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

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Thursday, August 01, 2013


Weekly poll makes the Kentucky Derby just another race


The latest NTRA poll is an exercise in what have you done for me lately. Victories by Verrazano and Palice Malice last weekend moved them to Nos. 7 and 8 in the weekly survey. But Kentucky Derby winner Orb is no better than 14th. This makes little sense when Orb has as many Grade 1's as Verrazano--one of them the big one--and Palace Malice has only one.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Aug. 1—Polls are intended to reflect a diversity of opinion. If there is universal agreement, there is no need for a poll. However, for a poll to retain credibility, there must be some rhyme and reason to it. The latest weekly NTRA poll strains this standard.

There’s are no issues at the top. Wise Dan, the defending champion, is undefeated in three 2013 starts. Until someone knocks him off, he deserves king of the hill status.

Game on Dude, the runnerup, is one better this season, perfect in four starts. Some might argue that dominating a weak older horse group on the West Coast is not that great a mark of distinction. But he did come east for the million dollar race at Charles Town and none of the heavy hitters from the East and Midwest rushed to take him on.

If there is an anti-West Coast bias, it might show up in next week’s poll should No. 3 Fort Larned notch his second win of the year in four starts in Saturday’s Whitney. How much of a shock would it be if he jumped over Game on Dude?

With the Breeders’ Cup again at Santa Anita, the West Virginia invasion will likely be the Dude’s last foray out of Southern California this season. Challengers will have to deal with that.

It’s the middle of the poll, where the top 3-year-olds reside, that a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude seems to have taken hold.

Verrazano, on the strength of his dazzling score in the Haskell, has vaulted to No. 7, one spot ahead of Palace Malice, who validated his Belmont triumph with a dominant performance in the Jim Dandy. More on this in a bit.

But the voters have some explaining to do with their placement of Orb at No. 14. Let’s look at the record.

Verrazano has a couple of Grade 1’s on his resume, the Wood Memorial and Haskell. But his only attempt in the Triple Crown series, the Kentucky Derby, brought about his lone defeat in seven starts.

The Belmont is Palace Malice’s sole Grade 1.

Meanwhile, Orb won the big one, the Kentucky Derby, as well as the Grade 1 Florida Derby. Let’s say the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial are equal in prestige, although that could set off a lively debate of its own.

This brings the Orb-Verrazano comparison down to the Kentucky Derby vs. the Haskell. If this even a point of discussion? Seriously?

So Orb is a victim of “what have you done for me lately?” thinking because he has been taking a breather at Fair Hill, prepping for his Aug. 24 showdown with Verrazano and Palace Malice in the Travers.
Measure this against Point of Entry, who has two Grade 1 wins, same as Orb, hasn’t run since Belmont Day, same as Orb, but probably won’t run again. Nevertheless, Point of Entry is No. 4 in the poll.

The downgrading of this year’s 3-year-old class is further exemplified by the total snub of Oxbow. Apparently winning the Preakness and running second in the Belmont counts for zero. That's the number of votes Oxbow was awarded. Among others, this places him behind Groupie Doll, who has not stepped into a starting gate since the Cigar Mile last November.

A similar anti 3-year-old prejudice seems to be in vogue among distaffers. Kentucky Oaks champion Princess of Sylmar made the Coaching Club American Oaks her second Grade 1 among four victories in five 2013 starts. Yet she ranks only 11th in the poll, six places below Royal Delta, whose score over an undistinguished lot in the Delaware Handicap was her first win of the year in three starts.

Thankfully the Breeders’ Cup makes these midseason surveys similar to pre-election polls, merely a snapshot in time.


When you bitch, you have an obligation to subsequently give credit where it is due. I took exception to the opening Saturday card at the Summer Place To Be, which resembled a mid-winter card at Aqueduct with five state bred races and a couple of cheap claimers.

The racing office made up for it last Saturday. In addition to three outstanding stakes—the Prioress, Diana and Jim Dandy—all of which were scheduled months in advance, the card was made up entirely of open races, albeit a couple of them cheap claimers, which in days of old were not welcome at the Spa. This is how it should be at the citadel of racing.

Alas, this Saturday is more like opening weekend: three races for New York breds, a couple of $20,000 claimers and a maiden claimer for $25,000.

To reiterate, this shouldn’t happen when there are four weekdays to schedule races for the lesser lights. Alas, the fear is this is the new normal at Saratoga.




Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (3)

 
 

Weekly poll makes the Kentucky Derby just another race


The latest NTRA poll is an exercise in what have you done for me lately. Victories by Verrazano and Palice Malice last weekend moved them to Nos. 7 and 8 in the weekly survey. But Kentucky Derby winner Orb is no better than 14th. This makes little sense when Orb has as many Grade 1's as Verrazano--one of them the big one--and Palace Malice has only one.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Aug. 1—Polls are intended to reflect a diversity of opinion. If there is universal agreement, there is no need for a poll. However, for a poll to retain credibility, there must be some rhyme and reason to it. The latest weekly NTRA poll strains this standard.

There’are no issues at the top. Wise Dan, the defending champion, is undefeated in three 2013 starts. Until someone knocks him off, he deserves king of the hill status.

Game on Dude, the runnerup, is one better this season, perfect in four starts. Some might argue that dominating a weak older horse group on the West Coast is not that great a mark of distinction. But he did come east for the million dollar race at Charles Town and none of the heavy hitters from the East and Midwest rushed to take him on.

If there is an anti-West Coast bias, it might show up in next week’s poll should No. 3 Fort Larned notch his second win of the year in four starts in Saturday’s Whitney. How much of a shock would it be if he jumped over Game on Dude?

With the Breeders’ Cup again at Santa Anita, the West Virginia invasion will likely be the Dude’s last foray out of Southern California this season. Challengers will have to deal with that.

It’s the middle of the poll, where the top 3-year-olds reside, that a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude seems to have taken hold.

Verrazano, on the strength of his dazzling score in the Haskell, has vaulted to No. 7, one spot ahead of Palace Malice, who validated his Belmont triumph with a dominant performance in the Jim Dandy. More on this in a bit.

But the voters have some explaining to do with their placement of Orb at No. 14. Let’s look at the record.

Verrazano has a couple of Grade 1’s on his resume, the Wood Memorial and Haskell. But his only attempt in the Triple Crown series, the Kentucky Derby, brought about his lone defeat in seven starts.

The Belmont is Palace Malice’s sole Grade 1.

Meanwhile, Orb won the big one, the Kentucky Derby, as well as the Grade 1 Florida Derby. Let’s say the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial are equal in prestige, although that could set off a lively debate of its own.

This brings the Orb-Verrazano comparison down to the Kentucky Derby vs. the Haskell. Is this even a point of discussion? Seriously?

So Orb is a victim of “what have you done for me lately?” thinking because he has been taking a breather at Fair Hill, prepping for his Aug. 24 showdown with Verrazano and Palace Malice in the Travers.
Measure this against Point of Entry, who has two Grade 1 wins, same as Orb, hasn’t run since Belmont Day, same as Orb, but probably won’t run again. Nevertheless, Point of Entry is No. 4 in the poll.

The downgrading of this year’s 3-year-old class is further exemplified by the total snub of Oxbow. Apparently winning the Preakness and running second in the Belmont counts for zero. That's the number of votes Oxbow was awarded. Among others, this places him behind Groupie Doll, who has not stepped into a starting gate since the Cigar Mile last November.

A similar anti 3-year-old prejudice seems to be in vogue among distaffers. Kentucky Oaks champion Princess of Sylmar made the Coaching Club American Oaks her second Grade 1 among four victories in five 2013 starts. Yet she ranks only 11th in the poll, six places below Royal Delta, whose score over an undistinguished lot in the Delaware Handicap was her first win of the year in three starts.

Thankfully the Breeders’ Cup makes these midseason surveys similar to pre-election polls, merely a snapshot in time.


When you bitch, you have an obligation to subsequently give credit where it is due. I took exception to the opening Saturday card at the Summer Place To Be, which resembled a mid-winter card at Aqueduct with five state bred races and a couple of cheap claimers.

The racing office made up for it last Saturday. In addition to three outstanding stakes—the Prioress, Diana and Jim Dandy—all of which were scheduled months in advance, the card was made up entirely of open races, albeit a couple of them cheap claimers, which in days of old were not welcome at the Spa. This is how it should be at the citadel of racing.

Alas, this Saturday is more like opening weekend: three races for New York breds, a couple of $20,000 claimers and a maiden claimer for $25,000.

To reiterate, this shouldn’t happen when there are four weekdays to schedule races for the lesser lights. Alas, the fear is this is the new normal at Saratoga.




Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (0)

 
 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


The Travers has a new Big 3


The 3-year-old championship picture has taken on a new look. Verrazano has crashed the former Big 3 of Orb, Oxbow and Palice Malice with a smashing score in the Haskell, the most impressive performance by a 3-year-old this year. It still might be a big three, as Oxbow came out of the Monmouth showpiece race with an ankle injury.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, July 30, 2013--Who do you like for the 3-year-old championship? Kentucky Derby (and Florida Derby) winner Orb, Preakness winner Oxbow, who also outfinished Orb in the Belmont, or Belmont champion Palace Malice, who ratified that triumph with a dominant score in the Jim Dandy?

The answer at the end of the past weekend in many circles was “none of the above.”

It has been more than 30 years since three different winners of Triple Crown events met in the Travers, so anticipation ran high as the 2013 renewal loomed. Then Verrazano made a shambles of the Haskell, crushing, among others, Oxbow, who came out of the race with a wrenched ankle. The injury put his Travers status in doubt as well as compromising his chances for the 3-year-old championship, which is still up for grabs..

There hasn’t been a more decisive win in a 3-year-old Grade 1 this season than Verrazano’s almost 10-length Haskell romp, the largest margin in the storied race’s history. Not to diminish in any way Palace Malice’s performance in the Jim Dandy but Verrazano obliterated a better bunch in the Haskell. He not only buried Oxbow, who struggled home fourth, he ran past Bob Baffert’s latest “now’ horse Power Broker, coming off a big win in the Easy Goer; Derby runnerup Golden Soul; Gotham and Jerome winner Vyjack and Long Branch winner Micromanage.

Todd Pletcher, who’s as tight with superlatives as Jack Benny was with a dollar, said he felt Verrazano had made “a huge statement.” Pletcher said Verrazano’s Haskell was as impressive a race as a 3-year-old has run this season. There aren’t many who would argue. The 116 Beyer Fig he was given dwarfs Oxbow’s 106 in the Preakness and Orb’s 104 for the Derby.

So there’s a new Big Three for the Travers and it wouldn’t be surprising if Verrazano goes favored over the Derby and Belmont winners as well as Oxbow if he makes the race. Verrazano’s Haskell was his sixth win in seven starts over four tracks. The only blemish was his no-show 14th in the Kentucky Derby over an off track.

However, the same question hangs over him that did going into the first Saturday in May. Can he win beyond nine furlongs? Orb and Palace Malice have already put that issue to rest.

Then again, they could have gone around Monmouth’s one-mile oval again Sunday and Verrazano’s margin only would have been greater. It was the first time any colt of his generation displayed the potential to challenge elders Game on Dude and Fort Larned, among others, in the big fall races and the Breeders’ Cup.

Palace Malice used similar tactics in the Jim Dandy to those that carried the day in the Belmont. He forced the pace of Dwyer winner Moreno, took over at will, eased away and had plenty left to hold off late-running Will Take Charge. The rest were never in the race.

Palace Malice’s time, 1:47.32, was the second fastest nine-furlong Jim Dandy ever, good for a 107 Beyer.

So who do you like in the Travers and for the division title?


Bill Mott’s plaque in the Hall of Fame across Union Avenue makes notes of his remarkable achievements, most notably training Cigar to 16 wins in a row. It might have to be revised to include another streak.

Mott, the second youngest person ever elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998 when he was only 45, has an uncanny ability to win a race on his birthday, July 29. He turned the trick for the seventh straight time (dark days not included) and 15th in 20 opportunities on Monday. It’s not Woody Stephens’ five consecutive Belmonts but it has captured the fancy of the racing world.

Everyone has a birthday but, in its own way, Mott’s has become another event on the Saratoga calendar. The Racing Form made note of it in the leadup to the Spa season and it was mentioned prominently in the roundup in Monday’s Form and again after Mott kept the streak going. Dave Litfin included it in his race-by-race analysis. Tom Durkin referenced it in his calls. In-house handicapper Andy Serling commented on it for each of Mott’s five starters.

Serling took a hard-bitten (but accurate) approach, pointing out that the streak has become so avidly followed that each of Mott’s starters was being egregiously overbet. Serling astutely saw this as an opportunity for the cold-of-heart, who pay no attention to such matters, to take advantage of inflated prices on non-Mott contenders.

Mott’s followers had to hang on to the bitter end when the last of his quintet, Revenue, got home in the ninth race and paid $5.50. This repeated the 2012 pattern when Mott didn't win until the last of his three starters, Alaura Michele, captured the Nani Rose overnight stakes.

The streak will get a rest in 2014 when July 29 falls on a dark Tuesday.




Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (3)

 
 

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