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 27, 2013

Super Saturday is too much of a good thing

Saturday's racing on both coasts is spectacular. Ten Grade 1 races are scheduled, more than on either of the Breeders' Cup days. This could be too much of a good thing. Fall racing would be more exciting if these races were spread out over September and October, as they used to be.

MIAMI, Sept. 27, 2013--Super Saturday isn’t hyperbole this weekend. Ten Grade 1 races are on tap, five apiece at Belmont and Santa Anita. This is more than Breeders’ Cup Saturday.

There should be 11. The Kelso, a Grade 2, is worthy of a bump up.

What a great day. What a shame.

These races each deserve their own place in the sun, a day when it’s all about them. At most they should share a bill with one other major stakes.

It’s insulting that the first confrontation between Eclipse champion Royal Delta and streaking 3-year-old filly leader Princess of Sylmar is buried as the fifth race on an 11-race Belmont card. We all know why. Even with casino money cascading in beyond the most wildly optimistic expectations, it’s more important to build a big Pick 6 pool than to give a proper platform to one of the most anticipated showdowns of the year.

It used to be when the horses returned from Saratoga that the fall session at Belmont was known as the “championship meet,” because so many divisional titles were decided in stakes spaced out during September and October. Now it’s more like the “championship day.” Make it two days, since the meeting’s other three Grade 1 stakes will be lumped together next Saturday. Once upon a time horses could start in more than one of these championship events, such as the Futurity and Champagne, Matron and Frizette.

No more. The Futurity will be run Sunday, the Champagne six days later. Same for the Matron and Frizette. It’s not inconceivable that a horse could double up in six days but with Richard Dutrow out of the picture, it’s beyond highly unlikely.

The culprits for the compacting of the best of racing are the Breeders’ Cup the first weekend in November and the new school of training. Social Security checks go out more frequently than most thoroughbreds.

There’s probably no remedy for the latter unless some free-thinking young trainer starts to win races in bunches with horses who race every couple or three weeks like in the old days. Racing is as much a copycat business as my old beat of television.

The Breeders’ Cup is another story. I’ve advocated several times that the self-anointed World Championships move back on the calendar to Thanksgiving weekend. Black Friday is an unofficial national holiday. More people are off work than any other Friday of the year and a lot of people are looking for something to do or watch while their spouses go nuts at the mall.

One drawback is the late date comes with the threat of miserable weather and early nightfall in most of the United States. However, it’s become increasingly evident that Breeders’ Cup is hell bent on anchoring itself in Southern California. Santa Anita is in the midst of a three-year run as host track and Del Mar isn’t spending millions to widen its turf course without at least a wink-wink deal that it’s getting into the Breeders’ Cup rotation. So neither of the potential negatives are an issue.

There are myriad reasons why not maintaining the Breeders' Cup as a movable feast would be bad for racing, and ultimately the Breeders’ Cup. However, as long as it seems inevitable, we might as well look for positives. A big one would be the opportunity for Belmont, Santa Anita and Keeneland to space their most prestigious stakes throughout the fall and still leave time for what is considered to be the proper layoff prior to the Breeders’ Cup.

I’ll be as chomping at the bit to bet Saturday's cavalcade of super stakes. But I would enjoy it just as much, probably more, if the marquee races were spaced so that I could be betting the best horses in the world all during the fall. As it is, we’re looking at full cards of second-tier and state-bred stakes on both coasts by the second half of October.

One other bitch about this Saturday. With all the Grade 1’s and the time difference between coasts, you would think NYRA and Santa Anita could have found a way to tie together some of them in a crossover multiple wager bet. The final two Grade 1’s at Belmont, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, have scheduled post times of 5:17 and 5:49 respectively. The first two Grade 1’s at Santa Anita, the Chandelier for 2-year-olds and the Rodeo Drive for fillies and mares on the turf, go at 6 p.m. (Eastern) and 6:34.

It took NYRA years to come up with a less inviting multiple race wager than the Grand Slam, which a lot of simulcast sites don’t even handle. It finally managed to bottom itself with the Thursday Pick 4, combining the last two in New York with the first two at Penn National, a track that might as well be Assiniboia Downs to Big Apple players.

Yet with an opportunity to link four championship caliber races on the biggest day of the fall outside the Breeders’ Cup, NYRA and Santa Anita did nothing. Why?

Written by Tom Jicha

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