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 05, 2015

Make BC a one-day festival again…and other thoughts

Can something be regarded as an afterthought if it happens first. Breeders' Cup Friday would fall into this category. It is strictly a money-making deal with little connection to the grandeur of Saturday. But as long as it's going to be retained, there are ways to improve it while bolstering Saturday's card, too. In an unrelated idea, racing's Hall of Fame should step outside the box and induct American Pharoah this summer. He's going in anyway, so why wait?

MIAMI, Nov. 5, 2015--The extensive gaps between Breeders’ Cup races allows time for thoughts and reflections. J.P. and I were kicking around ideas all afternoon. By the way, I second his opinion that Florent Geroux is America’s next riding superstar. Here are some other notions that struck me last Friday and Saturday:

The second BC day (Friday) is as bad an idea as baseball’s second All-Star game, which the national pastime had the sense to drop. In a perfect world, Breeders’ Cup would follow suit. It isn’t as if the stakes-fortified day before the featured races wasn’t a horse player magnet before it was officially dubbed a BC event.

This isn’t going to happen because of the familiar reason: money. Breeders’ Cup gets to charge premium prices well beyond what the tariffs were when Friday was just the eve of the big day. Handle also gets a boost from the Breeders’ Cup brand.

As long as the second day is going to be around, there are ways to make it better. Breeders’ Cup has been trying without success to find an acceptable theme for the day. Ladies Day was deservedly laughed off when it wasn’t being pilloried as sexist.

Perhaps because of this, Friday in 2015 was theme-free. The four Breeders’ Cup events were divided between the old (Distaff and Dirt Mile) and new (a couple of juvenile turf races).

The latter pair might be on the right track. How about a Breeders’ Cup Stars of Tomorrow Day, borrowing a format created at Churchill Downs and widely copied.

Keep the two juvenile turf races and add a couple of juvenile dirt sprints. The Juvenile Sprint was hastily discarded after 2012 when only five horses showed up at Santa Anita and a D. Wayne Lukas maiden beat a nondescript bunch.

However, there was a huge mitigating factor. It was the year Breeders’ Cup decreed there would be no Lasix in juvenile races. Now that the white flag has been waved on that front, it’s time to not only restore one 2-year-old sprint but to stage one for each gender.

Would anyone argue that there aren’t more juveniles ready to run six furlongs than there are those prepped for a two-turn race? Without the Lasix prohibition, both dashes could wind up over-subscribed.

They wouldn’t have to be million dollar stakes. Half that amount would suffice and it’s readily available by cutting the purse for the two turf races by 50 percent to make them all equal.

To retain the Breeders’ Cup patina (and admission prices), the established Juvenile Fillies and Juvenile could anchor the Friday card at their current purses.

This would create six Breeders’ Cup endowed races instead of the four this year and allow the Dirt Mile and Distaff to rejoin the major events on Saturday. Both days would be more attractive.

More BC ruminations

The most spirited debate when Eclipse ballots go out will be in the female turf category. Should it be Tepin, who put down males in the Mile for her third Grade 1 of the year, or Stephanie’s Kitten, one of the most consistent, hard knocking mares in years, who concluded her career with scores in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl then the Fillies & Mares Turf, in which her victims included Euro “super filly” Legatissimo. An argument could be mounted that Stephanie’s Kitten was best in the Beverly D, too.

My gut is Tepin will get the nod because “she beat males.” When is this nonsensical reasoning going to stop? As I’ve pointed out many times, the only reason females beating males is a big deal in North America is because it is so rarely attempted. It’s ho-hum commonplace in Europe.

Found, a 3-year-old filly, beat the best male grass horses in the world, including Arc winner Golden Horn, in the Turf. Lady Shipman just missed in the Turf Sprint against a gate full of males.

Goldikova beat males three times in the Mile, Miesque did it twice and Royal Heroine won the initial Turf. Very Subtle and Safely Kept have won the Sprint.

