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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Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Tepin stands out but Casse, Cox tout live price horses

Team Tepin is conceding the Horse of the Year title to California Chrome so they are taking the course of lesser resistance this weekend, Keeneland's First Lady against females.It will be difficult to make money on her but Casse has another contender on the final Super Saturday of the fall who should be a price in the Breeders' Futurity. Brad Cox also is touting one of his stakes hopefuls, who will be a price in the Woodford. Meanwhile, the brilliance of California Chrome is causing owners and trainers to consider whether they want to take him on in the BC Classic.

MIAMI, Oct. 5, 2016--Mark Casse has done something his extraordinary mare Tepin never does. He has raised the white flag.

It was anticipated Tepin would have her final prep for her defense of the Breeders’ Cup Mile title in Saturday’s $1 million Shadwell Mile against males. Instead, Casse has opted to take on Tepin’s own gender in the $400,000 First Lady.

The Keeneland races are among more than a dozen stakes nationwide with Breeders’ Cup implications on the final Super Saturday of the fall.

The reason: California Chrome. It might seem odd that the best dirt horse in the world would have an impact on the agenda of the outstanding turf mare in North America and arguably the world. (The debate comes down to Tepin vs. Found, each of whom has a different specialty.)

California Chrome’s demolition of Dortmund and others in last Saturday’s Awesome Again, on top of everything else he has done this year, convinced Casse that the ultimate goal of Tepin, Horse of the Year, is out of reach.

This is in spite of Tepin’s perfect 2016 record of six straight, same as Chrome. Tepin’s resume is enhanced by a triumph against the best “over there” in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot. Chrome can see that and raise her the Dubai World Cup.

This is why Casse chose the course of lesser resistance, the First Lady. “Our ultimate goal was Horse of the Year,” Casse said on an NTRA conference call. “So we waited until Sunday to see what California Chrome did. We realize now he’ll be tough to beat.”

In Casse’s reasonable estimation, California Chrome would have to get beat by a significant margin in the Classic while Tepin wins out. “And that still might not be enough.”

The next priority for Team Tepin is to encore in the Breeder’s Cup Mile. “We looked at the best way to get there and going against fillies seems a little easier although not easy by any measure.”

Potential day-makers

It will be tough to make money on Tepin on Saturday but Casse has a 2-year-old colt in the Breeders’ Futurity, Classic Empire, he likes almost as much. He should be a reasonable price coming off a disaster in the Hopeful in which he wheeled at the start and threw his rider.

“We didn’t think Classic Empire could get beat at Saratoga,” Casse said. “Then he did what he did.”

Casse has added blinkers to the equipment of the Pioneer of the Nile colt, who went into the Hopeful two-for-two including a last-to-first score in the Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs. “He’s trained really well with the blinkers.”

Casse is also sky high on 2-year-old turf filly La Coronel, who will run in Keeneland’s Jessamine next Wednesday. It might be tough to get a price on her. In her only grass start she buried New Money Honey by 4. The latter rebounded to win the Miss Grillo by almost 3 last weekend at Belmont.

“We think she’s a superstar, another Catch a Glimpse,” Casse said. All Catch a Glimpse has done is win seven of eight on turf, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks and the Penn Mile against colts.

Another one to watch

Brad Cox will have an armada of horses in Keeneland stakes this weekend. Benner Island begins the parade in the Alcibiades on Friday. On Saturday, Spelling Again takes a shot at the Thoroughbred Club of America, Almasty is entered in the Woodford and Cash Control will tackle Tepin in the First Lady. Royal Nature goes in the Bourbon on Sunday.

Cox, who also was on the NTRA call, has no illusions about Cash Control taking down Tepin. She’s entered in the hope she can grab a Grade 1 placing to enhance her value as a broodmare, Cox said. “But anything can happen in horse racing.”

Asked which of his stakes horses he feels has the best chance to get the major share of a purse, he zeroed in on Almasty, who should be a decent price. He won last year’s Commonwealth at Churchill but is winless in four starts in 2016, although he does have a pair of seconds and a third.

“He had a big work at Churchill and he’s doing really great,” Cox said. “We’re really excited about him getting the job done.”

Which way, Frosted?

If there is anyone who could steal the Horse of the Year crown from California Chrome, it’s Frosted, whose Met Mile was one for the ages. It would take another race like that, soundly beating Chrome in the process in the Classic, to get Frosted into the HoY conversation. However, it’s still uncertain where Frosted will land on Breeders’s Cup weekend, the Mile or the Classic.

