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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Thursday, November 03, 2016

A single on Friday and an audible on Saturday

Pick 3's are my bet of preference, especially when I feel strongly enough to single one race, allowing me to spread in the other legs. I zeroed in on such a horse both Friday and Saturday and neither of them is named Songbird or California Chrome. This strategy paid well last year when even with 1-2 Liam's Map in the middle, a very playable Pick 3 returned $117.50 for every $1 combination. Then a late scratch of Lord Nelson forced an audible.>

MIAMI, Nov. 3, 2016--Check out the BC Dirt Mile. You won’t find American Pharoah or California Chrome (Texas is not California).

The Triple Crown champion and season-long No. 1 in the NTRA poll are the only horses who have won races in which Dortmund ran and didn’t win. This is why I see Dortmund as the safest single on Friday’s card; maybe the entire BC weekend.

This is like déjà vu. A year ago, I felt the same way about Liam’s Map. He came through while overcoming adversity that only an exceptional horse could. The difference is Dortmund, who is ducking California Chrome and his stablemate Arrogate just as Liam's Map ducked American Pharoah, will not be 1-2, maybe not even odds-on. Thanks for this goes to the presence of Eclipse-winning sprinter Runhappy, whose connections opted not to have him defend his BC Sprint title. I made it clear last week how little I think of his chances to win his first race beyond seven furlongs in his debut around two turns.

If I was going to save, I prefer Vyjack over Runhappy in a trainer’s play. Those in the East are familiar with Vyjack but perhaps not so much with his trainer Phil D’Amato. All you need to know about him is he is the left coast version of Chad Brown, the game’s next superstar. Everything the protégé of Mike Mitchell sends out is worth a second and third look.

But I am not hedging. I am all in on Dortmund. I plan to use my favorite Pick 3 strategy, singling Dortmund and going deep in the other legs looking for an upset. It worked beautifully last year. With standout Liam’s Map in the middle, a $1 Pick 3 including Catch a Glimpse ($14.80), one of two North American runners I used, and Aidan O’Brien’s Euro shipper Hit It a Bomb ($16.40), the Pick 3 returned $117.50 for every $1 ticket.

The two races surrounding this year’s Dirt Mile could not be better for this. As usual, the Juvenile Turf and its filly counterpart are wide open due to a plane load of Euros.

A lesson I have learned at some expense over the years is it’s folly to try to come to a definitive conclusion based on overseas form. It’s a different game over there, played on straightaways and right-hand turns on courses much softer than the Santa Anita pool table. It’s a question of which ones best adapt. So I throw them all in on at least one ticket.

So Friday’s ticket will start with O’Brien’s pair, Lancaster Bomber, who has been chasing Euro standout Churchill, and Grade 3 winner Intelligence Cross, along with top North Americans Good Samaritan, winner of the Summer Stakes at Woodbine, and Oscar Performance, whose devastation of a strong Pilgrim Stakes field was the strongest grass performance by an American 2-year-old in memory. Alas, he drew post 13. Then again, Hit It a Bomb started from the 14 stall.

On the other side of Dortmund, a herd of Euros will force me to go really deep. Aidan O’Brien has two, Hydrangea and Roly Poly, and his son Joseph will attempt to one up Dad with Intricately, who I think is the Euro to beat. I’ll follow my own rule and throw in Euros Spainburg, Cavalee Doree and Madam Dancelot. I was really impressed by La Coronel’s Jasmine runaway so she’ll be my lone North American.

That’s a $28 ticket. If you want to swing for the fences, a Pick 4 with these and Songbird at the end will cost another $14.

A scratch changes things

As you might imagine, I produce this column about 24 hours before publication. This week, because I would be traveling to Las Vegas, I had it set on Tuesday.

Then I woke up Thursday morning to the disclosure that my Saturday single, Lord Nelson, has been scratched with an injury. So I've called an audible. I like these selections but not with the conviction I had with Lord Nelson as the key and a single.

I’ve already expressed my support for Florida shipper Three Rules in the Juvenile. He’ll certainly be on my ticket but this Juvenile is loaded with colts with star potential. So I’ll also include dominant Breeders’ Futurity winner Classic Empire, who has never lost when he didn’t throw his rider, and Not This Time, who Dale Romans thinks might become the best horse he has ever trained.

