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.

Most recent entries

Monthly Archives


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shared Belief is a gift to racing

Shared Belief could be the best thing to happen to racing in decades. He established his brilliance in devastating the Cash Call Futurity. He is a gelding, so he'll be around for a while. Best of all, he's partially owned by Jim Rome, who connects with the toughest demographic to reach, young males. But there is a caveat, or two.

MIAMI, Dec. 18, 2013—Christmas arrived early for thoroughbred racing. Shared Belief’s other-worldly dominance of the Cash Call Futurity makes him potentially the best thing to happen to the sport since the decade of champions in the ‘70s.

I concede I might be getting carried away by a young horse, who has run only three times, never on a conventional dirt track. But isn’t racing, especially when it comes to Derby-age colts, about dreaming the dream? Isn’t this what keeps owners spending and trainers getting up in the dark every morning?

It wasn’t only the breath-taking way Jerry Hollendorfer’s horse accelerated away from a field arguably of the caliber of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, although that would be plenty to get excited about. His 106 Beyer was about 11 lengths better than the 88 hung up by New Year’s Day in the BC Juvenile and Honor Code in the Remsen. The previous high for a 2YO was 102 by Havana, sprinting 5 ½ furlongs at Saratoga.

Often huge Beyer figs are achieved racing on an uncontested lead. Shared Belief did it the professional way. He sat off the pace, then most impressive of all, allowed Gary Stevens and Candy Boy to surge past him in a bold middle move before picking that rival up with contemptuous ease en route to an almost six-length triumph. You rarely see that kind of adaptability in a such a young horse.

The gelding by Candy Ride—2003 winner of the mile-and-a-quarter Pacific Classic--impressed the overseas gang at Timeform, too, according to HRTV's Zoe Cadman.They rate him at 124, a figure just below some of the world’s finest older horses and the best for any 2-year-old in the world in 2013.

Jeff Siegel, whose opinion is as respected as any public analyst in the nation, gushed, “He’s the best 2-year-old in the country, no question about it.”

But there’s so much more that makes Shared Belief a gift to racing. Near the top of the list is the fact that he’s a gelding. If he does live up to his enormous promise—a monstrous “if”-- he could be around for years as a major drawing card.

Toward that end and perhaps most significant in the big picture, the majority owner of Shared Belief is Jim Rome. The nationally syndicated radio host is the man among the toughest demographic to reach, young males. He’s the unofficial arbiter of cool. If “Romey” thinks racing is something to get excited about, it is. You think Rome will be talking much about the spring classics the next few months?

Rome is on an extraordinary hot streak. He bought a piece of Mizdirection and she won a couple of Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprints. But it’s hard to spend a lot of time talking about an older filly racing abbreviated distances on grass. The Derby trail is another matter. Every major prep, no matter where it is contested, takes on importance as it relates to Shared Belief.

Rome is too savvy a pro not to appreciate football, basketball and baseball are where he has to live. But even a few minutes of Derby talk every now and then will be more valuable than all of the racing intensive networks, which are essentially preaching to the choir.

One caveat: As effusively as I have been praising Shared Belief, I’m not sure I can write his name down on my Eclipse ballot as outstanding juvenile. In a vacuum, his credentials are impeccable, three-for-three, including a Grade 1 and a Grade 3. The other serious contender, New Year’s Day, has a maiden win and the Grade 1 BC Juvenile. The latter is the race designed to settle the issue and Shared Belief wasn’t there.

But this isn’t what gives me pause. All three of Shared Belief’s wins have been on artificial surfaces. The word that keeps jumping into my head is Dullahan. He won three Grade 1’s—the Breeders’ Futurity, the Blue Grass and the Pacific Classic. By those standards, he should be considered one of the standouts of recent years. But all three were on synthetic tracks. On real dirt, he was just a horse, with the arguable exception of a someone-had-to-be-third in the 2012 Kentucky Derby.

The continued failure of winners of major Keeneland stakes to duplicate their championship form on mainstream tracks is another red flag.

Corey Nakatani says he has no doubt Shared Belief will handle dirt. But what would you expect him to say? You know the old expression about never counting on a horse to do something he has never done before.

