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, August 04, 2016

Frosted a short price to do something he’s never done

Frosted's breath-taking Met Mile has scared away all but five rivals from Saturday's Whitney in spite of its $1.25 million purse. But to capture the major share of the inflated payoff, Frosted will have to do something he has been unable to do in his three-year career: win back-to-back races. He also is winless in three starts at Saratoga.

Meanwhile, out West, Del Mar continues to struggle. Handle and attendance are down, extending a three-year pattern. The depressing part is Del Mar officials seem to have neither a plan nor the will to reverse the downward slide.

MIAMI, Aug. 4, 2016--Coming off an almost Secretariat-style romp in the Met Mile, Frosted has scared away all but five rivals for Saturday’s Whitney Stakes.

Don’t rival trainers know how to read past performances? If Frosted doubles down in the Whitney he will be doing something he has not been able to do before, win consecutive races.In fact, other than a second in the Remsen after breaking his maiden in 2014, Frosted has never finished in the money after a win.

He overcame a wide trip to rally from well off the pace to win the Wood Memorial in a manner you like to see heading into the Kentucky Derby. Alas, the best he could do in Louisville was run fourth behind American Pharoah, Firing Line and Dortmund.

Five months and five races after the Wood, Frosted ran off with the Pennsylvania Derby. But in his next start, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he bombed out and ran seventh. Among those who got home before him was Effinex, who will be in the Whitney.

Upstart, another Whitney starter, who chased Frosted home in the Met Mile, finished in front of Frosted in the 2015 Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth. So it’s not as if he’s overmatched, either.

Shipped to the Middle East this past winter, Frosted looked like a world-beater in galloping off with the Al Maktoum Classic, Dubai’s major prep for the World Classic. However, in the planet’s richest race, the best he could do was fifth.

Another relevant point: Frosted is zero-for-three at Saratoga.

Frosted’s other-worldly Met Mile certainly earned him the mantle of favorite for the Whitney. However, those who back him will be taking a short price on a horse doing several things he has not been able to do before.

Dark Clouds at Del Mar

Del Mar needs another bad break like California needs another wildfire. Business is down where the turf meets the surf. On track handle is off more than 11 percent. Attendance is down almost 6 percent.

As Andy Asaro, activist West Coast conscience of racing, points out, this wouldn’t be that bad if comparisons weren’t to 2015, which was off from 2014, which was off from 2013.

The meeting opened with a 10 percent reduction in purses. With these numbers about a third of the way through the meeting, it isn’t a leap to fear there will be another cut before Labor Day.

The Hail Mary hope that a battle of the sexes showdown between defending champion Beholder and California’s beloved Horse of the World California Chrome would pack the joint for the Pacific Classic was dashed last Saturday when the three-time time Eclipse winning mare had her seven-race winning streak snapped as she was outgamed by Stellar Wind in the Clement Hirsch.

Richard Mandella, Beholder’s Hall of Fame trainer, hasn’t entirely ruled out another try at the Pacific Classic but his body language and curt comments in the post-race interviews suggested (in Brooklyn-ese) "fuhgeddaboudit."

Del Mar is its own worst enemy in some ways. Admission and parking prices are among the highest in the nation. The takeout, especially the almost 23 percent for exactas, drives off savvy big players and puts less money to churn in every player’s hands.

Del Mar’s stakes schedule also is devoid of creativity and common sense in the sport’s glamour divisions. The last three Kentucky Derby winners—Nyquist, American Pharoah and California Chrome—all came from Southern California-based barns to race in the East.

Not one brought the cachet of a Kentucky Derby champion to Del Mar in their 3-year-old season.

Nyquist and American Pharoah went to Monmouth for the Haskell. American Pharoah flew cross-country a second time for a Travers run. California Chrome opted for the Pennsylvania Derby.

Simple explanation: There are no stakes of consequence or alluring purse for 3-year-olds on dirt at Del Mar.

A similar absence of a major race for 3-year-old fillies contributed to Songbird, the most exciting horse in training, coming East this summer.

Why? Only the people letting Del Mar run into the ground can answer that.

