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, April 11, 2019


There’s no holding back in final Derby preps


The final Kentucky Derby preps are often races you try to win without having to demand everything a horse has to give with the big one three weeks away. This year, some big name horses cannot afford to leave anything in the tank or there will be no Run for the Roses. Among them is Bob Baffert's Improbable, who was among the top five Derby favorites until he ran second in the Rebel. In less positive news, the rules of racing at Santa Anita keep changing on a moment's notice. Lasix was out, now it is back in. Whips were out, then they were back. Then the Jockeys Guild said they would prove a point by racing without whips Friday. Within days, they backed off this. It's as if no one in SoCal can make a bold decision and stick to it.

It’s pedal to the metal in both the Arkansas Derby and Lexington on Saturday. Connections of leading contenders will be scoreboard watching as avidly as fans are toteboard watching.

Some years the goal of leading Derby contenders is to try to win without emptying the tank with the Big Day only three weeks away. This year, there is no Derby for most without a top effort. The exception is Long Range Toddy in the Arkansas Derby, who is safely in as a result of winning a division of the Rebel.

Omaha Beach, who took down Game Winner three weeks ago, is 19th on the scoreboard with 37.5 points. Nineteenth might not be good enough with a Japanese entrant, Master Fencer, guaranteed a spot and the possibility a Euro will also come overseas.

Moreover, with 185 points on the line at Oaklawn and another 34 at Keeneland, it’s a sure thing that at least a couple of horses will blow past 37 ½.

The horse to beat at Oaklawn and my selection is Bob Baffert’s Improbable, who was a lot of sharp people’s Derby horse until he got caught in the shadow of the wire in the Rebel. That race was an emergency Plan B when Santa Anita went dark. In any case, he might have needed the race and Baffert is putting on blinkers. He doesn’t make major equipment changes on a whim. He has to feel it will make a difference. It won’t have to make much of a difference.

Most seasons, the Arkansas Derby wouldn’t be so critical for Improbable’s Derby hopes. He would have gotten 40 points for running second in the Rebel. Because the race was split this year, he earned just 25 in his only start in a points race.

Bill Mott hopes to clinch a second Derby berth with late running Country House, who needs only the 20 points for third to go with the 30 points he has to earn a berth in Louisville. He’ll be underneath Improbable along with Omaha Beach on my exacta tickets.

Last chance Lexington

The Lexington has been Anothertwistafate’s last resort to get into the Derby ever since he ran second in the Sunland Derby to get to 30 points. If he didn’t need more points, he would have gone straight to Churchill Downs. As it is, only a 20-point win will do it for him.

It’s also all-or-nothing for Sueno, who has 28 points. I like his chances. He’s been on the board in four straight stakes against better than Anothertwistafate has been outrunning.

Normally, sneaking into the Derby’s final spot or two is no big deal. It’s like the final teams to qualify for March Madness. They’re not serious contenders.

This year, no matter how Saturday’s races turn out, there are going to be horses left out who would have had more than a puncher’s chance at Churchill Downs.

Racing needs a backbone

Does anyone in racing have the spine to make a decision and stick to it?

The situation at Santa Anita is turning into a bad joke reminiscent of the old Ella Fitzgerald tune Undecided: “First you say you will, and then you won’t. And then you say you do, and then you don’t. You’re undecided now, so what are you gonna do?”

First Lasix was banned on race day. Then the ban was put off until next year and even then only with 2-year-olds. Then the ban was modified to only half the current dosage. This is like being half-pregnant.

Rules at Santa Anita have the shelf life of fresh fish.

The Stronach Group next decided to banish whips from racing, a cave to PETA. (An aside: could we please stop calling them crops? Tomatoes and potatoes are crops. The equipment carried by jockeys are whips. Until the past week or so, they have been called that for more than 150 years. Calling them crops is not fooling anyone.)

TSG will rue the day it gave an inch to PETA. When the CHRB said a change this significant would require a 45-day public comment period, the Southern California branch of the Jockey Guild decided to voluntarily show how short-sighted this would be. The Guild’s riders announced they would compete without whips on Friday.

Within a couple of days, they reversed this decision, which was a meaningless stunt from the get-go. The Thoroughbred Owners of California gave them the out they desperately wanted by requesting the experiment be tabled.

To the credit of the sport, efforts have been made over the years to take the sting out of the whip. The latest attempt, the 360 GT, is the softest yet and supposedly doesn’t hurt the horse in any way. They were used without negative reports last week at Keeneland and will now be used Friday at Santa Anita--unless someone decides they won’t be.

What a sorry state racing is in that on the week of the final Derby preps, with the qualifying point standings in chaotic flux, the talk of the game is all about whips. The folly is all of this is an over-reaction to the tragic deaths of 23 horses. No one, not even PETA, alleges that even one of these deaths is the result of use or misuse of the whip.

Why solve the serious problems you have when you can solve the ones you don’t have?

The fact that this conversation is even taking place is a misguided capitulation to PETA, which is dedicated to doing to horse racing what it did to greyhound racing and circuses.

Appeasement never works yet some people never learn. Banning whips is merely a preliminary step toward PETA’s ultimate goal, the end of horse racing.

Belinda Stronach is a good person, as best I can tell. I had the opportunity to interview her earlier this season at Gulfstream. One of the takeaways for me is that she loves horses but is kind of indifferent to the subtleties of horse racing.

She said visiting the family’s thoroughbreds was always a joy. However when discussions around the dinner table turned to specific races and breeding, she would excuse herself and find something else to do.

Her affection for horses might explain why she is making a horrible mistake by getting into bed with PETA. Good people often assume others are as well-meaning as they are.

PETA is playing good cop/bad cop with her. Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of PETA, passes herself off as reasonable. She’s not. If she was, she would not be a member of PETA. This is like claiming religious tolerance and joining ISIS.

Even if Guillermo were open to compromise, PETA’s co-founder and boss, Ingrid Newkirk, is a person who has said she would rather see a dog or cat be put to death than be adopted by a loving family because she doesn’t believe in the concept of pets.

In fact, PETA kills thousands of dogs and cats every year. You think there’s any common ground to be found with her or her organization?

You can’t negotiate with crazy people and PETA is as crazy as they come. Equally crazy is thinking there is any peace short of total surrender to them.





Written by Tom Jicha

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