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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Friday, June 07, 2013

One loss is no reason to jump off the Orb bandwagon

The Orb bandwagon emptied quickly after his dull Preakness but I'm staying aboard. All the factors that made the Derby winner look like a potential champion are still in place. He has the pedigree and style for the grueling mile and a half. Shug McGaughey is a master at getting horses good, then keeping them good. Joel Rosario is too fine a jockey to put in another ride like the one in Baltimore. What's more, there should be no walking on the lead in the third jewel of the Triple Crown. Orb's disappointing showing in the Preakness was a bummer for those yearning for a Triple Crown winner. But the upside is, he should be a generous 3-1 or so, rather than 1-2 or less had he won in Baltimore.

MIAMI, June 7, 2013--Every fan has a favorite horse. Mine is Riva Ridge.

I’m not saying he was the finest horse I’ve ever seen. That would be Seattle Slew, who might never have lost if the owners hadn’t shipped him anywhere for a buck, then change trainers when their misguided ventures blew up in their faces. Slew’s consistent brilliance gives him the edge in my eyes over Secretariat.

Riva Ridge was more a blue collar hero. I’m still convinced he would have been a year ahead of his more heralded stablemate in becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948 if it hadn’t rained on Preakness Day 1972.

I received an advance screener for the movie “Secretariat.” I have not watched it and probably never will because others have told me how it treated Riva Ridge as a non entity. Maybe it’s because three Triple Crown winners followed him onto the scene in the ‘70s, “The Decade of Champions.”

Riva Ridge might not have completed a Triple Crown but he was an Eclipse winner at 2 and 4, track record setter four times and still co-holder of the world record for a mile and three sixteenths. He was a millionaire when that was a mark of distinction.

He didn’t need to take his track with him, as long as it wasn’t wet. He won in New York, of course. But he also won the Laurel Futurity and Garden State Stakes, when those races were juvenile championship deciders, the Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs and Hollywood Derby in addition to the Kentucky Derby. He rebounded from the muddy debacle in Baltimore to win the Belmont by 7.

I see a similar thing happening, albeit under opposite circumstances Saturday. Orb won the Derby on a sloppy track, ran out of the money on a fast Pimlico surface, and is almost certain to be confronted by another off track Saturday.

Wet or dry, I’m convinced Orb will dominate the Belmont Stakes and I wouldn’t be surprised if he does it by daylight, just as Riva Ridge did.

My faith is based on several factors. The optimism after his Derby triumph that he was Triple Crown timber was steeped to a great degree in the fact that his pedigree and style screamed Belmont Stakes, the race that has tripped up so many would be Triple Crown winners. This hasn’t changed because of what happened at Pimlico.

Shug McGaughey brings horses along slowly, so when they get good, they stay good. Point of Entry, who will be odds-on to win the Manhattan one race before the Belmont, is a prime example.

There is no hotter rider in America than Joel Rosario. He might not have put in the ride of his life in the Preakness but those who blame him for Orb’s failure are way off base. While Oxbow was cruising along on a ridiculously easy lead, it seemed some of the other riders were as much determined to keep Orb pinned inside on a tiring track as they were to get the best of their mounts. Orb’s No. 1 post abetted this conspiracy. Great riders like Rosario don’t allow this to happen twice.

There should be no walking on the lead by Oxbow or anyone else this time. Ken McPeek has said publicly that he is telling Alan Garcia to go to the front from the rail with Frac Daddy. Freedom Child won the Peter Pan gate-to-wire on a sloppy track. Midnight Taboo, who has only a maiden win in three starts but was quick enough to run second at Saratoga in his 5 ½ furlong debut, seems to be in the race to assure an honest pace for Mike Repole’s more dangerous stablemates, Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze and outstanding filly Unlimited Budget. On credentials, Midnight Taboo has no business in a Grade 1 classic at this stage of his career.

Most of all I like Orb because I still feel he is the best horse of his generation. I was on a crowded bandwagon three weeks ago. One defeat in a race with an unchallenged leader setting sundial fractions and almost everyone jumps off. Not me.

Orb’s Derby capped a remarkable five-race run, the final three wins in stakes that separate the best of the crop from the rest.

Revolutionary, third in the Derby, is the biggest threat on accomplishments. But three of the others I fear most come from among the new shooters. Freedom Child has that win in the prep over a sloppy track. Incognito's Peter Pan was better than it looks on paper and he is being sent out by Kiaran McLaughlin, who is hot enough lately to spontaneously combust. The son of Belmont winner A.P. Indy and Octave, who ran second to Rags to Riches in the 2007 Kentucky Oaks and third at 10 furlongs in the Alabama, should love the distance. Unlimited Budget is built like a colt.

Repole, a figs guy, says her numbers stand up to the colts. Females beat males so often in Europe it isn’t considered noteworthy when it happens. The big reason it doesn’t happen on this side of the Atlantic is it is more rarely attempted.

Todd Pletcher has already beaten a champion, Curlin, in the Belmont with the filly Rags to Riches. However, I would feel better about the chances of Unlimited Budget if I was convinced the decision to run her was Pletcher’s and not Repole’s. The ego-driven New Yorker said at the post position draw that he wants to win the Belmont more than the Kentucky Derby, which explains him throwing three horses at it.

Then again, as D. Wayne Lukas often says, you have to be in it to win it. No matter which horse earns the blanket of carnations, “The Coach” is the towering human figure of this Belmont. Nine of the 14 starters can be traced to him.

In addition to Oxbow and late-running Will Take Charge, a couple of former assistants, who honed their craft under Lukas, will start seven others: five for Pletcher (Repole’s three, Palace Malice and Revolutionary), Incognito for McLaughlin and Derby runnerup Golden Soul for Dallas Stewart.

I’ve never been a fan of uncoupled entries. But if Team Pletcher had been combined as one unit, as they would have been in days gone by, and Lukas’ pair also were coupled, there would be only nine betting interests and I wouldn’t collect as much as I expect to on Orb.

Written by Tom Jicha

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