In the U.S., Rachel Alexandra vanquished males the only three times she tried and Havre de Grace beat males in the Woodward. Wayne Lukas, who won the Kentucky Derby with Winning Colors, never hesitates to run juvenile fillies against colts when he has the stock to do it. Wesley Ward has enjoyed great success doing it every spring.

So, could we stop acting amazed and affording too much credit every time it happens?

I’ll also be curious to hear what those, who spent three years knocking Wise Dan as one-dimensional, have to say since all of Tepin’s stakes wins have been at a flat mile.

Southern Californians have won three of the past four Kentucky Derbys—I’ll Have Another, California Chrome and American Pharoah—and there’s no disputing that this is where the top talent has been again in 2015.

Juvenile winner Nyquist might have questionable breeding for a mile and a quarter but there is no question he towers over his rivals at this point. Despite a horrid post and wide trip, he crushed his rivals in the Juvenile.

Moreover, Swipe, the West Coast colt he has now beaten four straight times, was clearly the best of the rest. This doesn’t even take into account how Ralis shipped East to win the Hopeful against Saratoga’s best, although he was a bust in the BC Juvenile.

But the real best of the West is super filly Songbird, who ran more than a second faster than the boys and did it without too much apparent exertion. She raced highly regarded Rachel’s Valentina, who still appears to be an exceptional talent, and Frizette winner Nickname into the ground.

The “will Songbird skip the Oaks for the Derby?” conversation has already started.

Another Eclipse debate is going to be in the older dirt male division. Do you give it to Liam’s Map, whose troubled trip win in the Mile was jaw dropping, or Honor Code, who won the Met Mile and Whitney, running down Liam’s Map in the final strides of the latter.

This will be the deciding factor on many ballots but not among the “what have you done for me lately” crowd (of which I might be a member in this instance). Since the Whitney, Honor Code has run third in the Kelso and BC Classic. Liam’s Map ran away with the Woodward then captured the Dirt Mile despite an almost impossible trip. I’ll be doing more thinking on this in the next month.

Finally, a plea to do something totally outside the box. American Pharoah’s triumph in the Classic completed a racing grand slam that might never be duplicated. It’s said there are no sure things in racing. Not true. It is absolutely certain that the Triple Crown champion will be inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame the first year he is eligible.

Do we really have to wait? Couldn’t we make an exception for the colt, who has done more good for racing than any horse since Secretariat, and put him in next summer. This would be an extraordinary departure but American Pharoah is as extraordinary a horse as most of us have ever seen.

Let’s celebrate him while he’s still fresh in everyone’s memory.

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (23)


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Betting strategy is key to BC

The Breeders' Cup looks easy...until the races start to run. Liam's Map looks like candy on Friday. Same goes for Golden Horn, Legatissimo and Songbird on Saturday. But history teaches at least one of those will go down to defeat. There almost certainly will be at least one winner who blows up the toteboard. So the key is to devise a betting strategy in advance, especially as it relates to multi-race wagers, pressing the horses you like best and spreading as much as you can elsewhere.

MIAMI, Oct. 28, 2015--Some of the biggest Pick 3 tickets I’ve ever cashed have been built around a short-priced single combined with a couple of decent-priced horses.

This is the key to my Friday Breeders’ Cup betting strategy. Liam’s Map is the best bet of the weekend. It requires creativity to come up with someone to beat him. The only horse to do that since he ran second in his career debut is Honor Code, who uncorked one of his furious rallies over his favorite track to nail him by a neck in the final jumps of the Whitney. That was nine furlongs. This is eight.

The way the races are aligned there are opportunities for price horses in the Breeders’ Cup races in which Liam’s Map can be used. The Juvenile Turf is its usual crap shoot. I’m going to lean on Aidan O’Brien’s uncoupled pair of Shogun and He’s a Bomb and give thanks for 50-cent bets to include Euros Cyrmac and Birchwood. The only North American horse on my ticket will be Airoforce.

