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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Friday, September 06, 2013

Saratoga Summer 2013 was a season of champions

Too many cheap races detracted from Saratoga 2013 but a perusal of all the champions and potential champions who filled the better races at the Spa more than made up for it.

MIAMI, Sept. 6, 2013--Sometimes it’s difficult to fully appreciate something when you are in the midst of it. The just concluded Saratoga meeting falls into this category.

The cavalcade of $20,000 claimers and cheap turf sprints was maddening. The horses who filled these races wouldn’t have been given stalls not that many years ago.

But in retrospect, when you take a glass half-full look at the quality of the meeting, this might have been the most star-studded assemblage in years. When the votes are counted for the 2013 Eclipse Awards, it’s possible that all but two or three winners will have competed at the Spa this summer.

In fact, if the vote were taken at the end of August rather than the end of December, the only slam dunk winner lacking Saratoga 2013 credentials would be Game on Dude.

Too much racing remains to make definitive judgments about the juveniles. However, the late-running manner in which Strong Mandate galloped in the Hopeful and Sweet Reason dispatched her rivals in the Spinaway puts them at the head of the class.

Several Eclipses were all but clinched at the Spa. It is inconceivable that Princess of Sylmar will not be named outstanding 3-year-old filly. Adding the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama to her Kentucky Oaks triumph makes for an unbeatable triple.

Will Take Charge’s upset in the Travers further muddled the 3-year-old male division. Nonetheless, it’s a near certainty the eventual champion, whether it be Orb, Palace Malice or Will Take Charge (Verrazano would have to win a big fall weight-for-age race and the Breeders’ Cup Classic to even get back into the conversation) will have been in the Midsummer Derby.

It appears Game on Dude will sit on his lead in the older horse and Horse of the Year categories until the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But if he fails there, as he has twice, the door is open for Whitney winner Cross Traffic, who probably would need a Jockey Club Gold Cup/BC Classic double to overtake the Dude. The same double would likely work for Flat Out, the Woodward runnerup.

Royal Delta’s 5-year-old season wasn’t stellar early but her dominant win in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign, after capturing the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap, puts her firmly atop the older distaff division again. A showdown of Royal Delta, last year’s juvenile filly champion Beholder, who came back from a physical setback with a big win at Del Mar, and Princess of Sylmar in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff would rival the Classic as the highlight of the two-day festival in November.

Dank probably vaulted to the top of many Eclipse voters' ballots in the female turf division with her dominant score in the Beverly D. Not mine. It’s a pet peeve that Euros can come over, win one race and be voted an Eclipse. If Dank does it again at the Breeders’ Cup, I'll be a convert. But for now, Laughing, who added the Diana and Ballston Spa to her track record performance in Monmouth’s Eatontown, is the one to beat on my ballot. Marketing Mix, who skipped the Spa this summer, can’t be counted out.

The male sprint division has as many contenders as there will be horses in the BC Sprint starting gate. With injuries sidelining many of the early season standouts, unless there’s an off-the-wall result, the winner the first weekend in November will probably take the title.

This isn’t the case in the female counterpart. Dance To Bristol has merely won seven straight this year, including the Honorable Miss and Grade 1 Ballerina. Groupie Doll would have to do something extraordinary during her abbreviated three-race fall campaign to overtake her.

I don’t pay much attention to the jump bunch but most of the good steeplechasers point to Saratoga. No reason to think this season was different.

The human awards don’t generate as much advance conversation as the equine prizes. However by setting a record for wins at Saratoga after doing the same at Keeneland’s spring session and dominating Churchill’s spring meeting, Ken and Sarah Ramsey are mortal locks to take home the outstanding owner gold on Eclipse night in January at Gulfstream.

The Ramseys did it with quality as well as quantity. The day they had on Aug. 17—three Grade 1 wins at two tracks-- hasn’t often, if ever, been equaled. Big Blue Kitten took Saratoga’s Sword Dancer and halfway across the country, Admiral Kitten and Real Solution scored upsets in the Secretariat and Arlington Million, respectively.

More amazing, all three were sired by the Ramseys’ superlative stallion Kitten’s Joy, whose offspring came up big on the sport’s biggest days. He also is the sire of Stephanie’s Kitten, who accounted for the Grade 1 Just a Game on the Belmont Stakes undercard and the Distaff Turf Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

Thanks to Kitten’s Joy, the Ramseys are odds-on to also capture the outstanding breeder Eclipse.

The well managed reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan put more distance between himself and the field for older turf honors by making his annual stop at Saratoga to win the Fourstardave. But if he stumbles down the road, Big Blue Kitten is in position to be the beneficiary.

Javier Castellano and Joel Rosario were duking it out for the Saratoga jockeys title when Rosario got hurt. The Eclipse competition will probably come down to the same pair, with Rosario the favorite if can pick up where he left off when he returns from the foot injury he suffered at the Spa.

Why not Jose Ortiz for apprentice jockey laurels? He rode with the bug for only a couple of months but the way I understand it, that’s enough to qualify. His first Grade 1 victory aboard Strong Mandate in the Hopeful shows he has had made the transition to journeyman, which has been the undoing of countless hotshot apprentices.

Saratoga champion trainer Todd Pletcher, as usual, is among the top contenders in his field, although out West Jerry Hollendorfer will have a lot to say about that as the year winds down.

The possibility of a dozen or more champions, horse and human, having competed at the Spa this summer is rich compensation for having to endure all those bottom level beaten claimers.

Written by Tom Jicha

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