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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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

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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

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fantasy sports not going away, racing should jump on bandwagon

Fantasy sports businesses, which laughably maintain they are not gambling sites, are not going away, so racing should find a way to piggyback on their popularity.Meanwhile, full-scale sports betting in New Jersey, which of course will spread quickly just as lotteries did, got a boost when a federal appeals court vacated a ruling against the state, the first time the sports leagues opposing it have suffered a significant setback.

MIAMI, Oct. 15, 2015--Fantasy sports are evil.

Their foundation is a lie. Their fallback position, supported by Congress, is they are not gambling.

This is so laughably absurd it brings to mind the classic scene in “Casablanca” in which Claude Rains, as the thoroughly corrupt Capt. Louis Renault, tells Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine that he is shutting down his bar. “I’m shocked, shocked to find out that gambling is going on in here.”

Fantasy sports are totally unregulated. Horse players fret over takeout rates, rightly so. At least they know what they are bucking. In some jurisdictions, permission has to be gotten from the state or racing commission to adjust them even minimally.

Fantasy sports sites answer to no one. They won’t even reveal what their rake is. It has to be astronomical to support their tens of millions in advertising.

They are rife for chicancery. This isn’t a theory. The NFL season was only a few weeks old when it was reported that an employee of DraftKing used inside information from his site to win $350,000 on rival FanDuel. It wasn’t Fan Duel that got screwed. It was the players who thought they were competing on a level playing field.

Richard Eng opined in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that this was akin to the 2002 Fix Six scandal at the Breeders’ Cup. He’s shortchanging the guys who wound up going to jail for that caper. They had to have sophisticated technical expertise. All the guy who scored on DraftKing needed was the time to check out other people’s selections on his company’s site.

One thing the two scandals do have in common is the shenanigans could have gone on indefinitely if the perps hadn’t gotten too lucky, drawing attention to themselves.

As a result of the Fix Six, safeguards have been put in place to prevent an encore. The only safeguard fantasy sports operations have announced is their employees are now forbidden to play on their own or rival sites. Does this include members of their family? Even if it does, there is nothing to keep a wise guy from passing on what he knows to a girlfriend, co-worker or neighbor and share in the proceeds. Thanks to the lack of regulations, it's probably not even illegal.

Their advertising is beyond deceptive. The come-ons in commercials is you can bet a few bucks and win millions. But if you read the microscopic print at the bottom of the screen it's revealed that the average wager is $6.33 and the average payoff is $22.43. This is essentially a 3-1 shot.

Anyone with a brain should have been able to figure this out. It’s like the penny slots in Las Vegas. The big numbers on the screen tease enormous jackpots. You have to read the fine print to notice that in order to be eligible for the big payoffs, you have to bet maximum pennies, usually between $1.50 and $3.00 per spin.

Fantasy sports are not going away. Amazingly, the week after the employee scandal broke, both sites claimed they handled more money than ever before. To repeat an anecdote I have written before, the late Irving Rudd, peerless publicist for Yonkers Raceway, used to say if he could advertise “Nine fixed races tonight” he would need an enhanced police presence to control the crowds trying to get into the track.

DraftKing and FanDuel better enjoy their time as the leaders in the field. Both are estimated to be worth $1 billion already. With that kind of money to be made, the field is soon going to be as crowded as Saratoga ladies rooms on Travers Day.

If fantasy sports can’t be beaten, the only thing for racing to do is to try to join them. Since they are unregulated and Congress has decreed they are not gambling, there doesn’t appear to be anything to prevent race tracks from introducing their own fantasy games.

They would even have the advantage of immediacy. There would be no need to maintain an account online and wait to be paid. Players could go a betting window, submit their team and hopefully get paid as soon as the final whistle blows.

In the meantime, they might make a bet on the live races while monitoring their fantasy teams. Most tracks already have rooms set aside for horse players, who also want to keep track of the NFL.

If tracks don’t want to take it that far, they could run comparative advertising. As noted, the average payoff on the fantasy sites is 3-1. On a typical day at any track, the average win price on races is several times that and there is a “new game” every few minutes. For some unfathomable reason, race tracks are reluctant to engage in comparative advertising.

It also could be pointed out that you would have to be an exceptional football expert or extraordinarily lucky to cash in a fantasy game at least every third week. Anything less frequently, you lose.
The odds are much more in the player’s favor at the track.

Also, it is possible to bet as little as 20 cents, 50 cents or a dollar on races and come up with a life-changing score. As noted, this is not the case in fantasy sports, their deceptive advertising notwithstanding.

Racing is a better bet for players. Offering them side by side might be the best way to demonstrate this.

New Jersey wins big in court

Sports gambling in New Jersey isn't dead afterall. The entire Third Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated an Aug. 25 ruling against the state's efforts to become the only state outside Nevada to offer full single event gambling on sports. (Three other states have permission to offer parlay style betting.) No date was announced for the hearing. It could be months. The fact that it will take place represents the first victory in court for New Jersey against the major sports organizations, who are fighting against it.

It will be interesting to hear how the sports leagues justify their investments in fantasy businesses while maintaining that gambling would erode confidence in the integrity of their games.

State senator Raymond Lesniak, one of those leading New Jersey's campaign for sports betting, was quoted on ESPN. com saying, "Chances are they wouldn't have vacated the ruling if they were only going to confirm it later."

Written by Tom Jicha

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