On the other side of the Mile, I’m not as high on the overseas gang in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. I’ll use Illuminate but also (in no particular order) North Americans Catch a Glimpse, Harmonize, Sapphire Kitten and Tin Type Girl. I’ll hold my breath that Euros Alice Springs, Last Waltz and Nemoralta aren’t the real deals.

The Distaff

I’ll combine my five pack in the filly race with Liam’s Map going into the Distaff where I’m hoping Stellar Wind can close Day One with a mild upset. She’s lost only once in five starts since joining John Sadler’s barn. That was in the Kentucky Oaks where she had a trip from post 12 that would make a sphinx cry.

I’ll key her but not single her. Sheer Drama has to be used, although post 13 (moved in one with the scratch of Untapable) leaves her vulnerable.

I’m not tossing likely favorite Wedding Toast but she’ll be on only a small saver ticket. Her three-race winning streak came at Belmont, significantly all around one turn. She hasn’t won around two turns since 2013.

I give I'm a Chatterbox a chance but again only on a small saver.

My thinking on Stopchargingmaria is she might be over the top.

Liam’s Map gets beat, look for me at the ATM machine Saturday morning.

On to Saturday; 3 big favorites

Every year I have every winner the night before Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup festival. Reality usually sets in quickly. Three of nine should be enough for a decent day. Four or more and it’s party time, especially if they hit in the right order. (I key Pick 3’s but you have to bet win, too, on Breeders’ Cup Saturday.)

If you know how to read a Form, you shouldn’t need help coming up with Songbird in the Juvenile Fillies, Legatissimo in the Filly & Mare Turf and Golden Horn in the Turf.

You’ll hear all day that no Arc winner has doubled in the Turf but the sample is too small to be taken seriously. Lesser horses than Golden Horn have crossed the Atlantic (it’s not a “pond”) to crush our best. If you have to spread, go Euro.

Juvenile Fillies

I’m not going to try too hard to beat the Euro pair but I’m taking a small shot against Songbird--who I will use in multi-race gimmicks--with Nickname, who lost to Rachel’s Valentina in her debut then dominated her next two, including the Frizette.

So why not Rachel’s Valentina? Recency and a hunch the long layoff since the Spa wasn’t just to give her time. Also, given her pedigree, she’s likely to be over bet.

Turf Sprint

Lady Shipman is the morning line favorite in the Turf Sprint, deservedly so off 7 wins in 9 grass starts. However, there’s something crucial missing from her resume. She has never run in a graded stakes. Opportunity knocks.

I’m looking at Ready for Rye to spring a mild surprise. He’s a wickedly fast colt on the dirt but he could be even better on the infield. He’s won both tries. Most significantly, he's versatile. He has won on grass on the pace and from off it.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Cavorting is five-for five in races at 7 furlongs or less, so she’ll be a worthy favorite in the Filly & Mare Sprint but there are a couple of intriguing alternatives.

Those familiar with this column know I am enamored of horses running back in a week or less, so I’m going to give a long look at La Verdad, who made the restricted Iroquois her sixth straight first-place finish last Saturday. The speedball demonstrated she can rate, which will be crucial, since she has never won past 6 ½ furlongs.

Another upset possibility is Super Majesty. She ran off by 6 in her debut then totally freaked to win by 15 in her first start against winners. Jacked up another level, she showed courage fighting back after being passed to miss by a nose. Jerry Hollendorfer next shipped her east to win the Dogwood at Churchill Downs. If La Verdad rates and Super Majesty gets a flier, she could be gone.

The Sprint

The Sprint figures to produce an insane speed duel. Private Zone has won all three of his sprints this year, in front every step of the way. When he didn’t get the lead in last year’s BC Sprint, he ran third.

Runhappy is unbeaten around one turn. He, too, has nothing but 1’s in his past performances.

California speedball Masochistic has never won coming from off the pace. Favorite Tale was on a 44 2/5 pace before shaking loose to win a rich sprint on the Pennsylvania Derby undercard.

