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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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Blue Grass gets a huge boost; Wood not so fortunate

The Blue Grass Stakes and Wood Memorial are still smarting over their relegation to Grade 2 status. Their efforts to regain the top grade went in different directions last weekend. The presence of Eclipse winner Good Magic and Grade 1 winners Sporting Chance and Free Drop Billy injected luster into the Keeneland race, which was further enhanced by Good Magic's victory. The Wood put up an extra $250,000 to lure Grade 1 winners to New York but got only Firenze Fire, who is not the horse at 3 that he was at 2. It didn't help that he didn't hit the board. All NYRA has going for it now is the hope that Vino Rosso makes a major splash in the Triple Crown races.

The Derby trail isn’t important only to owners, trainers, jockeys and horses. Tracks have a vested interest in the results, too.

Keeneland and NYRA are striving mightily to regain their Grade 1 status. Keeneland might have come up a big winner Saturday. NYRA, not so much.

Breeders’Cup Juvenile and Eclipse champion Good Magic gave Keeneland a boost by showing up for the Blue Grass and a bigger boost by winnng convincingly. Two of the vanquished, Free Drop Billy and Sporting Chance, are Grade 1 winners. There were only six prior to the final round of preps. Bolt d’Oro, McKinzie and Firenze Fire were the others.

Audible and Justify joined the Grade 1 club in their final preps and McKinzie has gone to the sidelines. So the Blue Grass had more than half the available Grade 1 winners and a champion. The Graded Stakes Committee will have a hard time ignoring that. If Good Magic wins one of the Triple Crown races, the Blue Grass could be a Grade 1 again by next season.

In spite of its best efforts, NYRA was not so fortunate. The Wood did attract Firenze Fire but all he did was cost NYRA another $250,000 toward the purse, the bonus promised if a Grade 1 winner was in the field. He ran off the board and has become a trial horse for 3-year-olds who have progressed more than he has. He is on the bubble to even qualify to run in the Derby and will be in the area of 50-1 or more if he does go.

Three-year-olds can improve rapidly in the spring but unless Vino Rosso takes another big step forward and upsets one of the Triple Crown races, his victory might wind up hurting the Wood more than helping. He was so lightly regarded going into the race he wasn’t even included among the 23 horses in the final Kentucky Derby Futures pool.

Five of the nine horses he beat were eligible for an entry-level allowance. That’s not going to help the Wood’s case for regaining its top grade. A poor performance in the Derby and Vino Rosso’s Wood triumph gets relegated to “someone had to win.”

The restoration of Keeneland’s Grade 1 status would be a potential death blow for the Wood as a top level race. What used to be the showcase race of the entire Aqueduct year would be left as the only race in April that doesn’t have Grade 1 status. This could trigger a domino effect of owners and trainers going elsewhere. There certainly are sufficient options.

To be fair, the Blue Grass should not be elevated on the basis of one year. But fairness and common sense have never been a hallmark of the Graded Stakes Committee. On the other hand, politics always has and Keeneland is a powerful force in racing. NYRA is, too, but Keeneland has a case to make. Absent Vino Rosso going on to become best in class, NYRA doesn’t.

All this being said, I reiterate my oft-stated opinion that there should be no Grade 1 races for sophomores prior to the Derby other than the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Preps should not be put on the same plain as the main event.

Jack’s last chance

Derby fever leads horsemen to behave uncharacteristically.

Keith Desormeaux would rather not run My Boy Jack in Saturday’s last chance Lexington Stakes but his precarious position in the points pecking offer is forcing his hand. My Boy Jack, winner of the Southwest and third in the Louisiana Derby, has 32 points, which puts him 21st on the list. Chances are there will be defections among the top 20—there always are—but Desormeaux is taking no chances.

My Boy Jack is running Saturday after only a three-week break from the Fair Grounds race. Amazing, isn't it, that three-weeks is now considered a quick turnaround?

The Lexington awards 20 points to the winner and 8 to second—the same as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, as mind boggling as that is. Even a place would get My Boy Jack to 40 points, which is expected to be enough.

Desormeaux isn’t thinking about second. “If he can’t win the Lexington decisively, he doesn’t have any business in the Derby. These are serious, serious horses this year. The talent is off the charts.”

But his confidence in his horse knows no bounds, which is why he is so intent on making it to the big one in Louisville. “It’s going to be a lot of fun putting these horses down.”

Free Dutrow

I’m a hardliner when it comes to punishing cheaters. I don’t think 10-year bans, such as the one meted out to Richard Dutrow, is too draconian for serial offenses. I am appalled at the slap on the wrist given to Jorge “The Juice Man” Navarro.

Nevertheless, I have signed the petition ( to reduce Dutrow’s banishment to time served, which will be the better part of six years, if the petition drive is successful. I’m in heady company. Dale Romans started the petition and it has been signed by some titans of the sport; owners, trainers, jockeys and media.

To put Dutrow’s penalty into perspective consider this: the three men who engineered the infamous Fix Six in the 2002 Breeders’ Cup were given sentences of three years and a month, two years and a year and a day. I haven’t tracked how much time they actually did but under customary guidelines, it was substantially less than what the judge handed down.

The apparent attitudinal contradiction on my part derives from the shenanigans by NY regulators—perjury, alleged evidence planting, etc., which have been well documented by John Pricci on this site.

Also, I am still trying to figure out what was the worst offense allegedly committed by Dutrow. Since 1979 he has started more than 7,000 horses without any serious medication violations. Not one horse under his care has broken down on the track in 11 years.

The circumstances of his suspension defy belief and fair play. He was hit with an uncommonly severe 90-day suspension for two positives, one a therapeutic medication, which since has been made legal. He appealed to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, which apparently relished the opportunity to get him. It denied his appeal and increased the penalties to a 10-year ban and a $50,000 fine.

This is like appealing a running-a-stop-sign ticket and getting hard time.

As best I can figure, the problems the New York regulators have with Dutrow goes to his outspoken, brash personality. I don’t think the people who made taking him down an obsession ever forgave him for admitting he administered steroids to horses—at the time, perfectly legal—in the wake of the embarrassing Big Brown fiasco in the 2008 Belmont Stakes.

Even Dutrow’s most strident detractors concede he is a hell of a horsemen. But I am not naïve. Did he take edges? Possibly. Probably. Almost all do. The difference is when they get caught, they get closer to 10 days than 10 years.

Dutrow has suffered more than enough. This is why I signed the petition and urge others to do so.

Written by Tom Jicha

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