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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Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Juvenile Stakes as Classics Predictor? Be Very Afraid


The first Kentucky Derby future book came out last week and the temptation to jump in is great, but recent history teaches it would be foolhardy to base a wager on 2-year-old form.

The last three colts to wear the garland of roses went into their 3-year-old campaigns with only a maiden win.

We note this as there are several races for juveniles on Belmont's Super Saturday card and out west--especially the following weekend, when the best 2-year-olds debut types unleashed by Todd Pletcher and Shug McGaughey at Saratoga will test each other in the prestigious Grade 1 Champagne Stakes.

A cautionary tale follows:


MIAMI, Sept. 23--Shanghai Bobby returned to the races last Friday and had to work hard to beat a moderate field. This was a week after the Wynn in Las Vegas rolled out the first 2014 Kentucky Derby future book. The coincidental confluence of events should be instructive to those tempted to project fall form to next spring and try to make a score or feed an ego by identifying the next Derby winner eight months in advance.

Three words of advice: Don’t do it!

The only exception to getting down early would be if you are part of the connections of an extraordinary young horse, who has not yet revealed his full scope to the general public. See Doug O’Neill and I’ll Have Another.

Shanghai Bobby was all the rage last fall. Before the leaves stopped falling, the son of Harlan’s Holiday had won all five career starts, including the Hopeful, Champagne and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, an imposing triple.

Until his return at Belmont, Shanghai Bobby had not won again. He ran only twice at Gulfstream, then went to the sidelines after finishing fifth in the Florida Derby.

Shanghai Bobby is merely the latest example of a trend that should be foreboding to those contemplating Derby future bets. Winning a major 2-year-old stakes should stand on its own as a noteworthy achievement. But as far as being a predictor of the Triple Crown Classics, it has become close to meaningless.

I compiled a roster of what I consider to be the nine major fall races for juveniles and their 2012 winners: Futurity and Remsen (Overanalyze); Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Champagne (Shanghai Bobby); Breeders’ Futurity (Joha); Front Runner (Power Broker); Kentucky Jockey Club (Uncaptured); Nashua and Cash Call Futurity (Violence).

Not one of the precocious half-dozen winners hit the board in the Derby, Preakness or Belmont. Only Overanalyze managed to make the starting gate. He ran 11th in the Derby, 7th in the Belmont.

Moreover, Overanalyze is the only one to win one of the seven 100-point Derby preps, the Arkansas Derby. In fact, he was the only one to hit the board in the spring races deemed most important by the people who set the qualifying standards for the Run for the Roses.

Where were the horses, who would become the stars of the 2013 spring classics, in the fall of 2012?

Orb was a three-race maiden until he broke through on Nov. 24. Oxbow, who broke his maiden the next afternoon, was also a three-race maiden. Both entered 2013 eligible for an entry level allowance. Palace Malice won in his second start at Saratoga on Aug. 4 then wasn’t seen again until January.

Golden Soul, the surprise runner-up in the Derby, didn’t break his maiden until Dec. 30 at the Fair Grounds. That was two days after the Derby’s third-place finisher, Revolutionary, got his first win over Aqueduct’s winter oval.

So maybe the place to look for Derby horses is not the major juvenile stakes but late-in-the-year maiden races.

This was not a one-year outlier. I’ll Have Another ended his juvenile year with a maiden win from three starts. Animal Kingdom, the 2010 Derby winner, also went into his 3-year-old campaign with only a maiden win.

Interestingly, the most accomplished 2-year-old in recent years to go on to victory in the Kentucky Derby was one of the most shocking winners in history. Mine That Bird, sent off at 50-1 in Louisville, was a three-time stakes winner, albeit in Canada, as a 2-year-old.

In light of all this, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which theoretically draws the best of the 2-year-old crop, has produced only one Kentucky Derby winner, Street Sense. Last year’s BC Juvenile, on the first Saturday in November, didn’t have a single participant make it to the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.

The upcoming Champagne is one of the most anticipated in years, inasmuch as there is no clear-cut standout, as there has been so many times. Strong Mandate was breathtaking in winning the Hopeful with the kind of late run that puts visions of mint juleps and roses dancing in your head.

Honor Code also put in a Silky Sullivan-like surge breaking his maiden at the Spa. After all the years Shug McGaughey jonesed for a Derby winner, could he be sitting on two in a row?

Havana was touted from Long Island to Lake George prior to his Saratoga debut as the second coming and he delivered, winning his debut gate to wire, earning a triple digit Beyer, the only one for a juvenile to date. It doesn’t require a vivid imagination to see him opening up down the Belmont backstretch then having to hold off Strong Mandate and Honor Code as they make their late charges.