Handicapping 101 demands a closer in these situations. Wild Dude is an exceptional late runner. He came from 15 back to grab the Santa Anita Sprint Championship and was 6 in arrears before getting home in the Pat O’Brien. Both were six furlong Grade 1’s.

The Mile

The (Turf) Mile is a guessing game as to which Euro will get the money. Tepin heads the home team and is on top of her game but she appears up against it.

Esoterique is coming off back-to-back Group 1 wins. Make Believe is four-for-six with two Group 1 victories. Impassable is going for four in a row and five out of six (with a second), the last two in Group 2’s. Time Test is coming off a Group 2 win. Mondialiste prepped with a win in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile.

Your guess is as good as mine. I’ll probably use them all in a Pick 3 with two or three in the Juvenile and Golden Horn singled in the Turf. Since it will be the end of the carnival, I’ll add a couple of Pick 4’s with American Pharoah and Honor Code.


Nyquist figures to go favored in the Juvenile off his four-for-four record. However, except for some intimidating race riding by Mario Gutierrez in the Front Runner, Nyquist’s first try around two turns, it appeared he would have been caught by Swipe.

The colts who interest me most, Greenpointcrusader and Brody’s Cause, appear to be getting better as the distances get longer.

Greenpointcrusader was a fast-closing second when beaten a neck in his debut. Extended to seven furlongs, he rallied again to break his maiden by a neck. The Champagne was his coming out party. He took that mile by 4 ½ and did something Honor Code couldn’t that day. He came from out of the clouds to get up on a sloppy track.

Brody’s Cause didn’t raise his legs in a turf debut. However, moved to the main track, he closed big to win at a mile then came back with the same tactics to take the Breeders’ Futurity.

The Classic

The Classic will be a bittersweet finale to the weekend with American Pharoah bowing out against the West Coast superstar filly Beholder. I have nothing against her or the fact she is facing males. My problem is she has never won outside California and the horses she has been beating are suspect at best.

I will save a little with Honor Code but my heart and my money will be on American Pharoah to go out like the champion he is.

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (27)


Thursday, October 22, 2015

BC contenders who are tough to leave out but must be tossed

Call it Bayern Syndrome: horses who are champions one year and far less the next. What to do with them is a handicapping challenge at every Breeders' Cup. I'm going to toss a half-dozen of them from my win and multi-race tickets next weekend at Keeneland.

MIAMI, Oct. 22, 2015--I’m coining a new term: Bayern Syndrome.

It applies to situations in which you have a gut feeling a well-bet horse with a big reputation isn’t going to win for a variety of reasons. However, you’re reluctant to leave this horse off your ticket because you can’t rid your mind of the major accomplishments in their past, any one of which would be good enough to win today.

Bayern epitomized this in 2014. Few horses in recent years have been as brilliant as he was as a 3-year-old. He went 1:20 3/5 sprinting in the Woody Stephens, winning by more than 7. He stretched to nine furlongs around two turns in the Haskell and again won by more than 7. He buried Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome in the Pennsylvania Derby then capped his season wiring the mile-and-a- quarter Breeders’ Cup Classic.

That Bayern inexplicably never showed up in 2015. He was last twice then held on for third in a weak San Diego Handicap. This was just enough to give his fans reason to think he had turned the corner but he followed it by beating one horse in the Pacific Classic.

Nevertheless, even in what became the final start of his career, fans pounded him down to 6-5, anticipating an uncontested early lead in easy fractions. He got it but folded as soon as he was challenged and slid back to third.

Next week, after the final fields are set, this column will be devoted to searching for 2015 Breeders’ Cup winners. This week is going to be about identifying candidates for Bayern Syndrome.

I grew up in the era of one daily double and an exacta on the last race, so I’ve always been primarily a win bettor. Pick 3’s and 4’s are potentially lucrative extensions of this. Zeroing in on winners is still paramount.

