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, September 04, 2014

New drug rules? How about enforcing the existing ones first

Racing might be the only industry that bad mouths its own product. The talk all summer has been about the negative influence of race day medications. But before new regulations are considered, there has to be more of an effort to enforce the existing rules, which are now treated like an acceptable cost of doing business by too many horsemen.

MIAMI, Sept 4, 2014--Masochistic might be the most aptly named thoroughbred ever. The dubious circumstances surrounding his racing career perfectly sum up racing’s status in dealing with drugs.

Racing might be the only business whose leaders spend more time bad-mouthing their product than selling it. A summer of hysteria regarding race day medications is winding down. It was almost impossible to open a racing publication or website without being confronted by a piece on race day medications and why they should or shouldn’t have to go.

But it’s pointless to attempt to pass new rules and regulations when the ones in place are flaunted as if they are merely a nuisance, an acceptable cost of doing business? It took years and about 75 violations before Rick Dutrow was sent packing.

This brings us to the disgraceful saga of Masochistic and his connections. To briefly recap details I have reported several times, Masochistic was found to have 40 times the recommended dose of a tranquilizer when he made his debut at Santa Anita in a Cal-bred maiden special race on March 15.

He ran fifth of eight at 8-1. His jockey, Omar Berrio, was called in by the stewards and questioned about his less than all-out ride. In their notes, the stewards expressed concern that “Mr. Berrio prevented his horse from giving his best effort.”

Masochistic wasn’t seen again until Derby Day at Churchill Downs. Off one lackluster effort in a Cal-bred race, he opened at odds-on in an open special weight on a day when it takes tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars to rock the tote board to that extent. Masochistic drifted up to 2-1 and ran like 1-9, winning by 14 lengths.

Then he went back to his home base in California, where he could have made more purse money in a softer spot running against his own kind. This doesn’t even take into consideration the shipping expenses to Kentucky and back.

Masochistic has scored a couple more blowout allowance wins without much urging. His dominance has been such that in his most recent start, Trevor Denman editorialized during his race call that Masochistic is too good for anything less than stakes horses.

Unbelievably, it took until mid-August before his trainer, A.C. Avila, was called in for a hearing about what went on in Masochistic’s debut. He, of course, has been allowed to keep training in the interim. Even more unbelievably, it could be several months before a ruling is issued, according to a report in the Racing Form.

Forty times the legal limit of a tranquilizer, a ride for which “stiffed” is the most appropriate term, a betting coup and it’s taking the better part of a year before a ruling is expected?

It’s enough to make O.J. Simpson exclaim, “What the f…?”

Christie like all the rest

This was going to be a turnaround week for struggling Atlantic City casinos and New Jersey’s race tracks. The opening of the NFL season was going to mark the introduction of sports betting in New Jersey. That was the promise made by Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie likes to present himself as a different kind of politician, one who doesn’t pull punches and says what he means and means what he says.

It turns out he’s no different than all the rest, which is hardly a shock. The New Jersey governor went back on his word and sold out important constituencies by vetoing a bill, passed by overwhelming majorities in the Assembly and Senate, which would have enabled sports betting.

It was considered one of the last best hopes to keep Atlantic City from devolving into the sorry state it was in before it became the East’s first mecca for casino gambling. The state’s racetracks, especially Monmouth Park, also would have benefitted.

Squeezed by neighboring states New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Connecticut legalizing casino gaming, New Jersey casinos are falling faster than sand castles on the beach at high tide. The Showboat closed this past Sunday. On Monday, the $2.4 billion Revel went belly up. The Trump Plaza is shutting down on Sept. 16. Earlier this year, the Atlantic City Hotel and Casino called it quits. They desperately needed a drawing card like sports betting that competitors in nearby states don’t have.

It was Christie who ignited the push for sports gambling. Knowing full well that Congress passed a bill in 1992, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which prohibited the expansion of sports betting, Christie arrogantly challenged the federal government in May 2012 to stand in his way. “If someone wants to stop us, let them try.”

Given the feds non-response to several states defying the laws against marijuana, he probably would have been on solid ground.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court this past June upheld the PASPA but left open a loophole. New Jersey could not specifically legalize sports betting but it was within its states rights to repeal laws outlawing it. New Jersey legislators jumped at the opening, only to have Christie, the man who said let them try to stop us, veto it.

“Ignoring federal law, rather than working to reform federal standards, is counter to our democratic traditions and inconsistent with the Constitutional values I have sworn to defend and protect,” he said.

The flip-flop is easy to explain. Christie was facing a campaign for governor in 2012, so he played to New Jersey residents, who have indicated in straw polls that they overwhelmingly are in favor of sports gambling in the state. Now he is an undeclared candidate for President. Expansion of gambling is not necessarily a winning issue nationwide, especially with New Jersey being the only beneficiary.

What’s more, Christie has been critical of the Obama administration for looking the other way when it comes to the legalization of marijuana. He would look like a world class hypocrite if he championed ignoring the federal laws against sports gambling.

