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, February 28, 2019


Fountain will test whether Hidden Scroll is star in making or flash in pan


By Tom Jicha

Hidden Scroll did something not often seen on Pegasus Day at Gulfstream. He humbled a field of well regarded maidens by 14 lengths with figs run only by serious stakes winners. Saturday we'll see if he can repeat that kind of performance against a deep field in the Fountain of Youth. The Derby trail has reached the stage where every major stakes amounts to a win-and-you're in with at least 50 points available to the winner of all the big races from here on out.

We waited 138 years for Justify to end the Curse of Apollo. Could it happen in back-to-back years? Probably not, but it’s fun to fantasize about. Or would that cheapen the feat?

We’ll get an idea Saturday in the Fountain of Youth. Hidden Scroll has inspired thoughts of a Triple Crown encore after his spectacular debut on Pegasus Day, when he crushed a field of maidens, several highly touted, by 14 lengths under wraps.

His Beyers and Thorograph numbers were other-worldly, the kind run only by superstars in the making. The question going into the Fountain of Youth is, was this too much too soon or a harbinger of something really special to come?

The usual caveats apply. Hidden Scroll was beating only maidens. He did it on a sloppy sealed track, which played exceptionally kind toward speed. Saturday, he’ll be trying to extend his speed around two turns for the first time.

This seems to be the year of the undefeated—but not for long. Game Winner and his Bob Baffert stablemate, Improbable, have yet to lose. Instagrand, the talk of the West Coast last summer off back-to-back 10-length romps, also has a blemish-free record.

These three are scheduled to meet next Saturday in the San Felipe. I’ll believe this when I see it. I have to think discretion will win out over valor, especially with Baffert. It makes little sense to put his star Derby prospects into the same field two months out from Churchill Downs. Moreover, Oaklawn is hanging out $1 million in the Rebel a week later. Either Baffert would be odds-on.

Getting back to the Fountain of Youth, Hidden Scroll will be taking on a couple of other colts with perfect records, Vekoma and Global Campaign. The latter hasn’t been as dazzling as Hidden Scroll in starting his career two-for-two but the feeling is we haven’t seen the best of him yet. Vekoma turned a lot of heads last fall in New York, professionally handling subsequent Swale winner Call Paul and Mucho Macho Man winner Mihos.

Signalman hasn’t been perfect but he is the most credentialed runner in the field. He won the Kentucky Jockey Club, was second in the Breeders’ Futurity and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Ken McPeek is flying warning flags that the Fountain of Youth is merely a prep for bigger races down the road but McPeek sprung Harvey Wallbanger off the bench to upset the Holy Bull. For what it’s worth Signalman was clearly best in a recent team work with Harvey Wallbanger, who is being reserved for the Florida Derby.

McPeek is one of my new favorite trainers. When he announced this past week that he has enlisted in the Water-Hay-Oats Alliance (WHOA), it was noted that he won more races than anyone in 2018 with horses NOT running on Lasix. He should get an Eclipse Award just for that.

The potential underlay of the race is Code of Honor, who might be double digits after bombing in the Mucho Macho Man at odds-on. Shug McGaughey thinks he might have under-trained the Champagne runner-up for the seemingly easy spot. He’s been more aggressive coming into the Fountain of Youth, a crossroads race for Code of Honor. An encore of the Mucho Macho Man will probably bring his Derby campaign to a premature end. Conversely, a big effort could catapult him back into serious Derby conversations.

He’ll be on my Pick 3 and Pick 4 tickets, along with Hidden Scroll and Global Campaign.

I might even go one horse deeper with Vekoma, since the Davona Dale, which precedes the Fountain of Youth, looks like a free space. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly winner Jaywalk launches her 2019 campaign against modest competition. Even better, only one of her rivals, Cookie Dough, likes to mix it up early, Jaywalk’s preferred style of running.

The first leg of an all-stakes Pick 4, the Honey Fox, also might have a standout. Pecieuse was bet down to 3-2 for her U.S. debut last summer at Saratoga. Coming from Chad Brown’s barn undoubtedly factored in the price. The Irish import sat next to last until the field straightened then let loose one of those turns of foot Euros are known for to hit the front in deep stretch only to get run down by a head.
At the time few appreciated the filly who caught her, Uni, who hasn’t lost since.

Precieuse was two clear of the rest of the field. She drew the advantageous rail for the Honey Fox and will take a lot of beating. But she’s not a single. Any of a trio of distaffers coming off stakes wins at Gulfstream could be too much for her coming off another six-month layoff. Valedictorian, heroine of the Suwanee River, has won three of her last five. One of those defeats was in the Marshua’s River to Bellavais, who’s two-for-three on the Gulfstream infield. Dolce Lili, who took home the South Beach trophy, is 10-for-11 on the grass.

I’ll use all four on my Pick 4 ticket and come back with a Pick 3 with Precieuse to Jaywalk and close with the four I mentioned in the Fountain of Youth.

I’ll try to close the deal in the Mac Diarmida with Channel Maker, coming off a tough trip in the Pegasus Turf, Zulu Alpha, who has gotten good for Mike Maker, and Melmich, a horse for whom they can’t write races long enough.

© Tom Jicha, HorseRaceInsider.com 2019

Written by Tom Jicha

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