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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Sunday, December 30, 2018

McKinzie and Oaks fillies’ smashing season-enders augurs well for ‘19

McKinzie was as well thought of early in 2018 as his then unknown stablemate Justify. He demonstrated why by opening the Santa Anita season with an eye-catching romp in the Grade 1 Malibu. Bob Baffert mentioned the possibility of running back in the Pegasus and is definitely targeting the Dubai World Cup. Despite his inexplicable dud at the Breeders' Cup, it will take quite a horse to beat him wherever he shows up in 2019. Chad Brown also ended his year on a high note, winning still another Grade 1 with NY shipper Competitionofideas in the American Oaks, beating among others Lady Amandine, who was coming back off a stakes score on three days rest.

Past has always been prologue in racing and the past week augurs well for the new year, which arrives Tuesday.

McKinzie’s breath-taking sweep around and past what was considered to be an exceptional Malibu field makes you speculate whether if he had stayed healthy Justify would be the latest Triple Crown winner.

McKinzie’s dud in the BC Classic is inexplicable. Bob Baffert is taking the blame for not having him fit enough but there has to be more to it than that. A McKinzie at 70% would have performed better. In light of previously undefeated Dream Team’s odds-on no-show in Wednesday’s LaBrea, it's baffling how some of Baffert’s biggest stars usually run big but sometimes don’t run at all.

Whatever the reason for McKinzie’s BC debacle, his Malibu gives racing fans something to eagerly anticipate in 2019 with the possibility that he will open his campaign in the Pegasus. If not Baffert has the Dubai World Cup in March circled. McKinzie will be double tough no matter where he shows up.

Gift Box, who outfought Battle of Midway and Dabster in the Grade 2 San Antonio, might have found a new home in SoCal but it’s hard to become overly impressed by a soon-to-be 6 year-old, who went into the Grade 2 on a seven-race losing streak, the last three in mundane allowance races in New York.

Moreover, Battle of Midway and Dabster exemplify the mediocre nature of older horses on the West Coast the past few years. Take away Accelerate and a bunch of allowance horses fill the fields in most of the stakes.

If McKinzie stays home, he could be this year’s Accelerate.

Speaking of finding a new home in SoCal, a couple of promising turf fillies may have emerged opening week at Santa Anita. English import Amandine, 1-for-11 back home, made her second start in the U.S. her second impressive triumph in the minor Lady of Shamrock Stakes on opening day.

Given the ease of her victory, her connections pulled a Linda Rice with Voodoo Song, running her right back three days later in the American Oaks. She appeared a winner in mid-stretch but suddenly ran out of gas and got nosed out by a 70-1 stablemate for the place as Chad Brown's Competitionofideas stormed by.

It might have been the short rest, it might have been the mile and a quarter and maybe Lady Amandine just wasn’t good enough to hold off Competitionofideas, who won going away, giving Chad one last Grade 1 victory, the cigar-lighter for his third straight Eclipse.

Back home in New York, Competitionofideas couldn’t get out of her NX2 condition but now she is a Grade 1 winner. Both she and Lady Amandine could be major factors in 2019.

What a Moment

The Eclipse Awards are one way to rehash the year that was in racing. The NTRA has created another, the Moment of the Year.

A significant difference between the two is the Eclipse vote is limited to accredited members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, the staff of the Daily Racing Form and race tracks.

The Moment of the Year vote is open to all. If you have an opinion, go to You have until Jan. 16.

A dozen “moments” have been nominated by the NTRA. Half are outstanding horses winning prestigious stakes.

To me, one, Diversify’s Whitney, is an “are you kidding?” It was a superb race by a superior horse but the Moment of the Year? The New York-bred caught a flier on a sloppy Saratoga track and was never challenged, a scenario most good horses will translate to victory.

Each of the other five race “moments” were more memorable and significant. Four were Breeders’ Cup triumphs: Game Winner in the Juvenile; Monomoy Girl in the Distaff; Enable in the Turf and Accelerate in the Classic.

An argument could be mounted on behalf of either of the latter two for Moment of the Year. The other individual race was Gun Runner closing his brilliant career with a runaway in the Pegasus.

Two other nominees should be an entry: the Supreme Court throwing out the federal ban on sports betting and Monmouth opening a sports book. If the competition was for gambling Moment of the Year, these two would be hard to separate.

Personal milestones fill three other slots. The death of Cot Campbell, father of racing syndicates; Gary Stevens retiring (for the fourth or is it fifth time?); and Johnny Velazquez riding his 6,000th winner. But none had a major impact on racing in 2018.

This brings us to what to me (which will be no surprise to readers) is the obvious choice, Justify sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. I've seen it written that these are restricted races, limited to 3-year-olds. This is nonsense. Fact is, horses' sophomore campaigns are the only times most of the best of the generation try each other. Unfortunately, by the time they are 4, most of the really good ones have fallen by the wayside or are heading for the breeding shed.

Justify proved he was a horse for all courses, distances and conditions. His win in the Derby broke the curse of Apollo, which had stood for 138 years. He took the Preakness under horrendous weather and track conditions. In New York, he conquered the daunting mile and a half of Big Sandy, the undoing of so many would-be Triple Crown champions.

His feat will be celebrated long after the other “moments” are forgotten.

Written by Tom Jicha

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