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, November 12, 2015

Decoupling could benefit thoroughbreds

Florida horsemen are marshalling their forces to combat another effort in the Florida legislature this spring to decouple the necessity to run dog racing and jai alai to maintain a racino. This could be a misguided effort. Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs have given no indication they would curtail racing if decoupling passes and the anticipated end of dog racing and jai alai would give horses a monopoly in pari-mutuel wagering. Rather than fight decoupling, thoroughbred efforts should be concentrated on tailoring any bill to the advantage of horse racing.

MIAMI, Nov. 12, 2015— The Florida legislature’s regular session doesn’t convene until March but the thoroughbred industry is already marshalling forces to fight a faux boogyman.

Bill White, an outstanding trainer and president of the Florida HBPA, wrote a guest editorial in the Blood-Horse slamming the concept of decoupling, which would relieve pari-mutuel facilities of the necessity of conducting live horse or dog racing and jai alai games in order to have card rooms and slot machines. A website,, has been created with the same goal.

Analyzed closely, decoupling represents no threat to the thoroughbred industry at this time or the foreseeable future. The state has only two thoroughbred tracks, Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs, and neither has given any indication decoupling would result in a curtailment of racing. Indeed, Frank Stronach’s Gulfstream is the only Florida pari-mutuel with a casino that still puts much, if not most, of its promotional dollars into racing.

Decoupling is being pushed by greyhound and jai alai interests, who have seen the live audiences for their products diminish to a laughable extent. A strange bedfellows’ coalition of dog tracks and animal rights activists, former mortal enemies, are the driving forces behind decoupling. Isle of Capri (nee Pompano Harness Track) has made it clear that it maintains the trotters and pacers only because it is a requirement to keep its prosperous casino.

Few people knowledgeable about the situation don’t appreciate that decoupling is inevitable. It’s just a matter of when and the coming legislative session is a live favorite.

This is why the thoroughbred industry should give up the fight to stop it and concentrate its efforts on having the eventual bill tailored to its advantage. It shouldn’t be difficult or complicated. The state has unfailingly acknowledged the importance of thoroughbred racing. Racing and breeding supports an estimated 20,000 jobs and maintains vast green spaces throughout the state as well as being a tourism magnet.

Step one is to use these factors to insert a clause that exempts Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs from decoupling. Calder is already out of the game. It’s not a stretch to speculate that Churchill Downs is about to demolish the Calder grandstand because it expects decoupling to happen as soon as this spring. This would end the necessity to continue the sham Gulfstream West meeting.

A wish list possibility is this could bring Hialeah back into the mix with a short meeting along the lines of what is now Gulfstream West, since Gulfstream benefits from the two-month buffer zone between the summer meeting and its prime winter dates.

Step two would be to fight for safeguards that decoupling won’t be paired with state-sanctioned additional free-standing casinos. There is a sizable and vocal constituency in the state opposed to the expansion of gambling, especially casino gambling. Align with these people to argue that decoupling represents a contraction of gambling, since dog racing, jai alai and probably harness racing would disappear. Meanwhile, an influx of new casinos would turn Florida into Las Vegas South.

As long as no new casinos are allowed, decoupling actually could create a net gain for the thoroughbred industry. Card rooms and slots are already a fact of life in South Florida. But tourists who want to engage in pari-mutuel wagering would have only horses as an option.

Fighting decoupling in its entirety is a losing battle. Working to have it tailored to benefit horse racing is a winning strategy.

Racing’s best go west

Day-to-day racing in Southern California has deteriorated to an alarming degree. Even with cutbacks to four days per week for a substantial part of the year and abbreviated eight-race weekday programs, cards are dominated by short fields of bottom-level claimers and state-bred career maidens. However, at the top of the game, Santa Anita will be where the action is early in 2016.

No fewer than six Eclipse winners are expected to be in action at Santa Anita. By contrast, there might not be any champions at the start of the Gulfstream season. However, off past performances, the daily racing cards will be the most interesting and challenging in the country.

