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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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Santa Anita reaction shows racing isn’t serious about cleaning up its act

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to motivate people to address long festering issues. It appeared this was the case when the deaths of 22 horses spurred Belinda Stronach, president of The Stronach Group, to issue new rules barring race day medications at Santa Anita and Golden Gate. Unfortunately, racing showed its true colors when not a single track in America backed her play. Now everything has been kicked down the road, where it will probably fade into oblivion, just as the Breeders' Cup attempted ban on medications did.

I’m distressed and I’m disgusted. I’m wondering if it’s time to say goodbye to horse racing.

I’m distressed by the continuing carnage of thoroughbreds at Santa Anita. I truly believe you can’t love horse racing without loving horses.

I’m disgusted by the reaction of most in the game to Belinda Stronach’s attempt to do something about the equine tragedies. Her solutions aren’t all prudent and some are merely public relations ploys. What do riding crops have to do with what is happening at the Not So Great Race Place?

The cold turkey elements of Stronach’s new house rules were made in haste without being completely thought out. But at least she’s trying.

For her concern and effort, she has been left on an island with only lip service support from her colleagues and racing as a whole. In some cases not even that. The unavoidable conclusion is something I have been suggesting for several years. Racing doesn’t want to clean up its act. It merely wants to look like it does.

Throwing your support behind Barr-Tomko is an impressive talking point and a great shield from being called indifferent. But everyone, including those most loudly cheering it, knows Barr-Tomko has as much chance of getting through the byzantine legislative process as lowering the voting age to 12.

Andy Barr (R-KY), the co-sponsor, was interviewed by the Blood Horse this week. He grew up in racing. His grandfather, J. B. Faulconer, was vice president of public relations at Keeneland in the '60s. Barr acknowledged controlling medications has been an issue for more almost a half-century. He told the Blood Horse, “I took a look at the minutes of the Jockey Club Round Table from 1980, when my grandfather was going to those meetings…I just kind of wanted to see what my grandfather was listening to at the time. (Then Jockey Club Chairman) Nicholas Brady gave a talk and it was amazing. They were talking about the same issues 30, 40 years ago—which was, 'What do we do about doping? What do we do about medication?' “

Horsemen are among the biggest obstacles to drug reform. SoCal trainer Richard Baltas was quoted as calling Stronach’s edict to bar race day medications “stupid.” John Sadler asked what will happen if two or three horses collapse in the stretch from bleeding.

This is all horse manure and they know it. The rest of the racing world doesn’t think drug-free racing is stupid and if there are examples of horses collapsing in Europe from bleeding in a race, they haven’t been publicized. Sadler didn’t produce any examples.

The truth is it’s easier to train horses with pharmaceuticals than horsemanship and too many trainers are not horsemen.

Lasix has been scapegoated as the villain but this is because it’s the only drug on the program and acknowledged to be in use in races. It’s the drugs not on the program that are the real problem. Lasix serves to mask a lot of them.

Racing at Santa Anita was scheduled to resume this weekend. It isn’t because the California Thoroughbred Owners and the California Thoroughbred Trainers, among the most negative bodies in racing, protested Stronach’s rules. Owners and trainers want no part of anything that shakes them out of business as usual.

What’s truly appalling is the lack of support The Stronach Group has gotten from its peers. Del Mar applauded Belinda Stronach’s stand then announced that it would not adhere to drug-free racing at its meeting this summer.

Ed Allred of Los Alamitos, to this point a staunch opponent of racing on drugs, said his track also would allow Lasix on race days.

The seeming contradictions can be easily explained. Del Mar and Los Alamitos are looking out for their own interests. There are plenty of tracks that would welcome equine refugees from California. Racing has always been a game where self interest overwhelms the common good.

NYRA was the last holdout on Lasix. If the new leadership would have immediately stepped up and backed Stronach’s no race-day medication edict, it would have been a huge step toward the rest of the industry falling into line.

What have we gotten from NYRA? Crickets.

The Stronach Group isn’t blameless. If drug-free racing is good for Santa Anita and Golden Gate, why isn’t it good for Gulfstream and Laurel? Again, they would suffer at the entry box because of rival tracks welcoming drug-dependent horses. Suffering at the entry box translates to suffering on the bottom line.

So Belinda Stronach, with little alternative, caved. The new rules won’t go into effect until 2020…if then. Even then they will apply only to 2-year-olds for the first year.

We’ve seen this movie before. The Breeders’ Cup tried to ban Lasix. First it was for everyone, then 2-year-olds. When a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint drew a field of only five, Breeders’ Cup cried uncle with the cop-out, “Well, we tried.”

Is there anyone who doesn’t think this is exactly what is going to happen at Santa Anita?

Casse welcomes bullseye

War of Will has a huge target on his back in Saturday’s Louisiana Derby. He has dominated the first two preps in the Fair Grounds road to the Kentucky Derby and faces pretty much the same opposition in the season’s first 100-point prep.

“He’s the man Saturday,” trainer-TV personality Tom Amoss said. “He’s not only the horse to beat Saturday. He’s the horse to beat on the first Saturday in May.” Amoss saddles Roiland, one of the horses given a puncher’s chance. Roiland closed from Bourbon Street to snag third in the Risen Star.

Roiland’s style demands a hot pace, Amoss said, “I’m not sure I see that.” He said he wouldn’t be shocked if War of Will is allowed to dictate his own pace. “With his tactical speed, I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes over early.”

War of Will’s trainer Mark Casse doesn’t disagree. “If nobody wants the lead, he’ll take it. If somebody wants to go, he’ll stalk.”

Bill Mott, who trains the rapidly improving Country House, second in the Risen Star, isn’t conceding the race to War of Will. “My horse made a nice run from the half-mile pole and picked up everyone but the winner. It was a big move forward from his maiden race.”

Country House hurt his chances by lugging in late. Mott is puzzled why but doesn’t anticipate an encore. “It’s the only time I’ve seen it, including his workouts.”

Casse doesn’t mind having the horse everyone will be trying to upset. “I’ll take being the one to beat every time.”

War of Will already has sufficient Derby qualifying points to guarantee a slot in the Churchill Downs starting gate. But Casse isn’t treating the Louisiana Derby as a means to an end. “We’re going there to win. It’s a million dollar race and he has a reputation to maintain.”

Written by Tom Jicha

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