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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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Government intervention? Let’s just kill racing now

Dinny Phipps made an ominous statement at the Jockey Club Round Table. He said if uniform medication rules aren't adopted nationwide, he would be in favor of inviting the government to step in. He needs look no further than NYRA to see what greedy and vindictive politicians can do when you give them the opportunity. Drugs might be a problem. Government intervention would be the death of racing because it wouldn't stop until it controlled every aspect of the sport.

Complete this sentence as best you can (take all the time you need): The federal government has done an excellent job regulating…

If you want to open with a laugh, you can say, “drugs.”

This is why Dinny Phipps had to be kidding at the annual Jockey Club Round Table when he said that if uniform race day medication rules are not adopted nationwide, he would be in favor of inviting federal regulation of thoroughbred racing.

I took this more as the kind of threat frustrated mothers make to out-of-control children. “If you don’t stop, I’m going to tell your father. Then you’ll be sorry.”

Racing surely will be sorry if the feds get their noses under racing’s tent. Put it this way. The most prominent connection Uncle Sam currently has with racing is the unjust and indefensible tax it withholds from significant winnings. How is that working out?

In an era of busted government budgets, federal intervention would have to come with a steep price, additional taxes to support the creation of another bureaucracy. Who do you think would be assessed these tariffs? Look in the mirror, racing fans.

Obamacare has more than 2,000 pages of rules and regulations. This is what happens when every special interest imaginable is given a voice in formulating policy.

Pressure groups and activists, who use political donations to get the ears of politicians, would seize the opportunity to flex their muscles. PETA is a bunch of loons, so they wouldn’t be taken seriously but more reputable organizations such as the Humane Society could exert considerable clout on Capitol Hill when it comes to breakdowns and deaths on the race track.

Owners, trainers and track management could wind up spending more time in Washington testifying than tending to horses and normal business.

Grandstanding politicians would have a new soapbox to press for tight monitoring of backstretch working conditions, wages and benefits. Given the Obama administration’s cozy relationship with organized labor, a demand for unionization might not be far behind. Unions pushed NYRA and New York City OTB into bankruptcy. This in itself could kill the sport.

As much damage as politicians might do, it could wind up minimal compared to what might happen in the courts. Just this week a federal judge decreed that the American Quarterhorse Association must register clones. If this doesn’t send shivers down the spines of the Jockey Club, it isn’t paying attention.

Granted, the following is an extreme, even ridiculous, example of what pressure-group-driven government can do but there is a bill on California Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk that would eradicate gender distinctions. At the behest of LGBT groups, the bill would allow students in California to declare which gender they prefer to identify with. Boys will be free to declare they feel more comfortable as girls and use ladies rooms and girls locker rooms. They also will be free to compete on girls sports team. They would need no proof other than their word that it makes them feel better about themself. It works vice versa, too.

Just think of the ways this will be abused. To reiterate, this is not an off-the-wall proposal. It is a bill that has been passed by both houses of the California legislature and is expected to be signed into law by the governor. It could happen before you get to read this.

This would be one of those situations where you just roll your eyes and wonder what kind of mind comes up with such nutty proposals, then gets supposedly rational lawmakers to go along. But consider how many seemingly wacky ideas have originated in California, then spread across the country.

If I were in California racing, I would shudder at the potential for an owner or trainer, accompanied by a creative attorney, suing to eliminate races restricted to fillies and mares on the basis that it denies equal opportunity to win purses to owners of male horses. Remember, we are talking about crazy California, so nothing can be ruled out.

Phipps of all people should appreciate what happens when government insinuates itself into racing. When he wasn’t patronizing high end prostitutes, Client No. 9 Spitzer conducted a never-ending vendetta against NYRA.

Video lottery terminals at Aqueduct were delayed for a decade, at a loss of billions of dollars, because every politician in the state tried to get his fingers into the pie.

New York Off Track Betting is the joke of the industry, a model for how not to do it. Because it is in the hands of politicians instead of NYRA (which has only itself to blame) it continues to be a cesspool of patronage abuse.

More recently, NYRA wanted to introduce a Pick 5 to its wagering menu in time for Saratoga, the meet that draws more out-of-state wagering than any other. In most jurisdictions, this could be done with a simple phone call, if that much.

In New York, where government now has fully seized control of racing, it has been mired in so much red tape there is no hope of getting it done before Sam the Bugler plays Auld Lang Syne on Labor Day. The new target date is sometime in the fall.

