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 Sentinels horse racing writer since 2007 as a staff member, and continues to this day as a free-lancer.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Derby trainer has cyber winner in Horse Races Now

Kenny McPeek, who has Blue Grass winner Java's War and Frac Daddy qualified for the Kentucky Derby, has created a website, Horse Races Now, which is a dream come true for racing fans. Everything to make every day a day at the races is available with a click on iPhones, iPads and other devices: entries, results and replays, as well as horse, trainer and jockey watches. Those are just some of the features accessible via a simple click. There are also links to advanced deposit wagering sites. The best part? Access to Horse Races Now is free now and McPeek says the business plan calls for it to always remain free.

MIAMI, April 19, 2013--The internet put the knowledge of the world at our fingertips. Kenny McPeek is using the technology to do the same for the world of horse racing.

McPeek, the veteran trainer whose Java’s War upset the Blue Grass last week and will join barn mate Frac Daddy in the Kentucky Derby on May 4, has created a website, Horse Races Now, which offers everything a racing fan might want except guaranteed winners. But all the tools are there to find more winners.

Horse Races Now makes every day a day at the races: workout reports; entries; live race video; results; video replays; even the winner’s circle ceremonies. All you have to do is activate the computer ap Horse at 84700. (Check out a demonstration video, hosted by McPeek, at

There are even horsey sound effects. If you’re tracking the activities of a horse, trainer or jockey, you’ll hear hooves striking the track when they work out or appear in the entries.

Fifteen minutes from post time at any track you designate, the call to the post sounds off.

As the start of a race in which you have indicated an interest approaches, Keeneland race caller Kurt Becker’s voice can be heard saying, “The horses are approaching the starting gate. They’re at the post.”

Official results produce the optimistic clang of a cash register.

When a video replay is posted, along with the chart, a horse’s whinny can be heard. Horse Races Now maintains an archive that allows previous starts to be reviewed for up to two years, according to McPeek.

If all you want is a workout report, they are accompanied by the click of a stopwatch.

Not everyone wants to walk around sounding like a character from “Guys and Dolls,” so all it takes is a click to kill the sound track, which can be reactivated with another click.

Nothing has been overlooked. There are even links to the most popular advanced deposit wagering sites. So if you learn a horse you have been following is running, you can click right over and make a bet.

The best part for players is it’s all free. (One exception is paid handicapping sites, such as the Ragozin Sheets. There is a link for those, too.)

Skeptics might scoff and figure this is a bait-then-pay lure to get you hooked before a regular fee is imposed. Not so, McPeek promises. He’s not a philanthropist. He does have a business plan to eventually generate revenue, which he is keeping under wraps for competitive reasons. But, he reiterated, it does not involve user fees. “Our goal is Horse Races Now will always be free to download and watch.”

Whatever profits McPeek eventually makes, he deserves. “We have been the Lewis & Clark of this expedition,” he said. “I have financed this on my own.”

The idea struck McPeek about three years ago. “I had some time to kill so I was channel surfing. I came upon something titled ‘Planet of the Aps.’ I Googled to see if there was an ap for horse racing. There weren’t any,” he said. “There were a massive number for other sports but nothing for horse racing.”

His reaction? “This is terrible.” “Someone needs to do something.”

You know the expression, “If you want something done, do it yourself.” McPeek is a subscriber.

He approached tech experts and inquired how much it might cost to develop what has become Horse Races Now. The initial quote was about $45,000. “My payroll is more than that,” he reasoned.

Alas, he quickly relearned the lesson that few things cost as little as the first estimate. “It turned into more than 20 times that,” he says. This isn’t a complaint. “It has been worth every dime.”

You would think the racing industry would be cheering him on. Check that. If you don’t know the racing industry, you would think it would be cheering him on.

“They put up repeated roadblocks. A lot of industry factions were opposed,” McPeek said. “They like things the way they are. They are absolutely dug in.”