Because this ticket is relatively inexpensive, I’ll include Champagne winner Practical Joker and Front Runner Stakes runnerup Klimt, who had a much tougher trip than the winner Gormley. With Todd Pletcher’s want-the-front pair of Theory and Syndergaard, there will be no easy leads for Gormley this time.

In the Turf, I can’t go past defending champion Found, Highland Reel, who chased her home in the Arc, and Flintshire, North America’s best. One thing concerns me about the latter. If you check his form, it’s noticeable that he has a case of second-itis on the world’s biggest stages—the 2014 and 2015 Arc; Hong Vase last December; the 2015 Dubai Sheema Classic and the 2014 BC Turf.

I will go against my own Euro rule by leaving out Ulysses, who I don’t think classes up.

I'll wrap up a $15 Pick 3 with Carina Mia, whose connections made the right choice in entering her in the Filly & Mare Sprint rather than the Distaff, which was under consideration. She won't run into three Eclipse winners in the shorter race. I mentioned in my previous column that I don't think defending champion Wavell Avenue is the same filly this year.

I guess it’s incumbent to at least take a shot at the Classic. After what he did for me in the Travers, I have to go back to Arrogate.

I have other preferences but none I couldn’t be talked out of, inasmuch as I’ll be spending the two Breeders’ Cup Days in Las Vegas with the boss, who will have his mountain of research, and Paul Cornman. Life is good.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Build BC bankroll by beating these champions

The key to a profitable day at the races is to beat short-priced horses, whose odds over-estimate their chances to win. There are a half-dozen Breeders' Cup champions who fit into this category next weekend. Also, trainer Art Sherman is making a compelling case that it makes more financial sense to keep California Chrome in training for his 6-year-old season than it does to send him off to the breeding shed.

MIAMI, Oct. 27, 2016--The first step to picking Breeders’ Cup winners—we’ll do that next week after the post draw-- is to identify losers. That is, horses who, barring the unforeseeable, will not hit the winner’s circle.

Obviously, there are dozens of horses, many 20-1 and up, who can be tossed on Nov. 4-5. The key to a profitable Breeders’ Cup is to zero in on well bet horses unlikely to win.

(My wagering preferences are win, daily doubles, Pick 3 and Pick 4 wagers. At the Breeders’ Cup there are always more than a few boxcar-priced horses, who get into exactas, tri’s and supers. The ones I am drawing a line through are top end only.)

The low-priced throw-out of this season is defending Sprint champion Runhappy, the epitome of the expression “throwing good money after bad.” Jim “Mattress Mac” McIngvale, his eccentric owner, is one of the dozen dreamers who put up $1 million to buy a starting berth in the Pegasus. Runhappy is his only world class horse.

Alas, Runhappy is world class only up to seven furlongs. What will become the new world’s richest race on Jan. 28 is a nine-furlong, two-turn event. McIngvale is trying to force his square peg into a round hole. It is like Usain Bolt entering the Olympics 1500 meters.

Runhappy’s only loss in his first two seasons of racing was a dismal ninth in the mile-and-70 yards LeComte, after which he reeled off six straight sprint wins, including the Breeders’ Cup. With the Pegasus as the ultimate goal and the BC Dirt Mile as a stepping stone, McIngvale brought Runhappy back off a nine-month layoff in Churchill’s one-turn Ack Ack mile. It was clearly beyond his scope as he ran a non-competitive fourth.

McIngvale is nothing if not stubborn, so instead of turning back to defend his BC Sprint title, Runhappy will continue his march toward the Pegasus in the two-turn Dirt Mile. This pig-headedness provides an opportunity for savvy players. Off his entire body of work, Runhappy will probably be well supported by the thousands of non-sophisticated fans at the Breeders’ Cup. In my opinion, he will get nothing.

The lure of Pegasus' riches is also going to contribute to the further tarnishing of the reputation of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby champion Nyquist. Since the first Saturday in May each of his starts has been more disappointing than the previous one. He ran third in the Preakness, fourth in the Haskell and sixth in the Pennsylvania Derby, his losing margin increasing each time.

He is not the horse who won his first eight races. However, his owner, Paul Reddam, is another of those with a million dollar stake in the Pegasus, so he has been kept in training and, unless he embarrasses his connections, will go on to Gulfstream. He has no shot in the Classic but the magic of “Kentucky Derby winner” will keep his odds about half what they should be.

