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, August 13, 2013


Government intervention? Let’s just kill racing now


Dinny Phipps made an ominous statement at the Jockey Club Round Table. He said if uniform medication rules aren't adopted nationwide, he would be in favor of inviting the government to step in. He needs look no further than NYRA to see what greedy and vindictive politicians can do when you give them the opportunity. Drugs might be a problem. Government intervention would be the death of racing because it wouldn't stop until it controlled every aspect of the sport.


Complete this sentence as best you can (take all the time you need): The federal government has done an excellent job regulating…

If you want to open with a laugh, you can say, “drugs.”

This is why Dinny Phipps had to be kidding at the annual Jockey Club Round Table when he said that if uniform race day medication rules are not adopted nationwide, he would be in favor of inviting federal regulation of thoroughbred racing.

I took this more as the kind of threat frustrated mothers make to out-of-control children. “If you don’t stop, I’m going to tell your father. Then you’ll be sorry.”

Racing surely will be sorry if the feds get their noses under racing’s tent. Put it this way. The most prominent connection Uncle Sam currently has with racing is the unjust and indefensible tax it withholds from significant winnings. How is that working out?

In an era of busted government budgets, federal intervention would have to come with a steep price, additional taxes to support the creation of another bureaucracy. Who do you think would be assessed these tariffs? Look in the mirror, racing fans.

Obamacare has more than 2,000 pages of rules and regulations. This is what happens when every special interest imaginable is given a voice in formulating policy.

Pressure groups and activists, who use political donations to get the ears of politicians, would seize the opportunity to flex their muscles. PETA is a bunch of loons, so they wouldn’t be taken seriously but more reputable organizations such as the Humane Society could exert considerable clout on Capitol Hill when it comes to breakdowns and deaths on the race track.

Owners, trainers and track management could wind up spending more time in Washington testifying than tending to horses and normal business.

Grandstanding politicians would have a new soapbox to press for tight monitoring of backstretch working conditions, wages and benefits. Given the Obama administration’s cozy relationship with organized labor, a demand for unionization might not be far behind. Unions pushed NYRA and New York City OTB into bankruptcy. This in itself could kill the sport.

As much damage as politicians might do, it could wind up minimal compared to what might happen in the courts. Just this week a federal judge decreed that the American Quarterhorse Association must register clones. If this doesn’t send shivers down the spines of the Jockey Club, it isn’t paying attention.

Granted, the following is an extreme, even ridiculous, example of what pressure-group-driven government can do but there is a bill on California Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk that would eradicate gender distinctions. At the behest of LGBT groups, the bill would allow students in California to declare which gender they prefer to identify with. Boys will be free to declare they feel more comfortable as girls and use ladies rooms and girls locker rooms. They also will be free to compete on girls sports team. They would need no proof other than their word that it makes them feel better about themself. It works vice versa, too.

Just think of the ways this will be abused. To reiterate, this is not an off-the-wall proposal. It is a bill that has been passed by both houses of the California legislature and is expected to be signed into law by the governor. It could happen before you get to read this.

This would be one of those situations where you just roll your eyes and wonder what kind of mind comes up with such nutty proposals, then gets supposedly rational lawmakers to go along. But consider how many seemingly wacky ideas have originated in California, then spread across the country.

If I were in California racing, I would shudder at the potential for an owner or trainer, accompanied by a creative attorney, suing to eliminate races restricted to fillies and mares on the basis that it denies equal opportunity to win purses to owners of male horses. Remember, we are talking about crazy California, so nothing can be ruled out.

Phipps of all people should appreciate what happens when government insinuates itself into racing. When he wasn’t patronizing high end prostitutes, Client No. 9 Spitzer conducted a never-ending vendetta against NYRA.

Video lottery terminals at Aqueduct were delayed for a decade, at a loss of billions of dollars, because every politician in the state tried to get his fingers into the pie.

New York Off Track Betting is the joke of the industry, a model for how not to do it. Because it is in the hands of politicians instead of NYRA (which has only itself to blame) it continues to be a cesspool of patronage abuse.

More recently, NYRA wanted to introduce a Pick 5 to its wagering menu in time for Saratoga, the meet that draws more out-of-state wagering than any other. In most jurisdictions, this could be done with a simple phone call, if that much.

In New York, where government now has fully seized control of racing, it has been mired in so much red tape there is no hope of getting it done before Sam the Bugler plays Auld Lang Syne on Labor Day. The new target date is sometime in the fall.

So either Phipps wasn’t thinking or he was just making an idle threat to spur action on the praiseworthy goal of achieving uniform medication policies nationwide. He is such an influential figure that for the sake of racing, let’s hope it was the latter.




Written by Tom Jicha

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