Not to dismiss the West Coast horses but so far no colt or gelding has stamped himself as possibly one of the ones. But O’Neill or Bob Baffert is eligible to uncork a budding star at any time.

It should make for a scintillating couple of months of juvenile racing. Enjoy them on their own merits. Just don’t read too much into them.



Written by Tom Jicha

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Friday, September 20, 2013


Gulfstream, Horsemen, Deliver Another Body Blow to Calder


Gulfstream, which appears to have Calder on the ropes, has followed up its grab of the Florida Stallion Stakes in 2014 with a commandeering of the 2013 Florida Million, less than two months before it was scheduled to be run at Calder.

MIAMI, Sept. 20, 2013--I used a boxing analogy a few columns back to describe what the situation resembled in the head-to-head conflict between Calder and Gulfstream. Calder appeared to be playing rope-a-dope, the strategy Muhammad Ali resorted to against George Foreman in their Rumble in the Jungle. Ali let Foreman throw punch after punch, offering almost no response. When Foreman had given it everything he had without scoring a knockout and had nothing left, Ali took him down.

Gulfstream has spent a seeming unsustainable fortune to win this war while Calder has just hung around, primarily to protect its casino licence. But it’s a good thing for Calder that the situation isn’t a boxing match. Its throttling by Gulfstream has gotten so brutal any competent referee would have stopped the fight by now.

Gulfstream, which outhandles Calder by more than two-to-one on virtually every day they go head-to-head, has landed a couple more devastating haymakers with no resistance or response. As reported here on July 23, it was announced Sept. 5 that the Florida Stallion Stakes, which will be rechristened the Florida Sire Stakes, is moving to Gulfstream in 2014.

The Stallion Stakes was born and thrived for three decades at Calder. It became the centerpiece of the annual Festival of the Sun, one of Calder’s biggest days of the year. For Florida breeders, it was a magnificent showcase and launch pad for standouts such as Awesome Feather, Jackson Bend, Holy Bull, Spend a Buck and Smile. Calder will get one more bite of this apple on Oct. 12.

The same is not true of the Florida Million, another Calder creation, which gave the state’s breeders an afternoon of multiple stakes with total purses hitting eight figures. A goodly portion came from owners and breeders but it was still a lucrative afternoon and a high profile opportunity to shine. On Sept. 19, less than two months before this year’s scheduled renewal on Nov. 9, Gulfstream announced that it has commandeered the Florida Million and will run the eight stakes races in Hallandale on Nov. 9. As with the Stallion Stakes, it will get a name revision to the Sunshine Millions Preview.

This is humorously disingenuous, since the Sunshine Millions is not scheduled until Jan. 18. Ten weeks has to be a new thoroughbred record for the amount of time between a “Preview” and the main event.

Lonny Powell, CEO of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association, issued a statement that he has to hope will not be scrutinized too closely. “The Florida breeders and owners are excited to see the creation of a brand new day like the Sunshine Millions Preview Day on the Gulfstream calendar that will feature eight races. It’s great for our racing and breeding industry. We thank Gulfstream and the FHBPA for coming together on this day and including our state-breds in such a prominent and lucrative fashion.”

Nothing new has been created. The same number of races for the same horses for the same amount of money will be contested on the same day. The only difference is they will take place at Gulfstream instead of Calder.

The latest hijacking of one of Calder’s big days clearly stung. General Manager John Marshall was gracious when the Stallion Stakes moved, wishing the FTBOA well in its new home. Not this time.

“The decision of the FTBOA racing committee to reallocate breeder enhancement dollars from Calder’s Florida Million Day to invent a Sunshine Millions Preview Day at Gulfstream Park furthers the need for Calder to re-examine its participation in developing Florida-breds,” Marshall said. “This decision, coupled with the FTBOA’s choice to relocate the Florida Sire Stakes, requires Calder to take a more calculated look at its two-year-old stall applications for the winter/spring meet.”

Clearly Florida horsemen are confident they have picked the ultimate winner of this war. For sure, there is a lack of gratitude for all Calder has done for Florida horsemen over the years. However, the horsemen can’t be blamed for switching sides and rubbing Calder’s nose in it given the shabby “take-it-or-leave-it” attitude Calder has shown them in recent years under Churchill Downs Inc.

Everyone knew this conflict would eventually get really ugly. No one has been disappointed.

ARAB MONEY must be able to buy anything, including the Breeders’ Cup.

It was announced Thursday that Breeders’ Cup has signed an agreement with the Emirates Equestrian Federation which, among other things, will result in an Arabian-bred race being added to the Breeders’ Cup card on Nov. 1.

