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, June 28, 2013

Halftime Report: Best Is Yet to Come in 2013

The first half of 2013 might have been a bit of a disappointment to some, with no Triple Crown possibility and most divisions lacking a standout. But this augurs well for the second half of the year, where wide-open categories, especially among the 3-year-old colts and fillies, will encourage multiple showdowns well before the Breeders' Cup.

MIAMI, June 28, 2013—Halftime. Six months down, six months to go.

The lack of a clear leader in most divisions inspires optimism that the best is yet to come. The only undisputed leader is Wise Dan as top older turf runner. With Point of Entry sidelined and Little Mike not having reestablished himself, the top challenger, if there is one, has yet to be identified. Maybe the Firecracker at Churchill on Saturday night will produce one. Keep an eye on Lea.

With three different winners of the Triple Crown races, the 3-year-old male category is wide open. If the vote were today, it would be a tossup between Oxbow and Orb. Those two and Belmont winner Palace Malice are ticketed for a showdown in the Travers. However, this far out, it’s never wise to anticipate a prospective field will be the one to show up on the day.

Suppose the Triple Crown trio does make it to the starting gate. Who’s to say a repeat of the 1982 Travers won’t reoccur. That year Runaway Groom upset Derby winner Gato del Sol, Preakness champion Aloma’s Ruler and Belmont hero Conquistador Cielo. A lot of people--myself not included-- remain high on Normandy Invasion.

This would open the door to Verrazano, who still has suffered his only loss in the Kentucky Derby and is being steered away from the three Classics winners. His major summer goal is the Haskell, where he figures to be odds-on.

A longshot possibility is the 3-year-old Rydilluc, who has crushed everything lined up against him on the grass. He could throw his hat into the ring if he keeps winning and perhaps gets over on Wise Dan at some point. A turf runner as 3-year-old champion is not out of the realm of possibility this year.

Dreaming of Julia’s dud in the Mother Goose bolsters Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar’s claim to pro tem 3-year-old filly leadership but there will be plenty of opportunities for Beholder, Midnight Lucky, Unlimited Budget, Close Hatches and Dreaming of Julia to make their bids for supremacy.

Royal Delta’s disappointing comeback race after Dubai leaves a huge hole at the top of the older filly category. One race (two, if you count Dubai) doesn’t disqualify the reigning queen, especially with so many opportunities to make amends and no clear heiress-in-waiting.

Delaunay sits atop the sprint ranks but he still has challenges coming from the likes of Fast Bullet, Sahara Sky, Comma to the Top and Jimmy Creed. The latter two face off Saturday in Hollywood's Triple Bend.

Fort Larned’s turnaround in the Stephen Foster after a couple of clunkers sets the stage for an East-West battle with Game on Dude, which might not take place until the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Paynter’s exhilarating return adds dimension to this category.

At this point, it doesn’t appear any of the 2013 3-year-olds belong in the same starting gate as their accomplished elders. Someone I respect, who has been making solid figs for decades, says this year’s crop is weak even when measured against some of the ordinary bunches of recent years.

As long as we’re putting the first half behind us, there are other things, which have fallen through the cracks, I’d like to get off my chest:

It was infuriating to hear how union operatives hijacked NYRA’s Fan Forum in June. Despite their claims, the unions, which are a big part of NYRA's problem, have access to high ranking officials. Fans get to air their gripes and suggestions less often than there is a sweep of the Triple Crown.

Hopefully, the public will get a better hearing at Saratoga. If necessary, NYRA should follow the lead of political debates. Gather questions in advance, then invite the fans who posed the most universally interesting ones to go to the mike at the meeting.

Granted, this process could be used to weed out queries to which NYRA would rather not have to offer a response. The solution is to allow media to become involved in the winnowing process. It would lend credibility to the procedure. The racing media is far better attuned to the concerns of the betting public than the swells on the top floor.

How can anyone believe the state will actually privatize NYRA in three years? Thanks to political gamesmanship, it took 10 years after VLTs were approved to get them into Aqueduct, costing the state (read “taxpayers”) billions in lost revenue.

NYRA under state control is going to be OTB all over again, a sewer for political patronage that politicians will be reluctant to surrender.

Moreover, by the time Cuomo the Second finishes surrounding the tracks, which he clearly has no use for, with casinos, there will be little interest among potential investors in taking over what will surely be doomed to be a losing proposition. So the state will be able to argue that with no viable bidders, it has to continue to operate NYRA.

One final thing, only peripherally related to racing. I had a great pre-Derby week at South Point in Las Vegas. The racebook is clean and bright, Racing Forms are essentially free ($2 deposit refunded when you bring it back) and the people behind the counter are friendly and patient. For the money and the spacious rooms, there is no better housing value in town. Make that “was.”

South Point is the latest casino/hotel to jump on the “resort fee” scam. Theirs is $14 a day, which is about at the midpoint of the Sin City range, which goes from $6 to at least $25, depending on the property.

But when they pitch $35 rooms on racing websites and email, the $14 fee amounts to a 40% percent tariff. Tack on the unavoidable state taxes and $35 becomes almost double that. This is the resort industry’s version of OTB surcharges.

Any business, whether it be a casino/hotel or an airline, is entitled to charge whatever it feels is necessary to remain a profitable operation. What is unseemly is to bait customers with a low price, then pile on exorbitant hidden charges.

What do you get for this additional fee? Hotels actually have the nerve to include things like free parking (anyone know of a casino that charges for parking?), in-room local calls (which in the era of cell phones is as generous as a free Bible in the nightstand drawer) and the swimming pool (no comment needed).

So the next time you are planning a trip to Sin City and see an attractive rate, be sure to inquire if there is an additional resort fee. There are still some hotels that don't participate in this outrage. There are even billboards around town urging tourists to fight these fees, undoubtedly bankrolled by hotels that don’t charge them. This is probably a losing battle but it is one worth enlisting in the resistance to fight.

Written by Tom Jicha

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