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, October 31, 2014

Goldencents makes his bid for a title

Goldencents lived up to his odds-on favoritism in the BC Dirt Mile but he had to gut it out the length of the stretch to get it done. Will this be enough to overcome Palace Malice for best older horse? Earlier, Wesley Ward got off his Breeders' Cup schneid in a big way, finishing first and second with Hootenanny and Luck of the Kitten in the Juvenile Turf.

It didn't take long for the Breeders' Cup to produce an Eclipse controversy.

Goldencents' incredibly game win in the Dirt Mile stakes his claim for best older horse, a prize pretty much conceded to Palace Malice on the strength of his four graded stakes wins. The Mile was only the second stakes win of 2014 for Goldencents but it was the big one.

Palace Malice still boasts coming out on top the only time the two met, in the Metropolitan Mile. But that was in June and we've seen on many occasions that what have you done for me lately becomes a deciding factor. What's more, the Met Mile was Palace Malice's only Grade 1 and now Goldencents has him tied in that category.

It didn't look like that was going to be the case at the top of the Santa Anita stretch. Going into the weekend, Goldencents loomed the most probable winner of the two days. With a quarter mile to go, those who took the 3-5 probably would have taken a penny on the dollar.

Johnny Velazquez uncharacteristically opted to go on a kamikaze mission aboard Vicar's in Trouble. They went the quarter in 22:06 and the half in 44.80, ridiculous fractions on a track that wasn't the paved highway Santa Anita often is on big days.

Vicar's in Trouoble was gone by midway down the backstretch and wound up getting vanned off, an exhausted horse. But Goldencents didn't get much of a breather as Tapiture charged at him on the turn. But Goldencents dug in and Tapiture never really gained a step on him, even though Goldencents had a bad case of the wobbles in final eighth.

Pants On Fire got up for third without ever menacing the top two. Good for Chilean Bronzo, who grabbed fourth place money.

Untapable clinches title

There's no question who the 3-year-old filly champion is. Untapable settled that beyond question by overcoming a 3- and 4-wide trip to capture the Distaff, catching Iotapa in the stretch, then holding off late-running Don't Tell Sophia.

The latter might have grabbed the older female title with her second, as Close Hatches threw in her second straight clunker.

Depending on what happens Saturday, a case could be made for Unbtapable as Horse of the Year. The Distaff was her sixth win, which includes the Kentucky Oaks, in seven starts. The only blemish was a fifth in the Haskell against colts on a day when no one was going to beat Bayern on the speed-biased New Jersey track.

Untapable's win tied a nice bow around Steve Asmussen's year, which has been mired in controversy that he really had nothing personal to do with.

Ward kills the duck with elan

The Juvenile Turf created another controversy, although not one of much consequence. Is Hootenanny, who outgamed Luck of the Kitten, a Euro or on Uncle Sam's squad?

The son of Quality Road is a Kentucky bred and made his first two starts in America. Then Wesley Ward took him to Europe, where he won at Ascot then ran second in a Group 1 in France.

In any case, Hootenanny and Luck of the Kitten, both trained by Ward, ended the trainer's 0 for 17 schneid with style. Ward can be proud of the job he did with both. Luck of the Kitten, who went in with two wins and two seconds on four different tracks played catch me if you can from the start and it took everything Hootenanny had to get him in the closing yards. None of the others ever reached serious contention.

The fans had no faith. Hootenanny was the 3-1 morning line favorite but when the gate opened, he was double that price. You won't see 6-1 again on Hootenanny any time soon.

U.S. 1-2 in Juvenile Fillies Turf

Maybe the Euro turfers aren't that superior this year.Lady Eli led a 1-2 sweep for Team America in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Lady Eli, bided her time stalking dueling pace-setters. For a moment or two on the backstretch, it appeared she might get trapped but Irad Ortiz stayed patient and waited for his oppoortunity. It came as the field turned into the stretch when Sunset Glow drifted out and opened the rail. Lady Eli exploded up the fence and galloped away to a facile score.

The Chad Brown-trained colt ruined Wesley Ward's bid to sweep the two grass events on Friday. Ward's Sunset Glow, who also had a trip to England this summer, hung on gamely for the place.

Osalia saved face for the foreigners getting up for third.

There's no telling how good Lady Eli might be. The Fillies Turf was her third straight win and she had tough trips in her first two wins in New York. Maybe she had a dream trip like Friday's coming to her..

Written by Tom Jicha

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A couple of key plays to work around on Friday & Saturday

Everyone has their own approach to attacking the Breeders' Cup. Mine is not to go caveman but to try to find a key horse or two in one race, then spread widely in the other legs of Pick 3's, which tend to pay handsomely even with a short price or two in the sequence. Goldencents looks like the most certain winner of the two days and is positioned between wide open races on Friday. The scratch of American Pharoah from the Juvenile makes Carpe Diem a key on Saturday.

