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, June 04, 2013

A fan-friendly platform for a would-be racing czar

The idea of a racing czar to rule the sport nationally is not going to happen. Tracks and local jurisdictions will never surrender their power. But as long as people like the ivory tower crowd at The New York Times want to daydream about a strong, central leader for racing, there are fan-friendly fixes that should be at the top of the czar's agenda. The best thing about this to-do list is almost all of them require nothing more than some common sense by racetrack management and could be put into place immediately.

MIAMI, June 4, 2013—Tears for Fears was a bit off with their hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

Response to my recent column on the likelihood of a racing czar, which was suggested in The New York Times, was as passionate and divided as some of the debates in Washington. A sizable segment of the racing community wants someone, anyone to rule their world.

It might be an appealing thought but it's as undoable as creating Utopia. Too many insurmountable obstacles are in the way to have it come to fruition. First and foremost is the plethora of individual racetracks and jurisdictions, which will never surrender their power.

With the comfort of knowing a racing czar is a pipedream, I have the ideal candidate—Me.

Fans would be my win, place and show considerations. Without them, racing is polo, a costly hobby for the rich ignored by the masses.

The best part of my candidacy is the edicts I would issue are actually easily accomplished. Well, maybe not the first one, but all the others.

A sport without stars is like an album without a hit single. Only the hardcore pay attention. Racing needs its stars to stay on the track at least through their 4-year-old campaigns. I would urge (or if I were really the czar, order) the Jockey Club not to register foals conceived by a stallion before he was 5.

Thoroughbreds generally live into their 20s, or close to it. Surrendering one breeding season for the good of the game isn’t asking too much in light of how it could enhance interest in the sport. The healthier racing is, the more everyone, including breeders, benefits.

NYRA’s rule on one part of a coupled entry being scratched after betting has begun would be adopted nationwide. That is, the other part of the entry is considered scratched, too, and runs for purse money only.

Florida bettors continue to be regularly screwed because Calder and Gulfstream refuse to bend on this issue. The latest example came in Calder’s 10th race on June 1. Trainer Stanley Gold had a coupled entry, Hand Picked and It’s a Done Deal. Hand Picked threw his rider and ran off as the field was being loaded. He was properly ordered scratched.

It’s impossible to know which of Gold’s horses fans had made the 2-1 favorite--maybe some just wanted strength in numbers--but they were stuck with It’s a Done Deal, who drifted up to 7-2. It would have taken Olympic speed to get to a window or SAM to cancel the ticket.

But there were also multi-race tickets involved. Those holding them had no opportunity to change and were SOL when It's a Done Deal was soundly thrashed.

A similar situation happened on a Sunday at Gulfstream this winter with a Frank Calabrese entry, in which what seemed to be the much stronger half was scratched. The one that did run finished up the track.

There is no excuse for the Florida tracks (and any others with the same policy) to not have adopted the NYRA rule yesterday.

Another NYRA practice, posting multi-race will-pays immediately after the just run race payoffs, also should be adopted anywhere it isn’t.

The Southern California tracks are the worst. Try to decide your options to “save” when you have to sit through post-race interviews, replays, promos for the next food truck day, commercials for area restaurants and all other manner of extraneous crap before the potential payoffs are posted. There were occasions at Santa Anita this winter when they weren’t up until inside five minutes to post.

NYRA has areas it can improve, too, starting with posting all payoffs based on $2 bets. Only a fool bets $2 Pick 4’s or Pick 3’s, because of the tax implications. In fact, there should be an advisory in track programs that as long as the confiscatory IRS tax grab persists bettors should buy the least expensive multi-race combinations allowed. Those who want to bet more per combination have the option of multiple tickets.

In harmony with this, payoffs should be posted according to what the minimum wager is (with the exception of win-place-show for tradition’s sake). If you can bet a 50-cent Pick 3 or Pick 4, the payoff based on that should be displayed. For bets with a $1 minimum, the single buck payoff should be the norm.

Multi-tasking is in vogue but it shouldn’t come into play when watching races. New York, Southern California and Florida in the winter/Kentucky in the spring and fall, should never spring the gate on a race until one in progress at another of the big three has been decided.

The number of tracks operating, especially in the warm weather months, makes it impossible to avoid all conflicts. But the big three are where most of the simulcast money is bet. Players shouldn’t have to go cross-eyed trying to follow two races at once.

At least three times on a Saturday last winter, Santa Anita’s first race of a Pick Six with a huge carryover was run simultaneous to a graded stakes at Gulfstream. The two tracks are owned by the same person, Frank Stronach.

This would be as much in the tracks’ interest as the fans. Research has shown substantially more is bet when there is spacing between simulcast races.

Only extreme provincialism and contempt for the bettors allow this to happen. The officials who can order a race held a minute or two have access to the same TV monitors as fans, so there is no excuse. If I were Stronach, who has shown zero hesitance to fire people, the first time would have brought a warning not to let this happen again. The second time would have brought a pink slip. I’ll bet there wouldn’t have been a third time.

Picking a winner is so challenging that even the sharpest handicappers are right only about a third of the time. Stewards would be instructed never to disqualify a horse, who committed an infraction that didn’t change the final placings. To anyone who says, “How would you know?” this is no more a judgment call than deciding if a disqualification is warranted.

The most disheartening situation for a player is to see his selection win easily, only to be taken down for crossing over too soon or bumping a rival en route to an easy win when the “fouled” horse holds on for second. Disheartened fans can easily become former fans.

A simple remedy exists. Fine the offending jockey the amount he made for riding the winner and strip the win from his record. This is what would have happened with a DQ anyway and you don’t have disgruntled fans.

This is only the start of my platform. I’m sure you have ideas, too. Fire away.

Written by Tom Jicha

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