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, December 20, 2018

Racing shouldn’t expect states to play Santa Claus

Maryland is considering a proposal to pay most of about a half-billion dollars to rebuild Pimlico. New Jersey is dipping into tax-payers' pockets to provide $100 million to purse subsidies to Monmouth, the Meadowlands and Freehold. The former is crazy, the latter is wrong. These are just some of the things that come to mind during a week in which there is very little going on in racing.

Ruminations during the most down period on the racing calendar.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. No, Maryland, there isn’t.

The idea of spending $424 million to rebuild Pimlico is lunacy. The cost, too high to start with, will inevitably rise, as all multi-year construction projects do. It already has. A year ago, Stronach Group COO Tim Ritvo estimated the cost would be $300.

Even with a new Pimlico, Laurel will be the center of Maryland racing. It is centrally located in the middle of one of the nation’s most populated corridors from Baltimore to D.C. and Northern Virginia For most in this region Pimlico is in a difficult to reach Baltimore neighborhood.

The move to the suburbs is the trend all over the sports map. The Giants and Jets play in New Jersey, the “Los Angeles” Angels play in Anaheim. Even the Washington Redskins play in suburban Maryland.

There have to be a lot better things to do with a half-billion dollars, especially in a city with as many blighted areas as Baltimore, than build a new race track for two or three weeks a year.

N.J. also playing Santa Claus

Horsemen, who summer at Monmouth Park, got super news this week. The State Senate voted to provide $10 million a year in purse subsidies for the next five years. The Meadowlands and Freehold harness operations will get lesser subsidies.The whole package, including breeder awards, comes to $20 million a year, $100 million total.

The vote was unanimous, 40-0, so approval in the Assembly, which will take up the measure early in the new year, seems certain. This puts the seashore track, which has been struggling to compete with neighboring tracks with casino subsidies, back into the game in a big way. Based on a 56-day season, with 10 races a day, this averages to almost $20,000 extra per race. Obviously lower level claimers will get less, top claimers and allowances more. Monmouth will be a very attractive venue again.

As someone championing horse racing, this is a great development. However, I can’t help but see how wrong it is. New Jersey is one of the most heavily taxed states in the nation, so much so that there has been a steady exodus out of the state by those who could manage it. To go into tax-payers’ pockets to subsidize a private business is not right. If the state can find an extra $100 million, it ought to go back to tax-payers.

The original justification for racing, when it was the only legal form of gambling, was it generates money for the state. This has been turned on its head. The state is providing money to racing. It’s not right.

SoCal deserves BC

I’ve become a convert. The Breeders’ Cup should be anchored in Southern California. The tipping point for me came when I read an unassailable point. The most important races in the game, the Triple Crown events, are all in the East. It’s only fair that the West Coast have a premier event.

I’d be agreeable to a slight compromise. The BC could travel once every five years to a Keeneland, Laurel, Belmont or, as Mark Berner suggested this week in a different context, the Fairgrounds. The rotation should be Santa Anita-Del Mar-Santa Anita-Del Mar-outside location.

The weather would not be an issue and the TV ratings would be higher because the races would be later in the day. The celebrity pizzazz would be a bonus.

Jackpot Horse Racing Roulette

As long as there will be Horse Racing Roulette at Santa Anita, how about a companion Jackpot Horse Racing Roulette for people who have no interest in a string of $3.20 payoffs?

Remember the old bet in California where you had to pick the first or second finishers in all nine races. Do this with HRR. Pick the right color to win in all nine races.

If nothing else, this would raise awareness of HRR. The payoff could be better than you might think even with only three possibilities in each race. Three to the ninth power is 19,683 possible combinations.

Fillies deserve a Derby route

Churchill Downs now includes “all 3-year-old fillies” in its Kentucky Derby future bets, so it should provide a realistic mechanism for them to qualify.

There is a parallel points system to qualify for the Kentucky Oaks. The top point-earner should have the option of running in the Derby. If her connections decline, the second, then third highest point-earners should have this option but no deeper than this.

Curtail female races

Along these lines, I’m going to continue my campaign for America to follow the European model and eliminate most races restricted to females, 4-year-olds and up.

It would be great if the likes of Monomoy Girl and Midnight Bisou had to take on males in important stakes. It won’t happen because the top fillies don’t have to step outside their division.

As I’ve often noted, Enable, Almond Eyes, Winx and even the Mexican champion Jala Jala have demonstrated beyond argument that female thoroughbreds don’t need condescending help.

Girls vs. boys would even have promotional appeal.

Big 3YO race void

The Stronach Group has been aggressive about creating major races for its properties, the Pegasus and the Pegasus Turf at Gulfstream, and it is talking about reviving the Washington D.C. International to its old luster at Laurel.

It owes Santa Anita fans a big post-Triple Crown race for 3-year-olds. Five of the past seven winners of the Derby have come out of SoCal but only California Chrome ever raced out West again. Injuries—real and phantom—have been a factor but this doesn’t change the fact that there is no lure for important 3-year-olds to come home.

If Santa Anita doesn’t do something about this, Del Mar should.

“First down” finish line

Race tracks should borrow a graphic idea from the NFL and superimpose on TV monitors a finish line like that for first downs. No track needs this more than Gulfstream, where there are no markings or poles on the turf course except when the rails are set at zero, which is seldom.

As it is, the only way to gauge the location of the wire on the Gulfstream grass is the end of red markings on the temporary rail.

Written by Tom Jicha

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