7-1 on full sister to American Pharoah

Bob Baffert is renowned for winning with the longer half of uncoupled entries. He pulled another doozy Sunday at Del Mar.

Baffert sent out American Pharoah’s sister, American Cleopatra, along with stablemate Jeweled. Baffert must have cold-watered everyone in Southern California as American Cleopatra, whose debut merited a full scale advance and top of the page headline in the Racing Form, was allowed to get away at 7-1.

Meanwhile, Jeweled, on the basis of several characteristic Baffert blazing workouts, was the 4-5 favorite.

American Cleopatra did what her older brother couldn’t. After breaking on top, she rated comfortably on the pace then drew away. opening three lengths in the stretch before coasting under the wire to win by two.

Baffert said he was stunned at the price on the kin to a Triple Crown winner. As the field was warming up, he said to his wife Jill he couldn’t believe the lack of respect American Cleopatra was getting at the windows. Afterwards, in Baffert style, he quipped, “See, if you don’t brag on them, they go off at 7-1.”

Jeweled was never prominent. She checked in fourth of eight, about seven lengths in arrears of her stablemate. Under the circumstances, I’d make her a bet back next time.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Forget the Alabama, Songbird belongs in the Travers

Songbird's romp in the Coaching Club American Oaks, dominating the best fillies in the East, established beyond any argument that she is the best female of her generation. The only thing left for her to prove is she is the best of her generation of either gender by running in the Travers on Aug. 27 instead of the Alabama on Aug. 20.

MIAMI,July 28, 2016--Fox Hills Farm and Jerry Hollendorfer have guided super filly Songbird masterfully through nine consecutive victories. They’ve kept her out West, letting her beat up on outclassed, mostly short fields seven times.

They traveled east for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland to establish she’s not just a regional sensation—not to mention Beholder by name--and again this past Sunday to Saratoga for the Coaching Club American Oaks, where she swatted away Carina Mia as if the best in the East was a pesky fly in her stall.

It’s time to step up and allow Songbird to prove that her greatness transcends gender. There is nothing to be gained prestige-wise in winning the Alabama, her next target, where the competition might not be as tough as it was in the CCAO.

The Travers beckons.

Songbird’s connections have been steadfast in resisting the urge to run her against colts. They were adamant that she would not run in the Triple Crown races even though her winter and spring triumphs were superior to those of the colts.

Fox Hills owner Rick Porter had a defensible rationale. To run in the Kentucky Derby, she would have had to get qualifying points against colts in a race like the Santa Anita Derby. Then if she won the Run for the Roses, the pressure to go on to the Preakness would have been immense. After an encore in Baltimore, how could Songbird be denied a chance to become the first filly to sweep the Triple Crown?

The only way the pressure would have dissipated was if Songbird lost one along the way. Porter didn’t want to contemplate that. Why should he have?

The gauntlet of four straight gut-wrenching races against colts could have been so debilitating who knows what kind of a filly would have been left. As it turns out, a minor hiccup, which knocked her out of the Kentucky Oaks, would have put an end to her Triple Crown campaign anyway.

That was then. Now is different. There are no compelling reasons not to take a shot at the Travers. Songbird already is at the Spa and her first start over the tricky surface not every horse handles, which she bounced out of beautifully, should make her even tougher for her next one.

It’s laudable that Porter and Hollendorfer say they are trying to preserve Songbird for a campaign at 4 and maybe 5. But who’s to say she will be the brilliant filly she is now?

Woody Stephens’ mantra was, “Run them when they are good.” Fillies have a tendency to inexplicably go sour. The latest example is Grade 1 winner Rachel’s Valentina, who suffered her first defeat while running second to Songbird at the Breeders’ Cup. She began her sophomore season with a solid second in the Ashland but then ran sixth and fifth in the Kentucky Oaks and Acorn.
This past week she was retired “sound and injury free.” If you accept this, the only explanation is she has lost her will to compete.

The same thing happened with Untappable. Invincible against fillies as a 3-year-old, a campaign culminated with a victory in the BC Distaff, she had no spark as a 4-year-old and 5-year-old. She won one of nine starts. In many of her defeats, she would range up to the leader as if she was going to cruise on by just like old times. But she never did. She, too, was retired this season.