Ever the diplomat, Kiaran McLaughlin, said Sheikh Mohammad bin Al Maktoum, who races under the Godolphin banner, will make the call. But McLaughlin made it clear which way he wants to go. “I would go to the Classic.”

It’s not just the opportunity to try California Chrome. McLaughlin said he doesn’t like the shape of the Mile. If it were a one-turn mile, he would have no problem. But it’s two turns, raising the likelihood of a traffic jam with a short run to the first turn.

McLaughlin said it’s possible Frosted, who he said is doing great, will be cross-entered in both races. However, he feels the call will be made before pre-entries.

Rachel’s only son coming back

The saga of Rachel Alexandra isn’t over, according to McLaughlin. Her first foal to get to the races, stakes winner Rachel’s Valentina, has been retired. But her year-older half-brother, Jess’s Dream, who hasn’t been seen since a breath-taking out of the clouds win at Saratoga in his maiden race is still in training.

Jess’s Dream represents the final chance for further glory for Rachel Alexandra. Due to complications with her last pregnancy, it was announced she will not be bred again.

Hurricane delays Gulfstream West

Call it karma or call it God’s way of saying “this lunacy has to stop.”

Nature has done what the state of Florida refuses to do: shut down the Gulfstream West meeting at Calder--at least temporarily. With Hurricane Matthew bearing down on Florida, the first two days of the meeting have been canceled. The rest of the opening week is still in limbo.

It’s a disgrace that this meet still exists. Gulfstream officials don’t want it. They have to move everything eight miles east. Track officials and the race caller will be in mobile facilities stacked on top of each other. (For the record, hurricane season doesn’t end until Dec. 1.)

Indeed, Gulfstream is urging fans not to go to Calder, to do their betting via simulcast at the mother track, making racing a studio sport.

It’s an inconvenience for most horsemen, since the cards will be filled by horses shipping in from across town or further.

Most important, fans, when they finally get a look at the place, definitely won’t want any part of it. It’s racing amidst the ruins. Everyone is consigned to the track apron.

There is no cover from the brutal South Florida heat and torrential rains that are the norm this time of year. Complicating this, the Calder grandstand is in the final stages of its demolition. There’s almost nothing but rubble remaining. (Hello, Hurricane Matthew with your 145 mph winds.)

There is no tote board and only three betting machines, the minimum the state demands. Simulcasting is completely out. Only one very tiny restroom will be in use.

All of this is to preserve Churchill Downs’ casino at what used to be a racetrack. This was not supposed to happen. Slots were supposed to save racing. Instead they have destroyed Calder.

It’s a travesty to allow Churchill to keep its casino license under the circumstances. CDI has no part, other than geography, in conducting the meeting. It’s entirely a Gulfstream show.

If and when decoupling comes, this sham meeting will be history. It cannot happen soon enough.

Connect avoids Chrome

It was announced this week that Pennsylvania Derby upsetter Connect will skip the Breeders’ Cup Classic and a meeting with California Chrome to run instead in the Cigar Mile.

So thanks to California Chrome, Connect is definitely out of the Classic and Frosted might be.

It makes you wonder how the Pegagus is going to get 11 game souls to put up a $1 million apiece and stay in training when they would normally be freshening for 2017 to serve as sacrificial lambs to the brilliance of California Chrome.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Super Saturday under-rates this week’s racing

The best dirt horse, the most talented grass runner, the reigning sprint champion and a three-time Eclipse winner are among the superstars who will be in action Saturday, a day which features more Grade 1 races than the original Breeders' Cup agenda.In addition to eight Grade 1 events there are more than a dozen additional stakes scheduled, including the finales of the rich Florida Sire Stakes series at Gulfstream, each of which boasts an undefeated juvenile.

MIAMI, Sept. 29, 2016--Racing does get better than this Saturday—but only once, Breeders’ Cup Day.

Before the sun goes down in the West, at least five horses, who could be favored in Breeders’ Cup races, will have had their final preps in New York, Kentucky and California. Eight Grade 1 races (one more than the original Breeders’ Cup agenda) and a slew of other graded stakes are on the menu. Most will be featured live during a 2 ½ telecast starting at 5:30 p.m. on the NBC cable Sports Network.

