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.

Most recent entries

Monthly Archives


Tuesday, August 04, 2015

NYRA hits new lows in customer abuse

Nothing appears beneath NYRA when it comes to squeezing every penny out of fans. The latest outrage is charging handicapped fans $7-$15 to park in a lot that is otherwise free. Meanwhile, any thoughts that there ever will be meaningful inter-track cooperation on anything significant is a fantasy,demonstrated by Saratoga, Monmouth and Mountaineer each staging rich races for 3-year-olds within 24 hours.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Aug. 5, 2015--NYRA has concocted its most vile means yet to squeeze a few extra bucks out of fans at Saratoga.

My family stages an unofficial reunion every summer at the Spa. A couple of years ago, there were so many of us, all wearing colorful shirts designed by my creative niece, that the Albany ABC affiliate took notice and did a feature story on the news on us.

One member of my family now has to get around by electric scooter. When she parked her van, outfitted with a carrier on the back, in the handicapped section of the lot, which is supposed to be free, an attendant came galloping over to inform her, “Handicapped parking has to be paid for this year.” The tariff is not cheap: $7 weekdays, $10 weekends and $15 on Travers Day.

This is not trackside parking. This is the first lot you come to off the Northway on Union Avenue. It is more than a quarter-mile from the nearest admission gate.

The attendant was embarrassed and apologetic but said the money had to be collected. My relative was so incensed that she went to customer service as soon as she got into the track. The women there didn’t believe it and thought it was a mistake by the people at the lot. “Let me call my boss.” Her boss, also apologetic, said the order came down from the top.

My relative is pondering an Americans With Disability Act complaint. I hope she follows through.

The abuse of customers doesn’t end there. Sunday, my mother, who will be 90 in a few months, had a small umbrella to shield her from the scorching sun at the Top of the Stretch. (All the shade areas were occupied.) A security officer came over and said she had to take it down for safety reasons.

This was not a beach umbrella, more like something you would carry in the rain. Nevertheless, it had to go, she was told. We were not near the rail, where a gust of wind could have blown it onto the track. We were sufficient distance from the fence that it would have taken Hurricane Andrew to do that.

Right nearby, there were about 20 huge Coors Light umbrellas, some right next to the rail, in the cubicles NYRA has fenced off as a revenue generator. The difference: NYRA gets hundreds of dollars to rent them. Supposed safety must not be an issue when the bottom line is.

How’s this for more penny-pinching? On Wednesday, the restrooms nearest the Top of the Stretch were locked before the last race. On Friday, the ladies room was locked with two races to go. (A monsoon struck on Thursday, so I skipped the track for the friendly OTB in Lake George.)

I didn’t know the attendants, who sit there looking for tips, were paid so much that knocking them off an hour early is a major savings for NYRA.

These outrages happen because Saratoga for the most part is such an addictive experience that management is confident people might complain but they will keep coming back.

I plead guilty.

Cooperation is a drean-on fantasy

American Pharoah is so awesome that he covers up a lot of racing’s ills.

The notion that racetracks will ever cooperate on anything beyond the trivial is nothing more than a wonderful fantasy. The every man for himself philosophy, which has prevailed longer than the electronic starting gate, was driven home again this past weekend. Saratoga, Monmouth and Mountaineer ran huge money races for 3-year-olds, which only served to cannibalize each other.

Saratoga put up $600,000 for the Jim Dandy and wound up with a four-horse field. Not only did this detract from the spectacle of the event, it put a hurting on the bottom line. Superfecta and show betting had to be canceled and the multiple race pools took severe hits from the dearth of possible combinations.

The nemesis of the Jim Dandy, of course, was the $1.75 million Monmouth was hanging out for the Haskell. Even with American Pharoah looming unbeatable, second money was almost the equivalent of winning the Jim Dandy. This directly swiped Competitive Edge and Upstart, who were cross-entered, and perhaps another one or two, who might have showed up for the Travers prep.

Monmouth made its showcase race even more attractive by jacking up the purse by $750,000 only a day or two before entries were taken. Why is baffling. It already had the Triple Crown champion locked up and the enhancement could have bolstered the purse of 250 overnight races by $3,000 apiece.

