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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Tuesday, April 01, 2014


Conservative training tactics could bump top colts out of Derby



Cairo Prince belongs in the Kentucky Derby despite running fourth in the Florida Derby. Candy Boy also should be at Churchill Downs the first Saturday in May but might not be if he doesn't run at least third in the Santa Anita Derby. If either or both miss the cut, blame the trend to extremely conservative management by their trainers.

MIAMI, April 1, 2014--The Kentucky Derby could be run this year without two colts considered the best in the East and West most of the winter not because they are hurt or aren’t good enough but because of overly conservative training tactics. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

After his disappointing fourth in the Florida Derby, it is more likely than not that Cairo Prince, who didn’t race for nine weeks after dominating the Holy Bull, his only previous race this year, will be shut out. This also could happen to Candy Boy, who has been idle since winning the Robert B. Lewis almost two months ago, his only start in 2014.

It would be a shame if either or both fall short of the points necessary to get into the Run for the Roses. But in the big picture, it could be a good thing. Trainers in future years will be more inclined to race--the name of the game-- than nurse their 3-year-olds up to the Derby.

Candy Boy is in the better position. He controls his own destiny in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. If he finishes in the first three, he’s as good as in. Fourth would give him an outside shot but he would need help in the form of the usual late Derby attrition. Right now, the only horse in the top 20 who is improbable for the Derby, but not entirely ruled out, is United Arab Emirates Derby winner Toast of New York.

Cairo Prince is in a truly precarious position. Kiaran McLaughlin put all his eggs into the Florida Derby basket and the 10 points he earned gives him 24, enough for a tie for 16th and 17th now. But there are four big points races this weekend and next, and the fields will be loaded with more than a dozen hopefuls who need only the 20 points they would get for running third to vault over Cairo Prince. Another early favorite, Strong Mandate, with 11, is in this position going into the Arkansas Derby.

Some, such as Uncle Sigh in the Wood, who is tied with Cairo Prince, need only a fourth in the final round of preps. The same goes for Harry’s Holiday, second in the Spiral, and Sam. F. Davis winner and Tampa Bay Derby runnerup Vinceremos in the Blue Grass.

The much hyped Social Inclusion could crash the Derby field with a first or second in the Wood Memorial. His owner, Ron Sanchez, might be making the biggest bet in the history of the Wood. Reportedly, he has been offered as much as $5 million for 75% of the son of Pioneer of the Nile. Sanchez opted to wait until after the Wood to make a decision.

If Social Inclusion wins impressively, his value could double, thanks to Derby fever. If he’s up the track, he reverts to being just a winner of an entry level allowance against a short field over a speed favoring track. Five million dollars could turn into zilch in about a minute and 50 seconds.

California has its own second coming, Bayern, who could push his way into the Derby field with a win or second in the Arkansas Derby.

In other words, we are not talking about unlikely longshots knocking out bigger names. However, there could be a few of those, too, especially with the Blue Grass giving 100-40-20-10 to its customary field of turf and synthetic specialists, who would have little chance on dirt in the Derby. Unfortunately, this won’t keep owners from wanting to go. The lure of that walk from the barn in front of 150,000 fans and millions on TV is irresistible.

Bobby’s Kitten, for example, might be the best 3-year-old in America on turf. Grass form translates well to Keeneland’s kitty litter. If Bobby’s Kitten, who has never raced on dirt, wins or places, it’s 1-to-9 Ken Ramsey takes him to the Derby.

Turf races do not earn Derby qualifying points. There is enough of a body of evidence now that synthetic and conventional dirt are two different worlds to adopt the same policy for artificial tracks.
Any horse only a few points short of Derby qualification also has the April 19 Lexington on Keeneland’s fake dirt to steal a berth in the Derby starting gate, even though the race’s allotment is only 10-4-2-1.

McLaughlin said after the Florida Derby that none of this is an option for Cairo Prince, who currently ranks seventh among all 3-year-olds in earnings in unrestricted stakes. “If we get in, we’re going. If not, we’ll look for another race.”

McLaughlin, one of the class acts in racing, has been proposing that a couple or three Derby berths be determined by a panel of racing experts, ala the Breeders’ Cup, for instances in which a clearly deserving colt such as his (two Grade 2 wins and a Grade 2 place) is shut out by the points system.

Even "American Idol" has a “judges’ save” for when an extremely talented singer comes up short in fan voting.

This is not sour grapes. McLaughlin said this before Cairo Prince ran fourth in the Florida Derby.

There are arguments pro and con on this. How many spots? Would this be reserved for years only when an outstanding horse—a Cairo Prince or Candy Boy, for example—missed the cut? Or would it be extended to a couple or three horses, who are merely the best of the rest?

The best solution is not to let it come to this. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that in future years, McLaughlin and John Sadler, who trains Candy Boy, will never put themselves in this position by babying an exceptional colt through Derby prep season.

This is the way it should be.


Written by Tom Jicha

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