It might be time for the Eclipse Awards to have a separate category for synthetic achievements, just as there is for turf. However, I don’t expect much momentum to gather for this idea. With Hollywood Park closing this weekend, Del Mar and the short Keeneland sessions will be the only venues where more than one or two significant races are contested on artificial surfaces.

I wish there was a future bet on the Blue Grass. I’d tap out on Shared Belief. But until he establishes that he is the same star on real dirt that he is on the waxed stuff, judgment has to be reserved. This includes the Eclipse vote.

I’m going to have to think hard on this one.

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (0)


Friday, December 13, 2013

Grading Committee’s work is indefensible

The American Grading Committee treats Keeneland like a sacred cow while downgrading Calder's only Grade 1, the Princess Rooney, despite a stellar roster of competitors and winners. Its timing is also bad, doing this while elevating three Gulfstream stakes.

The American Graded Stakes Committee is the latest to kick Calder while it’s down.

The Princess Rooney, Calder’s only Grade 1 and the centerpiece of the Summit of Speed, has been downgraded to Grade 2. This arbitrary act is totally unjustifiable by traditional standards. The only conclusion is other considerations came into play. Draw your own conclusions.

Let’s look at the five most recent renewals of the Princess Rooney. Starship Truffles, winner of this past summer’s Princess Rooney, is the weakest of the bunch, a filly who got good at the perfect time. But runnerup Judy the Beauty came out of it to win the Turf Club of America and run second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

The Princess Rooney’s 2012 winner, Musical Romance, entered it as champion of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Prior to her win at Calder, Musical Romance ran second to Eclipse winner Groupie Doll in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff. Groupie Doll came out of that race to win three more stakes in a row, including the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

Sassy Image, the 2011 Princess Rooney winner, came into it after taking the Winning Colors and Humana Distaff, in which Musical Romance was second. Also trailing Sassy Image home was Champagne D’Oro, who had Grade 1 wins in the Test and Acorn.

The 2010 winner, Jessica Is Back, rebounded with a third in the Grade 1 Ballerina. The show horse in that Princess Rooney, Dubai Majesty, won three of her next four, including the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

Game Face, who captured the 2009 Princess Rooney, next won the Honorable Miss at Saratoga. Prior to the Calder race, she had taken a couple of other graded stakes.

So in five years, the Princess Rooney has one less than stellar winner. If this necessitates a drop in grade, there would be scores of downgrades every year, not the 11 overall in the latest rankings, two from Grade 1.

Not one Hollywood Park stakes has been downgraded even though it is unknown which will even be contested in 2014.

Moreover, never let it be said that there are no sacred cows in racing. Not a single Keeneland race has been touched even though its roster of stakes winners is almost weightless since the track installed an artificial surface.

Nothing illustrates this better than the Blue Grass. Once a leading Kentucky Derby prep, its first three finishers over the past five years have been (2013) Java’s War, Palace Malice, Charming Kitten; (2012) Dullahan, Hansen, Gung Ho; (2011) Brilliant Speed, Twinspired, King Congie; (2010) Stately Victor, Paddy O’Prado, First Dude; (2009) General Quarters, Holdmeback, Massone.

Dullahan is the only winner to take another race of consequence, the Pacific Classic, also on a synthetic track, just as his only victory before the Blue Grass, the Breeders’ Futurity, was on fake dirt. Maybe it's time for a new category, Grade 1 Synthetic, just as we have Grade 1 Turf.

For the record, the Breeders’ Futurity and its filly counterpart, the Alcibiades, are two additional Grade 1 Keeneland stakes with a lackluster parade of winners, especially on dirt, since the track changed surfaces.

Palace Malice came out of this past spring’s Blue Grass to win the Belmont and Jim Dandy and finish second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

That’s pretty much it. Java’s War has not won another race. Brilliant Speed won a turf stakes. Stately Warrior won the Ontario Derby, also on kitty litter. General Quarters won the Woodford Reserve on turf.
The other Blue Grass in-the-money finishers have faded into obscurity. Yet nothing at Keeneland gets touched by the Graded Stakes Committee. Indefensible.

While the Graded Stakes Committee was giving the back of its hand to Calder, it was rewarding Gulfstream with the elevation of three stakes from Grade 3 to Grade 2—the Sabin, Holy Bull and Swale.
A cynic might interpret this as another segment of the racing industry picking sides in the ongoing conflict between the two South Florida tracks. However, two of the three Gulfstream stakes inarguably merited a kick upstairs. It's just the timing that raises eyebrows.