A couple of other defending champions look to me like solid bet-against’s. Catch a Glimpse, winner of the 2015 BC Juvenile Fillies Turf, appears to be on the downward arc of her form cycle. She had never lost in eight grass starts until this summer’s Lake Placid at the Spa. It was no disgrace to be run down by a neck by Time and Motion, who has won five of six this year, the only blemish a half-length defeat by Catch a Glimpse in the Belmont Oaks. But the Lake Placid offered a small hint Catch a Glimpse wasn’t the dominant filly she had been.

What came next solidified this notion. She ran an inexplicable seventh, beaten 10 lengths in the QE II. Her trainer, Mark Casse, said during a Breeders’ Cup conference call on Wednesday that her dull effort was a head scratcher. He knew she was in trouble in the first quarter-mile. He told Florent Geroux he wanted her on the lead but the Frenchman had to put the pedal to the metal to get there, something that had not happened before.

Another sign all is not as it should be with Catch a Glimpse is Casse cross-entered her in the Turf Sprint as well as the Filly and Mare Turf, which everyone assumed was her destination. Casse said he just wanted to take a look at the two fields and he is 95 percent certain Catch a Glimpse will run in the Filly and Mare Turf. But the fact that he hedged even 5 percent is not a good sign.

It might be suicidal to dismiss a Chad Brown contender but I don’t like the way defending Filly and Mare Sprint champion Wavell Avenue is coming up to this year’s renewal. Wavell Avenue went into last year’s race the right way, off a win and a close second after a troubled break. Since she has won only once in six 2016 starts, an ungraded stakes.

She had every chance to take her BC prep, the Gallant Bloom, but pretty much spun her wheels in the stretch. If you want to give her an excuse, it was over an off track, unfamiliar terrain to her. But then you have to explain her off-the-board effort in the Ballerina, when it looked like she was rounding to her best form.

The upside to bucking Brown is his horses get over bet.

If you want to make it an even half-dozen, I’m leaving out two-time Breeders’ Cup champion Beholder in the Distaff. However, this one I do with less conviction than the others.

My thinking is Stellar Wind beat her on the square in their last two confrontations and had the tougher trip when Beholder got the best of her three races back in their series. So I can’t make a case for Beholder beating Stellar Wind and I think Songbird is better than both of them.

More California Chrome?

The biggest news to come out of the Breeders’ Cup conference call is that Art Sherman is making a case to keep California Chrome in training for his 6-year-old season. Sherman’s logic is California Chrome can run for $27 million next year, far more than his potential earnings in the breeding shed.

Assuming what Sherman has in mind, he actually was a million short: $12 million in the Pegasus, $10 million in the Dubai World Cup and $6 million in the BC Classic. Granted, he would be running for only the winner’s share of those purses but this comes to about $17 million without taking into account any other rich races, such as the Pacific Classic, California Chrome could make.That kind of money will not be available to a first-year sire with a blue collar pedigree, no matter what his record on the track is.

"I think his 6-year-old season would be the peak of his career," Sherman said. "I would love to see him around that long."

So would millions of racing fans.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Breeders’ Cup Juvenile ‘freak’ to root for and bet

The Breeders' Cup Juvenile seems exceptionally loaded this year. Classic Empire is a likely deserving favorite. Practical Joker and Syndegaard are coming in hot from New York. Either Gormley or Klint could be the next Kentucky Derby winner to come out of California. No telling how good Iroquois winner Not This Time might be. But there's a "freak" shipping west from Florida, who might be talented enough to outrun them all at a generous price.

MIAMI, Oct 20, 2016—Classic Empire was scintillating winning the Breeders’ Futurity. Mark Casse touted him to the heavens going into the race and the son of Pioneer of the Nile—American Pharoah’s sire—delivered, drawing off despite being wide all the way.

Practical Joke and Syndegaard put on a show in the Champagne. Syndegaard did all the heavy lifting up front and Practical Joker had to come from last off a troubled start. Practical Joke got the bob that could have gone either way. Both are exceptionally talented.

Gormley put away the best on the West Coast in the Front Runner while Bob Baffert’s heavy favorite Klimt had a tough trip but was still coming on at the end over the track where the Breeders’ Cup will be run.

Dale Romans is as high on Iroquois winner Not This Time as he has ever been on a 2-year-old.

