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 29, 2014

A couple of key plays to work around on Friday & Saturday

Everyone has their own approach to attacking the Breeders' Cup. Mine is not to go caveman but to try to find a key horse or two in one race, then spread widely in the other legs of Pick 3's, which tend to pay handsomely even with a short price or two in the sequence. Goldencents looks like the most certain winner of the two days and is positioned between wide open races on Friday. The scratch of American Pharoah from the Juvenile makes Carpe Diem a key on Saturday.

MIAMI, Oct. 29, 2014--The Breeders’ Cup can be the toughest two days of the year for players like me, who prefer to put together multiple race tickets—mostly pick 3’s. Somewhere in each sequence there is almost always at least one highly improbable winner. But with a little luck, the rewards can be great.

Ergo, the best approach is not to go caveman-- 4X4X4 ($64)--but to key on a race where it’s possible to single or go only two deep, then spread in the other legs. You can go 1X6X6 for only $36.

Because of the Breeders’ Cup large fields and few genuine throwouts, it’s amazing how even with a favorite or second choice, the rewards can great. For example. the first Bet 3 on Saturday last year, including 3-2 Dank and 3-1 Groupie Doll, came back $675.90 thanks to Ria Antonia being put up in the Juvenile Fillies.

The latter might have been tough to find (she will be even tougher to find in this year’s Distaff) but if you put together Groupie Doll and Mizdirection, both repeat winners at 3-1 and 5-2 in the next two races, and closed with New Year’s Day (the longer of two Bob Baffert’s, an automatic inclusion, at 10-1), the payoff was $278.30.

So the key is finding a race or two where you can lean hard on a selection. I think there are opportunities to do this on Friday and Saturday.

Goldencents looks like Groupie Doll and Mizdirection redux on Friday in the Dirt Mile. The defending champion crushed what was probably a tougher field a year ago. Better yet, he drew the rail with a short run to the first turn. As Trevor Denman likes to say when a horse is drawing away in mid-stretch, “Looking for the danger, can’t find one.”

The only alternative I’ll consider is Fed Biz, a solid miler for Baffert, who threw a scare into Shared Belief in the Awesome Again. Of course, he got a lot of help from Victor Espinoza on uncoupled stablemate Sky Kingdom. Anyone else wins the Mile, I shake my head and give thanks tomorrow is another BC day.

Keying Goldencents in the second of Friday’s BC races allows for wide spreads in the two legs sandwiching it, as well as the final two BC races of the day, which follow the Mile. I’m more enthused about the latter. The Juvenile Turf is a crap shoot and the Juvenile Fillies Turf is just as daunting.

My approach will be to key all the Euros in both and throw in a U.S. horse or two. A lesson I’ve learned at a price is not to try to sharp shoot the Euros. Horses with inferior Euro form often come up big at a price in the U.S. In the Juvenile Turf, I’ll also use Americans Daddy D T and Luck of the Kitten, for a total of seven.

In the Juvenile Fillies Turf, there are four Euros and I’ll throw in Sunset Glow, who ran a strong second at Ascot for Wesley Ward, and Rainha De Bateria, out of respect for Graham Motion, a human Euro. That would be a $42 ticket.

My key play Friday will be Goldencents into the Juvenile Fillies, using the same horses, and the Distaff, where I’m confident all I need is Don’t Tell Sophia, Iotapa, Close Hatches and Untapable. That’s only $24. I’ll press with extra tickets keying Don’t Tell Sophia and Close Hatches for another $12.

The scratch of American Pharoah from the Juvenile makes Carpe Diem my key play Saturday. His win in the Breeders’ Futurity was eye-popping and his breeding suggests he will only get better. That the Breeders’ Futurity was two turns, as opposed to the one turn Champagne, is what, for me, separates Carpe Diem from his Todd Pletcher stablemate Daredevil.

