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.

Most recent entries

Monthly Archives


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

‘Belief’ and ‘Chrome’ could be the new Alydar and Affirmed

Shared Belief's dominant score in the Pacific Classic answers the last question about his brilliance. He has won on synthetics and dirt. He has won at six furlongs and a mile and a quarter. He is the first of his generation to take on and put down older horses in an important race. But he still has one obstacle to overcome en route to a divisional Eclipse and Horse of the Year: Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome. That showdown is expected to come in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Even casual fans should be excited about that.

MIAMI, Aug. 26--Nothing excites the masses and mitigates the negatives afflicting racing as much as the emergence of a potential superstar. In the case of Shared Belief, ”potential” might be short-changing him.

With his dominating triumph in the Pacific Classic on Sunday, Shared Belief has done everything necessary to qualify for the grandest superlatives.

He is already a champion, the 2013 Juvenile Eclipse winner.

He is undefeated and yet to be seriously tested. His almost three-length win Sunday was the closest call he has had. Previously no horse had come within four lengths of him at the wire.

The runner up at Del Mar, Toast of New York, came into the race with formidible credentials himself. His four synthetic starts produced three wins and a second, including a score in the UAE Derby.

Show horse Imperative, whose credits include a win the Charles Town Classic, was five back, a neck better than Game On Dude, this year’s Big Cap winner and the big horse in the West the past three years. The rest, most of them older stakes winners, were strung out to Carlsbad.

Shared Belief demonstrated he is multi-dimensional and able to overcome adversity. The son of Candy Ride had never been worse than third at any call in his previous five races. After a troubled start in the Pacific Classic, he was sixth down the backstretch, racing between horses. Mike Smith joked that Shared Belief gave the others a head start.

The Pacific Classic was run on a synthetic surface, Polytrack, but it was the third different artificial surface over which Shared Belief has triumphed.Unlike many synthetic specialists, he proved just as dominant on real dirt in the Los Alamitos Derby.

Prior to his ten-furlong score Sunday, he had won at six furlongs, seven furlongs, a mile and a sixteenth and a mile and an eighth.

Although Toast of New York also is a 3-year-old, Shared Belief is the first major North American 3-year-old to be tested by older stakes horses in a meaningful event.

There are no questions left for Shared Belief to answer.

Shared Belief is a gelding, so he could be around to energize the racing scene for years. It’s a bonus that his majority owner is Jim Rome. His sports talk show is one of the nation’s most popular. Rome will be talking up Shared Belief to the young males racing needs to reach.

It had to be a disappointment to Rome that foot ailments kept Shared Belief out of the Triple Crown but he could be going for his own unique triple in the Breeders’ Cup. His filly Mizdirection won the Turf Sprint, beating males, the past two years.

Perhaps the best part for racing is that Shared Belief has an outstanding rival, California Chrome, to stir interest among even casual fans. Alydar made people appreciate Affirmed more. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier had each other. Magic had Larry Bird.

For all that Shared Belief has accomplished, if the Eclipse balloting was held now, California Chrome would be voted the 3-year-old championship, just as the last 16 winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness have been. California Chrome has the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby to go with his Triple Crown heroics. The Pacific Classic was Shared Belief's first Grade 1.

That election won’t take place until after the Breeders’ Cup Classic, when assuming good health, the two extraordinary 3-year-olds will face off for the first time. Not only divisional honors will be up for grabs but Horse of the Year as well, should either win.

V.E. Day’s upset in the Travers effectively took all the Eastern 3-year-olds out of the running.

Even if only one of the West’s stars makes it to Santa Anita on Nov. 1, a win against older horses such as Palace Malice, Moreno and Will Take Charge, would clinch the two awards. Not even a late-season streak by two-time defending champion Wise Dan would change that.

Shared Belief and California Chrome are each expected to have one tune-up before their showdown. Shared Belief’s will most likely come against older competition in the Awesome Again on Sept. 27. This will give him a trip over Santa Anita’s dirt track.

California Chrome’s connections will follow the money to the Pennsylvania Derby, which is limited to 3-year-olds, a week previously.

The Parx race has a million dollar pot but there’s an additional lure for California Chrome’s owners, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, who are in the process of squandering a lot of the good will they enjoyed on the Triple Crown trail.

First there was Martin’s boycott of the Preakness because he wasn’t treated well at the Derby. Then Coburn went bat-dung crazy because fresher colts denied California Chrome the Triple Crown. Next they demanded $50,000 from Del Mar for California Chrome to parade on Pacific Classic Day. (In retrospect, imagine how embarrassing it would have been for California Chrome to just parade before his rival Shared Belief put on a real show in the big race.)

For taking their colt across country to a race that can only tarnish his luster should he not win as an overwhelming favorite, they will get what amounts to a $100,000 appearance fee. This is on top of anything California Chrome earns.

Trainer Art Sherman also gets an extra hundred grand when California Chrome leaves the starting gate. It will be interesting to see the reaction from Coburn and Perry when they realize they are splitting $100K while Sherman gets the full amount all for himself.