The Great Race Place will live up to its name in almost every division. Presumptive juvenile champions Nyquist and Songbird will be prepping for the spring classics, as will Swipe, whose placing at the Breeders’ Cup Classic was the fourth straight time he was closest under the wire to Nyquist.

California’s older division has been especially forlorn the past few years. It doesn’t appear that will be the case this coming winter. Former Horse of the Year and 3-year-old champion California Chrome is back in the U.S. and training forwardly, as John Pricci noted earlier this week.

At some point, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will probably renew his rivalry with former 2-year-old champion Shared Belief, who is on the road to recovery from the fractured hip he suffered at Charles Town last spring. He recently checked back into Jerry Hollendorfer’s Northern California barn. He should be back in serious training before the calendar turns. At his best, he was the nation’s best.

One of the ironies of 2015 was that American Pharoah was based in Bob Baffert’s Santa Anita barn but his only appearances on the track were for workouts and celebratory parades. He went from Oaklawn (twice) to Churchill Downs to Pimlico to Belmont to Monmouth to Saratoga and finally to Keeneland.

Two horses, who, in American Pharoah’s absence, dominated last winter’s 3-year-old stakes then ran 2-3 in the Kentucky Derby, Firing Line and Dortmund, could make things interesting for California Chrome and Shared Belief.

Late season developer Smooth Roller, who upset the Grade 1 Awesome Again for his third win in four starts, ought to be recovered from the minor injury that forced him to be scratched from the BC Classic.

Some will argue that the best horse in the country is a mare, Beholder. She’s the opposite of American Pharoah. She never leaves Southern California. With the 2016 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, there is no reason for her to travel in the coming year, when she could capture a fourth Eclipse without ever winning a race east of Pasadena.

Maybe her connections will do the sporting thing and take a shot at the male heavyweights in the Big Cap.

The nation’s best sprinter, Runhappy, also will be in Southern California after being yanked from trainer Maria Borell’s barn the day after his scintillating performance in the BC Sprint and turned over to owner James “Mattress Mac” McIngvale’s sister-in-law.

Love the horse but the connections are a big root against.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Thursday, November 05, 2015

Make BC a one-day festival again…and other thoughts

Can something be regarded as an afterthought if it happens first. Breeders' Cup Friday would fall into this category. It is strictly a money-making deal with little connection to the grandeur of Saturday. But as long as it's going to be retained, there are ways to improve it while bolstering Saturday's card, too. In an unrelated idea, racing's Hall of Fame should step outside the box and induct American Pharoah this summer. He's going in anyway, so why wait?

MIAMI, Nov. 5, 2015--The extensive gaps between Breeders’ Cup races allows time for thoughts and reflections. J.P. and I were kicking around ideas all afternoon. By the way, I second his opinion that Florent Geroux is America’s next riding superstar. Here are some other notions that struck me last Friday and Saturday:

The second BC day (Friday) is as bad an idea as baseball’s second All-Star game, which the national pastime had the sense to drop. In a perfect world, Breeders’ Cup would follow suit. It isn’t as if the stakes-fortified day before the featured races wasn’t a horse player magnet before it was officially dubbed a BC event.

This isn’t going to happen because of the familiar reason: money. Breeders’ Cup gets to charge premium prices well beyond what the tariffs were when Friday was just the eve of the big day. Handle also gets a boost from the Breeders’ Cup brand.

As long as the second day is going to be around, there are ways to make it better. Breeders’ Cup has been trying without success to find an acceptable theme for the day. Ladies Day was deservedly laughed off when it wasn’t being pilloried as sexist.

Perhaps because of this, Friday in 2015 was theme-free. The four Breeders’ Cup events were divided between the old (Distaff and Dirt Mile) and new (a couple of juvenile turf races).

The latter pair might be on the right track. How about a Breeders’ Cup Stars of Tomorrow Day, borrowing a format created at Churchill Downs and widely copied.