The best dirt horse on the planet, California Chrome, will have what amounts to a public workout in advance of the BC Classic in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita. It cost Santa Anita to get him. Frank Stronach created a $1 million bonus for any horse who wins the Pacific Classic, Awesome Again and BC Classic. Of course, California Chrome is the only one eligible as the Pacific Classic champion.

Trainer Art Sherman said on an NTRA phone conference this week, “a million dollars is a million dollars,” but Chrome wouldn’t be in the race if he wasn’t at the top of his game. Scary news for his rivals. Sherman said his 5-year-old is bigger and stronger than ever. His recent works bear this out.

Stronach might get an unexpected chance to put up big money again to lure California Chrome to one of his tracks. The general thinking was the 2015 Kentucky Derby winner would race three more times—the Awesome Again, the BC Classic and the $12 million Pegasus at Gulfstream on Jan. 28. Sherman said he might want to give Chrome a race over the Gulfstream strip prior to the world’s richest race if it could be arranged. If he’s serious, rest assured it will be arranged.

Mandella: Beholder ready this time

Earlier on the same card, three-time Eclipse winner Beholder will renew her rivalry with Stellar Wind, who has split a pair of decisions with her after running second in last year’s Distaff, in the Zenyatta. The winner is likely to vie for favoritism in the BC Distaff with sensational 3-year-old Songbird.

First things first, Beholder’s trainer Richard Mandella said on the NTRA call. He expects his 6-year-old mare to turn the tables on Stellar Wind, since he went a little easy on her prior to the Clement Hirsch where Stellar Wind ran down Beholder late. This time the screws are tightened, Mandella said.

A pair of Grade 1 events for 2-year-olds, the Front Runner and the Chandelier for fillies, also could produce a Breeders’ Cup favorite or two in light of the success California-based horses have had and the fact they will be racing on their home track Nov. 4-5. Nyquist and eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah have taken the two most recent runnings of the Front Runner and Songbird captured the 2015 Chandelier.

Bob Baffert could have the horse to beat in both; Klimt in the Front Runner, American Cleopatra in the Chandelier.

Runhappy returns with new goals

Last year’s BC Sprint winner Runhappy returns to the races for the first time since winning the Grade 1 Malibu on the day after Christmas in the Ack Ack, one of three stakes at Churchill Downs. Runhappy has never lost around one turn in seven career starts and ran dismally in his only two-turn race. Nevertheless, he is being pointed to the BC Dirt Mile, a stepping stone toward the nine-furlong Pegasus. If the 2016 Runhappy comes back as sharp as the 2015 model, he’s the probable Mile favorite in spite of the lone blemish on his record.

Assuming Runhappy’s connections stick to their plan, the BC Sprint favorite could come from the Vosburgh, one of three Grade 1’s on a five-stakes card at Belmont. A.P. Indian will try to stretch his 2016 record to six-for-six with X Y Jet, who had a five-race winning streak of his own snapped in the Golden Shaheen in March. He suffered a knee chip in the Dubai race and hasn’t been out since, so it’s a tough assignment to take on a super sharp foe like AP Indian. But he’s trained by Jorge Navarro, who seems capable of producing miracles when he lays his hands on a horse.

Flintshire shorter price than Chrome?

Also at Belmont, Flintshire will put his four-for-four U.S. record on the line in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.Last year, Flintshire’s connections opted for the Arc de Triomphe, where he finished second, over the BC Turf. This season the plan is to go from the Joe Hirsch to the Turf.

An interesting side bet would be who will go off at a lower price, California Chrome or Flintshire? I make it pick-‘em. Unless there is a monumental upset Saturday, Flintshire is the likely BC Turf favorite.

Big day at Gulfstream, too

There will be no graded stakes but eight added-money heats overall at Gulfstream, which stages the finale of its Florida Sire Stakes series. The two headliners, each worth $500K, the In Reality for colts and My Dear Girl for fillies, are headed by undefeated 2-year-olds trying two turns for the first time.

Three Rules has been devastating in winning his first four starts by 21 lengths. More impressive, he had issues in his last two, an abcess in a hoof prior to the Dr. Fager and a slight temperature during his preparations for the Affirmed. He's supposedly 100 percent now. If he handles the In Reality’s mile and a sixteenth the way he has sprints, he will be worth a long look on Breeders’ Cup Day.

The filly Cajun Delta Dawn, also four-for-four, has had to work harder. Her first three victories were by less than a combined length. She finally got an easier score last time out, winning the seven furlong Susan’s Girl by five.

