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, September 07, 2017

When is something going to be done about ‘The Juice Man’?

Jorge Navarro has accomplished some amazing feats this summer at Monmouth. A video available, which has gone viral, suggests more than good horsemanship might be involved. One of his owners, who has won with eight of 12 recent starters, is seen shouting at a racetrack monitor as one of his horses gets home, 'The Juice Man. We f—k everyone and I line my pockets.' If this doesn't call for a thorough investigation into Navarro's methods, it's hard to imagine what might.

Hurricane Irma is bearing down on the South Florida command post of Horse Race Insider, so it’s uncertain when we will be able to communicate again. As an almost half-century Floridian, I have managed through numerous hurricanes and hurricane scares. This one is like no other. Remember us and the horses who give us such pleasure in your prayers.

Three or four days before its scheduled landfall, Gulfstream has canceled the entire weekend of racing.

John and I are hoping for no disruptions. Just in case, there are things I want to say before they become old news.

Pardon me if I don’t get excited about Jorge Navarro, a Gulfstream regular, breaking his own record for wins at Monmouth Park. I’ve said often that any trainer who wins at a 30% or more rate over a period of time belongs either in the Hall of Fame or a jail cell. Navarro might be totally clean and just better than legends Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, Charlie Whittingham, Bobby Frankel and contemporary super trainers Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown.

However, there is a video that has gone as viral as any racing video can go. Navarro and one of his owners, Randall Gindi, are seen at Monmouth rooting home one of Gindi’s horses. Gindi, who gives all the appearances of being one of those loud, obnoxious guys you try to avoid at the track, is seen screaming as his horse wins, “The Juice Man. We f—k everyone and I line my pockets.” Gindi has won with eight of his 12 horses since the beginning of August. (Google Jorge Navarro and “juice” and you can see it for yourself.)

This appears to be as incriminating as a video can be. Yet Monmouth has taken no action that has been made public. To the contrary, Navarro has been celebrated for his record-breaking season.

Richard Dutrow got 10 years on a lot flimsier evidence.

Pegasus II will happen--Ritvo

Tim Ritvo is a little miffed at the media and some within racing over doom and gloom predictions regarding the second running of the Pegasus.

Contrary to published reports, seven entities, not four, have committed to the 2018 edition, which will go on as scheduled on Jan. 27, according to Ritvo. He didn't name names and seven is not the 12 needed to fuel the $16 million purse (The Stronach Group is kicking in $4 million) but there are still more than five months to the race, TSG’s chief operating officer said. He expressed confidence a full dozen will be in place in plenty of time.

Ritvo said he can’t understand why people in racing, most notably the connections of Gun Runner, who would be a solid favorite to capture the $7 million first money, would want to bad mouth the race and effectively sabotage it by encouraging others not to ante up.

“You would think they would want the race to go,” Ritvo said.

He emphasized that the true cost to an owner is less than a half-million dollars, since the minimum a participant will earn is $550,000. Unlike last year, when all the also-rans took home the same $250,000, the rewards will be stepped this time. Exact distribution hasn’t been finalized, according to Ritvo, but some will earn $550,000, some $600,000, some a little more. The $7 million first prize is chiseled in stone.

He suggested a scenario in which a horse like Gun Runner, whose owners didn’t commit, could be frozen out of the field. The other owners could decide they all have a better chance at the big money if none of them make a deal for a berth for Gun Runner.

This is a bit of salesmanship on Ritvo’s part and an effort to respond to the biggest hurdle of the Pegasus. Berths were for sale or barter at cut-rate prices last year, so prospective participants have to be convinced that if they don’t get in early, they might not get in at all.

On the other hand, does Gulfstream really want to stage the world’s richest race without the horse ranked the world’s best on dirt? NBC is still committed to the Pegasus, so there certainly would be pressure brought to bear to get Gun Runner into the field.

Post time for the next race: Soon

Gulfstream’s post dragging has devolved to ridiculous lengths. Three-minute delays became four, then five, then six or more on a routine basis. Last Saturday, a division of the Florida Sire Stakes went off 10 minutes after the post.

Las Vegas race books and I suppose some simulcasting sites, which have numerous TV monitors geared to various tracks, have a practice of moving races about to go to a large central monitor. Because of the post drags, which the books apparently have not caught on to, Gulfstream gets more time on the big screen than any other track.

How much this induces people to bet is a matter of conjecture. It can’t hurt. During my recent vacation in Sin City I noticed players on line to bet other tracks giving a quick check to the Gulfstream PP’s and making a bet they otherwise might not have made. Maybe this is the method to the post-dragging madness.