I’m hoping to be alive with Carpe Diem after the Filly and Mare Sprint and Turf Sprint. In the former, I’m depending on Sweet Reason, who’s 5 for 6 around one turn; Artemis Agrotera, for whom seven furlongs looks like the perfect distance; Leigh Court, impressive winner of Keeneland’s Thoroughbred Club of America, and Judy the Beauty, who almost got the money a year ago.

The Turf Sprint is the only grass race over the two days where the Euros aren’t key. This is because the unique nature of the course, downhill with both a right- and left-hand turn as well as a cross over the dirt course, is something only horses at Santa Anita experience. How important is this? There have been four BC Turf Sprints at Santa Anita. All were won by locals even with a bunch of Euros competing.

So Reneesgotzip, who has missed winning the past two editions by less than two lengths combined, Sweet Swap, Ambitious Brew and Home Run Kitten, who is 2-for-2 down the hill, have to be on the ticket. Silentio has been running on Santa Anita’s grass his entire career but around two turns. The temptation is to toss him but milers fare well down the hill. Free as a Bird invades as a winner of six of his last seven. Most have been at 5 and 5 ½ furlongs but he does have a win at 7 furlongs.

Keying Carpe Diem 4X6 will cost only $24. I’ll invest another $48 with Daredevil included with Carpe Diem in the first leg, a total of $72.

And whatever I win for the two days goes on Shared Belief in the Classic.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A throwback to my previous life

What do racing fans do when they're not handicapping or betting? Probably 99% watch television. It's a slow week in racing, awaiting the Breeders' Cup pre-entries, so I'm going to digress one time only and go back to my previous life as a TV critic.

Miami, Oct. 21, 2014--Some of you might be aware my previous life was as a TV critic for more than 30 years. John Pricci and others sometimes referring to me as “TV Tom” should have been a clue.

Preech (who is my boss) has been suggesting I pick a slow week in racing and do a column on my views on the current state of TV. Afterall, just about everyone turns on the tube after a day at the races and there is no slower week in racing than this one.

Nothing of national significance happened on the track last weekend, nothing of import will happen this weekend (negative byproducts of the Breeders’ Cup) and my publication date falls the day between horses being pre-entered for the Breeders’ Cup and the release of who is in and where. Horse Race Insider will have plenty on that daily during the next fortnight.

First things first. Television critics do not hate TV. You couldn’t and do the job. Nobody expects movie, theater or book critics to hate their crafts. However, for some reason there is such an expectation about TV critics. I think this comes from the early days of the tube when newspapers regarded TV as a competitor and assigned poison pens to savage the new medium.

This changed when it became clear television wasn’t going away--how ironic that now television is reporting on the demise of newspapers--and readers demanded the same agenda-free reviews and coverage the other arts received.

I love television. However, there are times I feel I got out at the right time. One of those times is when I see The Walking Dead is the most popular series in the history of cable. Think about all the great shows cable has offered. The zombie apocalypse drama outrates all of them, some by six or seven to one. This is akin to a night at a bull ring drawing more fans than the Breeders’ Cup.

More than anything I love a good comedy. I’m in the midst of writing a book on the history of the genre.

The Big Bang Theory is my personal favorite. IMHO, it is up there with the best comedies ever. I never miss an original and I'm almost as dedicated to the reruns on a local station and TBS. No matter how many times I watch, I laugh out loud, even at the lines I know are coming.

Modern Family, the favorite of the Emmy voters, is also appointment viewing. Two and a Half Men looked like it was going to jump the shark when Charlie Sheen went nuts but Ashton Kutcher has stepped in better than anyone had the right to expect and kept the laughs coming. I’ll miss it when it fades to black at the end of this season.

This season’s crop of newcomers has been as much a downer as California Chrome’s Pennsylvania Derby. Bad Judge is just a bad show. Black-ish is dull-ish. A to Z should have been titled A to Zzzzzzzz. Mulaney looked like a low rent Seinfeld. It’s played like a sidewalk cardboard box Seinfeld. The less said about Selfie, Marry Me, Manhattan Love Story and Cristella the better.

