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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Friday, May 03, 2013


Orb is the pick to win the Kentucky Derby


A strong case can be made for a half-dozen horses to win the Kentucky Derby. A credible case can be mounted for seven or eight more. From here, the winner looks to be Orb, who came into his own this winter in Florida, where most of the winners of the preps got ready. A four-race winning streak since the distances were extended, Joel Rosario, the hottest rider around, in the saddle and old pro Shug McGaughey going for the race that is his lifelong dream makes the son of Malibu Moon the most likely winner.


MIAMI, May 3, 2013--The magic number turned out to be 10. That is all it took to sneak into the Derby through the back door. We've been speculating since last fall. It’s finally put up or shut up time for Kentucky Derby prognostication. I've liked Orb since the Florida Derby. Everything that's happened since, including a breath-taking final work at Churchill Downs has solidified this opinion.

Nevertheless a case can be made, pro and con, for almost everyone in the field. So here is the way I see the plusses and minuses, in my order of their likelihood of winning.

ORBPro: Four-for-four at a mile or more. Beat Violence and Itsmyluckyday when they were the most accomplished 3-year-olds in Florida. Distance breeding, Shug McGaughey and Joel Rosario complete the whole package. The pick.

Con: Three-for-three at Gulfstream; one-for-four elsewhere. Has to prove his outstanding form travels.

VERRAZANOPro: The most exciting Derby prospect since Curlin. Undefeated and has won over three distinct surfaces, so handling a fourth doesn’t figure to be a problem.

Con: Curlin looked like a superstar going into the Derby and became one after the Derby. But he didn’t win on the first Saturday in May. People like to make fun of the Apollo jinx but when something doesn’t happen in 125 years, there has to be a reason.

REVOLUTIONARYPro: Like Orb, he seems to have figured it out as a 3-year-old. Overcame a seemingly hopeless situation in the Withers and dug in courageously in the Louisiana Derby. That race was flattered when Departing, who ran third, romped in the Illinois Derby. Who’s better on a Derby closer than Calvin Borel?

Con: He has caused a lot of his own problems, not an encouraging tendency going into a 20-horse rodeo. Javier Castellano risked the wrath of main man Todd Pletcher to jump to Normandy Invasion.

GOLDENCENTSPro: Demonstrated in the Santa Anita Derby that the San Felipe was an aberration. Take that race away and his form is stellar. Doug O’Neill showed last year he knows how to win the one race everyone wants.

Con: Ten furlongs is a question mark but that can be said of all of them. O’Neill got the roses with an unheralded jockey last year. He tries to do it again with Kevin Krieger.

ITSMYLUCKYDAY—Pro: Plenty of foundation off 10 races, the most in the field. Until he ran into Orb in the Florida Derby, coming off a two-month layoff, he looked like the king of Florida’s hill. Take a look at how Gulfstream-based horses have done in the major preps.

Con: Orb ran right past him in the Florida Derby.

JAVA’S WARPro: His late-running score in the Blue Grass on Poly validated his stretch close at Verrazano on real dirt in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Con: Broke tardily in the Blue Grass and it wasn’t the first time. He can’t do that in a field with the quantity and quality he’ll encounter. Blue Grass on Poly has regressed as a Derby indicator.

NORMANDY INVASIONPro: Closed against the bias in the Wood and looked like he might have won if the race had been at the Derby distance. Castellano picked him over Revolutionary. Chad Brown is the next superstar trainer, if he isn’t already.

Con: Still has only a maiden win. Looked like he was going to win the Remsen, too, but didn’t. Might be one of those horses who constantly encourages “next time” hopes.

WILL TAKE CHARGEPro: Looked good running down Oxbow in the Rebel. Has D. Wayne Lukas calling the shots.

Con: He goes into the Derby off a seven-week layoff and has never been beyond a mile and a sixteenth.

OVERANALYZEPro: Showed grit and courage in winning the nine-furlong Remsen as a 2-year-old and the Arkansas Derby as a 3-year-old. Not many have two wins at mile and an eighth.

Con: In between the Remsen and Arkansas Derby, he was lackluster in the Gotham, which wasn’t overloaded with stars.