Apparently he doesn’t mind being known as only a state class hypocrite.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

‘Belief’ and ‘Chrome’ could be the new Alydar and Affirmed

Shared Belief's dominant score in the Pacific Classic answers the last question about his brilliance. He has won on synthetics and dirt. He has won at six furlongs and a mile and a quarter. He is the first of his generation to take on and put down older horses in an important race. But he still has one obstacle to overcome en route to a divisional Eclipse and Horse of the Year: Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome. That showdown is expected to come in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Even casual fans should be excited about that.

MIAMI, Aug. 26--Nothing excites the masses and mitigates the negatives afflicting racing as much as the emergence of a potential superstar. In the case of Shared Belief, ”potential” might be short-changing him.

With his dominating triumph in the Pacific Classic on Sunday, Shared Belief has done everything necessary to qualify for the grandest superlatives.

He is already a champion, the 2013 Juvenile Eclipse winner.

He is undefeated and yet to be seriously tested. His almost three-length win Sunday was the closest call he has had. Previously no horse had come within four lengths of him at the wire.

The runner up at Del Mar, Toast of New York, came into the race with formidible credentials himself. His four synthetic starts produced three wins and a second, including a score in the UAE Derby.

Show horse Imperative, whose credits include a win the Charles Town Classic, was five back, a neck better than Game On Dude, this year’s Big Cap winner and the big horse in the West the past three years. The rest, most of them older stakes winners, were strung out to Carlsbad.

Shared Belief demonstrated he is multi-dimensional and able to overcome adversity. The son of Candy Ride had never been worse than third at any call in his previous five races. After a troubled start in the Pacific Classic, he was sixth down the backstretch, racing between horses. Mike Smith joked that Shared Belief gave the others a head start.

The Pacific Classic was run on a synthetic surface, Polytrack, but it was the third different artificial surface over which Shared Belief has triumphed.Unlike many synthetic specialists, he proved just as dominant on real dirt in the Los Alamitos Derby.

Prior to his ten-furlong score Sunday, he had won at six furlongs, seven furlongs, a mile and a sixteenth and a mile and an eighth.

Although Toast of New York also is a 3-year-old, Shared Belief is the first major North American 3-year-old to be tested by older stakes horses in a meaningful event.

There are no questions left for Shared Belief to answer.

Shared Belief is a gelding, so he could be around to energize the racing scene for years. It’s a bonus that his majority owner is Jim Rome. His sports talk show is one of the nation’s most popular. Rome will be talking up Shared Belief to the young males racing needs to reach.

It had to be a disappointment to Rome that foot ailments kept Shared Belief out of the Triple Crown but he could be going for his own unique triple in the Breeders’ Cup. His filly Mizdirection won the Turf Sprint, beating males, the past two years.

Perhaps the best part for racing is that Shared Belief has an outstanding rival, California Chrome, to stir interest among even casual fans. Alydar made people appreciate Affirmed more. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier had each other. Magic had Larry Bird.

For all that Shared Belief has accomplished, if the Eclipse balloting was held now, California Chrome would be voted the 3-year-old championship, just as the last 16 winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness have been. California Chrome has the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby to go with his Triple Crown heroics. The Pacific Classic was Shared Belief's first Grade 1.

That election won’t take place until after the Breeders’ Cup Classic, when assuming good health, the two extraordinary 3-year-olds will face off for the first time. Not only divisional honors will be up for grabs but Horse of the Year as well, should either win.

V.E. Day’s upset in the Travers effectively took all the Eastern 3-year-olds out of the running.

Even if only one of the West’s stars makes it to Santa Anita on Nov. 1, a win against older horses such as Palace Malice, Moreno and Will Take Charge, would clinch the two awards. Not even a late-season streak by two-time defending champion Wise Dan would change that.

Shared Belief and California Chrome are each expected to have one tune-up before their showdown. Shared Belief’s will most likely come against older competition in the Awesome Again on Sept. 27. This will give him a trip over Santa Anita’s dirt track.

California Chrome’s connections will follow the money to the Pennsylvania Derby, which is limited to 3-year-olds, a week previously.

The Parx race has a million dollar pot but there’s an additional lure for California Chrome’s owners, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, who are in the process of squandering a lot of the good will they enjoyed on the Triple Crown trail.

First there was Martin’s boycott of the Preakness because he wasn’t treated well at the Derby. Then Coburn went bat-dung crazy because fresher colts denied California Chrome the Triple Crown. Next they demanded $50,000 from Del Mar for California Chrome to parade on Pacific Classic Day. (In retrospect, imagine how embarrassing it would have been for California Chrome to just parade before his rival Shared Belief put on a real show in the big race.)

For taking their colt across country to a race that can only tarnish his luster should he not win as an overwhelming favorite, they will get what amounts to a $100,000 appearance fee. This is on top of anything California Chrome earns.

Trainer Art Sherman also gets an extra hundred grand when California Chrome leaves the starting gate. It will be interesting to see the reaction from Coburn and Perry when they realize they are splitting $100K while Sherman gets the full amount all for himself.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It’s never on Sunday for Gulfstream stakes

Florida (and other jurisdictions) once had high hopes that Sunday would become the equal of Saturday in drawing fans to the track. It hasn't happened. Gulfstream is giving up on forcing the issue. Its winter stakes schedule--67 races, 37 graded--doesn't include a single Sunday stakes.