So either Phipps wasn’t thinking or he was just making an idle threat to spur action on the praiseworthy goal of achieving uniform medication policies nationwide. He is such an influential figure that for the sake of racing, let’s hope it was the latter.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Latest outrage makes Dubai unworthy of racing’s support

Dubai strives to project a cosmopolitan, sophisticated image during its annual carnival of racing. However, a recent event illustrated it is no different than other Neanderthal Middle East nations. A Norwegian businesswoman was raped, then sentenced to 16 months in prison for having sex outside marriage. As long as this barbaric, misogynistic attitude and accompanyng laws endure, racing should demonstrate that is has standards and a conscience by refusing to support the rulers by sending our finest racing talent to compete there.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Aug. 7, 2013--I’ve never understood the American racing community’s support for Dubai and its Festival of Racing. The purse money might be other worldly but life and principles shouldn’t be dictated solely by just dollars and cents, no matter how many are at stake.

This is especially the case for owners and trainers of Jewish heritage. The sheiks might smile and glad-hand everyone on World Classic night. It’s just good business, especially when TV cameras are in range. But make no mistake, when they are behind closed doors, they are no different than many of their radical Middle East brethren when it comes to Israel and Jews. They despise both and would like to wipe them off the face of the earth.

They might have trusted Bobby Frankel with their prize thoroughbreds but if he had made a move on one of their daughters, the brute with the scimitar might have paid him a visit.

Dubai puts a polished sheen on the cosmopolitan desert city but compelling evidence that the ruling class is no different than other heads of state in the Middle East came recently in an outrageous incident involving a 24-year-old Norwegian woman, Marte Deborah Dalevl.

While in Dubai on a business trip, Dalevl was raped in her hotel room. There is no dispute about that.

She immediately reported the crime to hotel management and insisted she wanted to notify the authorities. According to several reports, she was warned by hotel officials, more familiar with the ways of their world than Dalevl, that this might not be the prudent course of action. Nevertheless, she persisted, as anyone in her position would have and should have.

The animal perpetrator was arrested and sentenced to 13 months in prison. But so was the victim. Dalevl was charged with having sex outside marriage, a crime in Dubai and much of the Middle East, an indication Dubai is no different than its Neanderthal neighbors. She was sentenced to 16 months in prison for her “crime.” In the misogynistic world of Dubai, being raped is a greater offense than being the rapist.

Outcries from Dalevl’s home nation and social media around the world managed to spring Dalevl from prison and get her safely out of the country. This was another business decision for Dubai.
But the law that brought this atrocity about endures. This means the same thing could happen to any woman in racing—owner, trainer, jockey, stable hand or TV commentator—who visits Dubai for the racing carnival.

Apologists might argue that every nation has the right to set its own laws. There also is a rich history of sports being above international politics.

Ping Pong diplomacy played a role in the thawing of relations between the U.S. and China.

At the hottest moments of the Cold War, athletes from America and the Soviet Union met regularly in all manner of competition. Their meets became the backbone of ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

However, in none of these instances were any of the athletes in peril of being savagely violated, then thrown in prison for the crime of being a victim.

These laws could be stricken with a stroke of a pen by the sheiks, who parade so proudly on World Classic night. They don’t have to answer to a Congress or Parliament. They run the nation with dictatorial authority. If they want Dubai to be viewed as a world class city and state, it’s mandatory that they start behaving like one. That they have not done so erases the camouflage that Dubai is different from any of the other nations in the Middle East.

Until they do so, all of racing should treat Dubai as just another barbaric nation to be shunned, no matter the cost.

Imagine Coney Island without Nathan’s, Las Vegas without buffets or Saratoga without mineral water.

The latter actually happened last Sunday. The Big Red Spring in Saratoga’s backyard stopped pumping the famed mineral water out of the earth. According to unauthorized spokespeople—AKA kibitzers—this has become a frequent situation.

I haven’t ever been able to swallow an entire mouthful, so I wasn’t as upset at this turn of events as I was at the reaction of those who heard and overheard me relating what happened. Out of a group of more than a dozen, there wasn’t one who knew that the mineral waters and the baths are the reasons Saratoga is known as the Spa.