This isn’t to say it doesn’t annoy some bettors. One Saturday afternoon, Gulfstream went up on the big screen because there were zero minutes to post. Del Mar, the most popular option out west, had four minutes to post. The Gulfstream horses were still doing the Tijuana Twirl as the Del Mar field loaded.

There was almost an insurrection as players screamed, “Del Mar! Del Mar!” to the unseen wizard behind the curtain. The switch was made just as the Del Mar field broke.

To illustrate how absurd the post-dragging at Gulfstream has become, the Del Mar race was completed, the “official” was posted, the winning jockey had dismounted and had his picture taken and there was still time to put Gulfstream back on the big screen for the actual race.

Maybe Gulfstream should change its policy. Instead of Pete Aiello announcing how many minutes there are to the next post, which nobody takes seriously anymore, he should just say, “Post time for the next race…in a little while.”

Written by Tom Jicha

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Friday, September 01, 2017

In This Game, One Must Keep Learning

American racing's inferiority complex when it comes to European grass horses should have run its course. There's money to be made in recognizing this.

For decades, Euros treated our richest races as ATM machines. They shipped their second and third stringers and scooped up millions in purses (and making some hellacious betting scores, I've been told).

No more, although it is taking a while for U.S. bettors to catch on. I know I've learned the hard (and expensive) way. This is where the advantage is for early adapters.

The latest example is last Saturday's Sword Dancer. Saratoga players sent it in big time on Erupt and Idaho, pounding the latter down to 7-5 favoritism. He beat one horse. Erupt bested two, including Idaho, as American horses--not our best--swept the money positions.

This was not an isolated occurrence. It has become a trend.

A week before Beach Patrol ran off with the Arlington Million. Dacita, a South American import who has been U.S. based for a couple of years, took the female counterpart, the Beverly D. Well bet Euros chased home both winners.

Tepin went over there and beat the best Euros on their own ground. Lady Aurelia, who has won several big Euro stakes, lost a heart-breaker in England last week but she still outran all but one. Wesley Ward has pioneered taking U.S. juveniles overseas to win some of their big stakes. These results never used to happen.

NYRA's big turf races around the Fourth of July, the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks, both saw U.S. stars, Oscar Performance and New Money Honey, respectively, outrun Euro shippers. This shouldn't have come as a surprise. The same two Stars-and-Stripers won last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and its filly counterpart.

That was when I started to rethink the way I approached stakes with international fields. My philosophy had always been to toss home team grass horses, especially juveniles, and spread with the Euros. I got beat a few times but on the whole made some nice hits.

There's a sensible explanation for why the tide has turned. Until recent years, U.S. trainers didn't put horses on the grass until they had established they were no bargain on the main track. It wasn't that many years ago that there were no meaningful turf races until a horse's 3-year-old season.

Now horses with turf pedigrees or hooves suited to the infield start their careers on turf and many stay there. It's a first resort, not a last, just like in Europe.

Meanwhile, European horses race exclusively on turf, so there is a gauge on who has talent and who doesn't. In a turnabout, their horses who don't perform at a high level are banished to synthetics for puny purses or are sent to the U.S. to race on dirt.

All of this is relevant because we are coming up to the big fall grass races, where Euros will be prominent. I'm not suggesting we've seen the last Euro winner of a prestigious U.S. turf stakes. However, there is money to be made in not taking it for granted that they are the horses to beat.

Woodward no test for Gun Runner

Arrogate got beat twice this summer. Songbird went down last Saturday. If Gun Runner doesn't gallop past four rivals into the winner's circle of Saturday's Woodward, it will rank equally on the scale of cataclysmic upsets.

With Arrogate and Collected on the West Coast awaiting the Breeders' Cup and Shaman Ghost on the sidelines, there's no one to give Gun Runner a meaningful test. So he'll probably go into the Breeders' Cup Classic as the big favorite, coming off three straight Grade 1 triumphs and trying to avenge his lone loss this year to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup.

Why Bob Baffert is persisting in running Arrogate is a mystery. It has to be coming down from the Juddmonte hierarchy, who have said all year the Breeders’ Cup Classic is the primary goal for 2017.

Arrogate is clearly not the same horse who took everyone's breath away in last year's Travers, BC Classic, Pegasus and World Cup. He also seems to despise Del Mar, which is, unfortunately for him. where the Classic will be run. He can only further tarnish his reputation.

The horse not getting his due is Arrogate's conqueror, Collected. The talk after the Pacific Class was how Arrogate didn't win more than Collected did. Perhaps Arrogate just got beat by a better horse.

