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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Friday, September 20, 2013

Gulfstream, Horsemen, Deliver Another Body Blow to Calder

Gulfstream, which appears to have Calder on the ropes, has followed up its grab of the Florida Stallion Stakes in 2014 with a commandeering of the 2013 Florida Million, less than two months before it was scheduled to be run at Calder.

MIAMI, Sept. 20, 2013--I used a boxing analogy a few columns back to describe what the situation resembled in the head-to-head conflict between Calder and Gulfstream. Calder appeared to be playing rope-a-dope, the strategy Muhammad Ali resorted to against George Foreman in their Rumble in the Jungle. Ali let Foreman throw punch after punch, offering almost no response. When Foreman had given it everything he had without scoring a knockout and had nothing left, Ali took him down.

Gulfstream has spent a seeming unsustainable fortune to win this war while Calder has just hung around, primarily to protect its casino licence. But it’s a good thing for Calder that the situation isn’t a boxing match. Its throttling by Gulfstream has gotten so brutal any competent referee would have stopped the fight by now.

Gulfstream, which outhandles Calder by more than two-to-one on virtually every day they go head-to-head, has landed a couple more devastating haymakers with no resistance or response. As reported here on July 23, it was announced Sept. 5 that the Florida Stallion Stakes, which will be rechristened the Florida Sire Stakes, is moving to Gulfstream in 2014.

The Stallion Stakes was born and thrived for three decades at Calder. It became the centerpiece of the annual Festival of the Sun, one of Calder’s biggest days of the year. For Florida breeders, it was a magnificent showcase and launch pad for standouts such as Awesome Feather, Jackson Bend, Holy Bull, Spend a Buck and Smile. Calder will get one more bite of this apple on Oct. 12.

The same is not true of the Florida Million, another Calder creation, which gave the state’s breeders an afternoon of multiple stakes with total purses hitting eight figures. A goodly portion came from owners and breeders but it was still a lucrative afternoon and a high profile opportunity to shine. On Sept. 19, less than two months before this year’s scheduled renewal on Nov. 9, Gulfstream announced that it has commandeered the Florida Million and will run the eight stakes races in Hallandale on Nov. 9. As with the Stallion Stakes, it will get a name revision to the Sunshine Millions Preview.

This is humorously disingenuous, since the Sunshine Millions is not scheduled until Jan. 18. Ten weeks has to be a new thoroughbred record for the amount of time between a “Preview” and the main event.

Lonny Powell, CEO of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association, issued a statement that he has to hope will not be scrutinized too closely. “The Florida breeders and owners are excited to see the creation of a brand new day like the Sunshine Millions Preview Day on the Gulfstream calendar that will feature eight races. It’s great for our racing and breeding industry. We thank Gulfstream and the FHBPA for coming together on this day and including our state-breds in such a prominent and lucrative fashion.”

Nothing new has been created. The same number of races for the same horses for the same amount of money will be contested on the same day. The only difference is they will take place at Gulfstream instead of Calder.

The latest hijacking of one of Calder’s big days clearly stung. General Manager John Marshall was gracious when the Stallion Stakes moved, wishing the FTBOA well in its new home. Not this time.

“The decision of the FTBOA racing committee to reallocate breeder enhancement dollars from Calder’s Florida Million Day to invent a Sunshine Millions Preview Day at Gulfstream Park furthers the need for Calder to re-examine its participation in developing Florida-breds,” Marshall said. “This decision, coupled with the FTBOA’s choice to relocate the Florida Sire Stakes, requires Calder to take a more calculated look at its two-year-old stall applications for the winter/spring meet.”

Clearly Florida horsemen are confident they have picked the ultimate winner of this war. For sure, there is a lack of gratitude for all Calder has done for Florida horsemen over the years. However, the horsemen can’t be blamed for switching sides and rubbing Calder’s nose in it given the shabby “take-it-or-leave-it” attitude Calder has shown them in recent years under Churchill Downs Inc.

Everyone knew this conflict would eventually get really ugly. No one has been disappointed.

ARAB MONEY must be able to buy anything, including the Breeders’ Cup.

It was announced Thursday that Breeders’ Cup has signed an agreement with the Emirates Equestrian Federation which, among other things, will result in an Arabian-bred race being added to the Breeders’ Cup card on Nov. 1.

Everyone knows that the biggest shortcoming of the Breeders’ Cup was the scarcity of races with inflated importance. But as long as Breeders’ Cup is intent on filling a void that doesn’t exist, why not go all the way and be totally ecumenical. Since they are legal in California, let’s also add races for quarterhorses, harness horses and mules.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Unless Guillot is right, he has done racing wrong

Eric Guillot's allegation that Luis Saez used a battery to urge Will Take Charge to victory in the Travers was still under investigation as this was written. But outside Guillot's circle, there is not a lot of support that the charges, a potential black eye for racing, have merit.