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (29)


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It’s never on Sunday for Gulfstream stakes

Florida (and other jurisdictions) once had high hopes that Sunday would become the equal of Saturday in drawing fans to the track. It hasn't happened. Gulfstream is giving up on forcing the issue. Its winter stakes schedule--67 races, 37 graded--doesn't include a single Sunday stakes.

MIAMI, Aug. 19, 2014--Sunday has never delivered the punch Florida’s racing industry hoped and predicted it would when it lobbied for years to lift the prohibition against it. Now, there is little chance it ever will.

NYRA senior vice president of racing operations Martin Panza has been preaching the gospel of big event days, primarily Saturdays. Gulfstream’s Tim Ritvo and P.J. Campo are disciples. Saturdays will be super at Gulfstream this winter. Sundays not so much.

Gulfstream has scheduled 67 stakes—37 graded. Every one will be run on a Saturday. A half-dozen Saturdays will feature at least five stakes. Only three Saturdays—Jan. 31, Feb. 14 and March 7 will be limited to one stakes.

Eight stakes will be presented on Florida Derby Day, March 28. This has been the norm in recent years.

This year there will be other days as stakes laden. The Fountain of Youth, the final major prep for the Florida Derby on Feb. 21, also will be supported by seven stakes.

The Donn Handicap and Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, both Grade 1 events, will be among six stakes on Feb. 7.

The meet will get off to a Super Saturday start on Dec. 6, the first day of racing after the abbreviated session under tents at Calder, with this year’s Claiming Crown program of eight stakes.

The Gulfstream Derby, which has been run on New Year’s Day, has been shifted to Saturday Jan. 3 and rechristened the Mucho Macho Man. (No offense to an exceptional horse but I think Gulfstream Derby has more cachet.) It will be the headliner of five stakes for newly turned 3-year-olds. Sprinters will have the Spectacular Bid and turf sophomores get to run for black type in the Dania Beach. Filly sprinters can go in the Old Hat and distaff turfers have the Ginger Brew.

Gulfstream will renew four stakes formerly contested at Calder in December. The Tropical Park Oaks and Tropical Park Derby are penciled in for Dec. 20. The W.L. McKnight and La Prevoyante will follow a week later.

Some overnight stakes are expected to be carded to add pizzazz to Sundays but that’s it.

Gulfstream gave Sundays every opportunity to become the equal of Saturdays. The 2011 Florida Derby was run on a Sunday, with the Gulfstream Oaks the previous day, in an attempt to create a Kentucky Oaks-Derby two-day event. It didn’t happen.

Last winter's Donn Handicap was unselfishly relocated to a Sunday to help launch the new series of races on Fox Sports. Attendance and handle didn’t approach a typical Saturday Donn Day.

As long as can be remembered, the winter meet featured a stakes race on most Sundays. The attendance and handle for these Sundays was virtually identical to the Sundays with no stakes carded.

So the decision was made to load up Saturdays and make Sunday just another day.

Although Sundays haven’t been as big as Saturdays at most tracks around the country—there is a reason Saratoga give-away days are always on Sunday--Gulfstream has unique issues, according to Ritvo. South Florida is a tourist mecca and many travelers schedule return flights back home on Sunday. Thanks to airport security lines, travelers have to get to the airport by late afternoon even for an early evening flight.

Perhaps even more important is the fact that for the first eight or nine weeks of the winter season, Gulfstream has to buck the NFL on Sunday. The games are available on TV throughout the plant but it’s not the same as the comfort of a home, particularly if you are following numerous players and games for your fantasy league.

Sunday is also traditionally a family day in the Hispanic community, a day to take the wife and kids to a park or beach or have relatives and friends over for a backyard gathering.

This combination of circumstances has pushed Gulfstream into the vanguard of tracks emphasizing big days over a well distributed stakes schedule.

Chuck Streva will be missed

Racing lost a good man last week and I lost a great friend. Chuck Streva, for decades the chart caller at Calder and Gulfstream as well as the producer of the morning line at both tracks, died after a long illness. He was 56.

In a business known for its cattiness, petty jealousies and back stabbing, Chuck was a rarity. I never met or heard of a person who didn’t like him or had anything bad to say about him. Even as he was fighting for his own life, his first question would always be about some problem or issue he remembered from your life.

For the past few years, the standard greeting in the press box was, “How’s Chuck?” or “Have you heard anything from Chuck.”

He was so conscientious and had such a strong work ethic that whenever he had the strength, which for the past year or so wasn’t often, he would come out to the track to work.
Chuck was born into a racing family. His grandfather, Dave Wilson, was one of the first to come up with speed figures as an essential tool for handicapping and was one of the widely followed public handicappers in the game. He passed on his secrets to Chuck, who would share his figs with anyone who asked and made daily selections in the Miami Herald. Chuck’s uncle, Jack Wilson, was the Racing Form’s lead chart caller for decades, the go-to guy for the Triple Crown races and Breeders’ Cup. But for his atttachment to South Florida and his family, Chuck would have been his successor. He was that good.

Jay Privman might have said it best in a tweet on the Racing Form site when he learned of Chuck’s passing. “You are going to hear a lot of great things about Chuck Streva in the coming days. Believe them. They are all true.”