I was talking to a really sharp handicapper in a Las Vegas race book the other day who expressed surprise when I pointed out Collected has a better record than Arrogate. Collected is now 8-for-11 to Arrogate's 7-for-10. (Gun Runner is 9-for-16)

Collected hasn't won the prestigious stakes Arrogate and Gun Runner have but he hasn't been given the opportunity. He certainly beat a better field in the Pacific Classic than Gun Runner will face Saturday. Keep this in mind at Breeders' Cup time, especially since it's possible neither will race again before Nov. 4.

Del Mar player-unfriendly

Sitting in a race book for a couple of weeks, you notice things, such as how player-unfriendly the Del Mar simulcast is.

Will-pays, crucial information for those involved in multi-race propositions, are displayed in no discernible pattern and never in a timely manner, like immediately after the previous race payoffs, as is done almost every place else. Sometimes it's closer to the next race then the previous one, long after replays, interviews and a carnival of commercials.

Thanks to another Del Mar shortcoming, it's difficult to estimate what might be coming back so that you can strategize whether it's worthwhile to consider saver bets. The on-screen constant, such as it is, is exacta possibilities.

Instead of alternating exactas and daily double potentials, Del Mar runs the exacta payoffs both ways, most of the time, with the daily double possibilities displayed after every other full run through of exacta payoffs.

Has it occurred to anyone that if you run all the exacta possibilities in one column, the reverses will be shown? If you like a 1-4, it will be only two screen clicks to find out what the reverse will pay. If you like a 1-4 double, be patient. It will be awhile before that's posted.

Worse, even the exactas disappear for three or four minutes at a crucial time when the field comes on the track. Then they disappear again for a minute or two when the pool totals are displayed in the final two minutes to post.

NYRA has the most useful wagering information of any track, with the exacta and double payoffs on the screen from the end of one race to the loading of the gate the next and multi-race bet will-pays shown on the side of the screen during the replays.

Thankfully, the Breeders' Cup has its own simulcast with potential payoffs on display constantly. Del Mar officials should pay attention. They might learn something about serving the players--if they care.

Las Vegas, Aug. 31, 2017

Written by Tom Jicha

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Edge to the ‘now’ horses over the ‘then’ horses in the Travers

This year's Midsummer Derby is as wide open as it has ever been. The winners of the Triple Crown races--the first time this has happened since 1982--aren't even the horses to beat, although Belmont winner Tapwrit has been established as the morning line favorite, a dubious categorization. They're being confronted by a herd of horses whose recent form is more compelling, led by Jim Dandy winner Good Samaritan and double minor derby winner Irap. Down the road, the Pegasus appears to be in trouble. An inability to stage a second edition would be a setback for racing,.

What went around could be coming around again.

A little over 20 years ago, Bill Mott trained a colt whose breeding screamed turf, so that's where he raced primarily early in his career. He failed to achieve what was expected so Mott tried him on the dirt. The horse, you've probably deduced by now, was Cigar. As Paul Harvey used to say, "Now you know the rest of the story."

Last month, Mott put his stakes winning turf colt Good Samaritan on the dirt for the first time in the Jim Dandy. The result was extraordinary. Good Samaritan lingered well behind the field, which included Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing, then blew past them with Cigar-type elan.

It's way premature to put Good Samaritan in the class of Cigar but if he prevails again in the Travers on Saturday, the conversations will start.

This is the deepest Travers in memory. In addition to the Derby and Preakness winners, Belmont champion Tapwrit is among the dozen expected to start. What's more, he's the morning line favorite, although I don't expect that to hold at post time. The Belmont wasn't a traditional race as much as it was a war of attrition. Tapwrit handled the mile and a half, the others didn't.

Also in the field is Irap, who showed his Blue Grass wasn't the fluke it appeared to be by winning the Indiana and Ohio Derbies; Girvin, who after being beaten a head-bobbing nose in Ohio rebounded to capture the Haskell; McCraken, who got nailed on the wire in the Haskell; Gunnevera, who was as good as any of them last winter and came back running from a freshening, and, for romantics, Rachel Alexander's kid brother Fayeq, coming off a big allowance win over the track.

The last time three winners of the Triple Crown events met in the Travers was 1982. Gato del Sol, Aloma's Ruler and Conquistador Cielo were upset that afternoon by Runaway Groom. I'm looking for Good Samaritan to produce a similar result Saturday and I'll have a small saver ticker on Irap. My thinking is to favor the "now" horses over "then" horses.

Save the Pegasus

The Pegasus is in trouble and that's too bad. Attracting $1 million subscribers for the second running of the world's richest race has proven more difficult than was anticipated in the aftermath of last January's fabulously successful inaugural edition.

