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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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Friday, May 31, 2013


Calder-Gulfstream deal could be imminent


With a month to go before Gulfstream is scheduled to begin racing head-to-head against Calder, there is a strong belief, supported by recent history, that Churchill Downs, Inc., is on the verge of striking a deal to allow Frank Stronach's track to run unopposed. On another front, some of the security precautions NYRA has announced for the Belmont Stakes are way over the top. If some of the same restrictions are extended to the Saratoga meeting, they will kill the atmosphere that has made a day at the Spa one of sports biggest joys.

MIAMI, May 31, 2013--All is quiet on the Gulfstream-Calder front. But it’s one of those eerie news blackout quiets which frequently occur before something big is about to be announced. There was a meeting this week between high ranking executives of both sides and no one is talking publicly about what transpired, generally a sign progress is being made and a deal is imminent.

The expectation remains that before the head-to-head racing nightmare begins in July, Churchill Downs, Inc., will accept some kind of settlement, which will either turn Calder into a going-through-the-motions-to-keep-our-casino venue or end racing there entirely.

The imminent closure of Hollywood Park is an example why this belief is so prevalent. CDI sold Hollywood to its current owners without any regard for the future of racing. CDI knew and didn’t care when it sold the track to a development company that it was dooming Hollywood as a racetrack. The only thing that kept it operating as a track as long as it has was the crippling recession, which dried up the money supply to finance the ambitious commercial/residential project Hollywood’s new owners envisioned.

Churchill also negotiated a settlement a couple of years ago when it allowed Gulfstream to usurp December, one of the most profitable months of the year for Calder.

Faced with the reality that strong willed Frank Stronach is determined to run year-round, with or without competition, there is no reason to believe CDI will act differently this time.

The company’s behavior in New Orleans is another example of the diminishing regard it has for racing.

A recent Ray Paulick column (http://www.paulickreport.com) decried the deterioration of the Fair Grounds turf course since CDI bought the facility.

Paulick quoted former Fair Grounds owner Louie Roussel, who said CDI has neglected the infield grass course since 2004.

The piece also quoted a letter sent by Stanley Seelig, president of the Louisiana HBPA, to the Louisiana Racing Commission. “This is not a new problem, and one that the Fair Grounds has done a poor job of addressing the last few years.”

Weeks went by this past season without the turf course being usable, even when there was minimal or no rain. Under the circumstances, a responsible, dedicated-to-racing owner would have made repairing the turf course after the meet closed in March a priority.

CDI added insult to injury, allowing tens of thousands of fans to trample all over it at the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in late April, early May. The track—more precisely, CDI—is contractually committed to the festival but more effort could have been made to protect the troubled turf.

The net result, Paulick wrote, is “CDI makes money, horsemen lose money (from simulcasting and slots being shut down at times during the festival) and the turf course is severely damaged.” Insiders are saying that the damage is so extensive that it might negatively impact the 2013-14 meeting. For CDI, regrettably this has become business as usual.

So whether it’s Florida, California or Louisiana, CDI’s attitude has been to take the money and not worry about running a race track. This does not bode well for the future of Calder.



Start Spreading the News

The Belmont Stakes has a self-styled status as “The Test of Champions.” This might have been true in another time, back in the 20th century. It has not been the case during this millennium.

Only once since 2000 has the winner of the third jewel of the Triple Crown been voted the ultimate honor for a champion, the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year. That was Point Given 12 years ago.

And only three times in the 21st century has the Belmont winner been named outstanding 3-year-old male—Point Given, Afleet Alex (2005) and Summer Bird (2009).

The filly Rags to Riches, who upset Curlin in 2007, was voted best 3-year-old female.

During this same period, the Belmont has been won by Ruler on Ice, with a only a maiden win in five starts going into the Belmont and one-for-12 since (an allowance win over Aqueduct’s winter track); DaTara, who subsequently went zero-for-nine before being retired; Jazil, who went into the Belmont with only a maiden win in eight starts and didn’t win in three post-Belmont starts, and Sarava, a 70-1 shot, who failed to hit the board in his two post-Belmont races.

The Belmont has become a victim of the mania to breed for win-early speed, stamina be damned. Modern thoroughbreds, who can handle the grueling mile and a half, don’t often fit that paradigm. Union Rags last year was an exception.

We'll take a more detailed look at the Belmont field after it's set at Wednesday's post draw.

One other Belmont thought: a kneejerk over-reaction is inevitable whenever there is an act of terrorism. Racing is not immune. In the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy, the expanded security precautions put in place by NYRA threaten to reduce New York’s biggest day of racing downstate into as much fun as a trip through airport security.

Taking reasonable precautions is laudable but some measures are, pardon the expression, overkill.

I have no problem with prohibitions against laser pointers, mace, pepper spray and certainly weapons. It’s dumbfounding that these haven’t been on a forbidden list forever. But the reasoning behind no umbrellas, even in the backyard, where rain has been known to fall and there is no cover, will have to be explained to me.

Limiting the size of a woman's purse, which is going to be searched at the entrance gate anyway, also seems a bit much.

There has been a thwarted terrorist attempt at detonating an underwear bomb on a plane. I guess we should be grateful NYRA didn’t decree everyone has to come to the Belmont commando style.

With a new regime in place, we can only hope more reasonable voices will prevail before Saratoga. If the same prohibitions, especially those banning coolers and alcoholic beverages, are put into place at the Spa, they might as well start saddling horses under the trees again. There will be nobody else there.

Written by Tom Jicha

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