An interesting factoid about her is in spite of her record, she has never gone to the post as the favorite. She might not Saturday, either, after drawing the outside 13 hole with an insanely short run to the first turn for such a bloated field.

With all the quality action Saturday, it will take enough stamina to run for president to get through it all.

California nutty as ever

The latest lunacy in California cannot go unmentioned. It’s as if the people running the game are determined to sabotage it.

Venues elsewhere—Belmont, Kentucky Downs, Laurel and Gulfstream to mention the major ones—are enjoying a renaissance, largely attributable to fractional wagers (bets for 20 cents, 50 cents and a dollar) and reasonable, if still not acceptable, takeouts.

Meanwhile, the sport in Southern California continues to slide into the ocean thanks to unyielding stubbornness. August handle was down 11 percent.

The Pick 6, once the glamour bet in Southern California (if almost nowhere else), has been in a freefall. Meanwhile a relatively new Pick 5 and a Pick 4, both with a 50-cent minimum, are handling three or four times the Pick 6 on a non-carryover day.

All you have to know is Santa Anita guarantees a $500,000 pool for its 50-cent Pick 4 on Saturdays but only promises $100,000 for its $2 Pick 6.

So what do the geniuses running Del Mar do? If they had half a brain, even cumulatively, they would add a late Pick 5, as NYRA has done as its Pick 6 pool has plunged.

But no. They are doubling down on the failing Pick 6, in the process thumbing their nose at most of the fans in the grandstand. For the fall Del Mar season—another really bad idea, which has diminished the appeal of the traditional summer session—they are keeping the $2 Pick 6 and making it an even worse proposition.

Seventy percent of the pool used to go to those who picked 6 winners with 30 percent set aside for the consolation payoff. It was still a bad bet for those on a limited budget but the consolation gave them a shot for a decent score. In November, those with five winners will get only 15 percent with another 15 percent being set aside for a jackpot for a day when there is a single winning ticket.

The goal is to set up a monster day for the end of the meeting when there will be a mandatory payout. In the meantime, all the money in the jackpot will be dollars that won’t be churned. Brilliant.

Blatant conflict leads to fight

Del Mar's decision might not be the looniest thing to happen in the past week or so. Alex Solis and trainer Steve Miyadi got into a beef in which Miyadi pushed Solis, who was pursuing mounts from Miyadi. The trainer said the jockey had a lot of gall to come to him after the CHRB, of which Solis is a member, suspended him for 30 days for a drug overage.

Miyadi is wrong for getting physical with the much tinier Solis and blaming him for a failed test Solis had nothing to do with. At the same time, the jockey, who had Miyadi arrested for battery, comes off as the kid who runs to the teacher complaining, “Steve pushed me.”

The police don’t have enough to do and the courts aren’t cluttered enough and now they have to deal with this kind of childish nonsense.

Worst of all, what is a still active jockey doing on a state regulatory board? Aren’t there any recently retired riders, who could offer their unique perspective, without such a blatant conflict of interest?

Only in California.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

PARX in National Spotlight: No Males for Songbird; Nyquist Seeks Title

Songbird, who goes for 11 in a row Saturday in the Cotillion, won't risk her undefeated record against colts this year, according to her trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Meanwhile, Nyquist's trainer, Doug O'Neill, said the Pennsylvania Derby might be the Kentucky Derby winner's last shot to regain his status atop the 3-year-old male division. Both camps say the two outstanding sophomores have the $12 million Pegasus on Jan., 28 at Gulfstream in their long range plans.

MIAMI, Sept. 21, 2016--Songbird goes into Saturday’s $1 million Cotillion with 10 straight wins. Her average victory margin is more than five lengths. She’s won on her home court, on a neutral court and on the home courts of her biggest rivals.

Nevertheless, her trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer feels she still has things to prove. Unfortunately, it might be a while, if ever, before she gets to answer the biggest question: How does she shape up against the best male horses of her generation?

The Cotillion figures to be a stroll in the Parx for Songbird. She has never raced at the Philadelphia area track but Hollendorfer is not the least bit concerned. She travels better than Marco Polo. She shipped to Kentucky for the Breeders’ Cup and put on a show. Hollendorfer sent her cross country to Saratoga and he says she blossomed there.

Not that he had to brag on her. The results of the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama say all that needs to be said.

