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, December 14, 2017

Clasico shows potential for more international races

Gulfstream was mobbed for the Clasico Internacional del Caribe with Latin fans, who rooted for their nation's horses as if it were an international soccer match. This enthusiasm demonstrated there is a substantial untapped market among fans originally from south of the border. It would be wise for Gulfstream and other tracks in areas with similar demographics--NY and California, for instance--to create similar events. Also, the 1-3 finish for fillies is the latest example that the U.S. is behind the times when it comes to segregating the genders. Meanwhile, out West, Southern California stewards became the story in another major stakes.

Gulfstream rolled the dice with the Clasico Internacional del Caribe, five races for horses unfamiliar to U.S. fans, and was richly reward with a crowd comparable to Florida Derby and Pegasus Days.

The initial inclination after an event as successful as the Clasico is, “How can we do this again?” The prudent answer is you probably can’t, at least not right away, and shouldn’t try.

Gulfstream COO Tim Ritvo gets this. He was beaming like an emoji at the crowd and handle figures Saturday. Nevertheless, asked if Gulfstream would try to get the Clasico back as soon as possible or try to make it an annual event as the Claiming Crown has become, he responded, “Not right away. Maybe in a few years. It’s best if the Clasico moves around like the Super Bowl.”

One reason for patience is there could be an Ugly American backlash if a track in the United States tried to commandeer one of the major sports festivals in Latin America. Hosting it every four or five years in the U.S. might add to the stature of the event.

Nevertheless, seeing the fervor among fans, who wore their nation’s colors and waved flags, it is worth exploring how a race or series of races featuring horses from south of the border could become a part of the calendar at Gulfstream, which sits in the midst of one of the largest Latin population areas in the nation.

Seeing so many people from this demographic, who appeared to be first-timers or occasional race-goers, underscored how untapped this market is.

The races for the best from Latin America wouldn’t have to be part of Gulfstream’s prime winter season. Year-round racing has created relative dead spots between April and December. The Summit of Speed and Sire Stakes fill some of the voids but there is plenty of room for another big day. An invitational race or two featuring horses from the nine nations in the Confederation, which stages the Clasico, could become another “offseason” high spot.

What weaker sex?

The victory by Mexican filly Jala Jala in the big race, the Clasico del Caribe, provided the latest evidence that American racing is out of step with the rest of the world in segregating genders. This lesson has been driven home repeatedly at the Breeders’ Cup as Euro females regularly beat our--and their--best males.

Three of the dozen entrants in Latin America’s Kentucky Derby were fillies. Two finished in the money as Jala Jala’s stablemate Joyme held the show. Clearly the difference in ability between males and females is mainly in the minds of those who control North American racing.

Races restricted to fillies and mares probably help fill cards but a drastic reduction in the number of stakes for females-only is long overdue. Among other benefits, it would help alleviate the short fields that plague so many stakes for older horses. It also would diminish the number of graded stakes, of which there are far too many considering the decline in foal crops.

Good to be high

One other tidbit picked up Saturday, worth filing away for if and when more Pan-American races are run in the States, is the influence of altitude. Mexican horses, who race and train at almost a mile and a half high altitude have a distinct advantage when coming down to sea level. “Absolutely,” said trainer Fausto Gutierrez, who trains Jala Jala and Jaguaryu, winner of the Lady Caribbean Cup. Gutierrez trains so many top Mexican horses that he quipped back home he is called “Pletcher.”

OK, so how long is it going to be before some enterprising trainer takes his horses to some mile high location to train for the Triple Crown or Breeders’ Cup?

Got the time?

Gulfstream race-caller Pete Aiello was about to call out the quarter-mile time for The Buffalo Man Stakes Saturday when he stopped in mid-sentence. He immediately recognized the time posted on the board, 25.53, was ridiculous for a talented group of juveniles sprinting six furlongs.

No time was posted for the half-mile or the finish. Thankfully, as John Pricci pointed out last week, Gulfstream has created a backup fail safe for the continuing timing problem. All races, dirt or turf, are now also hand-timed.

The correct quarter-mile time was 22.50 en route to a final 1:11.40.

The winner of the minor stakes, Diamond Oops, is one to keep an eye on in the coming months. He did it the right way, rating just off the speed then making his move near the top of the lane and drawing off by two lengths. Among those in his wake was a 4-5 Todd Pletcher colt, Mojovation, whose previous effort was a third in the Futurity at Belmont.

It's too soon to make Diamond Oops a Derby horse but he comes off as a colt who will take a lot of beating in stakes this winter and spring. The Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 6 at one mile out of a chute would seem to hit him right between the eyes.

Diamond Oops' breeding suggests the stretch out is well within his scope. His sire, Lookin at Lucky, won the Rebel, Preakness, Haskell and Indiana Derby and was fourth in the Blame-Zenyatta Breeders’ Cup Classic. His dam, Patriotic Viva, won the Serena’s Song around two turns at Monmouth.

Take this for what you consider it to be worth. Victor Espinoza, who guided American Pharoah and California Chrome to win five Triple Crown races, flew cross-county to ride Diamond Oops for Patrick Biancone even though the colt was coming off a sixth in the Saratoga Special in August.

Unanimity is a must

Once again Southern California stewards made themselves a big part of the story in a major stakes race, the Cash Call Futurity.

Solomini came from off the pace to engage McKinzie and Instilled Regard, who were in a ferocious stretch-long battle. It was reminiscent of the first Breeders’ Cup Classic when Gate Dancer came from well back to make it a three-horse free-for-all in the final strides with Wild Again and Slew O Gold.

As in that Classic, there was some light bumping. However, none of the three jockeys ever stopped riding all out. The result was left to stand in the first Classic and it should have stood in Saturday’s Cash Call.

Unfortunately, the stewards decided that Solomini, who finished first, drifted in enough on Instilled Regard, the third horse under the wire, to be disqualified.

It was a bad call for at least two reasons. It didn’t cost Instilled Regard a placing. Solomini clearly was going by him and Instilled Regard had the longest stretch in America to pass McKinzie and was unable to do it.

The other reason is a sore point with me. The vote in the stewards’ stand was 2-1. No horse should ever be disqualified on a less than unanimous vote. If one of the stewards, hired for his expertise (justified or not) feels a DQ is not warranted, there should be no change.

A disqualification is like a conviction in a court of law. No one can be convicted on a less than unanimous decision. Racing would do well to adhere to this principle.

Miami, December 14, 2017

Written by Tom Jicha

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