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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Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Now the world knows how incompetent the Santa Anita stewards are

Southern California horse players have been aware for years how incompetent and inconsistent the stewards are. Now the whole world knows.If Bayern didn't deserve to be disqualified from his Breeders' Classic win, they might as well adopt the greyhound model and make each race official as soon as the horses cross the wire.

MIAMI, Nov. 4, 2014--Ron Nicoletti, who does the closed circuit handicapping at Gulfstream East and West, likes to joke that he’s going to write a book on his bad beats titled, “DQ’ed at the Dog Track.”

For those who have never been to the greyhound races, getting taken down would be the ultimate bad beat. Disqualifications are not part of the game. Greyhounds can bite, jump on and knock competitors over the rail with impunity. The order of finish is the official result.

Just like at Santa Anita.

The two worst non-disqualifications I have witnessed in a lifetime at the track both happened at The Great Race Place. Coincidentally, horses trained by Bob Baffert were the beneficiaries in both. (Lest anyone think this is sour grapes, I cashed in both instances.)

One was leaving up Game on Dude in the 2011 Big Cap after Chantal Sutherland allowed her horse to “shift out”—Trevor Denman’s words, not mine—and knock Twirling Candy sideways into Setsuko, who recovered to miss by only a nose.

That was the all-time worst in my experience until Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. There are incidents out of the starting gate, which are generally tolerated, and there is what Martin Garcia did aboard Bayern. Breaking from No. 7, Garcia let (encouraged) Bayern take a sharp left hand turn, which took out half the field. Garcia made no effort to straighten his mount as they made a diagonal beeline toward the rail. This is what separated it from a commonplace incident out of the gate.

Among the most compromised were undefeated Shared Belief and Moreno, who represented a serious pace threat to Bayern. Eric Guillot, the motor-mouth trainer of Moreno, is fond of saying that any horse in front of his colt early is going too fast. Without Moreno to prod him on the front end, Bayern didn’t need to worry about going too fast.

And with Shared Belief getting ping-ponged because of what Garcia and Bayern did and, to a lesser extent, eventual place horse Toast of New York blasting him a few strides later, Shared Belief’s chances were severely diminished. But the stewards determined none of this figured into the outcome.

Richard Migliore, who has developed into as much a talent analyzing and commenting on races as he was riding in them, was adamant on the Players feed that Bayern had to come down. Like many sweating out the decision, he was astonished when the stewards allowed the finish to stand.

There must be different rules for the fifth race on a Wednesday than there are for the Breeders’ Cup, The Mig said. He added the observation that the stewards’ non-action might encourage riders to take dangerous liberties out of the gate in the future.

The stewards’ explanation was a classic (no pun intended) cover your ass exercise. “When the contact occurred at the start, according to the rules, we thought (Shared Belief) was not cost a better placing,” Kim Sawyer said.

Not only was Shared Belief sawed off by Bayern as he was trying to get into stride, he was thwarted again when Toast of New York crossed over and forced him to check. But Sawyer and her cohorts ruled that neither incident cost Shared Belief, who had never had a horse finish in front of him in seven lifetime starts, a better placing.

In a statement released later through the California Horse Racing Board, Sawyer’s colleague Scott Chaney doubled down. “The incident occurred in a part of the race where the horses interfered with were not cost the opportunity to place where they were reasonably expected to finish.”

Amazing! Less than a furlong into a mile and a quarter race, the stewards knew exactly where every horse was reasonably expected to finish. Chaney stuck to this interpretation in a press conference Sunday.

The incompetence and inconsistency of the Santa Anita stewards has long been a burning issue on the West Coast. Now it has been exposed to the world.

The outcome of stewards’ inquiries at Southern California tracks has become the equine equivalent of Las Vegas boxing decisions. Favored sons are treated remarkably well despite what fans see with their own eyes. Is anyone more a favored son of California racing than Baffert?

This is one more reason why anchoring the Breeders’ Cup in Southern California should not even be seriously discussed. Inasmuch as the Breeders’ Cup will be back in Southern California for at least two more renewals after a detour to Keeneland next fall, it is time to consider a change in the stewards stand for future editions.

Like boxing has started to do, outside judges should be imported, maybe one from the East Coast and another from the South or Midwest to serve with a hometown representative. Divers perspectives might result in more equitable decisions.

As unacceptable as the call by the Santa Anita stewards was, it was even more infuriating that Chaney said the decision was unanimous. Of course it was. These three people spend all day every day with each other. No way are they going to publicly disagree on such a controversial issue.

It would have been close to impossible to randomly pluck any three people from the Santa Anita grandstand or the television audience and get a unanimous decision that Bayern deserved to be left up.

Bayern got the money but he might become collateral damage of the outrageous decision. There were headlines Sunday morning that Bayern had put himself into position to be voted the Eclipse Award as 3-year-old champion.