Dramas are the hot form right now. A major development over the past decade has been how cable has overtaken the old line broadcast networks as the home of the buzz shows. There's no secret to why. The broadcast dramas are mostly formulaic. How many CSI or NCIS: (name your city) can we take?

If you want to find a war on women, you can see it every week on the new Stalker as well as its inspiration Criminal Minds. Both series have one goal, to create new grotesque ways to torture and murder terrified women.

Cable takes chances and breaks new ground. When was the last time a broadcast network produced a classic like Breaking Bad? Cable is loaded with others almost as good: Homeland, Ray Donovan, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy, The Bridge, Justified and Mad Men.

There are a couple of promising newcomers this fall. Scorpion is The Big Bang Theory without laughs. The core BBT ensemble—four geniuses and a hot chick—fantasizes about being super heroes. Scorpion has four geniuses and a hot chick, who perform super heroic deeds using their smarts.

How To Get Away With Murder is an intriguing twist on courtroom drama. But it could be better if the relentless intensity were dialed back a few degrees. Even Supreme Court justices smile from time to time.

Madame Secretary is a big wet kiss to the Ready for Hillary campaign. If that doesn’t bother you, there are worse ways to kill an hour on Sunday night before the really good shows (Homeland and The Good Wife) arrive at 9.

To be fair, Homeland isn’t what it used to be before Brody did the rope dance. Why Damian Lewis felt the necessity to bug out of his career-making role defies analysis. Without him and their sexual tension, Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison came close to driving away the entire audience when she pondered drowning the love child she and Brody conceived. Fans know Carrie isn’t wrapped too tightly but they would not have stood for infanticide in any context.

I’m not one of those who look down on reality shows. I want no part of the likes of any Real Housewives or Kardashians but I never miss Survivor or American Idol, which is miscategorized as reality. It’s a performance competition. Ditto The Voice.

The sleeper reality hit of all time, Shark Tank, a celebration of the American entrepreneurial spirit, is another favorite. I’m not alone. It’s the No. 1 program on Friday night in the 18-49 demographic TV chases and, reruns on CNBC have driven up the ratings on the cable network.

My all-time favorite TV also falls into the reality category: simulcasts of the next race I bet.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tracks don’t know or care what bettors want

Racing has to be a great game to survive the people running it. Low minimum multi-race wagers are all the rage, so what do Belmont and Santa Anita do? They create the Coast to Coast double with a $2 minimum. It has received the frigid reception it deserves. Racing's leaders have identified drug abuse as the sport's biggest problem. But California and New York let serial drug offender Doug O'Neill off the hook with what amounts to less than a slap on the wrist. Also, the Racing Form, which should be serving its customers, repeatedly changes symbols for well known tracks to appease track operators while confusing bettors.

MIAMI, Oct. 14, 2014--Drugs are a scourge of racing but far from its biggest drawback. A bigger problem is race track management not knowing nor caring what their customers want

They still behave as if it’s the mid-20th century when tracks could afford to conduct themselves as if they were doing bettors a favor by giving them the lone legal gambling option. They totally ignored Bob Dylan’s warning that, “The times, they are a changin’.”

The Coast to Coast double introduced last week by NYRA and the Stronach Group at Santa Anita isn’t the most useless bet ever. NYRA’s Grand Slam retired that trophy years ago.

I don’t know a single player who invests in the Grand Slam, which isn’t even offered at any simulcast site I have ever visited. It handles only a little more than $20K a day, even on weekends. Players outside the NYRA sphere would likely have a hard time explaining what it entails (three in-the-money finishes with a winner in its final sequence finale.)

I don’t expect the reception to the Coast to Coast double to be much better. Who asked for this bet? Not customers. Early returns bear this out. Its high point was Friday when it handled more than $33K. The other three days, including Saturday and Sunday, betting was around $27K. To put this in perspective, NYRA's late double on those four days handled $93K, $115K, $109K and $130K, respectively. Santa Anita’s late double guarantees a $100K pool.

