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 Breedersí Cup at Gulfstream Park.

He's been the Sun Sentinelís horse racing writer since 2007 as a staff member, and continues to this day as a free-lancer.

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Curse of Apollo is dead but other streaks endure

Justify put to rest the theory that a horse who did not race as a 2-year-old could win the Kentucky Derby. Other streaks endure, most notably that the winner of the Derby is likely to be a horse who goes into the race undefeated as a 3-year-old. Justify was the seventh straight Derby winner to fit this condition, which helps to explain why favorites have won six straight Derbies. On the downside, something to keep in mind next week is the the last two Derby winners have not won again.

One of many post-Derby reports and commentary I have read went me one better in a challenge to Bob Baffert, who brought Justify to the Run for the Roses off only three career starts. I mentioned in a pre-Derby column that but for the points system, the day would come when a precocious colt would be jumped from a maiden score into the Derby.

I can't recall where I read it--I apologize for that--but a wiseguy quipped, "If Baffert is so great, let's see him win the Derby with a first-time starter."

The points system mitigates against this but it wouldn't be a shock if some horse soon wins the Derby in his third start, after a maiden race and a stakes to accumulate the required points. Good Magic, for example, went from his maiden victory to a second in the Grade 1 Champagne. The Champagne is only a 10-point race because it occurs during the juvenile campaign but I hope you get my point. Is there any doubt Justify could have won an important 3-year stakes coming out of his maiden win?

Winning the Derby with a contemporary horse making only his fourth start isn't unprecedented. Big Brown did it for Richard Dutrow only 10 years ago.
In addition to Justify, Hofburg was making his fourth start. Magnum Moon, the other threat to the Curse of Apollo, and Noble Indy each had only four prior starts.

Not all streaks died

While the Curse of Apollo has been put to rest, a number of other streaks endure. It has been well noted that the Derby has been won six straight times by the favorite. However, few have pointed out the streak I have been pushing, which helps explain why the public has been so uncanny in identifying the correct chalk.

Justify is the seventh straight Derby winner to go into and come out of the race undefeated as a 3-year-old. The number would be eight if you dismiss a second in a turf race by Animal Kingdom. This is no longer a small sample and, as I have said post-Derby in recent years, it is something to keep in mind next spring.

There's also a negative streak that will be challenged by Justify next Saturday. If he wins the Preakness and considering the potential field he will face, I'd like to hear a compelling case that he won't, it will be the first post-Derby victory by the winner since American Pharoah. Nyquist was 0-3 after the first Saturday in May and Always Dreaming's no-show in the Alysheba on Oaks Day was his fifth straight post-Derby loss.

Orb extended a winning streak to five in the 2013 Derby but failed to win again in four subsequent starts. This is an indication of how debilitating the Derby can be. So if you want to make a case against Justify, this might be the only place to start. Of course, it entails ignoring American Pharoah and California Chrome.

UAE Derby is dead to me

Fool me once, shame on you. Shame on me for being taken in again by a big performance in the UAE Derby, this time Mendelssohn's. Last year it was Thunder Snow.

Here's another negative Derby streak. If the winner of next year's UAE Derby manages to beat even one horse, it will be the first time in three years.

Moreover, no winner of the UAE Derby has ever hit the board in Louisville. It will be a disgrace if Churchill Downs maintains this race on the same points pedestal as the major final Derby preps in the U.S.

Too much Jack

I share my foolish feeling about backing Mendelssohn with those who knocked My Boy Jack down to second choice. This isn't red-boarding. I posted a comment early Saturday afternoon saying the deflated odds on him were insane.

I at least had justification for Mendelssohn. His UAE Derby was eye-catching and he was a Breeders' Cup champion, albeit on grass. My Boy Jack's credentials were ordinary, to say the least. He had to bust his gut to beat a glorified allowance field in the Lexington, his last chance to get the necessary points, which proved to be unnecessary, and he hung for an eighth of a mile while running third in the Louisiana Derby.

The only explanation I can come up with for making him the second choice is Kentucky is bourbon country. A lot of folks refer to its most popular brand simply as "Jack" and there is an orgy of boozing on Derby weekend, not all of it at Churchill Downs.

Blue Grass helped, Wood hurt

The Blue Grass Stakes probably was helped this spring in its campaign to regain Grade 1 status. The presence of Juvenile champion Good Magic gave the race a boost. His victory moved up the race even more and his solid second behind Justify last Saturday did more good than harm.

Meanwhile, the Wood Memorial had another dismal Derby and might be years from regaining elite status. By any objective evaluation, the Wood was the weakest of the April preps and the horses who emerged from it were dismal in Louisville. Vino Rosso checked in ninth, Firenze Fire was 11th and Enticed finished 14th.

The Wood hasn't produced a Derby winner since Funny Cide in 2003.

Ironically, the Wood's woes might work against the Blue Grass, which probably won't be re-elevated after one good year, in any case. If the Keeneland stakes is restored as a Grade 1, it would leave New York's signature Derby prep as the only one in the final round not to be a Grade 1. This would perpetuate the problem.

The Graded Stakes Committee wouldn't do that to the circuit still regarded by many to be the capital of American racing, would it?

Written by Tom Jicha

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