LINES OF BATTLE—Pro: He’s won at a mile and three sixteenths. None of the others can say that. One of these years, a Dubai shipper is going to get the job done. Aidan O’Brien knows how to get them ready.

Con: Only one prep and his winning time in Dubai might not have been fast enough to win the 1 ¼ Derby, which is about 110 yards longer. Two stakes wins came on kitty litter. Other win was on turf. Dubai shippers are zero-for-forever.

VYJACKPro: Has won on the lead and from out of the clouds, which he might have to do again starting from the No. 20 post. Remember, Secretariat ran third in the Wood.

Con: This is his first race away from Aqueduct. Lung infection after the Wood necessitated a pit stop at Fair Hill. His trainer, Rudy Rodriguez, is being watched closer than Lindsay Lohan.

BLACK ONYXPro: Has won on grass, real dirt and the Spiral on fake dirt. Last two scores were around two turns. Kelly Breen is one of America’s most under-rated trainers.

Con: Spiral triumph over Uncaptured was more impressive before juvenile standout fizzled so badly in the Blue Grass that his connections took him off the Derby trail. No. 1 post is a killer.

PALACE MALICE Pro: Five-for-six in the money, including a second in the Blue Grass and third in Risen Star.

Con: Still has only one win and couldn’t hold late stretch lead at 9 furlongs in the Blue Grass.

FRAC DADDY--Pro: Arkansas Derby placing could be a sign he’s returning to strong juvenile form. He's back on his favorite track.

Con: Buried twice at Gulfstream when facing division’s leaders.

MYLUTEPro: Solid second to Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby. Rosie Napravnik rides. The last time they teamed, Mylute won, beating Lexington runnerup General Election.

Con: No excuse when out gamed at the Fair Grounds. Sire was only a sprinter, although Baffert said it was because of breathing issues, not pedigree.

OXBOWPro: D. Wayne says this is one of the gutsiest horses he has ever trained. He’s due for a good trip after a succession of nightmares.

Con: Lukas talks up all his horses. It keeps owners invested. Might be over the top. No. 2 is only slightly less detrimental than the rail.

FALLING SKYPro: Looked good winning Sam F. Davis.

Con: Beaten by four Kentucky Derby foes in last two without really menacing.

CHARMING KITTEN--Pro: Almost always fires. Squeaked into field with third in the Blue Grass.

Con: Has never run on dirt. Superior grass runner would probably be one of the favorites in American Turf but the Ramseys want a horse in the Derby.

GOLDEN SOULPro: Mine That Bird won the Derby, so anything can happen.

Con: Has only maiden win.

Giant Finish: Pro:Second and third in Turfway stakes, which allowed him to be the last one to crash the party.

Con:This is all about serving the owners egos.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Friday, April 26, 2013


New Derby trend points to five potential winners


Verrazano will have to beat the jinx of Apollo--no horse has won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a juvenile in 125 years--but there is a more recent trend he will be bucking. The six most recent Derby winners have all gone into the Run for the Roses off only two preps as a 3-year-old. The most recent Derby winner with as many as the four starts Verrazano has made was Smarty Jones in 2004. If you're a believer, this narrows the list of potential winners to only five. (The Dubai shipper Lines of Battle, goes into the Derby with only one 2013 start.)

MIAMI, APRIL 26, 2013--Gary Mandella said something on HRTV last week that I found so shocking, it sent me immediately to my computer. Mandella has become as sharp an analyst as he is a trainer, so there was no reason to doubt him. But it was so surprising I had to see for myself.

Filling time during HRTV’s lead-up to the West Virginia Classic, Mandella was praising likely Kentucky Derby favorite Verrazano as “one of the most talented 3-year-olds in the country, no doubt about it.”

Then came the “but.” Mandella said he wasn’t as worried about the jinx of Apollo—no horse has won the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old in 125 years—as he was about Verrazano, who has made all four starts in 2013, bucking a more recent trend. “It has been six or seven years since a horse won the Derby off more than two preps (as a 3-year-old). I think that’s the most significant trend he’s bucking.”

