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, May 19, 2016

Saturday’s Preakness a great show but a poor bet

Nyquist figures to dominate the Preakness just as he has his previous eight races and head to Belmont vying to become the second Triple Crown winner in 38 years. It will be difficult to find betting value even in the exotics. But it's still one of racing's biggest spectacles, so watch and enjoy. Also don't forget to support Canterbury, which opens its 2016 seasonon Friday, with its new low takeout, which will be monitored nationwide.

LAS VEGAS, May 19, 2016--The Preakness is the week's big story but there's not much story to be told that hasn't already been said. The Belmont's mile and a half could bring some intriguing new storylines to Nyquist's pursuit of the Triple Crown but there's no logical reason the mile and three-sixteenths second jewel of the Triple Crown to his baubles.

Suppose the Preakness was a race in the middle of a midweek card. The favorite had won all eight of his career races from a short juvenile sprint to the classic mile and a quarter. In the process, he had defeated his main rival four straight times. The connections of the horse who finished third to him most recently have cried "uncle" and are looking for an easier spot.

The only prudent way to approach such a race would be to have a beer and a hot dog and just watch or, if you couldn't resist the urge to bet, use the favorite in exotics as a free space on a bingo card. Turn a pick four into a pick three or a pick three into a daily double, a superfecta into a trifecta or a trifecta into an exacta and hope you can get a couple of longshots home with and around him.

The downside is you'll have plenty of company, so there won't even be true value. A Nyquist-Exaggerator exacta won't pay for a beer and a hot dog.

There are some outstanding races on the Preakness undercard. Use them as your gambling vehicles and just enjoy watching an extraordinary horse perform in the big race.

Pegasus won't fly

HRI colleague Indulto wrapped his column this week on the $12 million race Frank Stronach says he will stage at Gulfstream next January with a question: "Do you think the Pegasus will take flight?"

My response, is "I can't see how."

Kudos to Stronach, who never fails to think big and always has the best interests of racing at heart. Some of his ideas work, others don't.

He fought to have year-round racing at Gulfstream despite many naysayers and Florida racing is prospering as never before. To be fair, the mall he built around Gulfstream is still struggling and the on-site hotels he promised don't look like they will ever be built. The gargantuan statue of Pegasus at the north end of the Gulfstream property is more an embarrassment than an asset.

The self destructive horsemen in California prevented Stronach from launching a similar entertainment world project around Santa Anita. Nevertheless, Stronach put millions into sprucing up The Great Race Place.

Why he tolerates an inept management team, which ignores what has worked fabulously elsewhere--fractional bets, lower takeout--is baffling, especially since Stronach is renowned for going through executives with the same frequency George Steinbrenner went through Yankees managers.

Maryland racing was in its death throes until The Stronach Group went to work. They refurbished Laurel and have done what they could at ancient Pimlico with further renovations promised. As a result, the future of Maryland racing has never been brighter.

It would be even brighter if Stronach hadn't balked at playing by the state-created rules to get a casino at Laurel.

Indulto outlined the many obstacles the $12 million Pegasus must overcome to come to fruition. But the biggest, the structuring of the purse, cannot be overstated. Where is Stronach going to find 12 individuals or businesses to put up a million dollars apiece for the mere opportunity to control a spot in the starting gate.

The two biggest potential attractions for the Pegasus are California Chrome and Nyquist, especially if the latter emulates American Pharoah as a Triple Crown winner. Given the entitlement mentality of California Chrome's people, it's the height of optimism to expect them to put up eight figures to get into the Pegasus. They're more likely to demand an appearance fee.

If Nyquist sweeps the Triple Crown, he would likely follow American Pharoah to the breeding shed right after the Breeders' Cup. Keeping him in training a month into the new year, then having to wind him down before launching his life-after-racing career could cost more in lost stud fees than the Pegasus offers to its inaugural winner.

Without these two, the Pegasus would be just another nondescript rich stakes, not unlike last winter's Santa Anita Handicap.

Stronach is trying to sweeten the pot for potential investors by giving participants the right to use their starting berth for their own horse or to lease or sell it. The prospect of someone shelling out eight figures to take on a California Chrome, Nyquist or some other late developing star seems remote. By traditional purse distribution figures, a horse would have to finish at least second to show a profit. Third would get you approximately even.

Stronach is also dangling participation in some of the proceeds from television rights, sponsorships and a piece of the handle. The problem with this is outside the Triple Crown, TV doesn't pay rights fees to racing. Racing pays to get on TV, in the form of sponsors underwriting the telecast in return for commercials. So there's no money there for the million-dollar participants.

