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, October 18, 2018


TSG lawsuit a family feud, little threat to racing


Frank Stronach, patriarch of The Stronach Group, is suing his daughter Belinda, who has been in charge of the race track business in recent years, for mismanagement. But it appears no matter how the suit plays out, the future of TSG tracks is not in jeopardy and the post-Frank era will be in good hands.

The news is not so encouraging in another area--past posting. Some players were still betting a Belmont-Yonkers Pick 4 last Saturday well into the running of the first leg. Another bettor says he was able to bet after the first two legs of a Belmont-Longchamps Pick 4 less than a week previously. This casts further suspicion about the causes of late odds drops during the running of races.


A chill wind blew through racing last week. In the wake of another record-breaking season at Gulfstream and upward trends at Santa Anita and Laurel, blue skies optimism about the future were blown away by the disclosure—excellent reporting by TDN’s Bill Finley—all is not well within The Stronach Group, which has become a backbone of the sport.

Patriarch Frank Stronach has filed an aggressive lawsuit—figures in excess of a half-billion dollars are being thrown around—against his daughter Belinda over her management of the company. If TSG were to be fractured, ramifications to racing would be frightful.

Fortunately, this looks primarily like a family feud with the real issue being who’s the boss. Indeed, TSG president Tim Ritvo said racing will go as usual as the lawsuit wends through the courts.

Frank put Belinda in charge about five years ago when he was distracted by a fling in politics in his native Austria. Once he got that out of his system, it appears he wanted to take control again. Belinda resisted, although there is ample evidence the two have worked well together until now.

The racing world has been speculating what would happen post-Frank, who turned 86 last month. No one has been more bullish toward racing than the visionary, albeit sometimes eccentric Frank. The big question has been would Belinda continue his legacy.

The lawsuit seems to provide an answer in the affirmative. Belinda, 52, has been a lot more involved in running the racing end of the company than was generally known. Among other things, she has been the point person for Frank’s latest grand gambit, the Pegasus World Cup.

It turns out, according to the lawsuit, she has been the controlling force for a lot more. This augurs well for the post-Frank future.

There is no doubt Frank has continued to exert a major influence but Belinda has been doing a hell of a job in the big chair. Over the past five years, Gulfstream has been setting record after record for handle. The Pegasus, with its new format of a dirt and turf stakes, each the richest in North America, is probably on its firmest ground since its inception.

Maryland racing is enjoying a renaissance no one would have dared predict in an era when casinos have turned tracks into often neglected satellites of slots parlors. A lot has to do with the renovation and refurbishing of Laurel, which will host the 33rd running of the Maryland Million on Saturday. This event has grown into a najor event on the fall racing calendar and the state’s second biggest day behind only the Preakness.

Rumors of Santa Anita being broken up and sold in parcels for purposes other than racing have subsided. Some non-essential tracts might be disposed of but Belinda signed off on the construction of 800 new stalls to compensate for the demise of Hollywood Park. This major investment is not something a company looking to get out of racing would undertake.

In other times, Frank had developed a reputation as the George Steinbrenner of racing, a boss who fired respected employees on a whim. Whether he has mellowed or Belinda has had a moderating influence, this is no longer the case. The company’s day-to-day operations have been in the hands of Ritvo and his support staff throughout the booms at Gulfstream and in Maryland and is now attempting to work his leadership magic in California. Not a single major employee has been terminated.

Belinda has reacted to the lawsuit with a statement that she still loves her father and is hopeful the lawsuit can be amicably dispensed with. No matter which Stronach emerges with the power position—a renewed partnership is the optimum outcome--racing doesn’t appear to have anything to worry about The Stronach Group now and into the future.

More past posting

It is becoming harder to accept that past posting is not more prevalent than racing wants anyone to believe.

The Breeders Cup Fix Six in 2002 was dismissed by racing’s hierarchy as a one-off, something that had never happened before. In fact, it had. The perps had conducted at least two trial runs.

The Fix Six probably would have gone undetected and might have been repeated but for a stroke of karma. Volponi, a 43-1, shot won the Classic, making the cheaters the lone holders of winning tickets, cumulatively worth about $3 million.

Inasmuch as there were other improbable winners in the sequence, which the cheaters singled after the fact before going all-all in the final two legs, the expectations were no one would have six. When there were six winners, all bet in the same place, alarm bells went off. If one of the favorites had won the Classic, the chicanery might have gone unnoticed.

Racing vowed new safeguards would guarantee something like this couldn’t happen again.

Fast forward to last Saturday when NYRA realized some bettors were still making bets after the start of the first of a cross-breed Pick 4, the Harry Harvey Trot at Yonkers.

NYRA did the right thing, refunding all wagers and paying off those who had the correct four winners. It also said the late bets would not have been winners. This is beside the point. The fact that it could happen casts doubt on the security of the pools.

This time it was uncovered but you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder how many times things like this happen without notice. The Blood Horse reported that a bettor, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was able to bet after the first and second legs of a NYRA/Longchamps Pick 4 on Arc Day, six days before the Belmont/Yonkers snafu.

NYRA told the Blood Horse that no late wagers were accepted but, according to the report in the magazine, the bettor provided time-stamped records of his wagers. You have to wonder if NYRA was so vigilant Saturday because of what happened less than a week previously.

All of this lends credence to suspicions about what’s behind the frequent dramatic drops in horses’ odds at all tracks.

Let me remind you of a quote from a recent column. Greg Avioli, Thoroughbred Owners of California president, said at a CHRB meeting “There is no evidence people are past posting in any meaningful and significant way.” Not that it’s not happening, just that it’s not happening in a meaningful and significant way.

With all the perception problems racing is already suffering due to drugs, jockeys not giving their best efforts, etc., the last thing it needs is a past posting scandal.

There is no reason multi-track wagers, all wagers for that matter, cannot be shut down when the clock strikes zero. NYRA, which handles about 20 percent of all money bet in the U.S. observes listed post times without harm to its bottom line. A side benefit would be tracks like Gulfstream would have to adhere to actual post-times.

There might be a short term loss in handle until players got used to post time being post time but the long term restoration of faith in the system would more than compensate.


Written by Tom Jicha

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