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 Sentinels horse racing writer since 2007 as a staff member, and continues to this day as a free-lancer.

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Thursday, October 04, 2018

In racing, the weaker sex is a myth

Fillies are among the favorites for Sunday's Arc. In Europe, this is not even worth a mention. Fillies and mares compete against and beat males all the time. It doesn't happen in the U.S. because there is usually an important stakes limited to females proximate to major open stakes. The Kentucky Oaks and Derby are prime examples. Mark Casse, who saddled Wonder Gadot to beat the boys in the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, says maybe this should be rethought.

Sea of Class, winner of the Irish Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks, will go to the post as one of the favorites in Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. One of the horses to beat in the classic event, regarded by many as the world’s most prestigious race, is defending champion Treve.

Mention of the Oaks should have been a giveaway. In case it went past you, Sea of Class is a filly. So is Treve.

Compare this to the upcoming Breeders’ Cup Classic, America’s most prestigious race other than the Kentucky Derby. It is all but certain the field will be composed entirely of males. It almost always is. Every so often a super distaffer, such as Zenyatta, takes a shot but this is such a rarity it is a story in itself when one tries.

There’s no physical reason for this, says Mark Casse, who saddled Wonder Gadot to beat the boys in the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown. She came up well short in the Travers but this had everything to do with the caliber of competition, not her gender.

Casse believes fillies could hold their own against colts under most circumstances. “For sure. It happens all the time in Europe.”

Consider great Euro females such as Goldikova and Miesque, who have crossed the Atlantic and shown up North American males. It happens stateside, too, when the opportunity presents itself. Rachel Alexandra proved herself equal to or superior to the best of her generation. So did Zenyatta and Havre de Grace.

The reason it doesn’t happen more often on this side of the Atlantic, Casse said, is a practical one. “There’s usually a corresponding race (limited to fillies), like the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby.” Peruse the stakes schedule and you’ll see there is almost always a major female race proximate to the big open stakes.

Even beyond stakes, “Fillies would be more competitive than you think,” Casse said. Indeed, every spring Wesley Ward unleashes a juvenile filly or two, who run away from the boys.

Forget gender. Consider the situation solely on numbers. It’s more advantageous to compete in races limited to half the thoroughbred population as opposed to races open to all. This is similar to races limited to state-breds. A good, even great horse can come from anywhere but it makes sense to get what you can in races limited to a restricted number of opponents.

Casse suggested if there was some jiggling of the calendar, you might see more classy fillies taking on the colts in big races. “If they ran the Kentucky Oaks three weeks prior to the Derby,” Casse said, “you might see more of those fillies running in the Derby.”

He acknowledges there is no chance of this happening because of scheduling and other considerations. But he uses what has happened in Canada to back up his point. “Eight or nine years ago, they moved the Canadian Oaks back to give them three weeks from the Oaks to the Queen’s Plate. Since then, you’ve seen numerous fillies beat the colts.”

However, Casse reiterated, “it’s never going to happen.”

NTRA poll misleading

Lively debates are good for racing (and racing sites).

For the past couple of months there has been a spirited difference of opinion on 2018's Horse of the Year. Justify was considered a lock in the aftermath of his Triple Crown sweep. Accelerate has been gaining momentum over the late spring and summer with his string of California wins against older horses.

For the past seven weeks, Accelerate has held a firm grip on first place in the NTRA weekly poll of media, most of them Eclipse voters. However, as with political polls, you have to dig deep inside the numbers to get a true picture. If the balloting for HoY were today and the same media cast the same votes, Justify would be Horse of the Year by a comfortable margin.

Simple explanation: In the Eclipse competition, only first-place votes count and Justify has more than twice as many as Accelerate. I don’t agree with this system but like the electoral college, it’s the one that counts unless and until it is changed.

Accelerate holds the top spot in the NTRA poll because five voters are leaving Justify totally out of their Top 10. I don’t think this is right but this is their prerogative. Like baseball’s MVP voting, everyone has his or her own standards. Some might be voting only for horses currently in training. It’s possible others are omitting Justify out of a fit of pique because of his premature retirement. I felt this way for a while.

I would hope when the only ballot that counts comes at the end of the year, votes will be cast on achievement not emotions.

‘Meaningful’ and ‘significant’

Greg Avioli, Thoroughbred Owners of California president, wins the award for the “screw the bettors” quote of the week.

The California Horse Racing Board had an agenda item at its Sept. 27 meeting about what, if anything, can be done about the widespread perception among horseplayers that they are being cheated by drastic changes in odds after the gate has been sprung.

One solution offered was to pass a rule that the final odds be posted within five seconds of the horses breaking. Avioli said this is impractical because it would require locking the tote before “they’re off!” maybe as the first horse entered the gate. This would hurt handle, he said.

He apparently dismisses the notion that bettors feeling they are being cheated will eventually hurt the handle a lot more.

Then came the topper. “There is no evidence people are past posting in any meaningful and significant way,” Avioli said.

This is a tacit admission that there is past posting, just not meaningful and significant past posting, terms open to individual interpretation.

Imagine this scenario. Your spouse or partner suspects you of cheating. Your defense is, “I have not cheated on you in any meaningful and significant way.” See how far that gets you.

Written by Tom Jicha

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