Perhaps the most disconcerting example was Lady’s Secret. The multiple Grade 1 winner and Horse of the Year, beat the boys in the ’86 Whitney on her way to winning that season’s BC Distaff. The following season, she just refused to run in a 1987 Saratoga allowance race she had at her mercy. That was enough for Eugene Klein and D. Wayne Lukas to recognize it was time to send her to the breeding shed.

Also not to be forgotten is the Life At Ten mystery. A multiple Grade 1 winner, she decided at the 2010 Breeders’ Cup that she didn’t want to run, igniting a minor scandal.

So you never know with fillies.

There are other reasons for Songbird to skip the Alabama for the Travers. She would get an extra week’s rest. The Alabama goes Aug. 20. The Travers is seven days later. The money is more than double, too. The Alabama purse is $600k. The Travers hangs $1.25 million on the wire.

Distance is not an issue. Songbird has never been a mile and a quarter but she handled her first attempt at nine furlongs as if another 220 yards will not be an issue. Besides, the Alabama is a mile and a quarter, too.

The myth of colts being superior has been disproven repeatedly. Rachel Alexandra vanquished males three times, the first of them in the Preakness. Zenyatta won a Breeders’ Cup Classic and came up one stride short of repeating. Beholder demolished the best males in the West in last summer’s Pacific Classic. Fox Hill Farm’s own Havre de Grace won the Woodward at the Spa.

On the turf, Tepin put down males in last season’s BC Turf Mile, a race won three times by Goldikova and twice by Miesque. Catch a Glimpse beat colts in this year’s Penn Mile.

Songbird has already done enough to earn her plaque in the Hall of Fame. From here on out, it’s all about her place among the all-timers. The Alabama would do little to bolster her legacy. The Travers, which hasn’t been won by a filly in 101 years, would.

A birthday to take note of

About 100 trainers will start a horse at Saratoga this summer. Some will do it on their birthday. None will get the attention Bill Mott will on Friday.

July 29 is Mott’s 63rd birthday and he has an extraordinary record of celebrating his big day by sending out winners. He ran his streak to seven years straight and 15-of-19 years in 2013.

His birthday fell on a dark Tuesday in 2014. Mott failed to win in 2015 but when I asked him about it, he genially pointed out that he had only one starter. He is very aware of the streak and the following it has generated.

So give a close look to Danny’s Rush in Friday’s sixth and Dancing Duchess in the eighth.

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (33)


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Delaware ‘Cap is Bayern redux

Another big race has ended in controversy over an objection/claim of foul. I'm a Chatterbox did essentially the same thing in last Saturday's Delaware Handicap that Bayern did in the 2014 Breeders' Cup Classic. She took out three horses by breaking inward. The stewards left the result "as is." This was as wrong Saturday as it was in 2014. DQ's and non-DQ's continue to be a source of controversy, which harm trust in the integrity of the sport. Something has to be done.

MIAMI, July 21, 2016--Instant replay has destroyed the enjoyment of sports. Introduced by the NFL to “get it right” on potentially game-changing erroneous calls, it has devolved into a parody of itself. Interminable delays while deciding whether a receiver’s loose shoelace touched the white boundary on a three-yard pass in the middle of the field in the first quarter have become commonplace. Whatever became of the 90-second time limit?

Instant replay has now infected the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball. Its use in the latter has become as abused as it is in football. Even announcers concede that managers sometimes take a shot because they have nothing to lose. Meanwhile a game, whose hierarchy acknowledges it runs too long, grinds to a halt.

The one sport in which replays have been not only useful but essential in making decisions is horse racing. But I’m beginning to have my doubts about that.

Perhaps the worst call ever made, given the magnitude of the event, was Bayern not being disqualified in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup. The Blood Horse, a superb source of racing information but not renowned for its hard-hitting commentaries, described what happened thusly: “Bayern mugged Shared Belief shortly after the start of the $5 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1) and got away with it…”

Saturday’s Delaware Handicap was Bayern redux. I’m a Chatterbox, starting from post four, broke inward then continued heading left, “mugging” the three horses inside her and she got away with it, too.

