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, September 01, 2017

In This Game, One Must Keep Learning

American racing's inferiority complex when it comes to European grass horses should have run its course. There's money to be made in recognizing this.

For decades, Euros treated our richest races as ATM machines. They shipped their second and third stringers and scooped up millions in purses (and making some hellacious betting scores, I've been told).

No more, although it is taking a while for U.S. bettors to catch on. I know I've learned the hard (and expensive) way. This is where the advantage is for early adapters.

The latest example is last Saturday's Sword Dancer. Saratoga players sent it in big time on Erupt and Idaho, pounding the latter down to 7-5 favoritism. He beat one horse. Erupt bested two, including Idaho, as American horses--not our best--swept the money positions.

This was not an isolated occurrence. It has become a trend.

A week before Beach Patrol ran off with the Arlington Million. Dacita, a South American import who has been U.S. based for a couple of years, took the female counterpart, the Beverly D. Well bet Euros chased home both winners.

Tepin went over there and beat the best Euros on their own ground. Lady Aurelia, who has won several big Euro stakes, lost a heart-breaker in England last week but she still outran all but one. Wesley Ward has pioneered taking U.S. juveniles overseas to win some of their big stakes. These results never used to happen.

NYRA's big turf races around the Fourth of July, the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks, both saw U.S. stars, Oscar Performance and New Money Honey, respectively, outrun Euro shippers. This shouldn't have come as a surprise. The same two Stars-and-Stripers won last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and its filly counterpart.

That was when I started to rethink the way I approached stakes with international fields. My philosophy had always been to toss home team grass horses, especially juveniles, and spread with the Euros. I got beat a few times but on the whole made some nice hits.

There's a sensible explanation for why the tide has turned. Until recent years, U.S. trainers didn't put horses on the grass until they had established they were no bargain on the main track. It wasn't that many years ago that there were no meaningful turf races until a horse's 3-year-old season.

Now horses with turf pedigrees or hooves suited to the infield start their careers on turf and many stay there. It's a first resort, not a last, just like in Europe.

Meanwhile, European horses race exclusively on turf, so there is a gauge on who has talent and who doesn't. In a turnabout, their horses who don't perform at a high level are banished to synthetics for puny purses or are sent to the U.S. to race on dirt.

All of this is relevant because we are coming up to the big fall grass races, where Euros will be prominent. I'm not suggesting we've seen the last Euro winner of a prestigious U.S. turf stakes. However, there is money to be made in not taking it for granted that they are the horses to beat.

Woodward no test for Gun Runner

Arrogate got beat twice this summer. Songbird went down last Saturday. If Gun Runner doesn't gallop past four rivals into the winner's circle of Saturday's Woodward, it will rank equally on the scale of cataclysmic upsets.

With Arrogate and Collected on the West Coast awaiting the Breeders' Cup and Shaman Ghost on the sidelines, there's no one to give Gun Runner a meaningful test. So he'll probably go into the Breeders' Cup Classic as the big favorite, coming off three straight Grade 1 triumphs and trying to avenge his lone loss this year to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup.

Why Bob Baffert is persisting in running Arrogate is a mystery. It has to be coming down from the Juddmonte hierarchy, who have said all year the Breeders’ Cup Classic is the primary goal for 2017.

Arrogate is clearly not the same horse who took everyone's breath away in last year's Travers, BC Classic, Pegasus and World Cup. He also seems to despise Del Mar, which is, unfortunately for him. where the Classic will be run. He can only further tarnish his reputation.

The horse not getting his due is Arrogate's conqueror, Collected. The talk after the Pacific Class was how Arrogate didn't win more than Collected did. Perhaps Arrogate just got beat by a better horse.

I was talking to a really sharp handicapper in a Las Vegas race book the other day who expressed surprise when I pointed out Collected has a better record than Arrogate. Collected is now 8-for-11 to Arrogate's 7-for-10. (Gun Runner is 9-for-16)

Collected hasn't won the prestigious stakes Arrogate and Gun Runner have but he hasn't been given the opportunity. He certainly beat a better field in the Pacific Classic than Gun Runner will face Saturday. Keep this in mind at Breeders' Cup time, especially since it's possible neither will race again before Nov. 4.

Del Mar player-unfriendly

Sitting in a race book for a couple of weeks, you notice things, such as how player-unfriendly the Del Mar simulcast is.

Will-pays, crucial information for those involved in multi-race propositions, are displayed in no discernible pattern and never in a timely manner, like immediately after the previous race payoffs, as is done almost every place else. Sometimes it's closer to the next race then the previous one, long after replays, interviews and a carnival of commercials.

Thanks to another Del Mar shortcoming, it's difficult to estimate what might be coming back so that you can strategize whether it's worthwhile to consider saver bets. The on-screen constant, such as it is, is exacta possibilities.

Instead of alternating exactas and daily double potentials, Del Mar runs the exacta payoffs both ways, most of the time, with the daily double possibilities displayed after every other full run through of exacta payoffs.

Has it occurred to anyone that if you run all the exacta possibilities in one column, the reverses will be shown? If you like a 1-4, it will be only two screen clicks to find out what the reverse will pay. If you like a 1-4 double, be patient. It will be awhile before that's posted.

Worse, even the exactas disappear for three or four minutes at a crucial time when the field comes on the track. Then they disappear again for a minute or two when the pool totals are displayed in the final two minutes to post.

NYRA has the most useful wagering information of any track, with the exacta and double payoffs on the screen from the end of one race to the loading of the gate the next and multi-race bet will-pays shown on the side of the screen during the replays.

Thankfully, the Breeders' Cup has its own simulcast with potential payoffs on display constantly. Del Mar officials should pay attention. They might learn something about serving the players--if they care.

Las Vegas, Aug. 31, 2017

Written by Tom Jicha

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