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (17)


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Arlington Million could be nearing the finish line

A million dollar purse no longer carries the cachet it once did. Saturday's Arlington Million, once an eagerly sought prize on both sides of the Atlantic, attracted only seven entrants. With bottom-line obsessed Churchill Downs Inc. calling the shots, this might be all the excuse needed to shut down what once was the biggest post-Triple Crown event of the year.

MIAMI, Aug. 12, 2014--A million dollars doesn’t buy what it used to in racing (or anywhere else). When the Arlington Million was introduced in 1981 the purse was the story. The first seven-figure pot in American racing made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. (The Breeders’ Cup wouldn’t come along until three years later.)

The magic word “Million” led NBC to sign on for live coverage and promote the event heavily. This was a big deal in pre-cable days because once the Triple Crown was over TV didn’t have much interest in horse racing.

These days, million dollar purses are not quite commonplace (although if Martin Panza continues on his current pace at NYRA, they will be) but there are enough of them that they are not even much of a drawing card, per se, anymore.

If there was any doubt of this, the pre-entries for Saturday’s renewal of the Million dispelled them. Only seven horses signed on, four from the U.S. and three Euros. Thankfully for the event, one of the Euros is Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Magician.

In spite of $15,000 in fees to enter, there is no guarantee or even probability that all seven will start. Hardest Core was also pre-entered in the supporting American St. Leger and could skip both for the Sword Dancer at Saratoga on Sunday.

Six starters would be the fewest in the history of the Million. Arlington shares some of the blame. The eye-catching purse 33 years ago hasn’t been increased since.

The Million-Sword Dancer conflict underlines another problem plaguing racing. In spite of a shortage of horses and an even bigger shortage of top class horses, there is no inter-track cooperation of any kind in scheduling stakes. Monmouth’s centerpiece race, the Haskell, and Saratoga’s Jim Dandy have been running on back-to-back days for years.

Given Saratoga’s compact season, in the heart of the prime summer dates at most tracks, it’s impossible to avoid some conflicts. But races of the magnitude of the Haskell and Jim Dandy, the Arlington Million and Sword Dancer should have separation beyond 24 hours. This could be beneficial to horses, who might be “one work away” or need extra time from their last race or in advance of their next goal.

NYRA knew when the Million would be scheduled, yet it penciled in the Grade 1 $500,000 Sword Dancer for the same pool of horses the very next day. It will be the first important stakes of the meeting for older males on the turf so there is no reason it couldn’t have been run a couple of weeks earlier. Likewise, it wouldn’t kill Monmouth to run the Haskell in mid-July.

It’s not being overly alarmist to speculate we might be seeing the final days of the Million. Remember tight-fisted Churchill Downs owns Arlington. The Million might be staying alive solely on the strength of personality of 92-year-old Richard Duchossois, who rebuilt Arlingon into a palace and remains an influential stockholder in Churchill Downs Inc.

Even with Duchossois, who won’t be around forever, as its champion, a less than stellar field for the Million might be all the excuse CDI needs to pull the plug on what once was the most publicized race of the year outside the Triple Crown.

A new track for Breeders’ Cup

Horsemen and the Breeders’ Cup have to be breathing easy that it is still two years before Del Mar will be hosting the championship races. The newly installed turf course, expanded solely to satisfy BC requirements that it handle 14-horse fields, has been a nightmare this summer.

Four horses broke down and had to be euthanized in the first nine days of the season, which began July 17. As a result, races were taken off the grass course on Sunday, July 27, to allow an extra day to deal with the problem before racing resumed on Wednesday. The day after turf racing returned, July 31, another horse broke down. Turf racing was suspended until Aug. 9.

Five races were conducted on the grass course without incident this past weekend. But you have to think one more fatal breakdown and Del Mar might have to bag turf racing for the season.

Even if it doesn’t come to that, turf racing is being substantially reduced for the balance of the meeting. There will be no turf sprints, nor claiming races. Grass races will be curtailed by about one-third, according to officials.

With Los Alamitos, which has no turf course, in line to follow Del Mar before Santa Anita reopens on Sept. 26, scores of turf specialists will be confined to their stalls for almost two months. So expect as heavy an agenda of turf racing as the Great Race Place course can handle this fall. But with the Breeders’ Cup five weeks into the season, Santa Anita has to balance the needs of horsemen with grass horses against having the course in the best shape possible for the championship events.

Meanwhile, Santa Anita and the Breeders’ Cup might be playing with fire on the main track. The old track was ripped up after the marathon winter-spring meet ended. It has been replaced with a new kind of dirt, El Segundo sand, which is said to resemble that used years ago at Santa Anita and Hollywood.

The new surface is expected to be ready for workouts in early September but it won’t be seriously tested until racing resumes. Track officials are confident there won’t be any issues but you never know with a new surface. Del Mar didn’t expect the problems it has encountered on its new turf course.

You have to wonder if the Breeders’ Cup would have been awarded to Santa Anita for the third straight year if BC officials knew their races would be contested on a track barely more than a month old.

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (17)


Page 25 of 58 pages « FirstP  <  23 24 25 26 27 >  Last »