MIAMI, Sept. 13, 2013--Question of the day: Is it a good or bad thing that the national media is more interested in whether Diana Nyad broke the rules during her marathon swim from Cuba to Key West or that Luis Saez cheated in his winning ride aboard Will Take Charge in the Travers?

After the initial flurry of stories in the immediate aftermath of allegations by Eric Guillot, trainer of second-place finisher Moreno, that Saez used an electrical device to urge Will Take Charge to victory in the Midsummer Derby, the story has disappeared from the mainstream media, which traditionally lusts for anything that can be turned into a scandal, especially if gambling is involved.

Hopefully, this is not an indication that the non-racing media doesn’t consider racing sufficiently important to commit resources to the story.

Then again, even the racing press has pretty much filed and forgotten Guillot’s charges. A perusal of, which is to racing what the Drudge Report is to current events, shows only one story among more than a couple dozen on the issue and that is the bottom half of a column by Bill Finley, which furthers the argument that Saez did nothing wrong.

Guillot’s allegations are the most serious since Jose Santos was falsely accused of using a battery on Funny Cide in the 2003 Kentucky Derby.

After extensive investigations established the allegation against Santos had no basis, The Miami Herald, the source of the story, reached a settlement with the Hall of Fame jockey. Reports are the Herald made a payment to Santos ranging from less than a million dollars to as high as $5 million. A confidentiality clause was part of the agreement.

Saez, through his agent, former jockey Richard DePass, has vehemently denied Guillot’s allegations and said he, too, intends to hire an attorney to pursue defamation charges.

A distinction between the Santos and Saez cases is that Guillot is a member of the racing community. If his charges don’t stand up, he has sullied the game that provides his livelihood.

The basis for his complaint, which he made to the New York State Gaming Commission, is something he says his brother noticed while watching the Travers telecast on NBC Sports. According to Guillot, his brother and others, who subsequently looked at a tape, said they saw Saez transfer something from one hand to another during the gallop out, then put it either under the saddle cloth or drop it to the track.

However, no device was found on the track nor under the saddle cloth. A search of Saez’s locker also found nothing amiss.

Guillot’s entourage might be supportive but I’ve looked at the tape numerous times in slow motion and he had better have more than this. Zooming in on Saez’s hands, there is a lot of motion back and forth, but no clear passing of anything.

Moreover, the mass of hands, whip, reins and Will Take Charge’s mane makes it impossible to draw a meaningful conclusion unless wishful thinking is involved. The Travers would have been the most significant victory of Guillot’s 20-years-plus career.

More significantly, Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey, now a racing analyst for NBC Sports, also scrutinized the tape and said he could see nothing to substantiate Guillot’s allegation. Bailey said from his vantage point the only things in Saez’s hands were his whip and the reins.

Others have pointed out that Saez rapidly switched his stick during the drive, an impossible feat if you are carrying a buzzer.

The video was turned over to New York State Police experts at video analysis. The outcome of their investigation is still pending. However, given the opinions of those with vast expertise in racing, it’s hard to imagine the cops will be able to mount a convincing case. This is not to say there even is a case.

Guillot, known as a loose cannon, also took a crude backhanded whack at D. Wayne Lukas, saying Will Take Charge’s trainer is past his prime. Of course, he is. The Coach is 78. But even in the homestretch of his life, Lukas won this year’s Preakness with Oxbow and the Hopeful with Strong Mandate, in addition to the Travers.

Guillot also was quoted as saying, “There’s a lot to leave to the imagination with Wayne’s organization.”

This would be the organization that has won 19 Breeders’ Cup races and 14 Triple Crown events as well as developing trainers such as Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin, Dallas Stewart and Mark Hennig. Guillot’s organization has zero Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown race winners.

If his charge against Saez proves to be as baseless as that against Santos, Guillot deserves to be punished almost as severely for bringing disrepute to the sport as Saez would be if he was to be found guilty. This is beyond any potential punitive monetary damages Guillot would face in a civil suit.

He also would owe all of racing an apology.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Friday, September 06, 2013

Saratoga Summer 2013 was a season of champions

Too many cheap races detracted from Saratoga 2013 but a perusal of all the champions and potential champions who filled the better races at the Spa more than made up for it.

MIAMI, Sept. 6, 2013--Sometimes it’s difficult to fully appreciate something when you are in the midst of it. The just concluded Saratoga meeting falls into this category.

The cavalcade of $20,000 claimers and cheap turf sprints was maddening. The horses who filled these races wouldn’t have been given stalls not that many years ago.

But in retrospect, when you take a glass half-full look at the quality of the meeting, this might have been the most star-studded assemblage in years. When the votes are counted for the 2013 Eclipse Awards, it’s possible that all but two or three winners will have competed at the Spa this summer.