Keep the two juvenile turf races and add a couple of juvenile dirt sprints. The Juvenile Sprint was hastily discarded after 2012 when only five horses showed up at Santa Anita and a D. Wayne Lukas maiden beat a nondescript bunch.

However, there was a huge mitigating factor. It was the year Breeders’ Cup decreed there would be no Lasix in juvenile races. Now that the white flag has been waved on that front, it’s time to not only restore one 2-year-old sprint but to stage one for each gender.

Would anyone argue that there aren’t more juveniles ready to run six furlongs than there are those prepped for a two-turn race? Without the Lasix prohibition, both dashes could wind up over-subscribed.

They wouldn’t have to be million dollar stakes. Half that amount would suffice and it’s readily available by cutting the purse for the two turf races by 50 percent to make them all equal.

To retain the Breeders’ Cup patina (and admission prices), the established Juvenile Fillies and Juvenile could anchor the Friday card at their current purses.

This would create six Breeders’ Cup endowed races instead of the four this year and allow the Dirt Mile and Distaff to rejoin the major events on Saturday. Both days would be more attractive.

More BC ruminations

The most spirited debate when Eclipse ballots go out will be in the female turf category. Should it be Tepin, who put down males in the Mile for her third Grade 1 of the year, or Stephanie’s Kitten, one of the most consistent, hard knocking mares in years, who concluded her career with scores in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl then the Fillies & Mares Turf, in which her victims included Euro “super filly” Legatissimo. An argument could be mounted that Stephanie’s Kitten was best in the Beverly D, too.

My gut is Tepin will get the nod because “she beat males.” When is this nonsensical reasoning going to stop? As I’ve pointed out many times, the only reason females beating males is a big deal in North America is because it is so rarely attempted. It’s ho-hum commonplace in Europe.

Found, a 3-year-old filly, beat the best male grass horses in the world, including Arc winner Golden Horn, in the Turf. Lady Shipman just missed in the Turf Sprint against a gate full of males.

Goldikova beat males three times in the Mile, Miesque did it twice and Royal Heroine won the initial Turf. Very Subtle and Safely Kept have won the Sprint.

In the U.S., Rachel Alexandra vanquished males the only three times she tried and Havre de Grace beat males in the Woodward. Wayne Lukas, who won the Kentucky Derby with Winning Colors, never hesitates to run juvenile fillies against colts when he has the stock to do it. Wesley Ward has enjoyed great success doing it every spring.

So, could we stop acting amazed and affording too much credit every time it happens?

I’ll also be curious to hear what those, who spent three years knocking Wise Dan as one-dimensional, have to say since all of Tepin’s stakes wins have been at a flat mile.

Southern Californians have won three of the past four Kentucky Derbys—I’ll Have Another, California Chrome and American Pharoah—and there’s no disputing that this is where the top talent has been again in 2015.

Juvenile winner Nyquist might have questionable breeding for a mile and a quarter but there is no question he towers over his rivals at this point. Despite a horrid post and wide trip, he crushed his rivals in the Juvenile.

Moreover, Swipe, the West Coast colt he has now beaten four straight times, was clearly the best of the rest. This doesn’t even take into account how Ralis shipped East to win the Hopeful against Saratoga’s best, although he was a bust in the BC Juvenile.

But the real best of the West is super filly Songbird, who ran more than a second faster than the boys and did it without too much apparent exertion. She raced highly regarded Rachel’s Valentina, who still appears to be an exceptional talent, and Frizette winner Nickname into the ground.

The “will Songbird skip the Oaks for the Derby?” conversation has already started.

Another Eclipse debate is going to be in the older dirt male division. Do you give it to Liam’s Map, whose troubled trip win in the Mile was jaw dropping, or Honor Code, who won the Met Mile and Whitney, running down Liam’s Map in the final strides of the latter.

This will be the deciding factor on many ballots but not among the “what have you done for me lately” crowd (of which I might be a member in this instance). Since the Whitney, Honor Code has run third in the Kelso and BC Classic. Liam’s Map ran away with the Woodward then captured the Dirt Mile despite an almost impossible trip. I’ll be doing more thinking on this in the next month.

