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 15, 2018

Monomoy Girl still has something big to prove

Monomoy Girl established at the Breeders' Cup that she is in a class of her own. But it's a small class. Before true greatness can be attached to her, she has to do something all-timers such as Rachel Alexandra, Personal Ensign and Zenyatta did--take on and beat the boys. She had opportunities during her 3-year-old season but passed. Now her connections have taken her out of consideration for the Pegasus, a race they had said was appealing to them. She reportedly won't be back until spring--in a stakes restricted to her own gender. Sooner or later--preferably sooner--she must step out of her comfort zone if she wants to be considered a great horse, not just a great filly.

The Horse of the Year debate between Justify and Accelerate was anticipated given the latter’s dominating Breeders’ Cup performance. However, I’ve been a little surprised at how many people I respect who believe Monomoy Girl belongs in the conversation.

The indisputable 3-year-old filly champion-in-waiting was close to perfect. She was never beaten to the finish in seven starts. She trounced older fillies and mares at the BC. Her five Grade 1 victories equal Acclerate and are one more than Justify. Her DQ in the Cotillion, which would have given her a sixth Grade 1, was the right call but it wouldn’t have been the worst stewards’ decision of the year if they had left the result “as is.”

So she has credentials worthy of racing’s highest honor. Unfortunately, her tour de force season came in the same year Justify won the Triple Crown and Accelerate also had only one small blemish in seven starts.

Most importantly, Monomoy Girl’s resume has a glaring hole. She never stepped up against the boys-- AKA roughly half the horses in America. She was, in effect, winning restricted races.

The opportunities were there. After her runaway in the Coaching Club American Oaks, she could have gone in the Travers. The Midsummer Derby didn’t draw its most illustrious field of the millennium but it was solid enough that a victory by Monomoy Girl would have elevated her status into the realm of the greats.

The “weaker sex” label attached to fillies and mares on this side of the Atlantic was again decisively demonstrated to be a myth in the BC Turf. Not only did Enable bury males, second-place finisher Magical is also a filly, a 3-year-old filly at that. For that matter, Waldgeist, considered pre-race to be the biggest threat to Enable, is a filly, too. She won four of six races this year, all graded stakes, not one limited to her own sex.

Rachel Alexandra, who Monomoy Girl is being measured against, took on males three times while still a 3-year-old and beat them every time, in the Preakness, the Haskell and the Woodward (against older horses).

Monomoy Girl’s connections took the course of lesser resistance, the Cotillion, against the same fillies she had been beating all year. The DQ could be considered racing karma.

There’s still plenty of time for Monomoy Girl to prove she’s not just a monster against her own kind. Zenyatta didn’t tackle males until she was 4. Neither did Personal Ensign.

Monomoy Girl has done all she can against her own gender. She has repeatedly crushed her own generation. She also decisively put down ranking older foes, including Eclipse champion Abel Tasman and South American hotshots Wow Cat and Blue Prize at the Breeders’ Cup. She figures to be 1-5 in any race limited to distaffers in 2019.

Monomoy Girl is racing now for her place in history. Her connections were gung ho to go in the Pegasus right after the Breeders’ Cup. Then they started waffling. Wednesday, they officially took her out of consideration for North America’s richest race.

Too bad. It would have been great for the race and the sport to see her get into the starting gate with Accelerate, BC Dirt Mile winner City of Light and the always hard knocking Classic runnerup Gunnevera on his home track.

Instead she’s been put on the shelf until spring with the Apple Blossom a likely starting point, another gender restricted race. She can run away with that and a roster of other rich filly and mare stakes and all she will establish is that she is one of the outstanding distaffers ever.

True greatness will not be hers until she tackles and vanquishes males, just like Enable, Rachel Alexandra, Personal Ensign, Zenyatta and so many others of her gender have done.

SoCal stewards are enablers

What are we going to do with Kent Desormeaux? Is there a horse player, who hasn’t been screwed by his failure to ride out horses to the wire?

California stewards are his latest enablers by repeatedly giving him slaps on the wrist for egregious offenses. The latest, which JP pointed out in his Sunday column, occurred in the ninth race on Nov. 9, when KJD’s early retirement apparently blew fifth in a race with High 5 wagering.

This raises another issue. Super exotic vertical bets have changed how jockeys are judged. In a not much earlier era, a rider who wrapped up on a horse, who had no chance to finish in the money, would have been applauded.

As someone who has had small shares of horses, I would be furious if my jockey emptied my horse to grab a fifth-place finish. It’s the bet that is as much of a problem as the rider.

I blame tracks for introducing such ridiculous wagers in an effort to compete with lotteries.There is no realistic way to handicap who might finish fifth and events such as the latest Desormeaux outrage often reflect poorly on the integrity of the game. These are numbers bets, not much removed from which balls will come out of a lottery drum.

I also fault bettors who traffic in these wagers. When you lose a photo for fifth because of a less than sterling ride, you have no right to bitch. You know what you are getting into.

Tap on the wrist

As long as we are on the subject of California stewards being enablers, jockey Ruben Fuentes picked up his third suspension in a month for a ride on Oct 25 in which his mount was disqualified from first to fourth.

According to the L.A. Times racing website, it was the third time in a month Fuentes drew a suspension. The penalty? Five days.

That will teach him. It’s a good thing he wasn’t caught using a plastic straw in the jockey’s room.

It’s a tossup whether this is worse than the penalty assessed to Assael Espinoza for a careless riding infraction in an August race at Del Mar, which resulted in a horse dying and jockeys Corey Nakatani and Geovanni Franco being hospitalized.

Nakatani suffered severe back injuries. Three months later he has not been able to resume his career. Espinoza got only 10 days, which he delayed with an appeal.

Written by Tom Jicha

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