Ergo, the following is steeped in that preference. I’m not trying to throw out horses from the vertical gimmicks (exactas, tri’s, etc.). In fact, some have strong in-the-money credentials, although, for my purposes, this is part of their problem. They get close but don’t get the job done.

Let’s start with three returning Breeders’ Cup champions. Bobby’s Kitten epitomizes Bayern Syndrome. Since winning the BC Turf Sprint last year, he has been out only twice, running 7th and 9th. I don’t think many players will have a problem eliminating him.

Two other defending champions are more problematic. Defending Distaff winner Untapable was unbeatable against her own gender in 2014. This year she seems to find ways to get beat. She has been first or second at the stretch call in all six of her races yet has managed to win only the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn in April.

Since then, she has been second or third in four starts. The horses who won those races—Got Lucky, Sheer Drama, Stopchargingmaria and Wedding Toast are all pre-entered in the Distaff. None of the fillies who trailed her home in the Apple Blossom have made it to the big dance.

My theory is Untapable has lost her will to win. An alternative is she misses Rosie Napravnik, her regular rider through the 2014 Distaff. I have this fantasy that Napravnik, who retired after the Breeders’ Cup but gets up on horses for her husband, trainer Joe Sharp, every day, comes back and the reunion produces another Distaff triumph. This is the stuff of Hollywood films; a Lifetime TV movie at worst.

Of all the Bayern Syndrome horses, Untapable is the toughest to leave off a multi-race ticket but great risk sometimes brings great reward.

Judy the Beauty, winner of last year’s Filly & Mare Sprint, also has been close in her three 2015 races but seems to have lost that final punch to the wire. She concluded a four-for-five season with her win last year. She goes into this year’s F&M Sprint zero-for-three.

Perhaps more revealingly, Judy has been a beauty at Keeneland. She was undefeated in four starts through last year but this year suffered her first defeat at the Breeders’ Cup site in her most recent start. She just doesn’t seem to be the same filly.

Another former BC champion, 2011 Juvenile Fillies Turf heroine Stephanie’s Kitten, is also a tough toss (and one who definitely should be on vertical tickets). Team Euro, headed by super filly Legatissimo, will take suitcases full of money in the F&M Turf, but Stephanie’s Kitten is likely to be the most heavily backed member of the home team coming off a big win in the Flower Bowl. She won the same prep in 2014 before running second in F&M Turf.

This gets to her inability to win back-to-back. In spite of an admirable in-the-money record, she’s won two in a row only once in the past four years, during the spring of 2013.

The Pizza Man will be well supported in the Turf because he has been a terror in the Midwest and has such a catchy name. However, almost all his success has been at Chicago tracks. Six of his last eight wins have been at Arlington and another was at Hawthorne, where the competition doesn’t run as deep as it will next Saturday. Even this summer's Arlington Million wasn’t a banner renewal.

The Pizza Man’s last five outside the Windy City have produced one win. He’s a gutsy, hard trier, the kind of horse you love to see win—unless you left him off your ticket, which I will.

Finally, there’s the Classic. I’ve been surprised to see handicappers I respect pick Tonalist to upset the weekend’s biggest race. All of this is based on his big win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. But he won that race impressively last year then ran fifth in the Classic at only 4-1 against the likes of California Chrome, Shared Belief and Bayern, among others.

Since breaking his maiden at Gulfstream in January 2014, Tonalist has won five races, all at Belmont. Elsewhere, he’s nada-for-five.

If Tonalist had only American Pharoah to conquer, maybe. If he only had to beat Beholder, I might give him a chance. If Honor Code was the horse to beat, anything would be possible even though Honor Code is two-for-two against him this year.

But with all three in the field, as well as some other talented foes, and the Classic not being at Belmont, I’ll bet against Tonalist with more confidence than any of the Bayern Syndrome horses (save Bobby’s Kitten) I’ve mentioned.

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (7)


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