Finally, a plea to do something totally outside the box. American Pharoah’s triumph in the Classic completed a racing grand slam that might never be duplicated. It’s said there are no sure things in racing. Not true. It is absolutely certain that the Triple Crown champion will be inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame the first year he is eligible.

Do we really have to wait? Couldn’t we make an exception for the colt, who has done more good for racing than any horse since Secretariat, and put him in next summer. This would be an extraordinary departure but American Pharoah is as extraordinary a horse as most of us have ever seen.

Let’s celebrate him while he’s still fresh in everyone’s memory.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Betting strategy is key to BC

The Breeders' Cup looks easy...until the races start to run. Liam's Map looks like candy on Friday. Same goes for Golden Horn, Legatissimo and Songbird on Saturday. But history teaches at least one of those will go down to defeat. There almost certainly will be at least one winner who blows up the toteboard. So the key is to devise a betting strategy in advance, especially as it relates to multi-race wagers, pressing the horses you like best and spreading as much as you can elsewhere.

MIAMI, Oct. 28, 2015--Some of the biggest Pick 3 tickets I’ve ever cashed have been built around a short-priced single combined with a couple of decent-priced horses.

This is the key to my Friday Breeders’ Cup betting strategy. Liam’s Map is the best bet of the weekend. It requires creativity to come up with someone to beat him. The only horse to do that since he ran second in his career debut is Honor Code, who uncorked one of his furious rallies over his favorite track to nail him by a neck in the final jumps of the Whitney. That was nine furlongs. This is eight.

The way the races are aligned there are opportunities for price horses in the Breeders’ Cup races in which Liam’s Map can be used. The Juvenile Turf is its usual crap shoot. I’m going to lean on Aidan O’Brien’s uncoupled pair of Shogun and He’s a Bomb and give thanks for 50-cent bets to include Euros Cyrmac and Birchwood. The only North American horse on my ticket will be Airoforce.

On the other side of the Mile, I’m not as high on the overseas gang in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. I’ll use Illuminate but also (in no particular order) North Americans Catch a Glimpse, Harmonize, Sapphire Kitten and Tin Type Girl. I’ll hold my breath that Euros Alice Springs, Last Waltz and Nemoralta aren’t the real deals.

The Distaff

I’ll combine my five pack in the filly race with Liam’s Map going into the Distaff where I’m hoping Stellar Wind can close Day One with a mild upset. She’s lost only once in five starts since joining John Sadler’s barn. That was in the Kentucky Oaks where she had a trip from post 12 that would make a sphinx cry.

I’ll key her but not single her. Sheer Drama has to be used, although post 13 (moved in one with the scratch of Untapable) leaves her vulnerable.

I’m not tossing likely favorite Wedding Toast but she’ll be on only a small saver ticket. Her three-race winning streak came at Belmont, significantly all around one turn. She hasn’t won around two turns since 2013.

I give I'm a Chatterbox a chance but again only on a small saver.

My thinking on Stopchargingmaria is she might be over the top.

Liam’s Map gets beat, look for me at the ATM machine Saturday morning.

On to Saturday; 3 big favorites

Every year I have every winner the night before Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup festival. Reality usually sets in quickly. Three of nine should be enough for a decent day. Four or more and it’s party time, especially if they hit in the right order. (I key Pick 3’s but you have to bet win, too, on Breeders’ Cup Saturday.)

If you know how to read a Form, you shouldn’t need help coming up with Songbird in the Juvenile Fillies, Legatissimo in the Filly & Mare Turf and Golden Horn in the Turf.

You’ll hear all day that no Arc winner has doubled in the Turf but the sample is too small to be taken seriously. Lesser horses than Golden Horn have crossed the Atlantic (it’s not a “pond”) to crush our best. If you have to spread, go Euro.

Juvenile Fillies

I’m not going to try too hard to beat the Euro pair but I’m taking a small shot against Songbird--who I will use in multi-race gimmicks--with Nickname, who lost to Rachel’s Valentina in her debut then dominated her next two, including the Frizette.

