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, November 09, 2017

Del Mar would be ideal for a Thanksgiving weekend BC

Since its expansion to two days, the Breeders' Cup has had to deal with Day One being a work day for most of America. The magnificent renewal at Del Mar offers an ideal opportunity, which I have been championing. Push the BC back to Thanksgiving weekend with Day One on Black Friday when so many Americans do not have to report to work. There are numerous upsides and not one downside I can think of. Also, the handle results at Del Mar settle once and for all that fractional wagering is the present and future of racing. Finally, how about a win-and-you're-in the Kentucky Derby for the BC Juvenile champion.

The smashing success of the first Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar ensures the BC will meet the turf and the surf again within the next three years. (Churchill Downs has the event next year.)

So I’ll renew my plea that the BC think outside the box and experiment with a Thanksgiving weekend schedule. Day one on Black Friday, when many Americans have the day off, would surely demolish the betting records for work day Fridays, which has been the norm since the BC went to two days.

Tucked in the middle of a four-day weekend, it would be a bonanza for tourism in the San Diego area. Moreover, every track and off-track betting venue in the nation would benefit. TV ratings would undoubtedly improve, too.

Del Mar is the perfect venue to give it a try. The weather can be counted on to be glorious. Even with the absence of daylight savings time, darkness wouldn’t be much of an issue because of the three-hour time difference with the East Coast, where most of the nation lives and bets.

Another benefit would be the late November date might entice more horsemen to participate in what used to be classic fall stakes at Belmont, Keeneland and Santa Anita, since there would be gaps of six weeks or more. It also would put more air between the Arc and English Champions days.

It’s only fair to consider the downside. I can’t think of even one.

Long layoffs backfire

Speaking of the trend to put lengthy gaps between races for star horses, there might be a lesson to be learned from this Breeders’ Cup.

The biggest busts were Lady Aurelia, Lady Eli, Drefong, Stellar Wind and Arrogate, none of whom even hit the board.

There were many explanations--or excuses, if you will--troubled trips, questionable rides and/or alleged track bias. But consider this. Stellar Wind hadn’t been out since July 30. Arrogate had been kept in bubble wrap since Aug. 19. Lady Aurelia hadn’t raced since Aug. 25. Lady Eli and Drefong’s most recent races were Aug. 26, Travers Day.

I’ll concede all these horses had won in the past off similar layoffs but just because something works once doesn’t mean it will work every time. I remember the good old days when recency was valued.

Eight of the nine winners on Saturday and three of the four on Friday had their most recent starts in September or October, the majority in prestigious fall stakes the connections of the big names opted to skip.

Less produces more

If there is any debate that fractional wagering is the future and present, it was put to rest last weekend.

Rolling daily doubles were offered on both days but Del Mar insisted on maintaining its $2 minimum wager. California is the only major jurisdiction in the nation that has kept this minimum.

Meanwhile, Del Mar capitulated to the Breeders’ Cup and reduced the price of rolling pick threes to 50 cents from the usual $1 minimum. In every single instance, the 50-cent pick three out-handled the corresponding $2 daily double, in some cases by a two- or three-to-one margin.

There was one exception to the $2 daily double. The two-day Distaff-to-Classic double had a $1 minimum. The $628,940 handle was by far higher than any $2 daily double during the two days.

If California doesn’t see the message fans are sending, it’s no wonder racing on the West Coast keeps falling further behind the rest of the nation.

What inferiority?

I mentioned in a recent column that there is no longer any justification for the inferiority complex our turf racers and bettors have when it comes to facing off against European counterparts. This was borne out last weekend. Six BC turf races were carded. American based horses got a draw, winning three.

Significantly, our success wasn’t limited to the top slots. American-based turfers ran 1-2-4 in the Juvenile Fillies Turf; 2-3-4 in the Juvenile Turf; 1-2-3-4-5 in the Turf Sprint; 3-4 in the Filly and Mare Turf; 1-3-4 in the Mile and 2-4 in the Turf.

Toss all favorites

I’m not going to crow over having three of my four big-name vulnerable favorites finishing off the board. The first step toward success this year was to throw out all the favorites. I wasn’t shocked that Arrogate, not Gun Runner, went off the public choice in the Classic but, even though I liked her, I was shocked that Elate went off a shorter price than Stellar Wind in the Distaff.

Stellar Wind’s pathetic showing, last of eight, continued John Sadler’s inexplicable run at the Breeders’ Cup. One of the top trainers in California, he is now 0-41 in Breeders’ cup races. What makes his duck worse is that so many of the recent Breeders’ Cups have been on his home court in Southern California.

Females work harder

Could anyone explain why the BC Sprint is 6 furlongs and the Filly & Mare Sprint is 7 furlongs? In championship tennis, women play best-of-three sets, men play best-of-five. Golf has men’s tees and shorter women’s tees. The WNBA uses a smaller basketball than the NBA and games are eight minutes shorter.

Not only that, the females run for $1 million while the males go for 50 percent more, $1.5 million. Good thing Hillary isn't President.

Having played feminist, let me go to the other side. There is a justification for the purse disparity. The Sprint is open to all. The F&M Sprint is limited to half the equine population.

Moreover, I don’t think there should be a Filly & Mare Sprint or Turf or a Distaff. Females race and beat males in championship events all over the globe, including the Breeders’ Cup (Lady Aurelia, Tepin, Goldikova, Miesque to name just a few) . There’s no reason the not-so-weaker sex shouldn’t be asked to do it in the U.S. in what are billed as “championship” races.

Win and in Kentucky Derby

With the Breeders’ Cup returning to Churchill Downs next year, it would be the perfect time to make the BC Juvenile a “win-and-you’re in” for the Kentucky Derby, which it should have been a long time ago.

Barring injury, it’s unlikely that with its 20-point head start, a BC Juvenile winner wouldn’t qualify on the points system. However, the ability to make it automatic would add another level of cachet to the Juvenile.

TV would love it, since it would have another promotional selling point. NBC also has the rights to the Triple Crown, so it might even get the Juvenile on the mothership NBC network rather than the lesser NBC Sports cable network.

Miami, Nov. 9, 2017

Written by Tom Jicha

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