MIAMI, Oct. 29, 2014--The Breeders’ Cup can be the toughest two days of the year for players like me, who prefer to put together multiple race tickets—mostly pick 3’s. Somewhere in each sequence there is almost always at least one highly improbable winner. But with a little luck, the rewards can be great.

Ergo, the best approach is not to go caveman-- 4X4X4 ($64)--but to key on a race where it’s possible to single or go only two deep, then spread in the other legs. You can go 1X6X6 for only $36.

Because of the Breeders’ Cup large fields and few genuine throwouts, it’s amazing how even with a favorite or second choice, the rewards can great. For example. the first Bet 3 on Saturday last year, including 3-2 Dank and 3-1 Groupie Doll, came back $675.90 thanks to Ria Antonia being put up in the Juvenile Fillies.

The latter might have been tough to find (she will be even tougher to find in this year’s Distaff) but if you put together Groupie Doll and Mizdirection, both repeat winners at 3-1 and 5-2 in the next two races, and closed with New Year’s Day (the longer of two Bob Baffert’s, an automatic inclusion, at 10-1), the payoff was $278.30.

So the key is finding a race or two where you can lean hard on a selection. I think there are opportunities to do this on Friday and Saturday.

Goldencents looks like Groupie Doll and Mizdirection redux on Friday in the Dirt Mile. The defending champion crushed what was probably a tougher field a year ago. Better yet, he drew the rail with a short run to the first turn. As Trevor Denman likes to say when a horse is drawing away in mid-stretch, “Looking for the danger, can’t find one.”

The only alternative I’ll consider is Fed Biz, a solid miler for Baffert, who threw a scare into Shared Belief in the Awesome Again. Of course, he got a lot of help from Victor Espinoza on uncoupled stablemate Sky Kingdom. Anyone else wins the Mile, I shake my head and give thanks tomorrow is another BC day.

Keying Goldencents in the second of Friday’s BC races allows for wide spreads in the two legs sandwiching it, as well as the final two BC races of the day, which follow the Mile. I’m more enthused about the latter. The Juvenile Turf is a crap shoot and the Juvenile Fillies Turf is just as daunting.

My approach will be to key all the Euros in both and throw in a U.S. horse or two. A lesson I’ve learned at a price is not to try to sharp shoot the Euros. Horses with inferior Euro form often come up big at a price in the U.S. In the Juvenile Turf, I’ll also use Americans Daddy D T and Luck of the Kitten, for a total of seven.

In the Juvenile Fillies Turf, there are four Euros and I’ll throw in Sunset Glow, who ran a strong second at Ascot for Wesley Ward, and Rainha De Bateria, out of respect for Graham Motion, a human Euro. That would be a $42 ticket.

My key play Friday will be Goldencents into the Juvenile Fillies, using the same horses, and the Distaff, where I’m confident all I need is Don’t Tell Sophia, Iotapa, Close Hatches and Untapable. That’s only $24. I’ll press with extra tickets keying Don’t Tell Sophia and Close Hatches for another $12.

The scratch of American Pharoah from the Juvenile makes Carpe Diem my key play Saturday. His win in the Breeders’ Futurity was eye-popping and his breeding suggests he will only get better. That the Breeders’ Futurity was two turns, as opposed to the one turn Champagne, is what, for me, separates Carpe Diem from his Todd Pletcher stablemate Daredevil.

I’m hoping to be alive with Carpe Diem after the Filly and Mare Sprint and Turf Sprint. In the former, I’m depending on Sweet Reason, who’s 5 for 6 around one turn; Artemis Agrotera, for whom seven furlongs looks like the perfect distance; Leigh Court, impressive winner of Keeneland’s Thoroughbred Club of America, and Judy the Beauty, who almost got the money a year ago.

The Turf Sprint is the only grass race over the two days where the Euros aren’t key. This is because the unique nature of the course, downhill with both a right- and left-hand turn as well as a cross over the dirt course, is something only horses at Santa Anita experience. How important is this? There have been four BC Turf Sprints at Santa Anita. All were won by locals even with a bunch of Euros competing.

So Reneesgotzip, who has missed winning the past two editions by less than two lengths combined, Sweet Swap, Ambitious Brew and Home Run Kitten, who is 2-for-2 down the hill, have to be on the ticket. Silentio has been running on Santa Anita’s grass his entire career but around two turns. The temptation is to toss him but milers fare well down the hill. Free as a Bird invades as a winner of six of his last seven. Most have been at 5 and 5 ½ furlongs but he does have a win at 7 furlongs.

Keying Carpe Diem 4X6 will cost only $24. I’ll invest another $48 with Daredevil included with Carpe Diem in the first leg, a total of $72.