I didn’t pursue it but I’d bet that almost all of them know the status of the relationship between Justin Bieber and Selena.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Thursday, August 01, 2013

Weekly poll makes the Kentucky Derby just another race

The latest NTRA poll is an exercise in what have you done for me lately. Victories by Verrazano and Palice Malice last weekend moved them to Nos. 7 and 8 in the weekly survey. But Kentucky Derby winner Orb is no better than 14th. This makes little sense when Orb has as many Grade 1's as Verrazano--one of them the big one--and Palace Malice has only one.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Aug. 1—Polls are intended to reflect a diversity of opinion. If there is universal agreement, there is no need for a poll. However, for a poll to retain credibility, there must be some rhyme and reason to it. The latest weekly NTRA poll strains this standard.

There’s are no issues at the top. Wise Dan, the defending champion, is undefeated in three 2013 starts. Until someone knocks him off, he deserves king of the hill status.

Game on Dude, the runnerup, is one better this season, perfect in four starts. Some might argue that dominating a weak older horse group on the West Coast is not that great a mark of distinction. But he did come east for the million dollar race at Charles Town and none of the heavy hitters from the East and Midwest rushed to take him on.

If there is an anti-West Coast bias, it might show up in next week’s poll should No. 3 Fort Larned notch his second win of the year in four starts in Saturday’s Whitney. How much of a shock would it be if he jumped over Game on Dude?

With the Breeders’ Cup again at Santa Anita, the West Virginia invasion will likely be the Dude’s last foray out of Southern California this season. Challengers will have to deal with that.

It’s the middle of the poll, where the top 3-year-olds reside, that a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude seems to have taken hold.

Verrazano, on the strength of his dazzling score in the Haskell, has vaulted to No. 7, one spot ahead of Palace Malice, who validated his Belmont triumph with a dominant performance in the Jim Dandy. More on this in a bit.

But the voters have some explaining to do with their placement of Orb at No. 14. Let’s look at the record.

Verrazano has a couple of Grade 1’s on his resume, the Wood Memorial and Haskell. But his only attempt in the Triple Crown series, the Kentucky Derby, brought about his lone defeat in seven starts.

The Belmont is Palace Malice’s sole Grade 1.

Meanwhile, Orb won the big one, the Kentucky Derby, as well as the Grade 1 Florida Derby. Let’s say the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial are equal in prestige, although that could set off a lively debate of its own.

This brings the Orb-Verrazano comparison down to the Kentucky Derby vs. the Haskell. If this even a point of discussion? Seriously?

So Orb is a victim of “what have you done for me lately?” thinking because he has been taking a breather at Fair Hill, prepping for his Aug. 24 showdown with Verrazano and Palace Malice in the Travers.
Measure this against Point of Entry, who has two Grade 1 wins, same as Orb, hasn’t run since Belmont Day, same as Orb, but probably won’t run again. Nevertheless, Point of Entry is No. 4 in the poll.

The downgrading of this year’s 3-year-old class is further exemplified by the total snub of Oxbow. Apparently winning the Preakness and running second in the Belmont counts for zero. That's the number of votes Oxbow was awarded. Among others, this places him behind Groupie Doll, who has not stepped into a starting gate since the Cigar Mile last November.

A similar anti 3-year-old prejudice seems to be in vogue among distaffers. Kentucky Oaks champion Princess of Sylmar made the Coaching Club American Oaks her second Grade 1 among four victories in five 2013 starts. Yet she ranks only 11th in the poll, six places below Royal Delta, whose score over an undistinguished lot in the Delaware Handicap was her first win of the year in three starts.

Thankfully the Breeders’ Cup makes these midseason surveys similar to pre-election polls, merely a snapshot in time.

When you bitch, you have an obligation to subsequently give credit where it is due. I took exception to the opening Saturday card at the Summer Place To Be, which resembled a mid-winter card at Aqueduct with five state bred races and a couple of cheap claimers.

The racing office made up for it last Saturday. In addition to three outstanding stakes—the Prioress, Diana and Jim Dandy—all of which were scheduled months in advance, the card was made up entirely of open races, albeit a couple of them cheap claimers, which in days of old were not welcome at the Spa. This is how it should be at the citadel of racing.

Alas, this Saturday is more like opening weekend: three races for New York breds, a couple of $20,000 claimers and a maiden claimer for $25,000.

To reiterate, this shouldn’t happen when there are four weekdays to schedule races for the lesser lights. Alas, the fear is this is the new normal at Saratoga.

Written by Tom Jicha

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