The explanation was the extra $750K was consolation for Monmouth’s inability to close the deal on a multi-million series designed to attract American Pharoah. Makes you wonder if the Pharoah’s connections knew about the richer endowment when they made the decision to come to New Jersey. But nobody else did.

Not to be outdone, NYRA announced it will raise the purse of the Travers to $1.6 million if American Pharoah shows up on Aug. 29.

The $750,000 West Virginia Derby only aggravated the situation. Why Mountaineer, which runs almost year-round, chose Saturday to put up the richest purse of the year is another mystery. It surely didn’t get value. The field it attracted could have been lured for a third or less of the purse.

Thank goodness Del Mar doesn’t have a significant dirt race for sophomores, something that has always been an inexplicable hole in its schedule.

The fierce scrimmage for top tier horses could have been avoided with some inter-track cooperation. NYRA is more or less locked into running the Jim Dandy four weeks before the Travers. But Monmouth has all summer to run the Haskell.

On one hand, it’s understandable that the New Jersey track would want to stage its biggest event when there is no other racing in the New York City area. But a July 4th Haskell has potential advantages to offset this.

It would be a stage-setter for summer racing on the tourist rich Jersey shore, rather than an attraction so late in the meeting that any momentum it generates is mitigated. It also would be a perfect fit for contemporary training techniques; about four weeks after the Belmont with approximately the same gap to the Jim Dandy.

Another facet of the inter-track rivalry also erupted in the last week. NYRA announced it is dropping the simulcast signals of Churchill Downs controlled tracks in the usual dispute over pricing. With the exception of the Arlington Million card on Aug. 15, this is a ho-hummer for most fans. However, it is inexcusable that two behemoth corporations can’t come to agreement for the good of the game and more importantly, fans.

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (19)


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Haskell has big horse but Spa has ‘Dandy’ of a race

American Pharoah will be the center of attention in Monmouth's Haskell this weekend but the best race for 3-year-olds will be the Jim Dandy Saturday at Saratoga. Grade 1 winners Frosted, Materiality and Texas Red are expected along with Holy Bull winner and Florida Derby runnerup Upstart and Bill Mott's star on the rise Japan. On Wednesday, Mott will attempt to extend his remarkable record of success on his birthday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, July 28, 2015—Monmouth has America’s best 3-year-old this coming weekend but Saratoga has the best 3-year-old race.

I’m not going to behave like a politician and say I was for something before I was against it. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that an outstanding horse outweighs an outstanding race. I’m not going to back off that. This weekend will provide the collaborating evidence.

NYRA would trade every formerly free picnic table now for rent in the backyard for the opportunity to cap attendance (which Monmouth isn’t going to do) for an American Pharoah appearance in Saturday’s Jim Dandy rather than see The Triple Crown winner draw the biggest crowd in New Jersey racing history to Monmouth’s Haskell on Sunday.

But the Haskell looms a non-competitive exhibition while the Jim Dandy is arguably the best 3-year-old race since the Kentucky Derby. Wood Memorial winner Frosted is scheduled to make his first start since pushing American Pharoah to his completion of the Triple Crown in the Belmont.

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Texas Red, who didn’t make the Kentucky Derby due to an injury, is using the Jim Dandy as his prep for the Midsummer Derby, the Aug. 29 Travers.

Materiality, who pushed his unbeaten record to three in the Florida Derby. will attempt to get back on track after disappointing showings in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont. It’s probably not prudent to overlook anything coming out of the Todd Pletcher barn these days.

He seems to win even when he doesn’t. The multiple Eclipse winner came up with three big scores over the past week without getting to the wire first. Uncle Vinny got kissed into top money for an incident that didn’t affect him in any way in the opening day Sanford at the Spa.

Magna Light led the field all the way but, as 2-year-olds are wont to do, started acting like a goofball. veering out several paths in mid-stretch then coming back in late. He might have been clear enough to avoid penalty when he came out but he definitely caused Percolator, his closest pursuer, to check and lose the place when he veered back in. This opened the door for Pletcher’s Uncle Vinny, coming down the middle of the track, to finish second without really menacing Uncle Vinny. So instead of running third, Uncle Vinny had a graded win handed to him.

