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, January 06, 2019


Saturday’s lesson: Never get too high on maiden-breakers



Bettors--and analysts--went overboard on Code of Honor and Coliseum in Saturday stakes, betting each down to odds-on even though both had only one win on their credit sheet. Neither hit the board. The rallying style in which Mihos and Gunmetal Grey scored in the Mucho Macho Man and Sham, respectively, offered indications that both will be factors on the Triple Crown trail as the distances extend. Meanwhile, the announcement of the Eclipse finalists raises the possibility that a championship could go overseas to a horse who started only once on this side of the Atlantic.

Saturday provided a teachable moment—actually, two of them.

Code of Honor and Coliseum, among the most touted youngsters on the East and West Coasts, were expected to use the Mucho Macho Man and Sham, respectively, as launch pads for their ascension to the highest strata among this year’s Derby class. Neither got off the ground.

The primary lesson is never get too high on a horse, who has only a maiden win on his resume, no matter how eye-catching. Although Code of Honor had a second in the Grade 1 Champagne as a follow-up to his debut victory at the Spa, deeper scrutiny diminished that laurel. Complexity, who ran away from him by at Belmont, imploded at the Breeders’ Cup, running 10th of 13, beaten more than 20 lengths.

Coliseum took his only previous start by 7 when he was bet down to 1-2 as an international good thing. However, nothing behind him that day has amounted to anything since.

It was an expensive takeaway for many, who hammered both down to odds-on and undoubtedly usedthem as “free space” singles in multi-race horizontals.

Neither was ever a factor. Code of Honor didn’t have any noteworthy gate issues, as he did in the Champagne, but nevertheless dropped back to last in a six-horse field. He appeared to be mounting his move going to the turn but Johnny Velazquez said after a brief surge he spit out the bit.

Coliseum didn’t get away well and also trailed early. But the headstrong colt refused to relax, fighting Joe Talamo as he tried to rush wide into contention. He continued far out into the track into the second turn, too. All the extra exertion took its toll. He was totally empty when the real running began.

So much for the negatives. A couple of serious players in this season’s Derby class emerged. Gunmetal Grey was clearly the more impressive. He loitered near the back of the pack with Coliseum early but unleashed a furious surge in the lane, the type that will have Derby dreamers swooning all winter and spring. However, it can’t be overlooked that he has hooked pro tem division leader Game Winner a couple of times without throwing a scare into the likely Eclipse champion.

A totally new shooter jumped into the Derby picture at Gulfstream. Mihos, who broke maiden in his second start, did what Code of Honor was expected to do. Indeed, they moved together on the turn. The difference was Mihos sustained his rally while Code of Honor backed out of it.

Extending from six furlongs to a mile, Mihos, too, scored in a manner that will encourage the thought longer distances will not be an issue. He appeared to have a slim chance to catch front-running Trophy Chaser but kicked in another gear in the final sixteenth to get up just before the wire.

Mihos’ next challenge will be to demonstrate that he can have the same kick around two turns. His opportunity likely will come in either the Holy Bull on Feb. 2 or Fountain of Youth on March 2. With zero Derby qualifying points, Jimmy Jerkens cannot be too conservative.

To clarify, both Gunmetal Grey and Mihos had only maiden wins. The majority of the fields in early stakes for juveniles and sophomores fall into this category, so obviously sometimes this is where you have to look. But over the long haul, the quick route to insolvency is to invest in them at odds-on.

There will be several more opportunities to put this lesson to use in the coming weeks. I promise to remember it, too.

Pegasus Turf picks up starter

The new Pegasus Turf, whose prospective field is still short of the desired dozen, picked up a new player from Santa Anita’s co-featured San Gabriel, Next Shares. Already a Grade 1 winner, Next Shares came out best in a three-horse photo to win the Grade 2.

Immediately after his number was put up, his connections indicated intentions to ship east for the $7 million Pegasus Turf, which needs every quality horse it can get.

Once is enough

It’s interesting that in a year the Horse of the Year debate is whether Justify’s early retirement should be held against him, there is a chance horses who raced only once in North American could capture divisional championships.

Breeders’ Cup Turf champion Enable is one of the finalists in the Filly & Mare Turf category and Expert Eye, winner of the Mile, is up for the male counterpart.

Races overseas are not supposed to be considered but in the case of Enable’s win in the Arc this is like telling jurors to unhear something crucial to a case because of an upheld objection.

There is no rule regarding how many North American starts a candidate must have but I personally do not vote for horses who race on this side of the Atlantic only once. It’s not as if there isn’t a worthy American champion in Sistercharlie, who had four Grade 1 wins in five starts.

The male turf category is a different matter. No standout American emerged, illustrated by the fact that Stormy Liberal, who didn’t run past 6 ½ furlongs, is a finalist. So Expert Eye’s nomination is understandable. In fact, he might have a better chance to win than Enable due to the weak competition.

To extend the once is enough scenario, Gun Runner, who ended his career winning the Pegasus in January, is a finalist for older dirt male. Not that it matters. Accelerate deserves to be unanimous choice, a consolation for the likelihood that Justify will beat him out for Horse of the Year.


Written by Tom Jicha

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