McPeek persevered anyway. He got the site off the ground and now gets some form of cooperation from much of the industry. More than 90 tracks make their information and video available to Horse Races Now. McPeek is optimistic the day will come when Horse Races Now has so many followers that tracks will not be able to ignore it.

As if the fact that he will have two colts in the Kentucky Derby isn’t endorsement enough, McPeek says creating and establishing Horse Races Now has not detracted from his training. “I’ve been doing this for 28 years. I never forget that that is what’s really important. But I don’t play golf and I multi-task really well.”

He’s even got the cyber lingo down.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Equinegate at Derby Time: So, What’s New?

About three dozen horses stabled in Southern California have died suddenly over the past couple of years. Initial reports have tried to sensationalize the tragedies, reporting two of the horses had traces of rat poison in their system. However, the rat poison was found to be at trace levels unlikely to cause death and investigations of all the deaths have turned up no evidence of foul play thus far. This, of course, hasn't deterred racing's detractors, including The New York Times, to turn this into a potential Equinegate scandal, which unfortunately will probably fester throughout the Triple Crown season.

MIAMI, April 12, 2013--Triple Crown season is supposed to be the time of year for a celebration of all that is exhilarating about thoroughbred racing. Apparently this is not going to be the case this year.

On the eve of the final major Kentucky Derby preps, three weeks out from the Run for the Roses, a story has broken about the tragic, sudden, inexplicable deaths of thoroughbred racehorses in California.

About three dozen horses have died suddenly over the past two years. They just dropped dead without warning or symptoms. Reportedly, seven were in the Bob Baffert barn. The Daily Racing Form reported that horses in the barns of Myung Kwon Cho, Kathy Walsh, Sean McCarthy, Mike Mitchell and Jack Van Berg have also fallen to the mysterious killer.

The DRF also reported in an online story Friday that Baffert has had as many as seven instances of horses suffering sudden death in the last 16 months. "During that time, there was at least one prominent instance of sudden death in a Baffert-trained runner when the 5-year-old Irrefutable collapsed after finishing second in the Vernon Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park in November 2011," the DRF reported.

The headline-making line in many of the reports is that rat poison was found in some of the deceased animals. But based on early reports, there’s a whole lot more smoke than fire despite the best efforts of racing’s detractors, led by the New York Times, to turn this into Equinegate.

Extensive tests ordered by the California Horse Racing Board reported that rat poison was found in only two horses and in trace levels too low to be responsible for the deaths.

The crucial finding is there is no evidence of foul play. What’s more, the number of these type deaths isn’t far out of line with recent history. The Daily Racing Form reported that at a meeting of the California Horse Racing Board commissioner Bo Derek quoted California equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur as saying the “number of sudden deaths has been consistent in the past 20 years in the neighborhood of 20 per year.”

Nevertheless, the New York Times has gone into its customary bash racing mode. A lengthy story on the deaths included lines like, ”The inquiry into sudden deaths comes as horse racing is trying to reform a drug culture that its officials concede is diminishing the sport” and “a New York Times investigation…showed a pervasive drug culture put horses and riders at risk.”

What does any of this have to do with the deaths in question? The Times attitude toward racing seems to be before there is any evidence let’s just assume the worst.

The pity is the TV networks’ news departments and other newspapers take their cues from The Times, so expect this to become a simmering controversy as racing’s finest hours approach.

Of course, more sunlight on the issue would have helped had Mr. Baffert made himself available for comment. Thus far, this has not happened.

Javier Castellano has made a tough call that could make him this year’s jockeys’ handicapping champion or haunt him for years. Castellano opted for Normandy Invasion over Revolutionary as his Kentucky Derby mount.

Castellano won the Withers and Louisiana Derby on Revolutionary. He drove Normandy Invasion, who has only one win in five starts, to a fast-closing second to Verrazano in the Wood Memorial.

Revolutionary is trained by Todd Pletcher. Long range, how wise is it to risk doing anything that might get you on the wrong side of a trainer who has put you on hundreds of winners with the promise of hundreds more.