Sure enough, the last horse to win the Derby off as many as three preps was Barbaro in 2006.

I’ll Have Another, Animal Kingdom, Super Saver, Mine That Bird, Big Brown and Street Sense were all making the third start of their 3-year-old campaigns when they captured the roses. The most recent Derby winner to have as many as four preps was Smarty Jones in 2004.

If you want to follow this trend, this year’s Derby came be narrowed down to five potential winners, with a case to be made for a sixth. Java’s War, Overanalyze, Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion and Mylute will each be making their third start of the year. Dubai shipper Lines of Battle will be making only his second start.

Upon reflection, this trend shouldn’t be shocking. Horses being handled extremely conservatively mirrors what is happening throughout the game as horses race fewer times each year. For the sake of the excitement Triple Crown prep season generates, I’m hoping one of the others wins, lest two preps become the new normal.


Pettiness denied Churchill Downs the opportunity to say, “In your face!” to the numerous detractors of the new Kentucky Derby qualifying points system (which included me).

One week from the Run for the Roses, the 20 who qualified for the May 4 running is pretty much the same group that would have faced the starter under the old earnings criteria.

Thanks to the exclusion of all races under a mile, there are no Trinnibergs to screw up the pace before throwing in the towel.

It might have been nice if there was a route to the Derby for an outstanding filly, such as Dreaming of Julia, Midnight Lucky or Eclipse champion Beholder. Then again, their connections knew the new rules and chose not to compete in any of the open preps with Derby points.

None of the likely starters have made the cut because of over-inflated earnings as a 2-year-old. Churchill Downs took a lot of heat for putting a race like the Delta Jackpot on a par with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. I still don’t think this is fair or just. In my opinion, the BC Juvenile should count for at least twice as much as any other 2-year-old race. But you can’t argue with the results.

Three horses from the Delta Jackpot—winner Goldencents, show horse Mylute and Itsmyluckyday, who ran sixth—are in the 2013 Derby. Amazingly, this is three more than emerged from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Everything was coming up roses (pun intended) for the new system until Departing demolished his foes in the Illinois Derby. The premier race of the Hawthorne season carried no Derby qualifying points because Churchill management doesn't get along with the owners of Hawthorne. Using the Derby qualification process as a club to settle extraneous scores is petty and vindictive.

Few objective observers could argue Departing is not deserving of one of the spots in the Derby starting gate. It’s not as if he jumped up from nowhere to win the Illinois Derby. In his prior start, he ran third in the Louisiana Derby behind Revolutionary, who will be one of the Kentucky Derby favorites, and Mylute, who also made the field. Prior to the Fair Grounds race, Departing won his first three career starts.

Departing is expected to jump on to the Triple Crown trail in the Preakness. It would be poetic justice if he embarrasses Churchill by outrunning all or most of the Derby horses, who go on to the second jewel.

Churchill should be embarrassed enough already to include the Illinois Derby in the qualifying process next year. But there is a chance that, instead, Churchill will double down.

If the South Florida confrontation between Gulfstream and Churchill-owned Calder comes to pass, Calder plans to move at least two of its major Derby age races—the Tropical Derby and Foolish Pleasure—into the heart of Triple Crown prep season.

Calder general manager John Marshall says the idea is these races will have Derby qualifying points attached to them. No problem there, unless it is at the expense of traditional Gulfstream preps such as the Florida Derby and Fountain of Youth.

The Illinois Derby is one thing. The Florida Derby, with its rich history of providing horses who distinguish themselves in the Triple Crown races, is an entirely different matter.

I doubt Churchill would risk tarnishing the Derby luster with an additional show of pettiness. Then again, I never thought I would hear Kentucky Derby attached to “Presented by Yum Brands.”


Written by Tom Jicha

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Friday, April 19, 2013


Derby trainer has cyber winner in Horse Races Now


Kenny McPeek, who has Blue Grass winner Java's War and Frac Daddy qualified for the Kentucky Derby, has created a website, Horse Races Now, which is a dream come true for racing fans. Everything to make every day a day at the races is available with a click on iPhones, iPads and other devices: entries, results and replays, as well as horse, trainer and jockey watches. Those are just some of the features accessible via a simple click. There are also links to advanced deposit wagering sites. The best part? Access to Horse Races Now is free now and McPeek says the business plan calls for it to always remain free.

