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, November 15, 2013


Stewards owe timely decisions to fans


Stewards often take much too long to render a call on inquiries, even when the outcome is inevitable. It happened in back-to-back races during Gulfstream's Sunshine Millions Preview. There was no excuse for either.

MIAMI, Nov. 15, 2013--The most agonizing moments for a horseplayer are waiting out a tight photo and sweating out an interminable inquiry. The former is a necessary evil. The latter, in many cases, is not.

Back-to-back races during Gulfstream’s Sunshine Millions Preview program provided examples of how stewards are regularly responsible for unnecessary delays in announcing a decision, which stretch out the card and cause heartburn for players.

My Pal Chrisy, the odds-on favorite in the Distaff Preview, powered past second choice Awesome Belle as the field straightened for home. For some mystifying reason, Jeffrey Sanchez aboard Awesome Belle claimed foul.

All it took was one look at the TV monitors to confirm what was seen during the actual running. My Pal Chrisy never came near Awesome Belle on the turn and was well clear when she moved over in front of her in the lane.

Fans all over the track were mocking Sanchez’s claim, crying out, “Where’s the foul?” As one wise guy put it, “What’s he claiming, that the other horse ran too fast?”

The stewards should have taken one courtesy look to make certain they didn’t miss something. Instead, they took six or seven minutes to look, relook, then look again at every conceivable angle before doing what they should have done in 30 seconds, let the result stand.

The very next race, the Juvenile Sprint, produced the opposite situation. Wildcat Red led into deep stretch, then began to drift out, two, three, four paths. Meanwhile, Bolita Boyz was rallying furiously down the middle of the track. Wildcat Red’s drift forced Paco Lopez aboard Bolita Boyz to hesitate, then, not knowing how much further Wildcat Red was going to come out, duck to the inside where his charge fell short.

The stewards were right on it, putting up the inquiry sign within seconds of the horses going under the wire. Once again, everyone at the track knew what the outcome was going to be. Wildcat Red had to come down. If there was any doubt, it was dispelled by a single look at the head-on.

Indeed, Wildcat Red was disqualified but not until the stewards took another five or six minutes to look repeatedly at the same incriminating footage. Remember, they saw enough live to put up the inquiry. This doesn’t always result in a DQ but when the video reinforces what the stewards had seen live, it should be an easy and quick call. Their lengthy delay was inexcusable.

These two calls were so clear cut--there are similar ones all the time at tracks everywhere--you have to wonder if the stewards come to a decision, then sit on it for a few minutes so that they appear to have been in deep deliberations.

There are, of course, situations when an inquiry is so borderline it is commendable that the stewards consider every possible angle and take as much time as necessary before coming to a decision. More often, this is not the case. On these occasions, the stewards should take one look at the pan, one at the head-on, do whatever is called for and make the result official as quickly as possible.

Mutual poll manipulation?

Later the same afternoon, there was a suspicious turn of events at Hollywood Park, which suggested the possibility of mutual pool manipulation.

A horse named Ekahi opened at 3-5 in the seventh race, an open $16,000-$14,000 claimer. Problem was Ekahi was 30-1 on the morning line in a race in which there were no 20-1 shots. The next highest was 12-1.

The morning line was supported by the past performances. Ekahi was one-for-nine lifetime, zero-for-four in 2013. He was coming out of a $20K starter race in which he finished last of seven, beaten 28 lengths. His previous start, for the same tag as last Saturday but for limited winners, he finished 10th of 12. He had finished in front of only four of 31 opponents this year.

Unlikely winners often open short, especially at tracks with relatively small pools. Less than $100 can do it. But this was Hollywood Park on a Saturday, where it takes a sizable punch to make the toteboard rock. But there was no obvious contender worthy of this kind of support. The morning line choice was 3-1 and he didn’t even wind up going off the favorite.

Another possible explanation was someone had made a mistake and hit the wrong number. Ekahi was No. 6. One of the well regarded horses was Cast a Doubt in No. 5, who did eventually become the betting choice at 5-2. This also is a fairly frequent occurrence and the board adjusts when the ticket is canceled and the money placed where it was meant to be.

But Ekahi lingered for most of the betting as the heavy favorite, drifting only slightly to even-money, then 6-5. It wasn’t until about three minutes to post that the odds on Ekahi began their retreat to where they should have been. In one click, he zoomed to 14-1. By post time, he was 27-1. He ran like a 27-1 shot, trailing the field from start to finish.

For many years, a bettor couldn’t change a wager once he stepped away from the window. It was a positive development when changes became permissable, theoretically because a wrong number had been purchased.

Computerized betting has changed the game. Now cancellations can be made with a simple click up to seconds before the field breaks.

I don’t know where the Ekahi shenanigans originated but Hollywood Park and the California Racing Board can find out. They owe it to fans to investigate the circumstances and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.


Written by Tom Jicha

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