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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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Saturday, November 23, 2013


Congress has more important things to do than hassle racing



Congress has launched its latest round of hearings into drug use in horse racing. Ironically, the first session came the day after a congressman pleaded guilty to buying cocaine from a narc. Don't hold your breath waiting for hearings into drug abuse by lawmakers.

MIAMI, Nov. 23, 2013--The irony should not be allowed to pass unnoticed that the day after Florida Rep. Trey Radel (R) pleaded guilty to scoring cocaine from an undercover narc, Congress opened its latest round of hearings into proposals to bring the drug problem under control. Not the drug problem in Congress; the drug problem in horse racing.

Radel isn’t an isolated case. He’s merely the latest elected representative to be caught. It’s a matter of conjecture how many members of Congress are shooting, smoking or snorting illegal substances as they ponder and pass laws that impact every American’s life.

What is beyond dispute is the number of Congressional hearings into the matter. It’s the same as the number of races Orb has won since the Kentucky Derby.

Meanwhile, the proposed legislation under consideration by the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade to bring racing under federal scrutiny is the third in two years. Which do you consider more crucial to the nation’s future: whacked out lawmakers or juiced horses?

This in no way should be construed as a defense of illegal drug use in racing. The cheaters, when they are caught, should be severely punished. Richard Dutrow should not be the rule not the exception.

What’s more, fixing races is a criminal offense. Those caught committing serious violations, as opposed to miniscule drug overages, should face hard time.

Three trainers and a clocker at Penn National were charged Friday with race-fixing. The story said they could face from 20 to 45 years in prison and a half-million dollars in fines. History teaches there is a fat chance penalties so severe will be ordered even if they are convicted totally as charged.

If hard time was handed down more often for race fixing, it would go a long way toward discouraging chicanery.

It takes only a little common sense to identify likely outlaws. When a five percent trainer most of his life starts winning with 40 percent of his starters and routinely moves up claims from Hall of Fame caliber trainers, you know something is up. Fail to include this into your handicapping regimen at your own risk.

A catalyst for the latest round of grandstanding is the unchallenged exaggeration that drug usage is rampant and killing horse racing. “The perception is that drug use in racing has become pervasive,” said Rep. Lee Terry (R.-Neb.). The Jockey Club contributed to this hysteria with its study that most racing fans share the perception that trainers are using performance enhancing drugs.

So what? It's how people act on such perceptions that matter.

Many Americans also share the perception that their elected officials are “crooks.” This is how Congress gets a 9 percent approval rating. Yet incumbents have an extraordinary success rate when they run for re-election.

People always look for others to blame for their failings. They lose a race, the winner is juicing. Fans might bitch about drug abuse but this doesn’t turn them off to the sport. Handle keeps rising at many venues, including the Breeders' Cup and those that aren't up are down by insignificant margins.

Money spent at the blue chip horse auctions continues to go through the roof.

There are two full-time horse racing channels. It wasn’t that long ago that the only TV exposure racing got was the Triple Crown races.

These positive developments are taking place as racing is being challenged by new competition from casinos and other forms of legal gambling, which siphon untold amounts of discretionary income that used to find its way to race tracks.

Does this sound like a sport in its death throes?

Naysayers counter by pointing to declining attendance at race tracks. This is a specious argument in an era of widespread simulcast venues as well as the availability of live coverage morning through night via computer, smart phones and TV.

Truth be known, racing’s alleged drug problems are a pet issue of The New York Times, which has declared a jihad against the sport. When The Times makes an issue of anything, Washington jumps to attention. Hence the latest hearings.

Just as with its unwavering support of Obamacare despite daily revelations of its shortcomings, including from former champions such as President Clinton, The Times never lets facts get in the way as it practices advocacy journalism on its news pages.

Phil Hanrahan, chief executive of the NHBPA, was quoted in the Racing Form citing statistics from the Association of Racing Commissioners International that 99.97 of all post-race drug tests come back clean of serious performance-enhancing drugs.

Lest anyone think I’m a total naïf, I have no doubt that racing’s 99.97 figure is partially a product of the cheaters always being one step ahead of the tests. But the good guys are catching up.

Hanrahan contended the 99.97 percent figure proves that federal intervention is not needed. “The job is already being done.”

OK, that’s an overstatement but to no greater degree than those who allege that every horse is juiced and every race is fixed.


Written by Tom Jicha

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