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 08, 2018

Gulfstream’s coincidental Eclipse draught will endure

Gulfstream stages some of the finest racing in the nation. Bulletin's BC triumph is the latest sign that the summer program is catching up to the prime winter meet. Yet in a strange coincidence, this will be the fourth straight year in which none of the Eclipse champions will have raced at Gulfstream during their championship campaign. Speaking of the BC, the latest addition, head-to-head matchups with bargain takeouts, is a welcome development with an important caveat. Bettors had to wager on the blind because the odds were never displayed. Unacceptable. Finally, Florida is the latest state to vote greyhound racing out of existence. The do-gooders pushing the vote have not thought about what will happen to the thousands of dogs who will no longer be useful.

Sometimes streaks are just coincidences.

Gulfstream Park has become the unofficial home of the Eclipse Awards ceremonies. It stages the highest caliber of winter racing on the East Coast, if not the nation. Yet when the Eclipses are passed out in January, Gulfstream likely will be shut out of the 11 awards (12 if you count steeplechasers) for the fourth straight year.

This was all but sealed as a result of just about all the 2018 divisional championships being settled by the time the “official’ was posted for Accelerate’s Classic victory Saturday. (Do we really have to have a male turf champion?)

Too bad there is no Eclipse for Juvenile Turf Sprint champion. Bulletin, runaway winner of the corresponding BC stakes, would be a cinch. This is the latest example of how the quality of racing during the summer is growing along with the handle. Other than the obvious, Saratoga and Del Mar, Gulfstream’s summer racing has become as solid as any in the nation.

Nevertheless, you have to go back to 2015 to find an Eclipse winner who competed at Gulfstream during the season in which he or she wound up winning a championship. Honor Code, who would be named top dirt male, took the Gulfstream Park Handicap and Tepin won a classified allowance en route to her first Eclipse as champion turf female. However, she didn’t race at Gulfstream in 2016 when she also won an Eclipse.

There are plausible explanations. One is the “what have you done for me lately?” attitude of many Eclipse voters, which explains the growing groundswell of support for Accelerate as Horse of the Year over Triple Crown winner Justify. Another is the tendency of trainers to start highly regarded horses later in the year, outside Gulfstream’s prime meeting.

However, this is not the case with other winter racing centers, another example of some streaks being mere coincidences. Horse of the Year Gun Runner raced at Oaklawn in his championship year, 2017, and Tepin started twice at Tampa Bay Downs in 2016. American Pharoah captured the 2015 Rebel and Arkansas Derby.

Granted none of these champions won their titles off these early races but countless stars have launched their seasons at Gulfstream without going on to win an Eclipse. Moreover, the last two Horses of the Year, California Chrome and Gun Runner, ran in the Pegasus just weeks after their championship season ended.

Three of the six most recent winners of the Florida Derby have gone on to wear the roses on the first Saturday in May but none was later named best of his generation. Conversely the other three Kentucky Derby winners in this period all became 3-year-old champion.

You have to go back to Animal Kingdom in 2011 to find a horse who achieved the Kentucky Derby-Eclipse double after racing at Gulfstream. Interestingly Animal Kingdom’s South Florida campaign was one race on the grass, in which he finished second.

Monomoy Girl, a lock to be 3-year-old filly champion, made her first 2018 start at the Fair Grounds. So the other major winter tracks in the Eastern and Central time zones have produced champions in the era when Gulfstream has been shut out. Streak or coincidence?

Betting in the dark

I gave out four head-to-head Breeders’ Cup wagers and they all won. So I have no axe to grind.

However, I didn’t bet any of them for a simple reason. Unless they were snuck in during the moments I blinked, the odds were never shown on the TV monitors. There is no acceptable explanation or excuse.

The most egregious of the omissions was for the Turf, which had a proposition pitting Enable against the field. It would have been useful to know the odds inasmuch as this was identical to betting her to win. Thanks to the H-H bargain 10 percent takeout, the return could have been higher. It turns out this was the case. She paid $3.80 in the H-H against $3.60 in the straight pool.

Alas this was impossible to take advantage of as a result of the odds blackout. If these wagers are to become a regular part of the Breeders’ Cup menu, the odds have to be displayed as prominently as the other pools.

Post-Triple Crown hangovers

It probably went largely unnoticed on Breeders’ Cup Saturday but 2017 Preakness winner Cloud Computing failed to hit the board in an optional claimer at Aqueduct Saturday. It was his fourth straight out of the money effort since his big day 18 months ago. He ran so poorly it wouldn’t be a surprise if his retirement is announced any minute now.

It isn’t just him. Always Dreaming is winless in five starts since winning the 2017 Derby. Tapwrit has the same negative streak since getting home first in that year’s Belmont.

The only post Triple Crown win by any of the three race winners in 2016 was Exaggerator’s in that summer’s Haskell.

Justify gets an asterisk since he went to the breeding shed after his Triple Crown sweep but he at least won the Preakness after the Derby and the Belmont after the Preakness. That’s twice as many post-Triple Crown victories as the previous two years combined.

So much for the Triple Crown producing stars and gate attractions for the rest of the year.

Greyhound apocalypse

Animal rights activists rarely think of the unintended consequences of their campaigns.

They succeeded in passing a ban on greyhound racing in Florida in Tuesday’s referendums. All greyhound racing must cease in the state by the end of 2020.

Kitty Block, president of the Humane Society of the United States, was quoted in the Miami Herald after the returns saying, “Because of the decision of millions of Florida voters thousands of dogs will be spared the pain and suffering that is inherent in the greyhound racing industry.”

While patting herself and organization on the back, she neatly skipped over the fact that this alleged pain and suffering will be alleviated by what will amount to a greyhound apocalypse.

There are thousands of greyhounds currently racing at Florida’s 12 dog tracks. Thousands more are pups still months away from the race track. None will have any value but will still have to be housed, fed and medically cared for after Dec. 31, 2020. Some will be shipped to tracks in the remaining five greyhound racing states. But it will be a small percentage.

The greyhound industry has done an admirable job getting greyhounds adopted after their racing careers. People should not be fooled by the muzzles. They are to help decide photo finishes. These dogs are in no way vicious and make affectionate pets. I recommend them heartily for anyone who has room in their home and heart for a lovable pet. Steve Crist has a couple in his home and has become an advocate for greyhound adoption.

Unfortunately there is no way homes can be found for so many greyhounds at one time. I don’t think I need to connect the dots on what is going to happen to those for whom homes are not found. The Humane Society and PETA will walk away as if they are in no way responsible.

Written by Tom Jicha

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