MIAMI, April 19, 2013--The internet put the knowledge of the world at our fingertips. Kenny McPeek is using the technology to do the same for the world of horse racing.

McPeek, the veteran trainer whose Java’s War upset the Blue Grass last week and will join barn mate Frac Daddy in the Kentucky Derby on May 4, has created a website, Horse Races Now, which offers everything a racing fan might want except guaranteed winners. But all the tools are there to find more winners.

Horse Races Now makes every day a day at the races: workout reports; entries; live race video; results; video replays; even the winner’s circle ceremonies. All you have to do is activate the computer ap Horse at 84700. (Check out a demonstration video, hosted by McPeek, at http://www.horseracesnow.com.)

There are even horsey sound effects. If you’re tracking the activities of a horse, trainer or jockey, you’ll hear hooves striking the track when they work out or appear in the entries.

Fifteen minutes from post time at any track you designate, the call to the post sounds off.

As the start of a race in which you have indicated an interest approaches, Keeneland race caller Kurt Becker’s voice can be heard saying, “The horses are approaching the starting gate. They’re at the post.”

Official results produce the optimistic clang of a cash register.

When a video replay is posted, along with the chart, a horse’s whinny can be heard. Horse Races Now maintains an archive that allows previous starts to be reviewed for up to two years, according to McPeek.

If all you want is a workout report, they are accompanied by the click of a stopwatch.

Not everyone wants to walk around sounding like a character from “Guys and Dolls,” so all it takes is a click to kill the sound track, which can be reactivated with another click.

Nothing has been overlooked. There are even links to the most popular advanced deposit wagering sites. So if you learn a horse you have been following is running, you can click right over and make a bet.

The best part for players is it’s all free. (One exception is paid handicapping sites, such as the Ragozin Sheets. There is a link for those, too.)

Skeptics might scoff and figure this is a bait-then-pay lure to get you hooked before a regular fee is imposed. Not so, McPeek promises. He’s not a philanthropist. He does have a business plan to eventually generate revenue, which he is keeping under wraps for competitive reasons. But, he reiterated, it does not involve user fees. “Our goal is Horse Races Now will always be free to download and watch.”

Whatever profits McPeek eventually makes, he deserves. “We have been the Lewis & Clark of this expedition,” he said. “I have financed this on my own.”

The idea struck McPeek about three years ago. “I had some time to kill so I was channel surfing. I came upon something titled ‘Planet of the Aps.’ I Googled to see if there was an ap for horse racing. There weren’t any,” he said. “There were a massive number for other sports but nothing for horse racing.”

His reaction? “This is terrible.” “Someone needs to do something.”

You know the expression, “If you want something done, do it yourself.” McPeek is a subscriber.

He approached tech experts and inquired how much it might cost to develop what has become Horse Races Now. The initial quote was about $45,000. “My payroll is more than that,” he reasoned.

Alas, he quickly relearned the lesson that few things cost as little as the first estimate. “It turned into more than 20 times that,” he says. This isn’t a complaint. “It has been worth every dime.”

You would think the racing industry would be cheering him on. Check that. If you don’t know the racing industry, you would think it would be cheering him on.

“They put up repeated roadblocks. A lot of industry factions were opposed,” McPeek said. “They like things the way they are. They are absolutely dug in.”

McPeek persevered anyway. He got the site off the ground and now gets some form of cooperation from much of the industry. More than 90 tracks make their information and video available to Horse Races Now. McPeek is optimistic the day will come when Horse Races Now has so many followers that tracks will not be able to ignore it.

As if the fact that he will have two colts in the Kentucky Derby isn’t endorsement enough, McPeek says creating and establishing Horse Races Now has not detracted from his training. “I’ve been doing this for 28 years. I never forget that that is what’s really important. But I don’t play golf and I multi-task really well.”

He’s even got the cyber lingo down.


Written by Tom Jicha

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