Two days later Pletcher got put up again in the Coaching Club American Oaks when front-running I’m a Chatterbox came out and brushed Curalina in the shadow of the wire. The DQ was justifiable but it happened so close to the finish it wouldn’t have been the worst “as is” if the stewards had taken that route.

Pletcher’s roll extended to being on the right side of a non-disqualification in the 2014 Delaware Handicap. You might not have heard of this because Delaware kept it on the down low. Princess of Sylmar’s $150,000 second place earnings had been held up for more than a year because of an overage of betamethasone. The permissible corticosteroid is used to treat inflammation from joint disease and arthritis but cannot be in a horse’s system on race day.

Pletrcher and Princess of Sylmar’s owners fought the ruling on complicated grounds regarding the clarity of the rule. Delaware state officials finally decided to drop the charges and release the purse.

Pletcher has not had a drug ruling since 2010. Ergo, he is worthy of being given the benefit of the doubt. But less prominent trainers couldn’t be blamed for wondering if they would have been given the same consideration.

Getting back to the Jim Dandy, another multiple Eclipse winner, Bill Mott, will have an intriguing new shooter to the top ranks of the 3-year-old division. Japan broke through with his first stakes triumph in the Easy Goer on the Belmont Stakes undercard. The place horse, Stanford, figures to be the favorite for Pletcher in Friday’s Curlin Stakes.

After the Easy Goer, Mott said he might have run Japan in the wrong race, suggesting he thought Japan was worthy of taking on American Pharoah in the Belmont. Coming from someone as accomplished and low key as Mott, this is quite an endorsement, certainly enough to consider taking a decent price in a stakes that doesn’t include American Pharoah.

Mott, who won four races in the first three days of the meet, will be the center of attention on Wednesday, his 62nd birthday, because of a streak that has become a closely monitored diversion at the Spa.

Seven straight times and in 15 of the past 20 Saratoga seasons he has won a race on his birthday (July 29 fell on a dark day in some years, including 2014). Mott said he is amused and amazed at the attention it has gotten.

Last time his birthday fell on a race day, 2013, he had five starters and won with the final two. He has no margin of error this year. He'’ll have only one chance, First Charmer in the seventh race, a maiden special for New York breds.

First Charmer is 12-1 on the morning line but Mott’s streak has been so thoroughly reported in the Racing Form and local Saratoga papers, it will be a surprise if he goes to the post at even half that price.

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (30)


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Clearing the boards for Saratoga

It appears American Pharoah is heading for double duty as a stud next year, with a possible trip to Australia on his agenda. So much for him racing as a 4-year-old. Meanwhile, Lasix-free races and winter racing at Aqueduct got boosts during the past week, proponents of synthetic tracks got a chance to say, "I told you so," and another serial jockey cheater was busted again.

MIAMI, July 21, 2015--The dream of American Pharoah racing as a 4-year-old has apparently been dashed. In a story picked up by, The Daily Telegraph in Australia reports there are secret plans to ship the Triple Crown champion down under next year for Australia’s breeding season, which begins in the Southern Hemisphere almost as soon as our breeding season ends.

Financially, it makes sense to double down in two hemispheres. Our most recent Triple Crown winners had spotty records as sires. So Coolmore, which takes control of American Pharoah at the end of this year, could bank a big part of its investment before any of American Pharoah's foals hit the ground. It also doubles the chances that he will produce some offspring as brilliant as he is.

As for the boost his continued presence would give American racing, when has that ever mattered to breeders?

Issues that need addressing

This column is going to be almost all about Saratoga for the next six weeks, so let me get some other things off my chest while awaiting Friday the way a kid counts down to Christmas.

Del Mar had off-tracks over the weekend for the first time since Noah. Ironically, the deluge that caused them came in the midst of one of the worst droughts California has ever endured.

Let’s hope this doesn’t trigger a chorus of “they should have kept the synthetic track.” It’s great to have Del Mar back in the mainstream of racing. A couple of off-tracks every millennium is a small price to pay.

