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, April 03, 2014


Social Inclusion owner: No price on a dream



Social Inclusion, might be sold between the Wood and Derby. However, his owner, Ron Sanchez, said any deal will have him keeping a substantial interest.

MIAMI, April 3--Ron Sanchez is convinced Social Inclusion is a once in a lifetime horse. He’s putting his money, a boatload of money, where his mouth is in Saturday’s Wood Memorial.

Reports of him turning away $5 million for 75 percent of Social Inclusion are too low, he says. “The biggest offer, which came from outside the U.S. (Coolmore? the sheiks?) is $8 million for 75 percent of the horse. This places Social Inclusion’s value at more than $10.6 million. The biggest money winner in the history of thoroughbred racing is Curlin at just north of $10.5 million.

We are talking about a horse who has won only a maiden sprint and a five-horse entry-level allowance race at Gulfstream. Sanchez is confident that Saturday night we will be talking about racing’s newest Grade I winner and the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. He’s aware that if he’s wrong, the big money offers could disappear.

One of the reasons he can be so bold is that he is Rontos Racing. Sanchez, who has been in racing for almost a quarter-century—he started in 1991 in his native Venezuela and the last four years has raced in the U.S.--doesn’t have to answer to partners.

“I’m a risk taker. Not everything in life is about money. We’ve had a dream for 25 years (to have a horse in the Kentucky Derby). We are going to try to make that dream come true. If we win, we’re in the Derby. That’s a dream of everybody. I’m going to take the risk.”

Because of this, money has not been the major impediment to closing a deal. “I want to keep a piece of the horse and breeding rights.” The 25 percent figure being reported also is too low. “I want to keep at least half.”

He also wants to keep the horse under the care of veteran South Florida trainer Manny Azpurua. When Sanchez bought Social Inclusion for $60,000 at Keeneland, he said to Azpurua, “I think we have a Derby horse.”

Sanchez has been connected with Azpurua, a Venezuelan countryman, for the past three years. His first U.S. trainer was Jose Garoffalo, who also will be going to his first Derby with Wildcat Red.

“Manny is 85 and old school. I have a lot of respect for him. He is a legend in Venezuela,” Sanchez said in an NTRA conference call.

He has been telling potential buyers that it makes no sense to take the horse away from Azpurua. “If you change training methods, the horse will probably bounce.”

However, asked if keeping Azpurua as Social Inclusion’s trainer could be a deal-breaker, Sanchez hedged. “You never know.”

First things first, Sanchez said. “We are going to focus on the Wood to get the points. No points, no Derby.” He didn’t say it, but you could probably add, “No deal.”

Contessa seeks reversal of Gotham, Withers

Sanchez is not the only one who thinks the Derby favorite could come out of the Wood. This is also the opinion of Gary Contessa, who will saddle Uncle Sigh. “I think it’s the best field assembled for any of the preps.”

Contessa is, of course, hoping that Uncle Sigh, who has dropped a couple of tight decisions to Wood rival and fellow New York bred Samraat, is the one who emerges as New York’s big horse going to Louisville.

With a little better racing luck, Contessa feels, Uncle Sigh could have gotten his picture taken both times. In the Withers, the trainer said, Uncle Sigh was stuck outside. In the Gotham, he was between In Tune and Samraat in the crucial stages. “We were sandwiched. Corey Nakatani couldn’t use his whip. If he could have gone to the whip, we could have turned the tables on Samraat.”

Uncle Sigh also was at a hidden disadvantage in those two races. He stayed in New York and had his training interrupted by the brutal weather. “It was very hard to develop a horse in New York this winter,” Contessa said.

Samraat commuted to South Florida between starts and trained under ideal conditions during an extremely mild winter. Contessa, who also went back and forth between Aqueduct and Gulfstream, said he would have followed Samraat’s lead if he knew how ugly the Big Apple weather was going to be. “I didn’t think I was going to miss as many days of training as I did. If I could do it over, I would have had Uncle Sigh in Florida on Dec. 1. I think (Samraat’s trainer) Rick Violette should be applauded.”

Contessa appreciates that Uncle Sigh, who is named for a “Duck Dynasty” character, has more than Samraat to beat in the Wood. “I’ve been blown away by Social Inclusion. He could be any kind of horse.”

The key to the Wood, in Contessa’s estimation, is, “Somebody has to hook Social Inclusion.” Ideally for Uncle Sigh, that would be Samraat. “I would love to see that.”

‘Chrome’ owner thinking Triple Crown

Talk about counting your Triple Crown before even the Santa Anita Derby hatches, Steve Corbin, owner-breeder of California Chrome, considers Saturday’s signature Derby at the Great Race Place a forgone conclusion.

“When we win the Santa Derby, we’ll be on top of the points list. Notice I said ‘when.’ I have no doubts he’ll win the race.”

California Chrome is one of those feel good stories that racing needs more of. He is the first horse bred by Corbin, who already is having the time of his life and will celebrate his birthday on Kentucky Derby Day. California Chrome was born on Super Bowl Sunday. Corbin won a bet that would happen.

California Chrome, the 6-5 morning line favorite for the Santa Anita Derby, made a shambles of the San Felipe, crushing Midnight Hawk and others by more than seven lengths at a mile and a sixteenth. Now he goes nine furlongs en route to the mile and a quarter at Churchill Downs.

Corbin is super confident his Cal-bred will only get better as the distances increase. “I don’t think you’ve seen the top of this horse. He’s just a very special colt. Maybe at a mile and a quarter, he’ll win by 12 or 15.”

Corbin is not only looking past the Santa Anita Derby, he feels the Kentucky Derby is a mere steppingstone to the ultimate prize, the Triple Crown. His big concern, he says, is that his dream might be shattered in the Preakness or Belmont by a colt who hasn’t danced all the Triple Crown dances. “To me going to just the Preakness or Belmont is cheating. If you’ve got a horse you think can do it, put him in the first race and keep him in the second and third races.”

Too bad more owners and trainers don’t think like that.

If racing, reeling from the Steve Asmussen controversy, ever needed owners like Corbin and Sanchez, this is the year.


Written by Tom Jicha

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