John Velazquez, in a similar quandary involving Orb and Pletcher’s Verrazano, stuck with Pletcher.

It’s not as if Castellano is jumping off a longshot for the favorite. Revolutionary, who also has a late-running style that figures to translate well to 10 furlongs at Churchill Downs, could go off a shorter price than Normandy Invasion on May 4.

Jeff Siegel, one of the nation's sharpest evaluators of horse talent, said on HRTV’s “Pursuit of the Crown” that he feels Revolutionary has as much or more upside than any of the potential Derby starters.

Granted, Velazquez is Todd’s main man. However, even riding second call for Pletcher helped the talented Castellano break out of the pack of NYRA’s many gifted jockeys.

On the other hand, it’s hard to go wrong hitching your wagon to the rising star of Chad Brown, trainer of Normandy Invasion and numerous other stakes horses.

Castellano has ridden both horses, so maybe he knows something that isn’t obvious to the rest of us.

Still the words of Eddie Arcaro (if memory serves) ring loud and clear: “You could get rich booking the action in the jockeys’ room.”

Lots of big winners last weekend but none bigger than Gulfstream Park’s recently concluded season.

Both Grade 1 races at Aqueduct, the Carter and Wood Memorial, were taken by horses, Swagger Jack and Verrazano, who spent the winter in South Florida. One of the Grade 2’s, the Gazelle, went to Close Hatches, who began her career this winter at Gulfstream. The Grade 3 Bay Shore was upset by Declan’s Warrior, coming off a win and a second at Gulfstream.

Full disclosure: the Grade 2 Ruffian did not go to a Gulfstream ship-in. There were none in the race.

It was the same story at Keeneland. Friday’s customary opening day feature, the Transylvania, went to Jack Milton, who also spent the winter at Gulfstream.

Nothing changed Saturday. Emollient, beaten 30 lengths only a week earlier in the Gulfstream Oaks, did a complete about face and made a shambles of the Grade 1 Ashland, drawing off to win by 9 lengths despite starting from the often lethal 13 post going two turns.

This is not provincial gloating. There’s another stakes festival weekend coming up with the Arkansas Derby the main event at Oaklawn and the Blue Grass as the headliner at Keeneland. There will be Gulfstream shippers in almost all of the major stakes. Ignore them at your own peril.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Friday, April 05, 2013

Fillies have no right to complain about Derby points

Fans of outstanding fillies Dreaming of Julia, Midnight Lucky and Unlimited Budget are complaining that the absence of Kentucky Derby qualifying points for stakes restricted to fillies unfairly keeps them out of the Run for the Roses. Not true. They could take on the boys in any number of Derby preps, just as Genuine Risk and Winning Colors did before wearing the blanket of roses. In other issues, the Breeders' Cup has gotten knocked down a few pegs and Frank Stronach has come up with another wacky idea.

MIAMI, April 5, 2013--Another week another Kentucky Derby qualifying points controversy. This time it’s the lack of points recognition for stakes restricted to fillies, which de facto keeps them out of the Kentucky Derby.

The catalyst is Dreaming of Julia’s demolition of the Gulfstream Oaks field on the heels of Midnight Lucky’s ridiculously easy romp in New Mexico and Unlimited Budget remaining undefeated in New Orleans. Also, let’s not forget Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Beholder, who will be a short price Saturday to cash the biggest check from the Santa Anita Oaks.

It might be interesting to see any or all of the these stellar distaffers line up against the boys on May 4. However, if this was a goal, they could have taken on colts in any of the prep races, as Genuine Risk and Winning Colors did before bringing home the roses.

Sorry, I’m with Churchill Downs on this one.

Triple Crown conversation tends to suck all the air out of racing talk this time of year. However, there are other things going on that need addressing.

The Breeders’ Cup decision to cut the Lasix baby in half is cowardly and pointless.