Who needs Lasix?

Gulfstream carded races for 2-year-olds running without Lasix on Saturday and Sunday. They oversubscribed, leading to splits. This would seem to verify that there are a significant number of horsemen willing to run without juice but hesitant to do so because they fear they are giving away an edge.

Better yet, the Lasix-free races outhandled most of the other races. Let’s hope other tracks take note.

Anti-doping bill has long way to go

Along the same lines, it’s encouraging that the optimistically titled Horse Racing Integrity Act of 2015, which would put all drug testing in the hands of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Andy Barr (R, KY) and Rep. Paul Tonko (D, NY).

However, it’s a long way to the finish line. Predictably it was greeted almost immediately by a negative reaction from the National HBPA. “We are opposed to any form of legislation that interferes with the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978,” Eric Hamelback, the organization’s chief executive officer, was quoted as saying.

It’s not clear that the proposed bill would do that but the HBPA doesn’t want to risk losing the extortionate hammer it never should have been given to deny a track’s right to simulcast--in other words, put it out of business--if it doesn’t get everything it wants. It used this power to keep the Breeders’ Cup from implementing Lasix-free races at its championship event.

Buzzers should be one-and-done

Drugs aren’t the only scourge challenging racing’s integrity, maybe not even the worst. Jockey Billy Patin and his brother, Joe Patin Jr., are under investigation in Louisiana for allegedly using “buzzers” in recent races at Evangeline Downs.

If the name Billy Patin rings a bell, he was suspended for five years for allegedly using a battery in riding 30-1 Valhol to victory in the 1999 Arkansas Derby. How and why he was ever re-licensed is unfathomable.

But it’s not unprecedented. Roman Chapa has been suspended for five years for the second time for the same alleged offense in a race in Texas last January. Chapa also got nine months in 2007 for allegedly using a nail on a horse.

These should be one-and-done offenses. A horse is more likely to put his life in jeopardy by doing something erratic when being hit by a machine or a nail than he is for a drug overage.

CDI up to its usual tricks

The Arlington Million’s days appear numbered, likely in low single digits. Churchill Downs Inc. failed in its attempt to get fewer than eight-race cards approved at Arlington but it’s revealing that it even tried.

The only thing keeping the Chicago area jewel from suffering the same fate as Hollywood Park and Calder at the hands of CDI is the presence of Richard Duchossois, father of the track and the Million and a major CDI stock holder, who will be 94 in October.

Parx break a boon to Aqueduct

Any chances winter racing at Aqueduct will be curtailed or discontinued in the near future probably ended with the announcement that starting in the upcoming winter, Parx will institute a break--Dec. 22 to Feb. 13 in 2015-16—as part of a scaling back of its racing calendar from 210 dates to 156.

With the only other racing north of Florida at Laurel in Maryland, NYRA should have plenty of horses to fill its cold weather cards. It might even be able to return to five days a week.

The DQ debate continues

California held a hearing on creating new guidelines for disqualifications last week. Surprise! They couldn’t agree. The same old debate arose. Is a foul a foul or should the impact it had on the race be the deciding factor.

I’m in the corner of those who go with the latter. The counter-argument is this forces the stewards to play God. But isn’t this what they are doing in any case?

One area where there seems to be a consensus is a horse should not be taken down unless the vote of the stewards is unanimous. Let's hope this comes to fruition and is adopted everywhere.

A third pre-BC race for Pharoah?

Getting back to American Pharoah, Ahmed Zayat says he would like to take him to Saratoga for the Travers on Aug. 29 if all goes well in the Haskell on Aug. 2. I don’t doubt his sincerity but I can’t see it happening unless the game plan for only two races before the Breeders’ Cup Classic is abandoned. The Travers is nine weeks from the Breeders’ Cup, so Bob Baffert would probably want to find another race in the interim.

If this happens, Zayat and Baffert get my Eclipse votes for Owner and Trainer of the Year in addition to the 3-year-old and Horse of the Year titles. Not that they won’t get them anyway.

How many hours until Saratoga?

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (21)


Page 32 of 84 pages « FirstP  <  30 31 32 33 34 >  Last »