As for the handle, even if the race handled an unlikely $10 milllion, most of it would have to come from simulcasting. After the receiving tracks took their cut, the original participants would be lucky to cut up a million dollars 12 ways.

As conceived, the Pegasus would be a worse bet for owners than playing exotics at Parx.

Don't forget Canterbury

Canterbury Park opens its 2016 season Friday with the lowest takeouts of a long-meet track in North America--15 percent win, place and show, 18 percent for exotics for a blended 16.5 percent takeout.

This experiment will be monitored nationwide, so it's imperative for horseplayers everywhere to support it. If it fails to exceed what was produced by higher takeouts, racing executives will use it as a justification for not reducing their own rake.

If you care about your own long term bottom line, find a Canterbury race or two each time you're at a simulcast facility and bet $10 or $20. Even if the return isn't immediate, you could come up a winner for years down the road.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Nothing in Preakness will thwart Triple Crown bid

Christopher Kay and the New York Racing Assn. are odds-on to be able to again enforce their crowd cap for the Belmont Stakes--the only track ever to turn away fans. Nyquist has nothing to fear from the herd lining up to scrimmage for the minor awards at the Preakness. The mile and a half of the Belmont looks to be the only obstacle to back-to-back Triple Crown winners.

LAS VEGAS, May 12, 2016--The happiest people in racing outside Team Nyquist has to be Chris Kay and NYRA. Nyquist might not become a back-to-back Triple Crown winner but he'll almost certainly be running for it on June 11 at Belmont. So Kay can reinforce his distinction of being smarter than anyone else who has ever run a racetrack by continuing to be the only executive in history to turn people away with his ridiculous 90,000 cap.

If the Kentucky Derby winner is to be thwarted from his bid to emulate American Pharoah, it won't be in the Preakness. The field lining up for the second jewel of the Triple Crown contains no plausible threat to the still undefeated champion of his generation.

Only three times this millennium has a horse who didn't start in the Kentucky Derby won the Preakness: Rachel Alexandra, one of the greatest fillies ever, outran Mine That Bird, one of the Derby's least distinguished winners, in 2009; Bernadini, a worthy champion, got the money in 2006 after the catastrophic breakdown of Barbaro; highly regarded Red Bullet upset Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.

Anyone see a Rachel Alexandra, Bernadini or Red Bullet among this year's prospective new shooters: Awesome Speed, Cherry Wine, Dazzling Gem, Stradivari, Fellowship, the maiden Laoban, Sharp Azteca, Collected or Uncle Lino?

Sharp Azteca ran a giant race in a Derby undercard stakes and Collected and Uncle Lino also are last-out 3-year-old stakes winners. However these scores did nothing to suggest they have elevated their games to Nyquist's level.

As for the Derby returnees, the strangest is Lani, the Japanese head case, who never contended in Louisville. Why his ownership would want to risk embarrassment again is a puzzler.

Exaggerator has tried Nyquist four times, from five furlongs to a mile and a quarter, and hasn't been able to get the job done. Gun Runner didn't look fast enough going into the Derby and that's how it turned out. He tried hard but wasn't good enough. Suddenbreakingnews put in his characteristic late run in the Derby after encountering trouble but horses with his style run into trouble far more often than not. You don't overcome a trouble call and beat Nyquist. Moreover, whirlwind finishes are always part optical illusion. Closers need the leaders to come back to them. Nyquist doesn't come back.

The mile and a half of the Belmont looks like Nyquist's biggest obstacle. But the same was said of the 10 furlongs of the Derby.

Past Posting

It's disgraceful how racing allows itself to get bitten in the behind by technology, going all the way back to the Fix Six Breeders' Cup. More recently late computer-driven betting has a legion of horse players suspecting some late-betting shenanigans are going on. Doesn't it always seem that the horse who gets out fastest has the biggest drop in odds after the field leaves the gate?

Derby weekend brought an orgy of technological gaffes. My visit to the South Point got off to an ominous start when the computers went down before the first race on Oaks Day. A lot of fans like myself, who had gotten up before dawn in Las Vegas to bet the card, which started at 7:30 a.m. PDT were left grousing and cursing.

I heard the same thing happened at other Sin City hotels on Derby morning. On Sunday it happened again at the South Point, shutting players out of two of the final three races on the Santa Anita card.

