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 16, 2018

Pegasus Turf lands a couple of major pieces

The Pegasus World Cup has been slowly but surely filling with big names--Accelerate, City of Light, Gunnevera and Audible, who got upset on an off track Saturday. Little has been said about the new $7 million companion grass stakes. No more. Over the past few days, Magical, who put a scare into Enable in the Breeders' Cup Turf, and Japanese runner Aerolithe have been named probables, along with Global Empire, who ran big to take Saturday's Fort Lauderdale over 12 rivals, including four other Grade 1 winners.

Gulfstream hoped to get a few starters for the new Pegasus Turf from Saturday’s Fort Lauderdale. It probably did, starting with convincing winner, Global Empire.

But it was a couple of other horses, who committed to the Pegasus Turf over the past few days, who deserve the headlines. Magical, beaten less than a length by super filly Enable in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, will be coming and adds a needed touch of class. America’s older turf performers have been a decidedly below par bunch this season, taking turns beating each other. Not a single male turfer has won more than one Grade 1. So the Pegasus badly needs the star power Magical provides.

Perhaps the bigger coup is the luring of Japanese filly Aerolithe, whose connections are trying to make shipping arrangements to get here for the Jan. 26 race, according to Gulfstream general manager Bill Badgett. Although there have been few announcements concerning participants, Badgett said Saturday he is confident there will be a full 12-horse field.

It isn’t the resume Aerolithe brings. The 4-year-old with American breeding—her grandsire is French Deputy—is zero-for-three in 2018, albeit all in Grade 1 races in Japan. However she does have a Grade 1 in Hong Kong among her 3 wins in 13 starts.

It’s the fact that any stakes horse from Japan is coming. This is the potential motherlode for American racing. The Japanese bet like no others. In 2016, the players in Japan sent in $35 million on the Arc. To put this into perspective, handle on Pegasus Day 2018 was just under $42 million, the all-time record for Gulfstream. That was on 13 races. This is why Churchill Downs has been creating new rules about Derby qualifying in an effort to get a Japanese horse into the race.

Whether the Japanese will be able to bet on the inaugural Pegasus Turf is up in the air. Japan limits the number of races outside the country that can be imported for betting. The Pegasus, a newcomer, isn’t on the list. An exception would have to be made. With a Japanese horse in the race, you never know.

Global Empire punched his ticket to the Pegasus Turf with a front-running score in the Fort Lauderdale. “I’ll have to check with the man who writes the checks (owner Michael Shera),” trainer James Lawrence II said. “But I’m pretty sure he’ll want to come.”

Hall of Famer Edgar Prado showed he still has it, gunning Global Empire to the lead in the bulky 13-horse field, cleverly taking hold when no one moved to challenge down the backside then hitting the gas at the top of the stretch to put daylight on the field and discourage the late runners.

Global Runner, who will be 8 in a few weeks, is a great story. Schera claimed him for $62,500 in 2017 and turned him over to Lawrence. “He was ready for retirement. We resurrected him,” Lawrence said. Asked how long he could keep Global Empire going, Lawrence replied with a smile, “The way he’s going, maybe 10.”

Given the dearth of a standout in his division, Global Empire probably put himself more prominently into the Eclipse conversation with his latest Grade 2 win. He dead-heated with Channel Maker in the Grade 2 Bowling Green at Saratoga then outran that foe and eight others in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer.

Lawrence said Global Empire’s connections went into the BC Turf with a high level of confidence. But his gelding didn’t really handle the wet track even though he was able to open a clear lead early.

Gulfstream’s grass course was drenched, too, on Saturday, but Lawrence said it was a different situation. “I was watching the races the past few days and you could feel the ground move it was so hard. The course really needed some rain. I was happy to see it but when it kept raining I was worried maybe it didn’t need this much.”

The Fort Lauderdale was uncommonly salty for a Grade 2 grass stakes this time of year. Four Grade 1 winners—5 if you count Quarteto de Cordas who took a Grade 1 in his native Brazil. It might be enough to put Global Empire over the top. “That’s why I told Edgar to win by 4 (actually it was 2 ½ lengths),” Lawrence said in a kidding tone.

There are no sure things

The Harlan's Holiday shaped up as one of those pay-to-play cupcake games football power houses have used for years to tune-up for the big challenges to come.

Audible looked invincible against five seemingly over-matched foes. The Florida Derby winner was unbeaten at Gulfstream and had come back from a six-month layoff off his impressive third in the Kentucky Derby with a dazzling win at Churchill Downs on the Breeders' Cup undercard. He went to the post 1-10.

His opponents looked like, well, opponents in the way boxing uses the term. One was a Todd Pletcher stablemate. Another could have been had for $16,000 in his last start.

Mother Nature became the great equalizer. It started raining in late morning, By the time the horses reached the gate, it was pouring and blowing. Audible hated it. He never grabbed hold of the ground and solely on his class and heart was he able to get up for second behind 25-1 shot Sir Anthony.

"You hate to use the track as an excuse," said Todd Pletcher, who then used the track as an excuse. "It rained quite a bit and they sealed the track. Javier (Castellano) said up the backside it was pretty uneven. There were dry spots and wet spots. It seemed like (Audible) was never really handling the track."

It might have been an excuse but everything Pletcher said was true. Castellano had Audible inside then in the middle of the track and finally about five wide around the turn and into the lane, looking for good footing. It’s a tribute to Audible that at midstretch it still seemed like he would get up. But Sir Anthony, who saved ground throughout and cut the corner, held on by a half-length.

Audible will be a lot better in the Pegasus. But so will the competition.

Written by Tom Jicha

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