And whatever I win for the two days goes on Shared Belief in the Classic.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A throwback to my previous life

What do racing fans do when they're not handicapping or betting? Probably 99% watch television. It's a slow week in racing, awaiting the Breeders' Cup pre-entries, so I'm going to digress one time only and go back to my previous life as a TV critic.

Miami, Oct. 21, 2014--Some of you might be aware my previous life was as a TV critic for more than 30 years. John Pricci and others sometimes referring to me as “TV Tom” should have been a clue.

Preech (who is my boss) has been suggesting I pick a slow week in racing and do a column on my views on the current state of TV. Afterall, just about everyone turns on the tube after a day at the races and there is no slower week in racing than this one.

Nothing of national significance happened on the track last weekend, nothing of import will happen this weekend (negative byproducts of the Breeders’ Cup) and my publication date falls the day between horses being pre-entered for the Breeders’ Cup and the release of who is in and where. Horse Race Insider will have plenty on that daily during the next fortnight.

First things first. Television critics do not hate TV. You couldn’t and do the job. Nobody expects movie, theater or book critics to hate their crafts. However, for some reason there is such an expectation about TV critics. I think this comes from the early days of the tube when newspapers regarded TV as a competitor and assigned poison pens to savage the new medium.

This changed when it became clear television wasn’t going away--how ironic that now television is reporting on the demise of newspapers--and readers demanded the same agenda-free reviews and coverage the other arts received.

I love television. However, there are times I feel I got out at the right time. One of those times is when I see The Walking Dead is the most popular series in the history of cable. Think about all the great shows cable has offered. The zombie apocalypse drama outrates all of them, some by six or seven to one. This is akin to a night at a bull ring drawing more fans than the Breeders’ Cup.

More than anything I love a good comedy. I’m in the midst of writing a book on the history of the genre.

The Big Bang Theory is my personal favorite. IMHO, it is up there with the best comedies ever. I never miss an original and I'm almost as dedicated to the reruns on a local station and TBS. No matter how many times I watch, I laugh out loud, even at the lines I know are coming.

Modern Family, the favorite of the Emmy voters, is also appointment viewing. Two and a Half Men looked like it was going to jump the shark when Charlie Sheen went nuts but Ashton Kutcher has stepped in better than anyone had the right to expect and kept the laughs coming. I’ll miss it when it fades to black at the end of this season.

This season’s crop of newcomers has been as much a downer as California Chrome’s Pennsylvania Derby. Bad Judge is just a bad show. Black-ish is dull-ish. A to Z should have been titled A to Zzzzzzzz. Mulaney looked like a low rent Seinfeld. It’s played like a sidewalk cardboard box Seinfeld. The less said about Selfie, Marry Me, Manhattan Love Story and Cristella the better.

Dramas are the hot form right now. A major development over the past decade has been how cable has overtaken the old line broadcast networks as the home of the buzz shows. There's no secret to why. The broadcast dramas are mostly formulaic. How many CSI or NCIS: (name your city) can we take?

If you want to find a war on women, you can see it every week on the new Stalker as well as its inspiration Criminal Minds. Both series have one goal, to create new grotesque ways to torture and murder terrified women.

Cable takes chances and breaks new ground. When was the last time a broadcast network produced a classic like Breaking Bad? Cable is loaded with others almost as good: Homeland, Ray Donovan, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy, The Bridge, Justified and Mad Men.

There are a couple of promising newcomers this fall. Scorpion is The Big Bang Theory without laughs. The core BBT ensemble—four geniuses and a hot chick—fantasizes about being super heroes. Scorpion has four geniuses and a hot chick, who perform super heroic deeds using their smarts.

How To Get Away With Murder is an intriguing twist on courtroom drama. But it could be better if the relentless intensity were dialed back a few degrees. Even Supreme Court justices smile from time to time.

Madame Secretary is a big wet kiss to the Ready for Hillary campaign. If that doesn’t bother you, there are worse ways to kill an hour on Sunday night before the really good shows (Homeland and The Good Wife) arrive at 9.

To be fair, Homeland isn’t what it used to be before Brody did the rope dance. Why Damian Lewis felt the necessity to bug out of his career-making role defies analysis. Without him and their sexual tension, Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison came close to driving away the entire audience when she pondered drowning the love child she and Brody conceived. Fans know Carrie isn’t wrapped too tightly but they would not have stood for infanticide in any context.

I’m not one of those who look down on reality shows. I want no part of the likes of any Real Housewives or Kardashians but I never miss Survivor or American Idol, which is miscategorized as reality. It’s a performance competition. Ditto The Voice.

The sleeper reality hit of all time, Shark Tank, a celebration of the American entrepreneurial spirit, is another favorite. I’m not alone. It’s the No. 1 program on Friday night in the 18-49 demographic TV chases and, reruns on CNBC have driven up the ratings on the cable network.

My all-time favorite TV also falls into the reality category: simulcasts of the next race I bet.

Written by Tom Jicha

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