In fact, if the vote were taken at the end of August rather than the end of December, the only slam dunk winner lacking Saratoga 2013 credentials would be Game on Dude.

Too much racing remains to make definitive judgments about the juveniles. However, the late-running manner in which Strong Mandate galloped in the Hopeful and Sweet Reason dispatched her rivals in the Spinaway puts them at the head of the class.

Several Eclipses were all but clinched at the Spa. It is inconceivable that Princess of Sylmar will not be named outstanding 3-year-old filly. Adding the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama to her Kentucky Oaks triumph makes for an unbeatable triple.

Will Take Charge’s upset in the Travers further muddled the 3-year-old male division. Nonetheless, it’s a near certainty the eventual champion, whether it be Orb, Palace Malice or Will Take Charge (Verrazano would have to win a big fall weight-for-age race and the Breeders’ Cup Classic to even get back into the conversation) will have been in the Midsummer Derby.

It appears Game on Dude will sit on his lead in the older horse and Horse of the Year categories until the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But if he fails there, as he has twice, the door is open for Whitney winner Cross Traffic, who probably would need a Jockey Club Gold Cup/BC Classic double to overtake the Dude. The same double would likely work for Flat Out, the Woodward runnerup.

Royal Delta’s 5-year-old season wasn’t stellar early but her dominant win in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign, after capturing the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap, puts her firmly atop the older distaff division again. A showdown of Royal Delta, last year’s juvenile filly champion Beholder, who came back from a physical setback with a big win at Del Mar, and Princess of Sylmar in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff would rival the Classic as the highlight of the two-day festival in November.

Dank probably vaulted to the top of many Eclipse voters' ballots in the female turf division with her dominant score in the Beverly D. Not mine. It’s a pet peeve that Euros can come over, win one race and be voted an Eclipse. If Dank does it again at the Breeders’ Cup, I'll be a convert. But for now, Laughing, who added the Diana and Ballston Spa to her track record performance in Monmouth’s Eatontown, is the one to beat on my ballot. Marketing Mix, who skipped the Spa this summer, can’t be counted out.

The male sprint division has as many contenders as there will be horses in the BC Sprint starting gate. With injuries sidelining many of the early season standouts, unless there’s an off-the-wall result, the winner the first weekend in November will probably take the title.

This isn’t the case in the female counterpart. Dance To Bristol has merely won seven straight this year, including the Honorable Miss and Grade 1 Ballerina. Groupie Doll would have to do something extraordinary during her abbreviated three-race fall campaign to overtake her.

I don’t pay much attention to the jump bunch but most of the good steeplechasers point to Saratoga. No reason to think this season was different.

The human awards don’t generate as much advance conversation as the equine prizes. However by setting a record for wins at Saratoga after doing the same at Keeneland’s spring session and dominating Churchill’s spring meeting, Ken and Sarah Ramsey are mortal locks to take home the outstanding owner gold on Eclipse night in January at Gulfstream.

The Ramseys did it with quality as well as quantity. The day they had on Aug. 17—three Grade 1 wins at two tracks-- hasn’t often, if ever, been equaled. Big Blue Kitten took Saratoga’s Sword Dancer and halfway across the country, Admiral Kitten and Real Solution scored upsets in the Secretariat and Arlington Million, respectively.

More amazing, all three were sired by the Ramseys’ superlative stallion Kitten’s Joy, whose offspring came up big on the sport’s biggest days. He also is the sire of Stephanie’s Kitten, who accounted for the Grade 1 Just a Game on the Belmont Stakes undercard and the Distaff Turf Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

Thanks to Kitten’s Joy, the Ramseys are odds-on to also capture the outstanding breeder Eclipse.

The well managed reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan put more distance between himself and the field for older turf honors by making his annual stop at Saratoga to win the Fourstardave. But if he stumbles down the road, Big Blue Kitten is in position to be the beneficiary.

Javier Castellano and Joel Rosario were duking it out for the Saratoga jockeys title when Rosario got hurt. The Eclipse competition will probably come down to the same pair, with Rosario the favorite if can pick up where he left off when he returns from the foot injury he suffered at the Spa.

Why not Jose Ortiz for apprentice jockey laurels? He rode with the bug for only a couple of months but the way I understand it, that’s enough to qualify. His first Grade 1 victory aboard Strong Mandate in the Hopeful shows he has had made the transition to journeyman, which has been the undoing of countless hotshot apprentices.

Saratoga champion trainer Todd Pletcher, as usual, is among the top contenders in his field, although out West Jerry Hollendorfer will have a lot to say about that as the year winds down.

The possibility of a dozen or more champions, horse and human, having competed at the Spa this summer is rich compensation for having to endure all those bottom level beaten claimers.

Written by Tom Jicha

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