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 17, 2019


The Pegasus is here to stay


The Pegasus will be run for the third time next Saturday. This is two more than many foresaw when the concept was announced. Changes still have to be made. A big one this year is the addition of the companion Turf. The rich buy-in and exorbitant payoffs to also-rans remain an issue of concern. With the Super Bowl coming to Miami next year, a fourth Pegasus at Gulfstream is more certain than Justify and Monomoy Girl being named 3-year-old champions. This year's Derby prep schedule picks up Saturday at the Fair Grounds, where 15 are entered and a case can by mounted for at least half of them.


We’re a week away from Pegasus 3. When the concept was announced in May 2016 a chorus of naysayers predicted there would be no need for a numerical qualifier. Like the elites of college basketball, it would be one-and-done.

They were wrong and will continue to be wrong. Rest assured there will be a Pegasus 4, 5, 6…

Future Pegasuses won’t exactly resemble the original or even the year before. Neither of the subsequent two have.

Primarily, Gulfstream still has to work out a way to balance the risk-reward structure. The $1 million ante for the first Pegasus was absurd. Last year, it was illusory, thanks to the $650,000 kickback for just showing up, the Pegasus version of a participation trophy.

The disproportionate payoffs at the bottom need to be reduced to nothing more than expenses, as it is in every race every day. Only the first five should share in the main spoils. This would make it possible to enhance the payoffs for second through fifth to make them more worthwhile. Moreover, if the Pegasus wasn’t refunding a couple of million dollars to deep also-rans, it might not need exorbitant entry fees.

The first two editions have drawn the reigning Horse of the Year, extending careers that would have ended at the Breeders’ Cup. This was one of the goals, although ideally the extension would have been for more than one race.

Pegasus 3 probably won’t have the Horse of the Year, an honor likely to be bestowed upon Justify next Thursday. But the best horse in training, Accelerate, will head the race, as will most of the best of the rest.

It would have been great if McKinzie had come east. His clunker at the Breeders’ Cup was too bad to be true, which he showed in crushing the Malibu.

It would have been even better if certain Eclipse filly champion Monomoy Girl had accepted the challenge, as her connections indicated she might in the euphoria of the Distaff winner’s circle. A battle of the sexes would have really jazzed up the Pegasus among casual fans. No good reason for the change of heart has ever been offered.

The race won’t have the same “sex appeal” but there will be a prominent female in the Pegasus Turf. Speedy Californian Fahan Mura, recent winner of the Robert J. Frankel, is shipping east trying to take advantage of her front-running speed in a race that otherwise is coming up light.

Attribute this to growing pains. It’s a sure thing more outstanding turfers—which America didn’t have in 2018 anyway—will be pointed toward the $7 million race in 2020.

Bottom line, there will be a Pegasus every winter as long as the Stronach family owns Gulfstream Park.

A family feud might be wending through the courts but Frank and his daughter Belinda, who is in line to inherit control of The Stronach Group, are in synch on the Pegasus. It is the embodiment of their dream to meld racing and celebrity-driven entertainment.

Tim Ritvo is already thinking past next Saturday. He recently speculated aloud about a slight but significant shift in the date for Pegasus 4. The event has been anchored on the weekend between the NFL’s conference championship games and the Super Bowl to take advantage of a relative dead spot in the sports calendar.

The Super Bowl is in Miami next winter, so Ritvo is contemplating moving the Pegasus to the Saturday of Super Bowl weekend. As much media as convenes in any one location all year will be in town. Writers and broadcasters have little to do on the Saturday before the game. Neither do the well-heeled fans who can afford a trip to the NFL title game.

Celebs, who flock to the Super Bowl site, also look for something to do, especially something where they can grab some face time in front of cameras. It’s a gilded opportunity to get them to Gulfstream. If nothing else, awareness of the Pegasus will be heightened.

Thanks to a recent referendum, which was dishonestly sold by Disney and its allies, sports betting could be years away in Florida. So one dream, Super Bowl fans having the opportunity to bet on the game at Gulfstream, unfortunately can’t come true. Battalions of cops would be needed to handle the traffic around the track. Maybe someday.

LeComte wide open

A mystery of racing, albeit not one many obsess over, is why a parade of superstar fillies have come out of the Fair Grounds while you have to go back to 1996 to find a colt (Grindstone), who completed the Louisiana Derby-Kentucky Derby double.

During this period, ten fillies have come out of New Orleans, including superstar Rachael Alexandra and Monomoy Girl, to capture the Kentucky Oaks. To be fair, not all made the Fair Grounds their winter base. Some shipped in for the big filly races. However, the Louisiana Derby, with its 100-point Kentucky Derby endowment, also attracts a goodly number of out-of-towners.

This trend might come into play again. The Silverbulletday, named for a Louisiana Oaks-Kentucky Oaks champion, is headed by Liora, who has demonstrated unlimited promise in two career starts. She will be gunning for her third straight victory, all around two turns.

Most recently, the daughter of Candy Ride out-gamed Restless Rider, coming off a second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and a win in the Grade 1 Alcibiades, in the Golden Rod at Churchill Downs. Off those two wins, Liora is one of the ones to beat in the major races for her sex and generation and she’ll probably be odds-on against a half-dozen foes of lesser credentials Saturday.

Meanwhile, the LeComte, first of the significant Fair Grounds Derby preps, has attracted a field of 14 plus an also eligible and a case could be made for about half of them, none with great conviction. On the other hand, there shouldn’t be a horse much less than 4-1.

Tight Ten is the probable favorite off seconds in the Saratoga Special and Iroquois and a troubled trip at the Breeders’ Cup. Having Steve Asmussen in his corner won’t help his price.

Brendan Walsh has been talking up Plus Que Parfait, coming off a second to Signalman in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. Both these colts figure big.

I’ll be shopping for a more generous payoff with War of Wills, whose connections thought they had a turf horse (remember Cigar?). War of Wills' first four starts were on grass and he did manage a second in a Woodbine stake. He finally got on the dirt last time out and ran away and hid. There is quality dirt in his family. What’s more, Tyler Gaffalione is skipping out on the Florida Millions card at Gulfstream to fly in for the ride.

I don’t think the Kentucky Derby winner or even the Louisiana Derby winner will be coming out of this mile and 70 yards but the wide open nature offers the opportunity for a good score.


Written by Tom Jicha

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