Realizing that it was fighting a losing battle in trying to keep the anti-bleeding medication out of the Breeders’ Cup, the BC tried to save face by continuing its ban on Lasix in the 2-year-old races. So last year’s juveniles couldn’t race on Lasix. Nor can this year’s. However, they will be able to as 3-year-olds and older.

Try intellectually justifying that.

It’s a short price that all Breeders’ Cup races will be opened to Lasix use in 2014 and beyond, because horsemen at potential sites have indicated they will not grant simulcast permission if the Lasix ban is in effect. This could have a lot to do with the procrastination in selecting a 2014 site.

The horsemen’s revolt seems to have given the BC a case of the jitters. In addition to the Lasix compromise, the BC announced it will help defray expenses for owners by cutting the entry fee from 3% to 2% of the purse. Also, foreign entrants will be granted a $40,000 expense allotment and a $10,000 stipend will go to domestic horses.

These concessions represent quite a comedown for an organization, which only a year ago felt so omnipotent that it could change the rules of racing by unilateral decree. Suddenly it has been forced to accept that a lot of the racing world can live without the Breeders’ Cup.

God helps those who help themselves. A constant complaint in the racing business is that the sport no longer gets much attention in the mainstream media.

Gulfstream staged its customary Florida Derby post position draw and luncheon on the Wednesday before the big race. The media, local and national, was represented. Racing wasn’t. Not one trainer nor jockey bothered to show up.

For shame.

Adversity brings out the best in some people. Success brings out the worst in Barry Irwin.

Irwin embarrassed himself and racing at the biggest moment in his racing life, the aftermath of Animal Kingdom winning the 2011 Kentucky Derby. Irwin took advantage of an NBC microphone during the post-race festivities to call all trainers liars.

Unchastened by the firestorm of criticism heaped upon him, Irwin did it again after Animal Kingdom won the Dubai World Cup. Commenting on Joel Rosario’s ride, Irwin said, “As boneheaded as his ride was last time, he was brilliant this time.”

The reference was to Rosario moving prematurely, in Irwin's opinion, aboard Animal Kingdom in the Gulfstream Turf Handicap. The 2011 Derby winner ran second to Point of Entry, whose superior position on the race track forced Rosario to surge through an opening on the rail going to the far turn. It was a gutsy move that often results in a victory. But not every race has a Point of Entry in it.

If Rosario put up such a bad ride, why did Irwin, who has a self image as racing’s shrewdest person, keep Rosario aboard for the world’s richest race?

Until Irwin learns to put a governor on his mouth, he should abstain from post-race TV interviews.

Frank Stronach must lie awake at night thinking about ways to top himself in coming up with outlandish ideas.

That he could be on the verge of destroying Florida racing with his scorched earth war against Calder has been well documented, so it doesn't need more rehashing.

To refresh your memory, one of Stronach's most outrageous brainstorms came after he bought Santa Anita. He announced his intention to demolish the hillside turf chute, one of the most unique and picturesque courses in racing. Thankfully California’s militant environmentalists put the kibosh to that.

Tearing down old Gulfstream, a beautiful and comfortable facility that hosted three Breeders’ Cups, and replacing it with a structure that is magnificent for almost anything other than watching races is another candidate for the “What could he have been thinking?” Hall of Fame. That it was done to build a mall that is already gasping for air makes it more ludicrous.

However, everything else Stronach has done pales in absurdity compared to his latest idea. According to a report on Miami TV, Stronach has commissioned Chinese sculptors to build a horse statue bigger than the Statue of Liberty to be placed at Gulfstream.

The monument will be the centerpiece of a theme park. This would be in addition to the new free-standing casino, a grandstand to be enlarged to hold 50,000 fans and a pair of luxury hotels, which Stronach is also promising for the Gulfstream site.

The words of Hialeah owner John Brunetti, whose family money comes from the construction business, continue to echo. “I’ve seen Frank’s plans. If he were to do everything he says he is going to do, he will be building into Dania.” (Dania is a community about five miles north of Gulfstream.)

Brunetti said this before Stronach unveiled his massive statue and theme park plan.

Written by Tom Jicha

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