The former was nine furlongs, the latter a mile and a quarter. So she’ll be turning back in the mile and a sixteenth Cotillion with the speedy Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia with a big win over the track a prime challenger.

No sweat, Hollendorfer says. “I’m not a believer that it’s going to make a difference, especially with this horse. She has natural speed.”

Even if Songbird wins by a pole, there is no chance she will try the boys in Breeders’ Cup Classic, Hollendorfer said emphatically. “That is out of the question. We’re looking at the Distaff.”

This could entail a showdown with Beholder, who has dominated the West Coast female division for the past four years, and Stellar Wind, who turned the tables on Beholder in the Clement L. Hirsch and was a close and troubled second in the Distaff as a 3-year-old last year. It will be one of the most eagerly anticipated races of Breeders’ Cup weekend but not nearly so much as a Songbird incursion against males would be.

It’s not that Hollendorfer is philosophically opposed to running a filly against colts. “I’ve done it before. I won the California Derby with a filly (Pikes Place Dancer in 1996).”

He’s just not in any hurry.The first time Hollendorfer will consider Songbird stepping out of her gender is the $12 million Pegasus at Gulfstream on Jan. 28, early in Songbird’s 4-year-old season. “It’s in the back of our minds but we’re not pointing to it.”

Songbird’s owner, Rick Porter, is not one of the original dozen who anted up the $1 million entry fee but this won’t be an issue in Hollendorfer’s estimation. “There will be some slots on the table.”

Indeed, a Pegasus starting gate berth changed hands for the first time this week when NYRA board member Earle Mack bought out a group headed by Sol Kumin and James Covello for a price said to be very close to $1 million.

According to the Daily Racing Form, Mack, who doesn’t appear to own a Pegasus caliber horse, said he has a partner but wouldn’t disclose whether this person has a solid contender.

Hollendorfer said the decision whether to go in the Pegasus or any other stakes against colts will depend upon the circumstances. “If California Chrome and those other monsters continue to run the way they have, we wouldn’t be so anxious.”

3YO title on line

Songbird is such a dynamic racehorse that her appearance in the Cotillion has stolen a good deal of the luster from the nominal feature, the $1.25 million Pennsylvania Derby, even though it carries potential season-ending championship implications.

The Pennsylvania Derby and the 3-year-old Eclipse contest appear to come down to Exaggerator and Nyquist, who is coming back off a brief freshening for a growth spurt. Nyquist has the big one, the Kentucky Derby, along with the Florida Derby and San Vicente on his credit sheet. Exaggerator turned the tables in the Preakness and also has the Santa Anita Derby and Haskell on his resume.

Nyquist’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, said the Pennsylvania Derby might be Nyquist’s last shot to vault to the top of his division. “I can’t see how we could win the Eclipse without winning this one...unless we win the Classic.”

He dismisses the chances of Arrogate, who ran a race for the ages in the Travers. ”I think he came along too late.”

History supports this opinion. The Travers was Arrogate’s first stakes, so even doubling down in the Classic might not be enough. It was only two years ago that Bayern won the Haskell, the Pennsylvania Derby and the Classic yet finished third behind California Chrome and Shared Belief in year-end balloting.

O’Neill is confident he has Nyquist back to where he was when he went undefeated through the Kentucky Derby. A respite at San Luis Rey training center away from the stress at a race track has done wonders. “We’re looking at a better version of Nyquist.”

The Derby winner has grown about two hands, according to O’Neill. He also has filled out into his bigger body. “He was getting a little light on us.”

O’Neill volunteered to take the rap for Nyquist’s disappointments in the Preakness and Haskell. “The Preakness was all me.” He told Mario Gutierrez to go to the front, not Nyquist’s preferred style, because he feared other horses would come over in front of him and trap him down inside. Monmouth’s reputation for having a golden rail led O’Neill to give Gutierrez the same instructions in the Haskell,

There will be no encore in the Pennsylvania Derby, O’Neill said. “The only way we’ll find ourselves on the lead is if they hand it to us. There are some fast horses in there, so that’s not going to happen. We’re going to let the race unfold, have a target and go get them late.”

The goal is to go from Pennsylvania to the Breeders’ Cup Classic and eventually the Pegasus. “When Paul (Reddam, Nyquist’s owner and a $1 million Pegasus subscriber) wrote that check, the thinking was we would have a stall in the gate.”

The media event for the Pegasus scheduled for this week has been postponed with a new date still not announced. But the race is still a go.

Written by Tom Jicha

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