This shouldn't be a surprise for several reasons but the Pegasus might have gotten some assistance Saturday when Arrogate, touted as a super horse the likes of which comes along about every solar eclipse, proved vulnerable for the second straight time. Suddenly the $7 million big prize is a lot more attainable. Maybe this will encourage some deep-pocketed owners to take a shot at assuring themselves a shot at it

Gun Runner, who displaced Arrogate as No. 1 in this week's NTRA poll, is a worthy leader of the pack but he doesn't have the aura of invincibility Arrogate did. However, even Gun Runner's people have said, "No thanks," to the $1 million buy-in.

Assuming Gun Runner is still on top of his game, they intend to run in the Pegasus--if there is one, which is now in question--but they'll go shopping for a less expensive entry point, which were plentiful leading up to the first running. This is the biggest hurdle The Stronach Group has to overcome.

Before I go further, I owe you an explanation. I reported during the spring that all of the 2017 shooters indicated they would be back and there was a waiting list in the event of defections. This obviously was not the case.

However, my source was neither a BS artist nor a liar, in my experience. I believe this individual, who is well connected to the Gulfstream hierarchy, was supplying information believed to be truthful. Moreover, it came in a casual conversation, not a PR exercise to produce a puff piece. It might even have been accurate at the time. People do have second thoughts before going into their pockets for a million bucks.

Reportedly only three or four slots have been taken and these are all by people with close ties to The Stronach Group, including Frank himself. This isn't an encouraging sign.

Perhaps the conditions need to be re-imagined. The Stronach Group announced its intention to pump $4 million into the purse to take it to $16 million for year two. All the extra money was ticketed for lesser awards. First money was still going to be $7 million. This might have been a tipoff that there was some reluctance among would-be subscribers.

The extra $4 million would be a good starting point. Drop the ante to $500K apiece and a dozen players raise another $6 million, a total of $10 million. This would still be the world's richest race outside Middle East oilfields. The shieks have indicated their intention to top anything the Pegasus does in any case. That they haven't yet is an indication they, too, have doubts there will be a Pegasus 2.0.

A $5 million winner's purse, again the biggest payoff outside Dubai, would leave enough for rich rewards for lesser placings, where even fifth could earn a break-even half-a-million. The others could get $100K consolation prizes.

The Pegasus was a great event for racing. Everything that can be done to sustain it should be done..

Future stars

One of the joys of summer at Saratoga and Del Mar is the expectation that every now and then there is a juvenile maiden race that will resonate at least through this year and next.

Saratoga and Del Mar each had one this past weekend. Saturday's fifth at Saratoga featured a couple of highly touted 2-year-olds from Chad Brown, Allured and Variant Perception; a well bred Todd Pletcher entrant, Super Sermon, and Avery Island, a Kiaran McLaughlin colt who became the buzz horse in the paddock.

Overlooked was a Steve Assmussen firster, Pure Shot, who ran them all off their feet from start to finish. The Brown juveniles were second and fourth. Pletcher's colt split them for third. Avery Island didn't fire, winding up seventh but his breeding suggests he'll improve as the distances get longer.

I'll be surprised if this maiden sprint doesn't turn out to be a key race.

Sunday's ninth at Del Mar packed some delicious irony. Three colts were being heavily supported. Jerry Hollendorfer had Jungle Warfare, who had been second and third to well regarded juveniles. But the centers of attention were St. Patrick's Day, a debuting full brother to Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, and Zatter, a firster coming in off a bullet work at the six furlong distance.

Bob Baffert trained both, the latter for Team Pharoah's Zayat Stable. American Pharoah's brother ran in Mrs. John Magnier's colors.

Like his celebrated kin, St. Patrick's Day didn't get the money first time out. He pushed Zatter to the limit but couldn't get past. Jungle Warfare hung with them until mid-stretch and looks as if he has a future, too.

Just as in the Pacific Classic, Baffert ran one-two and you got the feeling that he would have preferred that the order had been reversed.

For the record, this wasn't another example of "the other Baffert" winning. In spite of St. Patrick's Day's lineage, Zatter went off the 8-5 favorite.

A throwback three-bagger

Voodoo Song did something Wednesday you no longer expect. The Linda Rice trainee won her third race at the Saratoga meeting, which still has a week and a half to go.

This used to happen regularly, especially by D. Wayne Lukas youngsters, even when the Spa was only a 24-day session. But since trainers have allowed the sheets to dictate their tactics, it's almost unheard of.

Voodoo Song proved it still can be done. But only if you try.

Written by Tom Jicha

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