I doubt it. I’m not sure Bayern would be the favorite for the Eclipse even if he had won on the square. The Classic was his second Grade 1 triumph. California Chrome has three Grade 1’s and one of them is the Kentucky Derby, the only event that dwarfs the Classic in prestige and importance.

Throw in the backlash triggered by the way Bayern won and not even the Santa Anita stewards could find a way to put him on top.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Goldencents makes his bid for a title

Goldencents lived up to his odds-on favoritism in the BC Dirt Mile but he had to gut it out the length of the stretch to get it done. Will this be enough to overcome Palace Malice for best older horse? Earlier, Wesley Ward got off his Breeders' Cup schneid in a big way, finishing first and second with Hootenanny and Luck of the Kitten in the Juvenile Turf.

It didn't take long for the Breeders' Cup to produce an Eclipse controversy.

Goldencents' incredibly game win in the Dirt Mile stakes his claim for best older horse, a prize pretty much conceded to Palace Malice on the strength of his four graded stakes wins. The Mile was only the second stakes win of 2014 for Goldencents but it was the big one.

Palace Malice still boasts coming out on top the only time the two met, in the Metropolitan Mile. But that was in June and we've seen on many occasions that what have you done for me lately becomes a deciding factor. What's more, the Met Mile was Palace Malice's only Grade 1 and now Goldencents has him tied in that category.

It didn't look like that was going to be the case at the top of the Santa Anita stretch. Going into the weekend, Goldencents loomed the most probable winner of the two days. With a quarter mile to go, those who took the 3-5 probably would have taken a penny on the dollar.

Johnny Velazquez uncharacteristically opted to go on a kamikaze mission aboard Vicar's in Trouble. They went the quarter in 22:06 and the half in 44.80, ridiculous fractions on a track that wasn't the paved highway Santa Anita often is on big days.

Vicar's in Trouoble was gone by midway down the backstretch and wound up getting vanned off, an exhausted horse. But Goldencents didn't get much of a breather as Tapiture charged at him on the turn. But Goldencents dug in and Tapiture never really gained a step on him, even though Goldencents had a bad case of the wobbles in final eighth.

Pants On Fire got up for third without ever menacing the top two. Good for Chilean Bronzo, who grabbed fourth place money.

Untapable clinches title

There's no question who the 3-year-old filly champion is. Untapable settled that beyond question by overcoming a 3- and 4-wide trip to capture the Distaff, catching Iotapa in the stretch, then holding off late-running Don't Tell Sophia.

The latter might have grabbed the older female title with her second, as Close Hatches threw in her second straight clunker.

Depending on what happens Saturday, a case could be made for Unbtapable as Horse of the Year. The Distaff was her sixth win, which includes the Kentucky Oaks, in seven starts. The only blemish was a fifth in the Haskell against colts on a day when no one was going to beat Bayern on the speed-biased New Jersey track.

Untapable's win tied a nice bow around Steve Asmussen's year, which has been mired in controversy that he really had nothing personal to do with.

Ward kills the duck with elan

The Juvenile Turf created another controversy, although not one of much consequence. Is Hootenanny, who outgamed Luck of the Kitten, a Euro or on Uncle Sam's squad?

The son of Quality Road is a Kentucky bred and made his first two starts in America. Then Wesley Ward took him to Europe, where he won at Ascot then ran second in a Group 1 in France.

In any case, Hootenanny and Luck of the Kitten, both trained by Ward, ended the trainer's 0 for 17 schneid with style. Ward can be proud of the job he did with both. Luck of the Kitten, who went in with two wins and two seconds on four different tracks played catch me if you can from the start and it took everything Hootenanny had to get him in the closing yards. None of the others ever reached serious contention.

The fans had no faith. Hootenanny was the 3-1 morning line favorite but when the gate opened, he was double that price. You won't see 6-1 again on Hootenanny any time soon.

U.S. 1-2 in Juvenile Fillies Turf

Maybe the Euro turfers aren't that superior this year.Lady Eli led a 1-2 sweep for Team America in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Lady Eli, bided her time stalking dueling pace-setters. For a moment or two on the backstretch, it appeared she might get trapped but Irad Ortiz stayed patient and waited for his oppoortunity. It came as the field turned into the stretch when Sunset Glow drifted out and opened the rail. Lady Eli exploded up the fence and galloped away to a facile score.

The Chad Brown-trained colt ruined Wesley Ward's bid to sweep the two grass events on Friday. Ward's Sunset Glow, who also had a trip to England this summer, hung on gamely for the place.

Osalia saved face for the foreigners getting up for third.

There's no telling how good Lady Eli might be. The Fillies Turf was her third straight win and she had tough trips in her first two wins in New York. Maybe she had a dream trip like Friday's coming to her..

Written by Tom Jicha

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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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