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 Breedersí Cup at Gulfstream Park.

He's been the Sun Sentinelís horse racing writer since 2007 as a staff member, and continues to this day as a free-lancer.

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Uninformed experts will help price on Justify

The potential for a second Triple Crown winner in three years will bring out the usual array of instant racing experts, who ignore the sport under normal circumstances. They'll point out how Justify almost got run down in the Preakness and the Belmont is longer. They'll ignore Mike Smith saying Justify had more in the tank if he had needed it. All of this will enhance the price on a horse who will gallop on June 9.

The wicked weather notwithstanding, the Preakness could not have played out better.

Justify won. This set up the most exciting, fan-involving scenario in horse racing, a Triple Crown possibility in the Belmont Stakes. TV ratings were up and are sure to skyrocket even more on June 9. In spite of horrendous weather, a treacherous track and a relatively short field of eight, betting on the second jewel of the Triple Crown also was up.

Better yet, Justify didn't run off and gave the appearance of being in jeopardy late. This will encourage speculation among casual sports fans and the media that he might be vulnerable at a mile and a half. Paradoxically, most fans root for a Triple Crown but want it to happen in a competitive race.

For the next couple of weeks, sports writers and talk hosts, who routinely ignore racing except when they are putting it down as a dying sport, will become instant experts. They'll talk about Justify getting tired at a mile and three sixteenths and how the Belmont is 550 yards further. They'll point out that this will be his sixth race in 3 1/2 months. They'll resurrect the famous Woody Stephens quote they picked up from Google: "When you cross the Hudson, the buildings get taller."

There might even be some pot-stirring over whether Justify's Triple Crown will be diminished because one of his most formidable foes, Florida Derby champion Audible, a fast closing third in the Kentucky Derby, might not challenge Justify because they share common ownership. To this I ask, if Justify were your horse, would you run Audible?

The more nonsense disseminated the better. It will make the price on Justify about twice what it should be in what will be the easiest of his Triple Crown races. Just like American Pharoah, he will gallop the field to death.

Who's going to prevent this? One dimensional Promises Fulfilled tried it in the Derby and paid the price, collapsing to 15th. Eclipse champion Good Magic, still probably the second best 3-year-old in America, took his shot at Pimlico. He finished off the board for the first time in his career.

So why would any trainer allow his horse to serve as a sacrificial lamb to set things up for some closer? If no one does, we could see Secretariat 2.0.

NBA not missed

TV ratings jumped 12% from a year ago. The NBC telecast was not only the most viewed program Saturday afternoon, it had the largest audience of the entire weekend, including prime-time attractions such as the Billboard Music Awards, part one of the American Idol finale and a recap of the royal wedding.
When American Pharoah ran for the Triple Crown, more than 22 million watched. Last year's World Series averaged just over 18 million.The tune-in could be as great or higher for the Belmont.

Not bad for a dying sport.

It would be nice to think this was because America wanted to see the newest thoroughbred superstar. This might occur on Belmont Day but the reality is, other factors were in play last Saturday. The entire East Coast and large parts of the rest of the nation were socked by a couple of days of drenching rain, keeping folks indoors in front of their TV's.

Probably more significant, the Preakness didn't face competition from an NBA playoff game, which contributed to depressing Kentucky Derby ratings to almost the exact extent the Preakness was up.

Whatever the reason, racing will take it.

Preakness viewing wasn't passive at Pimlico, simulcast sites or in living rooms. Despite an overwhelming favorite, betting set records. Total handle was $61.97 million, an improvement of more than $600,000 over 2017 when 10 horses competed on a dry track.

Pimlico days numbered

I'm as much a traditionalist as anyone, more so than most. I hate the designated hitter, abhor instant replay and will argue until I run out of breath in favor of keeping the current spacing of the Triple Crown races.

But it's time to move the Preakness away from crumbling, antiquated Pimlico to Laurel, where The Stronach Group has spent a fortune to bring the track centrally located between Baltimore and Washington up to world class status.

Other than Baltimore's civic pride--a bad joke considering the city's distressing murder rate--there are no sound arguments to keep the Preakness at Pimlico.

Tim Ritvo has warned the hierarchy in Baltimore and the state of Maryland that Pimlico cannot be refurbished. It needs to be torn down and rebuilt. Such a project is projected to cost between $300 million to $400 million. This means there is no shot it can be done for less than a half-billion dollars. And it will still be in an area where most folks would rather not go.

It's not as if there is not ample precedent for such a move. A Preakness at Laurel would still be in the state of Maryland, unlike the New York Jets and New York Giants playing in New Jersey. The Washington Redskins play in Maryland. More to the point, the Belmont Stakes was run at Aqueduct when Belmont was being rebuilt and might be again depending on how intrusive the construction of the new Islanders arena is on the Belmont property.

There is one unfortunate downside to the potential shift. Six figure crowds for the Preakness will be a thing of the past. Ritvo says the new Laurel might be able to accommodate 70,000-80,000 but that would be it. The biggest reason would be the Laurel infield would not be opened to the raucous throngs, who contribute to the festive ambiance of Preakness Day.

However, maintaining Porta-Potty jumping is not sufficient reason to avoid taking a step forward that is overdue.

Written by Tom Jicha

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