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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 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, 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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Friday, March 29, 2013


Final Derby preps start with best and worst


It's effectively win or place and you're in as the big seven Kentucky Derby preps begin this weekend. The best and worst of them will be run Saturday. The Florida Derby has Eclipse champion Shanghai Bobby, Fountain of Youth winner Orb and two-time Gulfstream stakes winner Itsmyluckyday. The UAE Derby has nothing likely to be prominent in Kentucky on May 4. Breeders' Cup runner-up He's Had Enough, whose post Breeders' Cup campaign in the U.S. has been dismal, will try to sneak in the back door to Churchill Downs. Also Saturday is a full-field crap shoot in the Louisiana Derby. Still to come, the Wood and Santa Anita Derby next week and the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby on April 13. Here is a ranking of the relative merits of each prep.


MIAMI, March 29, 2013--Not all final Kentucky Derby preps are equal, even if Churchill Downs is treating them that way when it comes to doling out qualifying points for the May 4 Run for the Roses.

Three of the final seven championship stage stakes are this weekend. They are not only “win and you’re in” but “place and you’re in,” too, since second is worth 40 points. They range from the strongest of the final preps, the Florida Derby, to the weakest, the UAE Derby, which has no business counting for any points.

Here is the way I see the relative standing of the not always magnificent seven preps.

The Florida Derby (March 30) has the most high quality depth with three of the top five horses in most Derby polls, Orb, Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby.

Orb looks a lot like the 2013 version of I’ll Have Another. He had a moderate 2-year-old campaign but showed his promise breaking his maiden in his final start of 2012. He is two-for-two as a 3-year-old, including a vanquishing of then undefeated Violence in the Fountain of Youth. Significantly, the 2013 victories have come in his only starts around two turns.

However, tread carefully in the Florida Derby. Orb has the 50 points to make the Derby field, so Shug McGaughey isn’t going to have John Velazquez wring him out.

Shanghai Bobby (24 points) and Itsmyluckyday (10) are not yet safe, so there will be no taking it easy in the rematch of the Holy Bull, which produced a Gulfstream track record.

The Wood Memorial (April 6) A showdown of unbeatens, Verrazano and Vyjack, would be the equal of the Florida Derby except for one factor. Neither needs additional points to qualify for the Derby, so it’s another case of perhaps leaving something in the tank for the first Saturday in May.

This could open the door for Normandy Invasion, back on his home track, Maryland late-developer Mr. Palmer and Elnaawi, who had a tough trip in the Gotham, to grab a substantial piece of the purse and the crucial Derby qualifying points.

Then again, the V-boys might be good enough to dominate with B efforts.

Bob Baffert’s highly touted but notably absent Power Broker could also wind up here if he doesn’t stay home for the Santa Anita Derby.

The Santa Anita Derby (April 6) features round two of Jerry Hollendorfer’s Hear the Ghost vs. the colt Bob Baffert considers his top Derby hopeful, Flashback. The latter did the hard work in the San Felipe only to be run down late by Hear the Ghost’s well timed swooping move from the back of the pack. An argument could be made that Flashback, who loomed the winner at the sixteenth pole, didn’t see Hear the Ghost coming until it was too late to fight him off.

Goldencents, Doug O’Neill’s big hope for a Derby repeat, was dueled into submission by Flashback but has run too well in his other starts to be dismissed.

Baffert is likely to have at least one other starter, Southwest winner Super Ninety Nine, who might do the dirty work on the front end for Flashback.

Unless someone replicates Secretariat’s Belmont or there are bizarre results back east, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby figures to be no better than fourth or fifth choice in Derby betting.

Arkansas Derby (April 13) Oxbow has become the wise guy horse in many circles after running his guts out in vain due to brutal trips in the Risen Star and Rebel. Having The Coach, D. Wayne Lukas, calling the shots adds to his appeal.However, it’s hard to rank a race, whose probable favorite is coming off back-to-back defeats, higher.

This is especially true when Oxbow’s main challenger could be Overanalyze, winner of the famously unproductive Remsen.

A couple more second-stringers from Team Baffert, hard trying Den’s Legacy and late arrival on the scene War Academy, also will attempt to punch a ticket to Louisville.

Louisiana Derby (March 30) This is a quantity over quality event with 14 starters, most of whom have shown flashes of brilliance without really distinguishing themselves.

Todd Pletcher’s Revolutionary is the one to beat but it’s always dicey to take a short price on a horse with his broken field, late running tendency. But if you're going to run like that, the Fair Grounds, with its stretch that goes on forever, is the place.

Another Pletcher, Palace Malice, epitomizes promise without production so far.

Baffert’s Code West, a courageous second in the Risen Star, also figures to be fighting to the end.

A victory by Titletown Five or undefeated Departing wouldn’t be as shocking as I've Struck a Nerve's 130-1 upset in the Risen Star.

Blue Grass (April 13) The winners since Keeneland installed Polytrack have been Dominican, Monba, General Quarters, Stately Victor, Brilliant Speed and Dullahan. The Hall of Fame in Saratoga isn't holding a spot open for any of them.

Dullahan did get up for third in last year’s Derby but he has never won a race on anything but an artificial surface. Brilliant Speed, despite a third in the Belmont, was essentially a turf horse.

Rebel winner Will Take Charge and Uncaptured, second off a layoff in the Spiral, will attempt to reverse the trend of turf and kitty litter specialists dominating this stakes.

There certainly will be enough turfers bidding to keep the streak going: Noble Tune, Charming Kitten and the most intriguing of all, Rydilluc. After a disappointing main track debut, Rydilluc has rattled off three dominant turf scores. Trainer Gary Contessa said the lone defeat was a product of other circumstances, not a dislike of the main track, and that Rydilluc has handled dirt as well as turf since then.

UAE Derby (March 30) A misguided attempt to foster internationalism has this among the 100-points-to-the-winner preps. It shouldn’t be.

Breeders’ Cup runner-up He’s Had Enough will try to sneak through the Derby’s back door with a win or a second. It will be a travesty if it happens. Off his 3-year-old races, there would be no way he would qualify back home.

This is not an attempt to list all the possible Derby horses or to forecast which race will produce the winner. Too much can happen in the next five weeks.
But if you like a 3-year-old not mentioned here, right after you register a comment about what an idiot I am, get on a plane to Vegas, because you will be handsomely rewarded in the futures book if you are right.



Written by Tom Jicha

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