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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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Tuesday, July 30, 2013


The Travers has a new Big 3


The 3-year-old championship picture has taken on a new look. Verrazano has crashed the former Big 3 of Orb, Oxbow and Palice Malice with a smashing score in the Haskell, the most impressive performance by a 3-year-old this year. It still might be a big three, as Oxbow came out of the Monmouth showpiece race with an ankle injury.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, July 30, 2013--Who do you like for the 3-year-old championship? Kentucky Derby (and Florida Derby) winner Orb, Preakness winner Oxbow, who also outfinished Orb in the Belmont, or Belmont champion Palace Malice, who ratified that triumph with a dominant score in the Jim Dandy?

The answer at the end of the past weekend in many circles was “none of the above.”

It has been more than 30 years since three different winners of Triple Crown events met in the Travers, so anticipation ran high as the 2013 renewal loomed. Then Verrazano made a shambles of the Haskell, crushing, among others, Oxbow, who came out of the race with a wrenched ankle. The injury put his Travers status in doubt as well as compromising his chances for the 3-year-old championship, which is still up for grabs..

There hasn’t been a more decisive win in a 3-year-old Grade 1 this season than Verrazano’s almost 10-length Haskell romp, the largest margin in the storied race’s history. Not to diminish in any way Palace Malice’s performance in the Jim Dandy but Verrazano obliterated a better bunch in the Haskell. He not only buried Oxbow, who struggled home fourth, he ran past Bob Baffert’s latest “now’ horse Power Broker, coming off a big win in the Easy Goer; Derby runnerup Golden Soul; Gotham and Jerome winner Vyjack and Long Branch winner Micromanage.

Todd Pletcher, who’s as tight with superlatives as Jack Benny was with a dollar, said he felt Verrazano had made “a huge statement.” Pletcher said Verrazano’s Haskell was as impressive a race as a 3-year-old has run this season. There aren’t many who would argue. The 116 Beyer Fig he was given dwarfs Oxbow’s 106 in the Preakness and Orb’s 104 for the Derby.

So there’s a new Big Three for the Travers and it wouldn’t be surprising if Verrazano goes favored over the Derby and Belmont winners as well as Oxbow if he makes the race. Verrazano’s Haskell was his sixth win in seven starts over four tracks. The only blemish was his no-show 14th in the Kentucky Derby over an off track.

However, the same question hangs over him that did going into the first Saturday in May. Can he win beyond nine furlongs? Orb and Palace Malice have already put that issue to rest.

Then again, they could have gone around Monmouth’s one-mile oval again Sunday and Verrazano’s margin only would have been greater. It was the first time any colt of his generation displayed the potential to challenge elders Game on Dude and Fort Larned, among others, in the big fall races and the Breeders’ Cup.

Palace Malice used similar tactics in the Jim Dandy to those that carried the day in the Belmont. He forced the pace of Dwyer winner Moreno, took over at will, eased away and had plenty left to hold off late-running Will Take Charge. The rest were never in the race.

Palace Malice’s time, 1:47.32, was the second fastest nine-furlong Jim Dandy ever, good for a 107 Beyer.

So who do you like in the Travers and for the division title?


Bill Mott’s plaque in the Hall of Fame across Union Avenue makes notes of his remarkable achievements, most notably training Cigar to 16 wins in a row. It might have to be revised to include another streak.

Mott, the second youngest person ever elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998 when he was only 45, has an uncanny ability to win a race on his birthday, July 29. He turned the trick for the seventh straight time (dark days not included) and 15th in 20 opportunities on Monday. It’s not Woody Stephens’ five consecutive Belmonts but it has captured the fancy of the racing world.

Everyone has a birthday but, in its own way, Mott’s has become another event on the Saratoga calendar. The Racing Form made note of it in the leadup to the Spa season and it was mentioned prominently in the roundup in Monday’s Form and again after Mott kept the streak going. Dave Litfin included it in his race-by-race analysis. Tom Durkin referenced it in his calls. In-house handicapper Andy Serling commented on it for each of Mott’s five starters.

Serling took a hard-bitten (but accurate) approach, pointing out that the streak has become so avidly followed that each of Mott’s starters was being egregiously overbet. Serling astutely saw this as an opportunity for the cold-of-heart, who pay no attention to such matters, to take advantage of inflated prices on non-Mott contenders.

Mott’s followers had to hang on to the bitter end when the last of his quintet, Revenue, got home in the ninth race and paid $5.50. This repeated the 2012 pattern when Mott didn't win until the last of his three starters, Alaura Michele, captured the Nani Rose overnight stakes.

The streak will get a rest in 2014 when July 29 falls on a dark Tuesday.




Written by Tom Jicha

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