Everyone knows that the biggest shortcoming of the Breeders’ Cup was the scarcity of races with inflated importance. But as long as Breeders’ Cup is intent on filling a void that doesn’t exist, why not go all the way and be totally ecumenical. Since they are legal in California, let’s also add races for quarterhorses, harness horses and mules.


Written by Tom Jicha

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Friday, September 13, 2013


Unless Guillot is right, he has done racing wrong


Eric Guillot's allegation that Luis Saez used a battery to urge Will Take Charge to victory in the Travers was still under investigation as this was written. But outside Guillot's circle, there is not a lot of support that the charges, a potential black eye for racing, have merit.

MIAMI, Sept. 13, 2013--Question of the day: Is it a good or bad thing that the national media is more interested in whether Diana Nyad broke the rules during her marathon swim from Cuba to Key West or that Luis Saez cheated in his winning ride aboard Will Take Charge in the Travers?

After the initial flurry of stories in the immediate aftermath of allegations by Eric Guillot, trainer of second-place finisher Moreno, that Saez used an electrical device to urge Will Take Charge to victory in the Midsummer Derby, the story has disappeared from the mainstream media, which traditionally lusts for anything that can be turned into a scandal, especially if gambling is involved.

Hopefully, this is not an indication that the non-racing media doesn’t consider racing sufficiently important to commit resources to the story.

Then again, even the racing press has pretty much filed and forgotten Guillot’s charges. A perusal of Equidaily.com, which is to racing what the Drudge Report is to current events, shows only one story among more than a couple dozen on the issue and that is the bottom half of a column by Bill Finley, which furthers the argument that Saez did nothing wrong.

Guillot’s allegations are the most serious since Jose Santos was falsely accused of using a battery on Funny Cide in the 2003 Kentucky Derby.

After extensive investigations established the allegation against Santos had no basis, The Miami Herald, the source of the story, reached a settlement with the Hall of Fame jockey. Reports are the Herald made a payment to Santos ranging from less than a million dollars to as high as $5 million. A confidentiality clause was part of the agreement.

Saez, through his agent, former jockey Richard DePass, has vehemently denied Guillot’s allegations and said he, too, intends to hire an attorney to pursue defamation charges.

A distinction between the Santos and Saez cases is that Guillot is a member of the racing community. If his charges don’t stand up, he has sullied the game that provides his livelihood.

The basis for his complaint, which he made to the New York State Gaming Commission, is something he says his brother noticed while watching the Travers telecast on NBC Sports. According to Guillot, his brother and others, who subsequently looked at a tape, said they saw Saez transfer something from one hand to another during the gallop out, then put it either under the saddle cloth or drop it to the track.

However, no device was found on the track nor under the saddle cloth. A search of Saez’s locker also found nothing amiss.

Guillot’s entourage might be supportive but I’ve looked at the tape numerous times in slow motion and he had better have more than this. Zooming in on Saez’s hands, there is a lot of motion back and forth, but no clear passing of anything.

Moreover, the mass of hands, whip, reins and Will Take Charge’s mane makes it impossible to draw a meaningful conclusion unless wishful thinking is involved. The Travers would have been the most significant victory of Guillot’s 20-years-plus career.

More significantly, Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey, now a racing analyst for NBC Sports, also scrutinized the tape and said he could see nothing to substantiate Guillot’s allegation. Bailey said from his vantage point the only things in Saez’s hands were his whip and the reins.

Others have pointed out that Saez rapidly switched his stick during the drive, an impossible feat if you are carrying a buzzer.

The video was turned over to New York State Police experts at video analysis. The outcome of their investigation is still pending. However, given the opinions of those with vast expertise in racing, it’s hard to imagine the cops will be able to mount a convincing case. This is not to say there even is a case.

Guillot, known as a loose cannon, also took a crude backhanded whack at D. Wayne Lukas, saying Will Take Charge’s trainer is past his prime. Of course, he is. The Coach is 78. But even in the homestretch of his life, Lukas won this year’s Preakness with Oxbow and the Hopeful with Strong Mandate, in addition to the Travers.

Guillot also was quoted as saying, “There’s a lot to leave to the imagination with Wayne’s organization.”

This would be the organization that has won 19 Breeders’ Cup races and 14 Triple Crown events as well as developing trainers such as Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin, Dallas Stewart and Mark Hennig. Guillot’s organization has zero Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown race winners.

If his charge against Saez proves to be as baseless as that against Santos, Guillot deserves to be punished almost as severely for bringing disrepute to the sport as Saez would be if he was to be found guilty. This is beyond any potential punitive monetary damages Guillot would face in a civil suit.

He also would owe all of racing an apology.


Written by Tom Jicha

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