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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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Friday, December 13, 2013


Grading Committee’s work is indefensible



The American Grading Committee treats Keeneland like a sacred cow while downgrading Calder's only Grade 1, the Princess Rooney, despite a stellar roster of competitors and winners. Its timing is also bad, doing this while elevating three Gulfstream stakes.

The American Graded Stakes Committee is the latest to kick Calder while it’s down.

The Princess Rooney, Calder’s only Grade 1 and the centerpiece of the Summit of Speed, has been downgraded to Grade 2. This arbitrary act is totally unjustifiable by traditional standards. The only conclusion is other considerations came into play. Draw your own conclusions.

Let’s look at the five most recent renewals of the Princess Rooney. Starship Truffles, winner of this past summer’s Princess Rooney, is the weakest of the bunch, a filly who got good at the perfect time. But runnerup Judy the Beauty came out of it to win the Turf Club of America and run second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

The Princess Rooney’s 2012 winner, Musical Romance, entered it as champion of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Prior to her win at Calder, Musical Romance ran second to Eclipse winner Groupie Doll in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff. Groupie Doll came out of that race to win three more stakes in a row, including the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

Sassy Image, the 2011 Princess Rooney winner, came into it after taking the Winning Colors and Humana Distaff, in which Musical Romance was second. Also trailing Sassy Image home was Champagne D’Oro, who had Grade 1 wins in the Test and Acorn.

The 2010 winner, Jessica Is Back, rebounded with a third in the Grade 1 Ballerina. The show horse in that Princess Rooney, Dubai Majesty, won three of her next four, including the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

Game Face, who captured the 2009 Princess Rooney, next won the Honorable Miss at Saratoga. Prior to the Calder race, she had taken a couple of other graded stakes.

So in five years, the Princess Rooney has one less than stellar winner. If this necessitates a drop in grade, there would be scores of downgrades every year, not the 11 overall in the latest rankings, two from Grade 1.

Not one Hollywood Park stakes has been downgraded even though it is unknown which will even be contested in 2014.

Moreover, never let it be said that there are no sacred cows in racing. Not a single Keeneland race has been touched even though its roster of stakes winners is almost weightless since the track installed an artificial surface.

Nothing illustrates this better than the Blue Grass. Once a leading Kentucky Derby prep, its first three finishers over the past five years have been (2013) Java’s War, Palace Malice, Charming Kitten; (2012) Dullahan, Hansen, Gung Ho; (2011) Brilliant Speed, Twinspired, King Congie; (2010) Stately Victor, Paddy O’Prado, First Dude; (2009) General Quarters, Holdmeback, Massone.

Dullahan is the only winner to take another race of consequence, the Pacific Classic, also on a synthetic track, just as his only victory before the Blue Grass, the Breeders’ Futurity, was on fake dirt. Maybe it's time for a new category, Grade 1 Synthetic, just as we have Grade 1 Turf.

For the record, the Breeders’ Futurity and its filly counterpart, the Alcibiades, are two additional Grade 1 Keeneland stakes with a lackluster parade of winners, especially on dirt, since the track changed surfaces.

Palace Malice came out of this past spring’s Blue Grass to win the Belmont and Jim Dandy and finish second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

That’s pretty much it. Java’s War has not won another race. Brilliant Speed won a turf stakes. Stately Warrior won the Ontario Derby, also on kitty litter. General Quarters won the Woodford Reserve on turf.
The other Blue Grass in-the-money finishers have faded into obscurity. Yet nothing at Keeneland gets touched by the Graded Stakes Committee. Indefensible.

While the Graded Stakes Committee was giving the back of its hand to Calder, it was rewarding Gulfstream with the elevation of three stakes from Grade 3 to Grade 2—the Sabin, Holy Bull and Swale.
A cynic might interpret this as another segment of the racing industry picking sides in the ongoing conflict between the two South Florida tracks. However, two of the three Gulfstream stakes inarguably merited a kick upstairs. It's just the timing that raises eyebrows.

The last three Sabins have been won by Royal Delta and Awesome Maria twice. Enough said.

The Holy Bull went last winter to multiple stakes winner Itsmyluckyday, who went on to run second in the Florida Derby and Preakness. Algorithms, considered the leader of his generation until he was injured, got the money in 2012. Dialed In went on to win the Florida Derby in 2011.

The Swale is more of a borderline call. If it was going to be raised, it should have been last year, after Trinniberg went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, in addition to the Bay Shore and Woody Stephens.

This past spring’s winner, Clearly Now, has only a first in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler since, although he has been stakes-placed four other times.

The Swale’s case weakens when 2011 is included. Travelin Man’s subsequent credentials include only the ungraded Sir Shackleton twice and an allowance, all at Gulfstream.

Raising the Swale to Grade 2, now the same level as the Princess Rooney, gives ammunition to cynics who interpret it as another segment of the racing industry picking sides in the Battle of South Florida.


Written by Tom Jicha

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