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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 20, 2013


Gulfstream, Horsemen, Deliver Another Body Blow to Calder


Gulfstream, which appears to have Calder on the ropes, has followed up its grab of the Florida Stallion Stakes in 2014 with a commandeering of the 2013 Florida Million, less than two months before it was scheduled to be run at Calder.

MIAMI, Sept. 20, 2013--I used a boxing analogy a few columns back to describe what the situation resembled in the head-to-head conflict between Calder and Gulfstream. Calder appeared to be playing rope-a-dope, the strategy Muhammad Ali resorted to against George Foreman in their Rumble in the Jungle. Ali let Foreman throw punch after punch, offering almost no response. When Foreman had given it everything he had without scoring a knockout and had nothing left, Ali took him down.

Gulfstream has spent a seeming unsustainable fortune to win this war while Calder has just hung around, primarily to protect its casino licence. But it’s a good thing for Calder that the situation isn’t a boxing match. Its throttling by Gulfstream has gotten so brutal any competent referee would have stopped the fight by now.

Gulfstream, which outhandles Calder by more than two-to-one on virtually every day they go head-to-head, has landed a couple more devastating haymakers with no resistance or response. As reported here on July 23, it was announced Sept. 5 that the Florida Stallion Stakes, which will be rechristened the Florida Sire Stakes, is moving to Gulfstream in 2014.

The Stallion Stakes was born and thrived for three decades at Calder. It became the centerpiece of the annual Festival of the Sun, one of Calder’s biggest days of the year. For Florida breeders, it was a magnificent showcase and launch pad for standouts such as Awesome Feather, Jackson Bend, Holy Bull, Spend a Buck and Smile. Calder will get one more bite of this apple on Oct. 12.

The same is not true of the Florida Million, another Calder creation, which gave the state’s breeders an afternoon of multiple stakes with total purses hitting eight figures. A goodly portion came from owners and breeders but it was still a lucrative afternoon and a high profile opportunity to shine. On Sept. 19, less than two months before this year’s scheduled renewal on Nov. 9, Gulfstream announced that it has commandeered the Florida Million and will run the eight stakes races in Hallandale on Nov. 9. As with the Stallion Stakes, it will get a name revision to the Sunshine Millions Preview.

This is humorously disingenuous, since the Sunshine Millions is not scheduled until Jan. 18. Ten weeks has to be a new thoroughbred record for the amount of time between a “Preview” and the main event.

Lonny Powell, CEO of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association, issued a statement that he has to hope will not be scrutinized too closely. “The Florida breeders and owners are excited to see the creation of a brand new day like the Sunshine Millions Preview Day on the Gulfstream calendar that will feature eight races. It’s great for our racing and breeding industry. We thank Gulfstream and the FHBPA for coming together on this day and including our state-breds in such a prominent and lucrative fashion.”

Nothing new has been created. The same number of races for the same horses for the same amount of money will be contested on the same day. The only difference is they will take place at Gulfstream instead of Calder.

The latest hijacking of one of Calder’s big days clearly stung. General Manager John Marshall was gracious when the Stallion Stakes moved, wishing the FTBOA well in its new home. Not this time.

“The decision of the FTBOA racing committee to reallocate breeder enhancement dollars from Calder’s Florida Million Day to invent a Sunshine Millions Preview Day at Gulfstream Park furthers the need for Calder to re-examine its participation in developing Florida-breds,” Marshall said. “This decision, coupled with the FTBOA’s choice to relocate the Florida Sire Stakes, requires Calder to take a more calculated look at its two-year-old stall applications for the winter/spring meet.”

Clearly Florida horsemen are confident they have picked the ultimate winner of this war. For sure, there is a lack of gratitude for all Calder has done for Florida horsemen over the years. However, the horsemen can’t be blamed for switching sides and rubbing Calder’s nose in it given the shabby “take-it-or-leave-it” attitude Calder has shown them in recent years under Churchill Downs Inc.

Everyone knew this conflict would eventually get really ugly. No one has been disappointed.

ARAB MONEY must be able to buy anything, including the Breeders’ Cup.

It was announced Thursday that Breeders’ Cup has signed an agreement with the Emirates Equestrian Federation which, among other things, will result in an Arabian-bred race being added to the Breeders’ Cup card on Nov. 1.

Everyone knows that the biggest shortcoming of the Breeders’ Cup was the scarcity of races with inflated importance. But as long as Breeders’ Cup is intent on filling a void that doesn’t exist, why not go all the way and be totally ecumenical. Since they are legal in California, let’s also add races for quarterhorses, harness horses and mules.


Written by Tom Jicha

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