Middle America hotbed of thoroughbred activity, Shakopee, Minnesota, where Canterbury Park will host its 11th annual Claiming Crown program.

Sixty-two horses that have run for a claiming price either last year or this, will run in seven featured events with purses ranging from $50,000 to $150,000. The qualifying claiming tags for these starter allowance events are from $7,500 to $35,000, depending on the division and purse.

What makes the day interesting, and very challenging for handicappers, is that those 62 horses made their most recent starts at 12 different tracks, literally from one end of the country to the other. It’s not every day you get to see claiming horses race for purses worth an aggregate $600,000.

The nominal feature is the $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel on the dirt for horses that have started for $35,000 or less the last two years. The curiosity is that the nine-furlong two turner drew only a field of six.

The 2-1 early line favorite is Antrim County, Claimer of the Year 2008, as determined by the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, one of the event’s co-sponsors. Antrim County is, in a fashion, a defending Claiming Crown champion.

Last year, Antrim County won the Claiming Crown Iron Horse, restricted to horses that raced for $7,500 or less. The Crown Jewel is for horses that have started for a $35,000 tag since Jan. 1, 2008.

Should he repeat, Antrim County would become the only horse in Claiming Crown history to win in different divisions. Scheduled post time for the Crown Jewel is 6:45 PM, EDT, with live coverage on the TVG network.

While the equines might not be nationally known names, many of the human connections are. Russell Baze, the world’s all-time leading jockey with over 10,600 career victories, has four mounts on the card, and Julien Leparoux, this year’s leading money winning rider, has five.

Robby Albarado and Jeremy Rose, Triple Crown race-winning riders, have mounts, too, as does Rosemary Homeister Jr., who recently became the second leading female rider in the sport’s history, trailing only Hall of Famer Julie Krone.

Canterbury offers an 11-race card on its signature day, eight of them for added money. Among the wagers offered are Rolling Pick 3s beginning with the first race, a Pick Six, and the popular fractional wagers; Dime Supers and 50-Cent Pick 4.

Those options are likely to come in handy this afternoon. We reviewed the eight features for quite some time yesterday and they’re very competitive. Here are a few ideas that may come in handy.

The Pick 4 sequence begins with race five. The six-furlong Rapid Transit offers the closest thing to a single, early line favorite Grand Traverse (2-1).

His major rival is the second favorite, Max Ahead, but the favorite’s best Equiform sprint figures tower over the entire group. The best part about his figures is that they were earned at the distance and on four different racetracks.

If not for Max Ahead, players would be hard pressed to find a single in any of the next three events. In the Express, we left three of the 10 horses open. In the Glass Slipper, we found four impossible to separate. In the Emerald, the 14-horse turf route, we have four--and that might be too conservative.

The weather forecast in Shakopee calls for partly cloudy skies with a 20 percent chance of showers. I expect my Pick 4 ticket to look something like this: 1/ 2,8,9/ 1,3,4,7/ 3,7,9,11. The early line for the four fillies in the final leg are 10-1, 12-1, 12-1 and 6-1, respectively. Hope I'm alive to them. A $24 risk seems a reasonable investment to find out.

Written by John Pricci

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