So why not Rachel’s Valentina? Recency and a hunch the long layoff since the Spa wasn’t just to give her time. Also, given her pedigree, she’s likely to be over bet.

Turf Sprint

Lady Shipman is the morning line favorite in the Turf Sprint, deservedly so off 7 wins in 9 grass starts. However, there’s something crucial missing from her resume. She has never run in a graded stakes. Opportunity knocks.

I’m looking at Ready for Rye to spring a mild surprise. He’s a wickedly fast colt on the dirt but he could be even better on the infield. He’s won both tries. Most significantly, he's versatile. He has won on grass on the pace and from off it.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Cavorting is five-for five in races at 7 furlongs or less, so she’ll be a worthy favorite in the Filly & Mare Sprint but there are a couple of intriguing alternatives.

Those familiar with this column know I am enamored of horses running back in a week or less, so I’m going to give a long look at La Verdad, who made the restricted Iroquois her sixth straight first-place finish last Saturday. The speedball demonstrated she can rate, which will be crucial, since she has never won past 6 ½ furlongs.

Another upset possibility is Super Majesty. She ran off by 6 in her debut then totally freaked to win by 15 in her first start against winners. Jacked up another level, she showed courage fighting back after being passed to miss by a nose. Jerry Hollendorfer next shipped her east to win the Dogwood at Churchill Downs. If La Verdad rates and Super Majesty gets a flier, she could be gone.

The Sprint

The Sprint figures to produce an insane speed duel. Private Zone has won all three of his sprints this year, in front every step of the way. When he didn’t get the lead in last year’s BC Sprint, he ran third.

Runhappy is unbeaten around one turn. He, too, has nothing but 1’s in his past performances.

California speedball Masochistic has never won coming from off the pace. Favorite Tale was on a 44 2/5 pace before shaking loose to win a rich sprint on the Pennsylvania Derby undercard.

Handicapping 101 demands a closer in these situations. Wild Dude is an exceptional late runner. He came from 15 back to grab the Santa Anita Sprint Championship and was 6 in arrears before getting home in the Pat O’Brien. Both were six furlong Grade 1’s.

The Mile

The (Turf) Mile is a guessing game as to which Euro will get the money. Tepin heads the home team and is on top of her game but she appears up against it.

Esoterique is coming off back-to-back Group 1 wins. Make Believe is four-for-six with two Group 1 victories. Impassable is going for four in a row and five out of six (with a second), the last two in Group 2’s. Time Test is coming off a Group 2 win. Mondialiste prepped with a win in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile.

Your guess is as good as mine. I’ll probably use them all in a Pick 3 with two or three in the Juvenile and Golden Horn singled in the Turf. Since it will be the end of the carnival, I’ll add a couple of Pick 4’s with American Pharoah and Honor Code.


Nyquist figures to go favored in the Juvenile off his four-for-four record. However, except for some intimidating race riding by Mario Gutierrez in the Front Runner, Nyquist’s first try around two turns, it appeared he would have been caught by Swipe.

The colts who interest me most, Greenpointcrusader and Brody’s Cause, appear to be getting better as the distances get longer.

Greenpointcrusader was a fast-closing second when beaten a neck in his debut. Extended to seven furlongs, he rallied again to break his maiden by a neck. The Champagne was his coming out party. He took that mile by 4 ½ and did something Honor Code couldn’t that day. He came from out of the clouds to get up on a sloppy track.

Brody’s Cause didn’t raise his legs in a turf debut. However, moved to the main track, he closed big to win at a mile then came back with the same tactics to take the Breeders’ Futurity.

The Classic

The Classic will be a bittersweet finale to the weekend with American Pharoah bowing out against the West Coast superstar filly Beholder. I have nothing against her or the fact she is facing males. My problem is she has never won outside California and the horses she has been beating are suspect at best.

I will save a little with Honor Code but my heart and my money will be on American Pharoah to go out like the champion he is.

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (27)


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