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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Sunday, December 09, 2018

Baffert counters Chad with a huge afternoon

Chad Brown and Bob Baffert are in a two-man race for the top trainer Eclipse. Chad surged last weekend with three Grade 1 wins. Bullet Bob countered Saturday with a pair of Grade 1 wins, running one-two in the first of them and one-three in the other. Baffert's Game Winner is
a sure Eclipse winner but Cash Call Futurity winner Improbable is picking up backers every time out. It also was a big day for family ties. American Pharoah's kid sister Chasing Yesterday overcame a brutal trip in the Starlet to run her record to four-for-five.

Chad Brown made a strong statement in support of his bid for a third consecutive Eclipse a week ago. He went out to California and swept a pair of Grade 1’s. For good measure, he added the Grade 1 Cigar Mile back home.

Bob Baffert, who took a Grade 3 in NY last Saturday, responded emphatically Saturday. He sent out runners to not only win 2018’s final Grade 1’s for juveniles, he ran one-two in the Cash Call Futurity and one-three in the Starlet.

The Cash Call is Baffert’s personal ATM. He’s won the last five. Game Winner has a lock on the Juvenile Eclipse but there are more than a few people who feel Cash Call winner Improbable might be his equal or better. Improbable was as impressive as Game Winner in galloping off with a minor stakes on the Breeders’ Cup Day of Stars undercard.

Saturday he gave additional credence to those assessments. The son of City Zip—perhaps the only reason to hesitate when projecting to the first Saturday in May—totally dominated his opposition, drawing off by 5. To be fair, he galloped out as if the Belmont distance won’t be an issue.

The only colt to offer mild resistance was his stablemate Mucho Gusto, who set the pace but gave way as if he were a workout target. This is not to disparage his ability. Given good health, there are Derby trail stakes with his name on them.

With the likes of Coliseum, touted as potentially the best of the barn, Roadster and a dozen more debut winners waiting their turn to shine, it’s not a crazy fantasy to envision Baffert starting the favorite in all five of the final 100-point Derby qualifiers.

Here’s another scary thought. At this point last year, Baffert seemed equally loaded—McKinzie, Solomini, et al--and no one had yet heard of Justify. The way Bullet Bob has been rolling out juvenile monsters, who knows what is still in the barn waiting to be unveiled.

Improbable was dominant but American Pharoah’s kid sister Chasing Yesterday was almost as impressive given the circumstances of her Starlet score. She was forced four wide around both turns.
Baffert said he didn’t think she could win off this trip. But she had enough guts and class to wear down a pair of game front-runners, Enaya Airabb and stablemate Mother Mother, who weren’t stopping.

New Grade 1 winner Chasing Yesterday is now four-for-five, the blemish coming at Saratoga. Maybe there’s something about the Spa that doesn’t agree with this family.

Viva Mexico, viva Gulfstream

Gulfstream can do no wrong. It took the Claiming Crown, a laudable concept that was on the verge of extinction, and turned it into a first-rate event. For an encore, it invited the Classico Internacional del Caribe to South Florida last year and it became a smash, as much a happening as a series of races featuring unknown horses to local bettors. Saturday, it came back and topped itself with $9.67 million in handle, up 9 percent from last year.

The strangers from nine nations put on quite a show. Mexican Triple Crown winner Kukulkan romped to his 14th win in a row in the feature, the Classico del Caribe. Without hardly breaking a sweat he got home by more than 10 lengths in the race billed as the Kentucky Derby of Latin America.

His stablemate in the Fausto Gutierrez barn, Jala Jala, who beat males in the Classico a year ago, became the first of her gender to add the Copa Confraternidad, a race also open to both genders, the following year. She appeared to be toying with her opposition as Irad Ortiz eased her home almost five lengths the best.

This is just one more example of how the notion that fillies are the weaker sex is preposterous and (dare I say it?) sexist. Enable in Europe, Winx Down Under, Almond Eyes in Japan and now Mexico’s Jala Jala; why can't America get it?

The way Kukulkan and Jala Jala were too much for their opposition you had to wonder how they would fare against first-rate competition in the U.S. Judging from their times, not very well. Kukulkan required 1:54.80 to get a mile and an eighth. Jala Jala took 2:08.46 to negotiate 10 furlongs. This is claiming horse time.

But as one of HRI’s cherished commentators likes to point out, they pay off on results, not style points.

Gulfstream general manager Bill Badgett was justifiably elated with everything about the day and said he hopes the Classico comes back to Gulfstream again some time.

Why not? Like the Claiming Crown, it is a day of nominal stakes races without having to dip into the genuine stakes pool, which will be taxed by Gulfstream’s ambitious program of added-money events.

There’s also the Ugly American factor to consider. The Classico program is cherished throughout the Latin American racing world because it is their big day. Too many trips to the U.S. could sour this affection..

Written by Tom Jicha

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