MIAMI, Aug. 19, 2014--Sunday has never delivered the punch Florida’s racing industry hoped and predicted it would when it lobbied for years to lift the prohibition against it. Now, there is little chance it ever will.

NYRA senior vice president of racing operations Martin Panza has been preaching the gospel of big event days, primarily Saturdays. Gulfstream’s Tim Ritvo and P.J. Campo are disciples. Saturdays will be super at Gulfstream this winter. Sundays not so much.

Gulfstream has scheduled 67 stakes—37 graded. Every one will be run on a Saturday. A half-dozen Saturdays will feature at least five stakes. Only three Saturdays—Jan. 31, Feb. 14 and March 7 will be limited to one stakes.

Eight stakes will be presented on Florida Derby Day, March 28. This has been the norm in recent years.

This year there will be other days as stakes laden. The Fountain of Youth, the final major prep for the Florida Derby on Feb. 21, also will be supported by seven stakes.

The Donn Handicap and Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, both Grade 1 events, will be among six stakes on Feb. 7.

The meet will get off to a Super Saturday start on Dec. 6, the first day of racing after the abbreviated session under tents at Calder, with this year’s Claiming Crown program of eight stakes.

The Gulfstream Derby, which has been run on New Year’s Day, has been shifted to Saturday Jan. 3 and rechristened the Mucho Macho Man. (No offense to an exceptional horse but I think Gulfstream Derby has more cachet.) It will be the headliner of five stakes for newly turned 3-year-olds. Sprinters will have the Spectacular Bid and turf sophomores get to run for black type in the Dania Beach. Filly sprinters can go in the Old Hat and distaff turfers have the Ginger Brew.

Gulfstream will renew four stakes formerly contested at Calder in December. The Tropical Park Oaks and Tropical Park Derby are penciled in for Dec. 20. The W.L. McKnight and La Prevoyante will follow a week later.

Some overnight stakes are expected to be carded to add pizzazz to Sundays but that’s it.

Gulfstream gave Sundays every opportunity to become the equal of Saturdays. The 2011 Florida Derby was run on a Sunday, with the Gulfstream Oaks the previous day, in an attempt to create a Kentucky Oaks-Derby two-day event. It didn’t happen.

Last winter's Donn Handicap was unselfishly relocated to a Sunday to help launch the new series of races on Fox Sports. Attendance and handle didn’t approach a typical Saturday Donn Day.

As long as can be remembered, the winter meet featured a stakes race on most Sundays. The attendance and handle for these Sundays was virtually identical to the Sundays with no stakes carded.

So the decision was made to load up Saturdays and make Sunday just another day.

Although Sundays haven’t been as big as Saturdays at most tracks around the country—there is a reason Saratoga give-away days are always on Sunday--Gulfstream has unique issues, according to Ritvo. South Florida is a tourist mecca and many travelers schedule return flights back home on Sunday. Thanks to airport security lines, travelers have to get to the airport by late afternoon even for an early evening flight.

Perhaps even more important is the fact that for the first eight or nine weeks of the winter season, Gulfstream has to buck the NFL on Sunday. The games are available on TV throughout the plant but it’s not the same as the comfort of a home, particularly if you are following numerous players and games for your fantasy league.

Sunday is also traditionally a family day in the Hispanic community, a day to take the wife and kids to a park or beach or have relatives and friends over for a backyard gathering.

This combination of circumstances has pushed Gulfstream into the vanguard of tracks emphasizing big days over a well distributed stakes schedule.

Chuck Streva will be missed

Racing lost a good man last week and I lost a great friend. Chuck Streva, for decades the chart caller at Calder and Gulfstream as well as the producer of the morning line at both tracks, died after a long illness. He was 56.

In a business known for its cattiness, petty jealousies and back stabbing, Chuck was a rarity. I never met or heard of a person who didn’t like him or had anything bad to say about him. Even as he was fighting for his own life, his first question would always be about some problem or issue he remembered from your life.

For the past few years, the standard greeting in the press box was, “How’s Chuck?” or “Have you heard anything from Chuck.”

He was so conscientious and had such a strong work ethic that whenever he had the strength, which for the past year or so wasn’t often, he would come out to the track to work.
Chuck was born into a racing family. His grandfather, Dave Wilson, was one of the first to come up with speed figures as an essential tool for handicapping and was one of the widely followed public handicappers in the game. He passed on his secrets to Chuck, who would share his figs with anyone who asked and made daily selections in the Miami Herald. Chuck’s uncle, Jack Wilson, was the Racing Form’s lead chart caller for decades, the go-to guy for the Triple Crown races and Breeders’ Cup. But for his atttachment to South Florida and his family, Chuck would have been his successor. He was that good.

Jay Privman might have said it best in a tweet on the Racing Form site when he learned of Chuck’s passing. “You are going to hear a lot of great things about Chuck Streva in the coming days. Believe them. They are all true.”

Written by Tom Jicha

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