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 Sentinels horse racing writer since 2007 as a staff member, and continues to this day as a free-lancer.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Tough Issues, Tough Solutions, Tougher Process Will Follow

By John Pricci with Mark Berner

EDITORS NOTE: Whether racing’s stakeholders know it or not, all of us tethered to Thoroughbreds owe The Stronach Group a debt of gratitude.

In the final analysis, the organization, knowing that it would shake up an entire industry and incur the wrath from status quo supporters, stepped up and not only did “the right thing by the horse” but took a significant approach toward insuring the sport’s future.

HorseRaceInsider speaks for its staff when it says thank you for giving us a reason to feel proud of our way of life, coming to the sport’s defense without the equivocation this industry is famous for. Thank you for helping us to weather storms that are sure to come.

We are horse lovers and horse players. We love the game and TSG’s actions mean we no longer need to apologize to the people who don’t get it about Thoroughbred racing and likely never will. And that’s OK. Americans are free to choose but it’s in our DNA to be aspirational.

We should be big enough to admit that erring on the side of expediency and the bottom line was shortsighted and wrong-headed. Mark Berner and I wrote a phrase last week that was included in Belinda Stronach’s open letter, and in a recent tweet by the respected Graham Motion:

Participation in this sport is a privilege, not a right.

And, so, with that privilege comes obligation and respect for the sport’s past, present and future. United by the love of these magnificent equine athletes, all, journalists included, must try to live up to the ideals that participation in any sport is purported to be about in the first place.

BOYNTON BEACH, FL—This Sunday was the first chance I had to visit the Palm Meadows training center since the surgeons took off my ankle bracelet. No longer under house arrest, the time had come to watch workouts in the flesh and visit with some horsemen.

I wanted to survey reactions to recent events at Santa Anita, as well as the most recent announcement from track management re its agreement with the Thoroughbred Owners of California. I told them it was deep background and their comments would be off the record.

Among them was the counsel of an old-school horseman who made his bones in New York in the pre-Lasix era. New York was the last major jurisdiction to permit the diuretic for raceday use in 1995.

The spin at the time was that NYRA was losing entrants to competing tracks. I drank the Kool-Aid before speaking with Dr. Manuel A (Doc) Gilman, the veterinarian to whom horsemen and horseplayers owe a debt for developing the Universal Horse Identification System, used to prevent “ringers” from entering races.

In addition to developing the “night eyes fingerprint,” Gilman served as a racing official for 46 years. He became NYRA’s chief examining veterinarian after serving as general manager to Harbor View Farm, which campaigned Triple Crown champion Affirmed, was Director of the Jockey Club and finally the Jockey Club steward at NYRA tracks.

“[Approving Lasix] is a mistake,” the late, great official told me at that time. “Why?” Gilman gave me the answer immediately, one I remember to this day: “Because as sure as I’m talking to you now it will only weaken the breed one day.”

While still tempted, I have stopped drinking industrial strength Kool-Aid which, on occasions such as this, has become all too expensive. So, how did the horsemen react?

“It’s about time,” said one. “It’s the right thing to do,” said a second. “They had to do something; it can’t all be blamed on the condition of the racetrack," replied a third.

It was the same story Monday morning on the Gulfstream Park backside. “The idea of a breakdown in a high profile spot is very scary," said a trainer who will compete in the upcoming Florida Derby. “They closed down the circus, the dogs; what makes people think that can’t happen here,” wondered another.

Very rarely do horsemen speak on the record for fear of recrimination by their bosses, the owners, and their fellow horsemen. And never, ever will a disparaging word be uttered when a negative story goes national. If you doubt that, just ask Jeremy Balan.

Meanwhile, the Water Hay Oats Alliance, now 1,700 members strong and undeterred by the clumsy rollout, wrote an open letter of their own in praise of Belinda Stronach for taking a tough, courageous stand. Many of their members stepped up publicly and issued statements, most notably The Jockey Club’s Chairman:

Belinda Stronach and Friend
“These initiatives are a seismic shift in how the sport has been conducted for centuries. …We applaud The Stronach Group for its announcement to effect sweeping changes at Santa Anita which would bring them on par with the strict standards seen in major international racing jurisdictions,” said Stuart S. Janney.

The Stronach Group proposals are steps in the right direction that already have gained International acceptance and also prompted the Hambletonian Society to announce they too will consider such measures, since any Thoroughbred mandates would also have an impact on harness racing.

Now the issue becomes about process. Exactly what will be approved or amended; how will the procedure work, leading to a whole new set of questions? Off the top, here's a dozen:

• Why did Mike Rogers give PETA get a seat at the table?
• Why is almost all the focus on Lasix when that is one item among many pressing issues?
• Will the CHRB make new rules for all California tracks, or just Stronach Group venues?
• Why not prohibit bisphosphonates, which alleviate pain but impede the natural healing process going forward?
• Why not examine every scheduled worker--Princess Lili B was not considered to be “at risk” at the time of her catastrophic breakdown?
• Why isn’t random Out Of Competition Testing a larger priority than it appears to be at present?
• Ultimately, what will the Breeders’ Cup do, this year and beyond?
• Which veterinarian will become TSG’s Director of Equine Welfare?
• What will the LA District Attorney find, and what will be the ramifications?
• Will a referendum on the cessation of Thoroughbred racing in California attract 600,000 signatures--about 3% of the population--to make it a ballot initiative?
• When will the necropsy results be made available and under whose auspices?
• Will the Santa Anta racing office include a non-Lasix condition book option for this year’s 2-year-olds—and would those races fill?


© 2019 John Pricci, Mark Berner,

Written by John Pricci

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