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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Friday, September 27, 2013


Super Saturday is too much of a good thing


Saturday's racing on both coasts is spectacular. Ten Grade 1 races are scheduled, more than on either of the Breeders' Cup days. This could be too much of a good thing. Fall racing would be more exciting if these races were spread out over September and October, as they used to be.

MIAMI, Sept. 27, 2013--Super Saturday isn’t hyperbole this weekend. Ten Grade 1 races are on tap, five apiece at Belmont and Santa Anita. This is more than Breeders’ Cup Saturday.

There should be 11. The Kelso, a Grade 2, is worthy of a bump up.

What a great day. What a shame.

These races each deserve their own place in the sun, a day when it’s all about them. At most they should share a bill with one other major stakes.

It’s insulting that the first confrontation between Eclipse champion Royal Delta and streaking 3-year-old filly leader Princess of Sylmar is buried as the fifth race on an 11-race Belmont card. We all know why. Even with casino money cascading in beyond the most wildly optimistic expectations, it’s more important to build a big Pick 6 pool than to give a proper platform to one of the most anticipated showdowns of the year.

It used to be when the horses returned from Saratoga that the fall session at Belmont was known as the “championship meet,” because so many divisional titles were decided in stakes spaced out during September and October. Now it’s more like the “championship day.” Make it two days, since the meeting’s other three Grade 1 stakes will be lumped together next Saturday. Once upon a time horses could start in more than one of these championship events, such as the Futurity and Champagne, Matron and Frizette.

No more. The Futurity will be run Sunday, the Champagne six days later. Same for the Matron and Frizette. It’s not inconceivable that a horse could double up in six days but with Richard Dutrow out of the picture, it’s beyond highly unlikely.

The culprits for the compacting of the best of racing are the Breeders’ Cup the first weekend in November and the new school of training. Social Security checks go out more frequently than most thoroughbreds.

There’s probably no remedy for the latter unless some free-thinking young trainer starts to win races in bunches with horses who race every couple or three weeks like in the old days. Racing is as much a copycat business as my old beat of television.

The Breeders’ Cup is another story. I’ve advocated several times that the self-anointed World Championships move back on the calendar to Thanksgiving weekend. Black Friday is an unofficial national holiday. More people are off work than any other Friday of the year and a lot of people are looking for something to do or watch while their spouses go nuts at the mall.

One drawback is the late date comes with the threat of miserable weather and early nightfall in most of the United States. However, it’s become increasingly evident that Breeders’ Cup is hell bent on anchoring itself in Southern California. Santa Anita is in the midst of a three-year run as host track and Del Mar isn’t spending millions to widen its turf course without at least a wink-wink deal that it’s getting into the Breeders’ Cup rotation. So neither of the potential negatives are an issue.

There are myriad reasons why not maintaining the Breeders' Cup as a movable feast would be bad for racing, and ultimately the Breeders’ Cup. However, as long as it seems inevitable, we might as well look for positives. A big one would be the opportunity for Belmont, Santa Anita and Keeneland to space their most prestigious stakes throughout the fall and still leave time for what is considered to be the proper layoff prior to the Breeders’ Cup.

I’ll be as chomping at the bit to bet Saturday's cavalcade of super stakes. But I would enjoy it just as much, probably more, if the marquee races were spaced so that I could be betting the best horses in the world all during the fall. As it is, we’re looking at full cards of second-tier and state-bred stakes on both coasts by the second half of October.

One other bitch about this Saturday. With all the Grade 1’s and the time difference between coasts, you would think NYRA and Santa Anita could have found a way to tie together some of them in a crossover multiple wager bet. The final two Grade 1’s at Belmont, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, have scheduled post times of 5:17 and 5:49 respectively. The first two Grade 1’s at Santa Anita, the Chandelier for 2-year-olds and the Rodeo Drive for fillies and mares on the turf, go at 6 p.m. (Eastern) and 6:34.

It took NYRA years to come up with a less inviting multiple race wager than the Grand Slam, which a lot of simulcast sites don’t even handle. It finally managed to bottom itself with the Thursday Pick 4, combining the last two in New York with the first two at Penn National, a track that might as well be Assiniboia Downs to Big Apple players.

Yet with an opportunity to link four championship caliber races on the biggest day of the fall outside the Breeders’ Cup, NYRA and Santa Anita did nothing. Why?



Written by Tom Jicha

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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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