Tom Jicha

Tom Jicha grew up in New York City and worked with John Pricci at the short-lived revival of the New York Daily Mirror. Tom moved to Miami in 1972 for a position in the sports department at the now defunct Miami News.

Tom became the TV critic in 1980 and moved to the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 1988. All the while he has kept his hand in sports, including horse racing. He has covered two Super Bowls, a World Series and the Breeders’ Cup at Gulfstream Park.

He's been the Sun Sentinel’s horse racing writer since 2007 as a staff member, and continues to this day as a free-lancer.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Points would have KO’ed 4 recent Derby winners

Animal Kingdom gives his assessment of the new Derby Point System
Photo by Toni Pricci
Animal Kingdom assessing the new Derby Point System
As the start of phase 2 of Kentucky Derby points qualifying looms, Churchill Downs says it's pleased with the way things are going. Perhaps it shouldn't be. Under 2013 points standards, it is likely that at least four of the 14 most recent Derby winners--Mine That Bird, Giacomo, War Emblem and Charismatic--would not have made the cut. During this period the only serious Derby contender to come to mind who was bumped by the earnings rule was Drosselmeyer.

MIAMI, February 14, 2013--Churchill Downs is “very comfortable” with its new Kentucky Derby points system, Senior Director of Communications Darren Rogers told The Blood-Horse recently. With the second phase of the points system looming next week, the 2013 debut of Animal Kingdom at Gulfstream on Feb. 9 was a reminder of why Churchill should be at least a little bit uncomfortable.

It’s entirely possible Animal Kingdom would not have made the cut for the 2011 Derby if the qualifying criteria had been what it is in 2013.

Guesstimates are it will take 40 to 50 points to earn a spot in the 2013 starting gate. This seems reasonable. Eight preps between Feb. 23 and March 24 award the winner 50 points. The big seven final preps are worth 100 points to the winner and 40 apiece to the runnersup. That’s a potential 22 horses with at least 40 points, probably more, as 13 Triple Crown candidates had at least 10 points through the first stage of the qualifying process. (Goldencents and Shanghai Bobby lead with 24.)

There almost certainly will be at least a few horses earning big points in both rounds and injuries always take their toll late in the run-up to the first Saturday in May, so some horses might squeak in with fewer points. But a horse with 50 points wouldn’t necessarily have it knocked.

By 2013 standards, Animal Kingdom had 50 points entering the Derby. All were earned in the Spiral Stakes, a race that has changed its name more often than Diddy. Perhaps Animal Kingdom’s pre-Derby campaign would have been managed differently under a points system. Then again, Animal Kingdom went into the Spiral still eligible for an entry level allowance.

Allowing that Animal Kingdom would have been more likely than not to make the Derby field, this was definitely not the case with 2010 Derby champion Mine That Bird. He had only 13 points by 2013 methodology.

Giacomo, hero of the 2005 Derby, would have been an unlikely qualifier with 36 points.

There is no uncertainty with a couple of horses who went into the Belmont Stakes with a shot at the Triple Crown, War Emblem in 2002 and Charismatic in 1999. War Emblem would have had zero points because his triumph in the Illinois Derby would have counted for nothing, thanks to the outrageously political decision by Churchill Downs to snub the race. Charismatic would have had only 10 points from his fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby.

That’s four Derby winners, two of whom also won the Preakness, in the past 14 years who wouldn’t have cracked the field and another who would have been on the bubble. The only significant horse I can recall who didn’t make the starting 20 under the earnings criteria was Drosselmeyer in 2010.

Just Saying: Dustin Hoffman is just saying something that needs to be heard. The two-time Academy Award winning actor told The New York Post that he was “beyond disappointed” and “shocked” that the horse racing drama “Luck” was abruptly canceled by HBO in March 2012.

The reason offered by HBO was the death of a third horse during the making of the drama set in the colorful milieu of horse racing. Trust me, this was an excuse looking for a way to happen.

In my previous life, I was a TV critic for 30 years. I know how the business works and how disingenuous the people in it can be. A crack by Ted Harbert to TV writers during my time on the beat is illustrative. Harbert, a highly regarded executive, programmed the ABC network and later ran NBC studios, among several big jobs he has held.

He was asked the difference between being the public face of ABC, who had to explain and defend his network programming decisions to critics, and the less visible position at NBC behind the scenes supervising production of shows. “I don’t have to lie to you guys as much,” Harbert quipped shamelessly.

“Luck” wasn’t drawing a crowd. Its well publicized premiere in January 2012 attracted only about a million viewers, a paltry number for HBO, which was spoiled by audiences 10 times as large during “The Sopranos” heyday. Nobody expected “Luck,” or any series, to be another “Sopranos.” However, HBO was hoping for an audience closer to the more recent “Game of Thrones,” which is generally north of 4 million.

Worse for “Luck,” the trend line was discouraging. The subsequent weekly audiences were in the ballpark of about a half-million. With Hoffman heading the cast, which also included established stars Nick Nolte, Jill Hennessy, Dennis Farina, Richard Kind and Jason Gedrick (as well as Gary Stevens and Chantal Sutherland), “Luck” was an expensive show to make. The ambitious racing footage also blew up the bottom line.

HBO, which had ordered a second season based on the quality of the series, needed an escape hatch. You don’t embarrass a Dustin Hoffman by pulling the plug on him, especially when you’re a network that prides itself in saying it is above ratings.

Protests by the nutbags at PETA, an organization generally ignored and ridiculed, provided HBO the opportunity to seem high minded and compassionate toward animals when all it really cared about was a face-saving way to get out of a commitment it had made.

Written by Tom Jicha

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