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, January 24, 2019

The biggest races have become chalk-fests

Accelerate could continue a recent trend in the Pegasus Saturday at Gulfstream. Whether it's the Kentucky Derby, the Breeders' Cup Classic or the Pegasus, the betting favorites in America's biggest races have been on an incredible roll. The companion first running of the Pegasus Turf, which drew a disappointing field of only 10, could feed another trend. Three fillies will face the boys in a period in which super distaffers Enable, Winx and Almond Eye have been dominating the supposedly stronger sex in international races.

Something fascinating has been happening in racing the past few years. It’s a trend to be kept in mind when approaching Pegasus Day.

A joy of racing is to uncover a price horse, who will lead to a big ticket. Caveat emptor. Recent history teaches when the best meet the best on the biggest stages, favorites prevail at an astounding rate.

Even with 20-horse fields and the corresponding traffic issues, the past six Kentucky Derbies have been won by the public betting choice.

The past four Breeders’ Cup Classics have been taken by the favorite.

Accelerate will likely be lower than his 9-5 morning line to become the third favorite in the three-year history of the Pegasus to get the bulk of the $9 million purse.

Myriad reasons might explain why the public has become so adept at settling on the winners of racing’s biggest events. At the top of the list, TVG and on-line streaming of racing afford players the opportunity to watch, review, analyze and compare performances until your eyeballs get sore. Each year these opportunities become more accessible. This is a big step forward from perusing charts and reading race recaps in the media.

Thorograph, the Ragozin Sheets and personal speed figures have evolved to the extent that they are a dependable gauge of relative abilities.

A shining example applicable to the Pegasus is Mexican Triple Crown winner Kukulkan. In the not too distant past, some turf writers would have rhapsodized about the colt who has won 14 straight races. Phar Lap inevitably would have appeared in some stories. Thanks to any version of speed figures, even pure times, it is safe to say Kukulkan’s races are so slow he should be three to four times his 30-1 morning line.

Other longshots to draw a line through regarding win bets—Something Awesome, True Timber, Imperative—can be identified by even unsophisticated handicappers.

Seeking the Soul is a Grade 1 winner and the frail Tom’s D’Etat is an improving horse, always a danger. But neither has beaten the caliber of Saturday’s opposition.

If you believe in karma, the latter might be for you. He is named for the late owner of the New Orleans Saints, Tom Benson, and Benson’s widow is one of the owners. After Sunday’s robbery at the Superdome, if anyone has a big one coming, it is Mrs. Benson.

Bravazo and Gunnevera lay it down every time and cannot be left off vertical tickets but it’s difficult to envision either in the winner’s circle.

This leaves four major contenders. Cigar winner Patternrecognition should be really live but the outside stall with a short run to the first turn is a killer. Why Gulfstream hasn’t eliminated this negative factor by extending the distance to a mile and three sixteenths—coincidentally the distance of The Stronach Group’s biggest race, the Preakness, as well as the new Pegasus Turf--is baffling.

Actually, it’s not. The priority is drawing a full field. Tim Ritvo has said he fears it would be difficult to get a dozen trainers to enter a race at more than a mile and an eighth. Apparently $9 million is insufficient incentive to leave your comfort zone.

Audible can’t be overlooked because he won the Florida Derby over the track and distance. What’s more, he wasn’t close to fully cranked in the Harlan’s Holiday, which was labeled in advance his Pegasus prep. There’s also the Todd Pletcher at Gulfstream factor.

However, the Pegasus boils down to Accelerate and the only horse to defeat him in 2018, City of Light. Accelerate avenged this defeat in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. City of Light’s trainer, Michael McCarthy, said his horse didn’t like the track that day, racing’s equivalent of “My dog ate my homework.”

I expect the public will get it right again.

$7 million draws only 10

How ironic is it that Gulfstream has been knocking itself out to get Japanese representation in the Pegasus and when it finally does in Aerolithe, Japanese-bred Yoshida is the early 5-2 favorite for the first $7 million Pegasus Turf.

This still hasn’t opened the lucrative simulcast market in Japan, which limits international simulcasts to about two dozen a year. The Japanese send it in as if Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is being optimistic in predicting the world will end in 12 years. This is why Churchill Downs also has set aside a berth in the Kentucky Derby for a Japan-based horse.

Yoshida apparently doesn’t count because he is based in the U.S. Gulfstream is hoping Aerolithe’s presence will give it a foot in the door to get future Pegasuses into Japan.

I wouldn’t want to be a steward if either of the Japanese-connected horses won and there was an inquiry or foul claim against them.

Even with the filly Aerolithe and the Euro filly Magic Wand, fourth in the BC F&M Turf, the inaugural Pegasus Turf fell two short of a full field, which has to be a disappointment to Gulfstream. The exorbitant entry fees are crucial to funding the huge purses.

Yoshida is a deserving favorite as a Grade 1 winner on dirt and turf. But he doesn’t stand out. Since his win in the Turf Classic on the Derby undercard, Yoshida has raced twice on grass. He finished fifth on both occasions, the Queen Anne at Ascot and the Fourstardave at Saratoga. He wasn’t facing world-beaters, especially at the Spa.

A third filly, Fahan Mura, coming off a win in the Robert J. Frankel at Santa Anita, jumped into the fray late and will probably set the pace.

Any of the distaffers are capable of pulling off an upset. This would continue a trend in which Euro super filly Enable, New Zealand’s Winx and Japan’s Almond Eye have thrashed males in major international races.

John Sadler has a shot at a huge afternoon. An hour before he tacks up Accelerate, he’ll saddle Catapult, the 7-2 second choice off a close second in the BC Mile, in the Pegasus Turf.

Chad Brown cannot be overlooked in any turf stakes, so lightly raced Bricks and Mortar must be considered. He and Yoshida have faced each other three times. Each was the winner once and Yoshida finished ahead of Bricks and Mortar in the 2017 Saranac, one of the four consecutive races won by Voodoo Song that summer at the Spa.

I’d like to say B&M is a price alternative to the favorites but the Chad factor mitigates against this. Still, this is where my money will be.

Jan. 24, 2019

Written by Tom Jicha

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