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, August 01, 2013


Weekly poll makes the Kentucky Derby just another race


The latest NTRA poll is an exercise in what have you done for me lately. Victories by Verrazano and Palice Malice last weekend moved them to Nos. 7 and 8 in the weekly survey. But Kentucky Derby winner Orb is no better than 14th. This makes little sense when Orb has as many Grade 1's as Verrazano--one of them the big one--and Palace Malice has only one.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Aug. 1—Polls are intended to reflect a diversity of opinion. If there is universal agreement, there is no need for a poll. However, for a poll to retain credibility, there must be some rhyme and reason to it. The latest weekly NTRA poll strains this standard.

There’are no issues at the top. Wise Dan, the defending champion, is undefeated in three 2013 starts. Until someone knocks him off, he deserves king of the hill status.

Game on Dude, the runnerup, is one better this season, perfect in four starts. Some might argue that dominating a weak older horse group on the West Coast is not that great a mark of distinction. But he did come east for the million dollar race at Charles Town and none of the heavy hitters from the East and Midwest rushed to take him on.

If there is an anti-West Coast bias, it might show up in next week’s poll should No. 3 Fort Larned notch his second win of the year in four starts in Saturday’s Whitney. How much of a shock would it be if he jumped over Game on Dude?

With the Breeders’ Cup again at Santa Anita, the West Virginia invasion will likely be the Dude’s last foray out of Southern California this season. Challengers will have to deal with that.

It’s the middle of the poll, where the top 3-year-olds reside, that a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude seems to have taken hold.

Verrazano, on the strength of his dazzling score in the Haskell, has vaulted to No. 7, one spot ahead of Palace Malice, who validated his Belmont triumph with a dominant performance in the Jim Dandy. More on this in a bit.

But the voters have some explaining to do with their placement of Orb at No. 14. Let’s look at the record.

Verrazano has a couple of Grade 1’s on his resume, the Wood Memorial and Haskell. But his only attempt in the Triple Crown series, the Kentucky Derby, brought about his lone defeat in seven starts.

The Belmont is Palace Malice’s sole Grade 1.

Meanwhile, Orb won the big one, the Kentucky Derby, as well as the Grade 1 Florida Derby. Let’s say the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial are equal in prestige, although that could set off a lively debate of its own.

This brings the Orb-Verrazano comparison down to the Kentucky Derby vs. the Haskell. Is this even a point of discussion? Seriously?

So Orb is a victim of “what have you done for me lately?” thinking because he has been taking a breather at Fair Hill, prepping for his Aug. 24 showdown with Verrazano and Palace Malice in the Travers.
Measure this against Point of Entry, who has two Grade 1 wins, same as Orb, hasn’t run since Belmont Day, same as Orb, but probably won’t run again. Nevertheless, Point of Entry is No. 4 in the poll.

The downgrading of this year’s 3-year-old class is further exemplified by the total snub of Oxbow. Apparently winning the Preakness and running second in the Belmont counts for zero. That's the number of votes Oxbow was awarded. Among others, this places him behind Groupie Doll, who has not stepped into a starting gate since the Cigar Mile last November.

A similar anti 3-year-old prejudice seems to be in vogue among distaffers. Kentucky Oaks champion Princess of Sylmar made the Coaching Club American Oaks her second Grade 1 among four victories in five 2013 starts. Yet she ranks only 11th in the poll, six places below Royal Delta, whose score over an undistinguished lot in the Delaware Handicap was her first win of the year in three starts.

Thankfully the Breeders’ Cup makes these midseason surveys similar to pre-election polls, merely a snapshot in time.


When you bitch, you have an obligation to subsequently give credit where it is due. I took exception to the opening Saturday card at the Summer Place To Be, which resembled a mid-winter card at Aqueduct with five state bred races and a couple of cheap claimers.

The racing office made up for it last Saturday. In addition to three outstanding stakes—the Prioress, Diana and Jim Dandy—all of which were scheduled months in advance, the card was made up entirely of open races, albeit a couple of them cheap claimers, which in days of old were not welcome at the Spa. This is how it should be at the citadel of racing.

Alas, this Saturday is more like opening weekend: three races for New York breds, a couple of $20,000 claimers and a maiden claimer for $25,000.

To reiterate, this shouldn’t happen when there are four weekdays to schedule races for the lesser lights. Alas, the fear is this is the new normal at Saratoga.




Written by Tom Jicha

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