The worst was TVG's computers going down an the hour before the Derby. How many millions of dollars in wagers were lost is a matter of conjecture. If you were wondering why the horses were still in the walking ring with zero minutes to post, this was the reason.

If airline technology operated like racing's, planes would be falling out of the sky. Getting technology up to 21st century standards must be just as big a priority for racing and its satellite partners as bringing drug issues under control.

The slight drop in TV ratings for his year's Derby is nothing to fret about. The 9.0 rating (the percentage of all homes with TV) was off slightly from last year's 9.6. However, variations this small happen all the time even to the most popular prime-time series.

The meaningful number is that15.5 million people tuned in to the Run for the Roses. This made it the most watched show of any kind in all of TV last week, during a ratings sweeps period when the networks load their schedules with series season-ending episodes and alluring specials. The top prime-time series, "NCIS," averaged just under 15 million. The much anticipated series finale of "The Good Wife" drew under 11 million.

It also should not be overlooked that millions of uncounted race fans watched at tracks, simulcast facilities and bars. This can't be said of "NCIS" and "The Good Wife." Moreover, the available audience is much higher in the evening--this is why it's called prime time--than in late afternoon when the Derby is aired.

The most impressive long-range Derby prognostication I have ever seen was made by the late Art Grace, turf writer for The Miami News. In the spring of 1973, Grace wrote after a five-furlong maiden race for 2-year-olds at Hialeah that he had seen the following season's Kentucky Derby winner, a colt named Foolish Pleasure.

Art, one of the most low key guys you would ever meet, wasn't given to this kind of hyperbole. Foolish Pleasure made him a prophet the following May.

I'm not going to say I saw the 2017 Derby winner last week but in a weekend of tremendous performances, the one that caught my eye most was by a 2-year-old at Belmont named Tale of Two.

He wasn't a secret. The son of Tale of the Cat was bet down to 3-5 for his debut against some other highly regarded juveniles. When he broke sluggishly and trailed the field by daylight down the backstretch on a muddy track, he looked hopeless. He still had no rivals beaten at the top of the lane. Then he kicked in with a breath-taking turn of foot, swooping past the field to win going away while still being hand ridden. The final eighth went in 13 seconds. Tale of Two probably ran his in about 11.

To repeat, I'm not saying the Mark Casse trained youngster is next spring's Derby winner but I would bet my binoculars that he will win some 2-year-old stakes this spring and summer.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Here’s who won’t win the Derby

The first step to finding the winner of any race is eliminating those who can't win. IMHO, there are at least 10 of those, half the field, in the Kentucky Derby. Included are the winners of some key Kentucky Derby preps. This doesn't include the poor horse who draws the No. 1 post, if he is not among my 10 tosses.

MIAMI, May 3, 2016--The Kentucky Derby is just another race at the betting windows. It’s the race in every other way.

Beyond hoped for profits, it’s for bragging rights, which is why people bet the futures, one of the worst propositions in racing, and the satisfaction of solving the puzzle every racing fan has been striving to conquer.

I get out to the track at least once a week locally, drive 2,000 miles to Saratoga every summer, spend a couple of weeks annually in marathon betting orgies at Las Vegas race books (I’ll be there the next two weeks), never miss an opportunity to visit a new track and bet regularly via ADW (I have four accounts). I handicap, make decisions and put up my money every 15 to 20 minutes.

When I’m wrong, I turn the page. When I settle on the wrong horse in the Derby I agonize over it until it’s time to start considering the next Derby.

I start doing this at least six months out, yet I often don’t make a decision until after shedding a tear at the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Unless, he draws the No. 1 post, an automatic throwout, Nyquist will be very prominent on at least all my horizontal tickets. He’s yet to do a thing wrong. He’s won short and long, near the pace and from way off it. He overcame a horrendous trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to beat a more talent laden field than in any prep since. He buried then undefeated Mohaymen on Mohaymen's home court.

If Nyquist had gone five-for-five in New York, as he has done in California, and added the BC Juvenile at Keeneland and the Florida Derby at Gulfstream, trouncing the most heralded horse in the East, there already would be a bronze of him in the Belmont walking ring.

Nevertheless there is a question of a mile and a quarter—as there is with all of them--so price, track conditions, physical appearance in the paddock and the post draw could sway me elsewhere for my main win play.