The lack of enthusiasm for the new bet is only partially a product of the higher 20% takeout in California rather than the 18% in New York. Let’s be generous and allow a $30K average. The extra 2% takeout generates an additional $600 for the two jurisdictions to split at that rate before expenses and the state and horsemen get their cut. A busy table in the dining room generates more revenue.

The $2 minimum, which has otherwise been abandoned in New York except for the Pick 6, is another negative. If there is one thing that has been established beyond dispute it is that players have gravitated toward lower minimum multi-race bets. Fifty-cent Pick 3’s, which New York and California stubbornly refuse to adopt, regularly outhandle $2 Pick 6’s.

This is players voting with their wallets. Yet track managements are oblivious to the obvious.

NYRA's genuflecting to its partner in takeout and minimum is a product of Santa Anita not wanting to take part in a bet that offers players a better deal than the California norm. Next thing you know, they’ll expect such things on a regular basis. Can’t have that.

Racing Form’s priorities misplaced

The Daily Racing Form also ignores the needs and preferences of its customers. Its mission should be to serve the people who shell out $8 a copy ($9 off track). Instead it is more concerned with servicing the whims of race track operators.

The latest example is adopting the Gulfstream Park West initials, GPW, in past performances for races and workouts over the Calder track. It’s understandable Gulfstream would prefer to be identified by its more popular brand as it operates what used to be part of the Calder meet.

Bettors couldn’t care less about that. The identification of the racing surface is what’s crucial to handicapping. Either that or the expression “horses for courses” is meaningless.

So the switch from Gulfstream’s oval to the unique Calder surface is significant. That the Stronach Group is running the operation now matters not at all to the player trying to come up with the winner of the next race.

This isn’t an isolated occurrence. I was in a Las Vegas race book betting the tail end of the Santa Anita season a few years ago when I saw a symbol that was strange to me—BHP. There were a lot of West Coasters around, so I wondered aloud what it signified. “That’s the new initials for Hollywood Park,” a neighbor informed. Indeed, the new owners had chosen to adopt Betfair Hollywood Park as the track’s identity.

What’s next? NYRAB, CDFG, SGSA?

An owner can call a track anything he wants. But the Racing Form owes it to its customers to make its information as useful and understandable as possible. Initials that made Hollywood Park, one of America’s best known tracks, look like a training center and Calder appear to be Gulfstream is abdicating this obligation.

O’Neill case an outrage

The sweetheart deals negotiated by Doug O’Neill are a kick in the gut to fans alienated by the rampant drug abuse in racing and show that the lip service paid to cleaning up the game is nothing more than a public relations ploy.

O’Neill’s 45-day suspension in New York for his 19th medication violation became a farce when he was allowed to cut a deal to serve it following the Breeders’ Cup, the deadest zone of the year on the racing calendar.

The California Horse Racing Board compounded the travesty when it waived what should have been another 135 days for a major drug violation during the 18-month period O’Neill was on probation from a prior offense out West.

Instead, it let O’Neill off the hook with only a 45-day suspension. More infuriating, O’Neill will be allowed to serve the California penalty concurrently with New York’s. This translates to California effectively doing nothing.

Then you wonder why cheaters operate fearlessly.

Classic stakes increase as Wise Dan is sidelined

The stakes got higher for the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Monday. Two-time defending champion Wise Dan’s injured right ankle means there will be a new Horse of the Year and unless something totally unforeseeable occurs, it will be the winner of the Classic.

Shared Belief and California Chrome have the inside track. If either wins the Classic, he will be Horse of the Year. This was the case even before the injury to Wise Dan, the fallback choice if there was an upset in the Classic and he completed an undefeated season in the Mile.

Now there is no real fallback outside the Classic. The door is slightly ajar for Tonalist or Bayern. But it would take a super performance to turn the electorate. Winning a photo probably won’t be enough, although it would elevate anticipation of the outcome of the vote to more suspenseful than what is expected from the mid-term elections.

Written by Tom Jicha

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