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 13, 2018


Sitting out Audible last summer sets up a huge 2019



Audible was sitting on a big 2018 last spring. His win in the Florida Derby was his fourth in five career starts. Even his fast-closing third, a head off Eclipse champion Good Magic, in the Kentucky Derby augured well of more big things to come. However, offering only vague explanations, Todd Pletcher put him on the shelf. It might turn out to be a genius move. Audible came back big on the Breeders' Cup undercard and is any price to humble five overmatched rivals in Saturday's Harlan's Holiday, his prep for the $9 million Pegasus. On the same card, the grassy Fort Lauderdale is a super betting race with five Grade 1 turf winners and some others capable of beating them all.

Todd Pletcher might have made a genius play when he backed off Audible after the Kentucky Derby without offering even a phantom injury as explanation.

The Florida Derby champion wasn’t going to run in the Preakness. Pletcher never goes to the second jewel of the Triple Crown unless he has the winner of the first. The mile-and-a-half Belmont was supposedly on the New York-bred’s dance card, but this would have entailed taking on undefeated Justify at a distance that was a huge question mark for Audible. He could have gotten wrung out in the attempt and missed significant time afterward anyway.

Now the well rested Audible is on the cusp of a 4-year-old season in which, thanks to attrition and greedy breeders, he will have the racing world at his hooves.
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Audible came back on Breeders’ Cup day in a minor stakes and thrashed overmatched foes. The New York-bred could be 1-5 or less to do the same in the Harlan’s Holiday Saturday at Gulfstream. It’s a credit to the racing department that it was able to get five sacrificial lambs to make the $100,000 stakes go. Clearly some favors had to be called in. It's overkill that Audible drew the advantageous one hole in the mile-and-a-sixteenth race.

Pletcher helped with the horse who could be Audible’s main challenger, to use the term loosely, Village King. The Argentine import won his first race in the U.S. last time out, defeating five foes in the off-the-turf Red Smith.

Sir Anthony comes in from Illinois with a three-race winning streak against weaker competition.

The others appear to be helping out the racing office. Apostle won a first level optional claimer in his most recent try on dirt. Minute Madness is 4-for-32 racing primarily in claimers. He could have been taken for $16,000 from a win at Gulfstream West/Calder last month. Sightforsoreyes has one win in nine 2018 starts and that was at Thistledown. He was last, beaten 49 lengths in the Clark.

The Harlan’s Holiday is only a minor stepping stone for Audible. The major objective is the $9 million Pegasus on Jan. 26. Accelerate will be there but Audible will have home field advantage on the track where he won the Holy Bull and Florida Derby. What’s more, second and third will offer seven-figure rewards.

Audible is likely sitting on a very big year.

Justify is long gone. Good Magic followed suit. Mendelssohn was retired last week. Accelerate will check out after the Pegasus. Catholic Boy isn’t expected to make his 2019 debut until spring and could start as often on turf as dirt in 2019.

Pletcher might be establishing a new paradigm for talented 3-year-olds. Take a shot at the Derby. If it doesn’t work out, go on the shelf in pursuit of a lucrative campaign as an older horse.

Fort Lauderdale loaded

The biggest development in Pegasus World, the inaugural $7 million turf companion to the richest race in North America, has been flying low enough under the radar to be a crop duster.

Possible starters for the main track event have been trumpeted on almost a daily basis. Meanwhile, reports on the grass race have been as scarce as a Prius driven by a conservative.

This could change after Saturday’s Fort Lauderdale. The field for the Grade 2 is loaded with five Grade 1 turf winners.

The look-ahead to the new Pegasus Turf on Jan. 26 surely is a factor. An Eclipse Award might even be in play.

The older turf male category is devoid of a standout candidate. With none of the leading contenders having more than one Grade 1 victory around two turns, some analysts are pushing BC Turf Sprint winner Stormy Liberal as a candidate for the Eclipse. But this accolade going to a horse who didn’t run further than 6 ½ furlongs would be unprecedented.

Thus an impressive late season triumph by a route horse with Grade 1 credentials could sway “what have you done for me lately?” voters.

A couple of Fort Lauderdale entrants fall into this category. Pletcher’s Hi Happy has the Grade 1 Man O War on his credit sheet and a big win over the course in last spring’s Pan American (Gr. 2). Glorious Empire has similar credentials. He took the top grade Sword Dancer at the Spa as well as a deadheat for the win in the Bowling Green (Gr. 2).

Divisidero, a Grade 1 winner in 2017, could run by them all. Divisidero captured the Turf Classic on Derby Day a year ago. He’s coming off a big effort in the BC Mile, beaten less than a length in fourth, after starting from post 13. The fact that he had to move earlier than is his comfort zone didn’t help. The nine furlongs of the Fort Lauderdale is his ideal distance.

Almanaar earned his Grade 1 credential in the 2017 Gulfstream Turf Handicap and was second in the Fort Lauderdale a year ago. Quarteto de Cordas is a Grade 1 winner in his native Brazil but was never a factor in the BC Turf, his North American debut.

Not to be overlooked is Almanaar’s stablemate Projected, who’s winless in 2018 but has hit the board in six straight stakes. All you need to know is it’s a turf stakes and he’ll be saddled by Chad Brown.

A brilliant idea, NOT!

Racing is saved. Santa Anita has come up with the solution to all racing’s challenges in attracting and retaining fans. Not!

It’s Horse Racing Roulette.

This new bet, announced this week, is so off-the-wall it easily could be a product of someone spiking the company Christmas party punch with stupid juice.

HRR will be introduced at Santa Anita’s winter meeting, which gets under way on Dec. 26. Horses in races with at least six starters will be assigned into three groups keyed to the colors on a roulette wheel—red, black and green. It’s like a three-number race with numerous entrymates. Hasn’t racing all but eliminated entry-mates to increase betting possibilities?

The number of horses in each group will not necessarily be equal. In many, if not most cases, they won’t be. The favorite might have only one HRR entry-mate. Several longshots could be part of another group. The best part of this concept is the takeout will be a modest 15.43 percent.

The goal apparently is to make it easy for people to cash a bet and thus increase churn. There is a strong likelihood of an odds-on proposition in every race. Even when the least likely grouping wins, payoffs might not reach double figures.This runs contrary to the trend toward life-changing six- and seven-figure jackpots. One of these has to be a bad idea. You can't have it both ways.

Being a Stronach Group track, HRR is obviously a trial horse, which could spread to other TSG tracks. I'd rather it not. There are enough pools. But if it does, no one is going to be forced to play.

If you have ever visited a casino, you couldn’t help having noticed there are a mere handful of players around a few roulette tables while thousands of people are trying their luck at countless slot machines with their more alluring odds.

Why should a race track be any different?



Written by Tom Jicha

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