However, I can say with absolute certainty who will not be on any of my tickets. An important caveat: when it comes to the Derby, I am strictly a win player, be it straight, doubles or Pick 3’s and 4’s. I’m a romantic when it comes to the Derby. I don’t want to mitigate the exhilaration of watching my selection flash under the wire first by losing focus to see who is going to take the photo for second, third and fourth.

So my “throw-outs” are for the win slot only. I’m not saying any of them can’t hit the board. Tough-to-find horses crash the exotics almost every year.

I’ll start with the easy ones. Trojan Nation, a maiden, should not be in the field while more accomplished contenders miss the cut. The Derby needs a “winners preferred” condition. So what if he finished second in the Wood Memorial. Someone had to and it wasn’t an illustrious bunch behind him.

A trio of other tosses have similar credentials, although each has managed to have his picture taken at least once. Majesto was closest to Nyquist in what turned out to be an over-rated Florida Derby. As with Trojan Nation, someone had to be second and Mohaymen never fired.

(Mohaymen is the most perplexing horse in the race. The question since his Florida Derby dud is, “Who did he beat?” in his five winning races. The damning answer is, not a single horse who has qualified for the Derby. Yet I can’t toss him and I might wind up betting him if the price is right because of the flashes of brilliance he has shown and Kiaran McLaughlin’s unwavering faith in him.)

My Man Sam was second in the Blue Grass and has the Chad Brown factor going for him but he also has only a maiden win in four starts. (I’m not yet throwing out Shagaf, Brown’s other starter, who also was dull in the Wood, because of his three wins in four starts. But I doubt I'll have any money on him Saturday.)

Tom’s Ready might be willing but he is not able in my estimation with just a maiden win in nine starts.

If all the Japanese media likely to show up at Churchill Downs bet $2 apiece on Lani, the winner of the UAE Derby could go off favored. This means better payoffs for the rest of us. UAE Derby winners have a totally blemished record on the first Saturday in May and Lani has acted like a goofball since arriving.

Animal Kingdom came out of the Spiral on Turfway’s synthetic track to wear the roses in his first conventional dirt start but I’m willing to bet Oscar Nominated isn’t going to encore. Ken Ramsey, who has almost as much money as the sheiks thanks to Kitten's Joy, went looking for a partner to put up the $200K supplemental fee.

Whitmore hit the board in all three of the preps in Arkansas but he didn’t win any of them. His late run might get him a small piece again but I prefer horses who know how to win and, recent history notwithstanding, I’m not enamored of the Oaklawn stakes this winter.

This brings us to the first of what probably will be controversial calls. Suddenbreakingnews has the Silky Sullivan whirlwind finish style that amateur Derby bettors fall in love with. Good luck with that in a 20-horse field. Also, how many times have we seen eye-catching late runners come up flat when they have to go a mile before they even hit the top of the stretch?

Finally, I want no part of either of Todd Pletcher’s pair of Destin and Outwork. This has nothing to do with Pletcher’s abysmal Derby record. If it was easy to redline Trojan Nation, it’s a mere neck more difficult to draw a line through Outwork, who won one of the slowest Wood Memorials since stopwatches were invented. Project his final three-eighths in 40 3/5 to another eighth of a mile and it comes to more than 54 seconds, a time harness horses regularly best.

Not that the Wood Memorial has a stellar record in the Derby in recent years in any event.

Destin is a little tougher to leave off tickets. He got really good at Tampa, which has been producing one Grade 1 winner after another this season. But Tampa is one of those tracks that some horses love and others can’t handle (see Brody’s Cause). Also, Destin will go into the starting gate not having raced in eight weeks, a blueprint that has never worked.

In the monkey-see, monkey-do world of thoroughbred training, if Destin wins off this layoff, look for track managements to be coerced into scheduling the Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial in February.

If I’m right, I’ve cut the field in half for you. I’ll join J.P. and others on the HRI staff to come up with the horses we like on Friday.

Win and You’re In--Not!

The Breeders’ Cup has announced this year’s roster of Win and You’re In races, 77 stakes at 49 tracks in 12 countries. As if the winners of the Met Mile, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Pacific Classic, Ogden Phipps, Stephen Foster and Arlington Million, to list just a few of America’s biggest events, really need to worry about their invitations to the Breeders’ Cup.

Guess which stakes isn’t a Win and You’re In? Here’s a hint: It’s the most coveted race in the world.

Correct! The Kentucky Derby is not a Win and You’re In. (Neither is the Preakness nor Belmont.)

Hey, Breeders’ Cup. Seriously?

Written by Tom Jicha

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