The last three Sabins have been won by Royal Delta and Awesome Maria twice. Enough said.

The Holy Bull went last winter to multiple stakes winner Itsmyluckyday, who went on to run second in the Florida Derby and Preakness. Algorithms, considered the leader of his generation until he was injured, got the money in 2012. Dialed In went on to win the Florida Derby in 2011.

The Swale is more of a borderline call. If it was going to be raised, it should have been last year, after Trinniberg went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, in addition to the Bay Shore and Woody Stephens.

This past spring’s winner, Clearly Now, has only a first in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler since, although he has been stakes-placed four other times.

The Swale’s case weakens when 2011 is included. Travelin Man’s subsequent credentials include only the ungraded Sir Shackleton twice and an allowance, all at Gulfstream.

Raising the Swale to Grade 2, now the same level as the Princess Rooney, gives ammunition to cynics who interpret it as another segment of the racing industry picking sides in the Battle of South Florida.

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (2)


Saturday, December 07, 2013

Out-of-towners enjoy a big day in South Florida

Eleven stakes races were run Saturday in South Florida, the eight Claiming Crown events at Gulfstream as well as a pair of Grade 3's and a listed stakes at Calder. It was the most ever in one day in South Florida and shippers dominated, winning eight of them.

MIAMI, Dec. 7, 2013--People come to the Miami area for the sun and surf. Horses from all over the East and Midwest came for the cash on Saturday, the biggest stakes day ever in terms of numbers.
Eleven added-money races, eight Claiming Crown heats at Gulfstream and two Grade 3’s and a listed stakes at Calder were the most ever in one day locally. South Florida based horses generally do well in these situations. Not Saturday. Horses shipping in took home the money eight times.

It didn’t seem as if this was going to be the case early on. The first two Claiming Crown events, the Iron Lady and Glass Slipper, were won by Carolina Lizard and Centrique, respectively. Both had made their most recent starts at Calder.

Carolina Lizard was the day’s shocker at 35-1. If you had the presence of mind to use her in Gulfstream’s one-day-only, 10-cent Ultimate Eight, it wasn’t that difficult to come up with the rest for a $60,000 payoff.

The longest prices in the rest of the sequence were a pair of 5-1 shots. Three odds-on horses did their jobs as well as 8-5 and 7-2 shots.

Marty Wolfson, who’s lethal in South Florida stakes, ran 1-2 in the Glass Slipper but that was it for the home team at Gulfstream.

John Henry will always be the claim of the ages but Ribo Bobo is a 21st century version. Claimed by Jason Servis for $6,250 last March, the same price he had lost him for one race previously, Ribo Bobo won for the 10th time in 11 starts in 2013 in the Express. His only loss was in his most recent start at Penn National when he was beaten by multiple stakes winner Ben’s Cat.

Only someone having the kind of year Ken Ramsey is enjoying could win a pair of $125,000 stakes and have it described as a disappointing afternoon. Ramsey led Deanaallen’skitten, last seen at Aqueduct, into the winner’s circle for the Tiara and Major Marvel, who had won his sixth in a row at Churchill Downs, for the Emerald.

But this was only half as many as a year ago, when he won four Claiming Crown races and had a second and third in two others.

Ramsey tried to one-up himself with five starters but his Be Brave ran sixth behind Parx shipper Goodtimehadbyall in the Rapid Transit; Brother Bird was a distant seventh in the Iron Horse won by Indiana ship-in Point Finish and Bernie the Maestro was a disappointing sixth as the favorite in the Jewel, won by Aqueduct shipper Nevada Kid, ridden by Luis Saez. Earlier in the afternoon Saez had won the Fred W. Hooper with Csaba at Calder eight miles to the west.

Csaba saved the day for the locals as Speaking of Which, coming in from the Big A, and Valiant Girl, last seen at Keeneland, took the Tropical Turf Handicap and My Charmer, respectively.

For Csaba it was his ninth win in 12 Calder starts, including all three this year. "He’s a monster here,” jubilant trainer Phil Gleaves said.

You think?

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (3)


Page 34 of 54 pages « FirstP  <  32 33 34 35 36 >  Last »