These kinds of calls and no-calls happen all the time. Thankfully, they attract widespread notice only when a major race or a jackpot carryover is involved. But each time they do, the comments made by horse players suggest they broaden suspicions about the game.

One fan this week suggested the Delaware decision would have been different if I’m a Chatterbox wasn’t trained by Delaware stalwart Larry Jones. It was also noted in 2014 that Bayern was trained by Bob Baffert, the pride of Santa Anita. A questionable call at Gulfstream last year generated numerous complaints that the stewards--a majority of whom are Gulfstream employees--were protecting the Rainbow Six jackpot.

Racing has enough suspicion, a lot of it unfounded. It doesn’t need this.

A reasonable alternative is to adopt the strategy used in the professional sports leagues. Have a group of officials or former officials in a central location, not affiliated with any track or social buddies with the people they are ruling on, adjudicate possible fouls. At least there is a chance there would be more consistency in what is and isn’t an infraction.

If the Delaware stewards could look at replays of the track's showcase race and conclude that there was no interference, serious interference, then we might as well adopt the greyhound racing system that whoever crosses the finish line first is the winner. I exaggerate, of course, but only a little.

Crist will be missed

Racing is the poorer for the retirement of Steven Crist. In many ways, it will have a more enduring impact than the retirement of a star horse. Champions come and go. Steve has been one of the sport's and its fans' greatest champion for decades.

He is one of the most literate, insightful, analytical journalists ever to cover the game. His unique and highly successful way of attacking multiple race wagers earned him Harvey Pack’s acclamation as “The King of the Pick Six.”

He also is a really good guy, who despite his status as one of the best of the best, always had time to talk racing.

Steve belongs in the pantheon of other giants of his profession, such as Joe Hirsch and Red Smith. They both have major stakes named for them. NYRA should get busy immediately trying to identify a race worthy of Steve’s name. Ideally, it should be at Saratoga, which he made more interesting and entertaining for years with his daily blogs.

There would have to be a caveat. No matter how small the field, it could never be taken out of the Pick Six.

Human faces on the game

John Pricci pointed out in his recent column that the mano y mano between 12-time Saratoga training champion Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown, runnerup the past five seasons, will be an avidly followed story this summer. A win by Brown could go a long way toward propelling him to his first Eclipse Award, which he openly covets.

Racing is always looking for ways to put human faces on the game. The relatively compact Saratoga season is the perfect meeting to serve as a trend-setter. NYRA has taken a positive step in labeling this competition the H. Allen Jerkens championship. Now it should relentlessly publicize the competition,including updates by Larry Collmus every time either wins a race. If some other trainer pushes into the title race, include his stats and ranking, too. Releases should be dispensed to the media on a daily basis.

Hopefully, it wouldn’t take long before the public would catch on and begin to pick sides. Anything that could generate additional debate and conversation has to be good for the game.

None of this would cost a dime, so there’s no reason not to give it a shot.

Lighten dark Monday

Gulfstream is missing an opportunity, has been since it became a summer track.

During the Saratoga meeting, the Miami-area track should revise its weekly agenda to drop Thursday and replace it with Monday.

Saratoga is the only major track in the country that races six days a week, including usually dark Monday. The Spa attracts a huge simulcast handle. It also allows a half-hour to 35 minutes between races, so horse players nationwide look for something to bet during the lulls. Gulfstream would be a far more appealing option than Delaware and Parx, the major Monday tracks.

It seems beyond debate that Gulfstream would generate more simulcast handle on Saratoga Mondays than it does on Thursdays. It’s probably too late to revise the Gulfstream schedule this year but it is something that should be looked at for the coming years.

Where are DD will pays?

Something was missing from the Del Mar on-screen tote last Saturday. Daily double will pays were absent. The column where they had appeared was used for exacta reverse prices, which would have come up in the sequence in any case.

Knowing who is being bet is essential information, especially for races like last Saturday's sixth when six of the nine entrants were first-time starters. For a track that has rolling daily doubles, omitting it is inexcusable and unacceptable.

(I monitored Friday and Sunday on TVG, so I can’t speak of those days, although I have no reason to doubt it was different. If it was, let me and readers know in the comments section.)

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (19)


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