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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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Cal stewards take forever to make the wrong call

Stewards are paid to make decisions. It shouldn't take 20 minutes to scrutinize video and make a call, as it did in the San Felipe. What did they see in minute 19 that they didn't see in minute 12 or minute 7? The mere fact that it took so long is argument enough that what happened on the race track should have been left "as is." This is merely the most recent embarrassment to come out a Southern California stewards stand. Something has to be done and it shouldn't take 20 minutes to do it. They have to go.

If Santa Anita’s stewards are fired--as they should have been a long time ago--there is a natural landing spot for them. They could go to work for Robert Mueller, the only man in America procrastinating longer before making a decision.

This is not a political statement. I don’t have the facts the special counsel does. However, isn’t it time he do something one way or the other?

I and everyone else who watched the San Felipe does have all that is necessary to make a call on the disqualification of McKinzie. It was a horrible call, especially given the significance of the race. There was minimal contact in the final strides. Neither horse was knocked off stride. Both riders continued to go all out. There was more substantial contact initiated by Bolt d’Oro at the head of the stretch, which mitigated anything that occurred in the closing yards.

The fact that the stewards took 20 minutes is all that is necessary to amplify that this was too close to call, which should have led to a no call.

I have long argued that unless there is what the NFL calls clear and incontrovertible evidence, no action should be taken. This was the case in the San Felipe. If there was clear and incontrovertible evidence, the stewards could have come to a decision in a minute or three. You look at the pan once or twice, you check the head-on a couple of times and if you don’t see indisputable evidence a horse has been wronged, what happened on the track should stand “as is.”

Fortunately, the San Felipe, as important as it was, was merely a stepping stone toward Kentucky. Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie could meet again in the Santa Anita Derby, although a justifiably miffed Baffert said the DQ might lead to him going out of town with McKinzie.

Although it was said in the heat of the moment, this seems more than a little disingenuous. Baffert is based at Santa Anita. Is he going to declare a jihad against the track and take the whole operation elsewhere. Of course not. One horse is not a statement.

But in the case of McKinzie, it makes sense to avoid another gut-busting showdown with what is now the No. 1 ranked colt in the land. A second race like the San Felipe could drain the tanks of both of them before they get to the most important race of their lives. There is not another prep anywhere in which McKinzie would not be an odds-on favorite.

Moreover, Baffert has to find a final prep for Justify, who dazzled again in his entry level allowance tour de force Sunday. But he still has zero Derby points. This means the latest challenger to the curse of Apollo has to finish no worse than second wherever he goes.

Under the circumstances, it might seem foolhardy to stay home and take on the top colt in the land in the Santa Anita Derby. But Baffert still doesn’t fully know what he really has and he has one last chance to find out. If Bolt d’Oro is too much for Justify on April 7, he probably will be too much for him on May 5.

If Justify can’t finish at least second in what doesn’t figure to be a star-studded field beyond Bolt d’Oro, he doesn’t belong in Louisville.

Baffert still would have McKinzie and probably Solomini, who will be heavily favored in the Rebel on Saturday. This affords the trainer the opportunity to regroup with Justify and take the late summer Arrogate-West Coast route the rest of the year.

Elsewhere, the Kentucky Jockey Club looks more and more like the key race of 2017. Quip in the Tampa Bay Derby and Enticed in the Gotham became the fourth and fifth horses to come out of that race and win a Derby prep, following Bravazo in the Risen Star, Promises Fulfilled in the Fountain of Youth and Reride in a couple of stakes wins at Delta Downs and Sunland Park.

This doesn’t mean any of them are ready to topple Bolt d’Or, Mckinzie, Solomini and possibly Justify at Churchill Downs. But there are other big 3-year-old races the rest of the year where anyone coming out of the late season Churchill Downs stakes has to be given extra consideration.

Big Cap is dying

The Santa Anita Handicap has to move.

It’s really sad that what was long one of the most prestigious non-Triple Crown related stakes in racing has been relegated to almost obscurity. Once Santa Anita was packed with 50,000-plus fans for the Big Cap. Saturday, an embarrassing 17,377 fans showed up and it’s not unfair to speculate most braved rain for the Bolt d’Oro-McKinzie showdown in the San Felipe.

There are probably some who don’t even realize the Big Cap was run Saturday. I’ll bet almost everyone, who even casually follows racing, knows what happened in the San Felipe, which was supposed to be an undercard race to the Big Cap.

It has become a nationwide reality that during the winter the best older horses have gone to stud after the Pegasus (Gun Runner), are preparing for the Dubai World Cup (West Coast) or are still prepping for the major summer and fall races (all three Triple Crown winners from last year).

The Big Cap has too major a historical place in racing to be allowed to fade into relative obscurity. It can’t compete with the purses of the Pegasus and World Cup, so continuing to schedule it in March is a fool’s errand.

How about moving it to the Saturday before the Kentucky Derby? There are no other major races anywhere, so there is a void begging to be filled. It is for older horses, so it wouldn’t be competing with the Derby. The Met Mile would still be six weeks off, so you might even grab some hotshots from the East. Surround it with rich sprints and grass stakes for each gender and you would have a big day that would grab the attention of fans everywhere.

This probably would detract somewhat from the Derby’s supporting stakes but what makes the Alysheba and Woodford Reserve sacred cows? Besides, the Oaks and Derby don’t need any support. Also, there’s no love lost between The Stronach Group and Churchill Downs.

Another possibility would be the June slot where the old Hollywood Gold Cup has been repositioned.

No matter what, the Big Cap can’t be left to die where it is.

Miami, March 15, 2018

Written by Tom Jicha

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