I’m looking forward to seeing all these extraordinary juveniles going forward into next spring. I’m also looking forward to beating them at a price with Three Rules on Nov. 5.

This is not a parochial selection. Homey don’t play that game. Three Rules has beaten only Florida-breds in winning five straight, including all three legs of the Sires Stakes series at Gulfstream. But the last time I bet a South Florida-developed juvenile at the Breeders’ Cup was Awesome Feather in 2010. She, too, had won her first five, including a sweep of the Sire Stakes. She smoked the best of her generation in the BC Juvenile Fillies and was awarded the Eclipse in her division.

I see Three Rules having the same potential. His connections, Shade Tree Thoroughbreds, must, too. This is a blue collar group you want to root for. They bought their first horse by maxing out their credit cards, according to Tom Fitzgerald, one of the partners.

Their best horse prior to Three Rules, Three Part Harmony, ran second to Big Drama in the 2008 In Reality before eventually sliding back into the claiming ranks. But when he suffered a fractured ankle, the partners went deep into their pockets to save him. He’s enjoying a life of leisure on the farm, Fitzgerald said proudly.

They might be making a bigger gamble than any of the heavy-hitters or computer syndicates at the Breeders’ Cup. Offers have been pouring in to purchase Three Rules. The highest reportedly is the $3 million range.

It’s like the contestants on the game show “Deal or No Deal.” You can take the sure money from The Banker or risk it and try to break the bank. If Three Rules comes through, he might be worth double or triple what he is now. If he runs up the track, the offers will virtually disappear.

It isn’t just that Three Rules hasn’t been seriously tested. He's won his five starts by 31 lengths. No one has gotten within three lengths of him and he has been eased up at the end of every race. It’s his ability to adapt to circumstances.

In the Affirmed Stakes, he was just off a 44-second pace going seven furlongs before he took over, opened 7 and coasted home by 5 ½. In the two-turn In Reality, he wound up on the lead at the first call for the first time in his career, slowed the pace down to a 48-second half, then blasted home to win by 10 in 1:44 3/5 for a mile and a sixteenth, a tick off the stakes record. “Two-year-olds don’t do that kind of stuff,” another of his owners, Bert Pilcher, said.

Three Rules' 87 Beyer is within one point of the last race fig of everyone in the field with the exception of Gormley, who got a 93 in winning the Front Runner with an unchallenged gate-to-wire-never-off-the-rail performance, a situation that always produces an inflated Beyer. And Three Rules, eased at the end, could have run faster in the In Reality.

His trainer, Jose Pinchin, paid him the ultimate tribute. “He can do just about anything you want. He’s a freak.”

I’ve seen it and I believe it.

NYRA finally gets will-pays right

Speaking of joining the rest of the racing world, after criticizing NYRA for years for posting $2 payoffs, even for bets like the Pick 4, which nobody plays in $2 increments, it’s only fair to give it a pat on the back for finally listing all will pays except straight bets for their minimum wagers.

The lone major holdout now in posting only $2 probables is Keeneland, which does everything else so right.

Sport of Kings

Frank Stronach is determined to restore racing to its status as the Sport of Kings.

Gulfstream has released the ticket prices for the Jan. 28 Pegasus Stakes, the world’s richest race. Commoners need not apply.

The least expensive admission--for a track that usually has none--will be $100. This is double the Kentucky Derby, two and a half times the Preakness and more than a two-day pass for the Breeders’ Cup.

The C-note gets you nothing more than through the gate. If you want to sit down, it will cost up to $765.

For comparison purposes, I checked with Orbitz. You can fly to Paris that weekend for $755. This includes airfare and two nights in a three-star hotel.

Found comes up short

Arc winner Found almost did it again to the best males on the continent in the English Champion Stakes last Saturday. The great filly, who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf against males, ran second against the supposedly superior sex in a Grade 1 stakes for the second time in 13 days.

Some on this side of the Atlantic might say it was the short rest that beat her. Maybe. But it could be the fact that Almanzor, the French Derby champion, was winning his fifth in a row and eighth in 10 career races and also beat her in the Irish Champion Stakes.

Incidentally, Aidan O’Brien is still considering a BC Turf defense for Found off what would be a 21-day layoff—three world class stakes against males on two continents in five weeks.
So who do you think knows more about the care and training of horses: the sheets faithful or Aidan O’Brien?

Written by Tom Jicha

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