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 Sentinels horse racing writer since 2007 as a staff member, and continues to this day as a free-lancer.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Travers a great race and a great betting race

The anticipated Travers showdown of Triple Crown race winners--Orb, Oxbow and Palace Malice--will not take place because of a season and perhaps career-ending injury to the Preakness winner. However, the 2013 renewal of the Midsummer Derby is so deep in quality that Verrazano could go favored over the Derby and Belmont-Jim Dandy winners and a case could be made for two or three others.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Aug. 20--I’d love to be Aaron Ditch. I’d hate to be Aaron Ditch.

Ditch is the winner of the opportunity to bet $15,000 of Marylou Whitney’s money to win on the Travers. I’d love to be him for obvious reasons, a shot at a super score without risking a dime. I’d hate to be him because I wouldn’t get a minute’s sleep the rest of the week agonizing over the possibility of blowing this once in a lifetime chance.

Two of the first three winners of the weekly Saratoga drawing had easy choices: Adam McNeil let it ride on Wise Dan in the Fourstardave. Deborah White put it down on Princess of Sylmar in the Alabama. The mutual payoffs were puny but the $15,000 kick made it a windfall anyway; $21,000 for McNeil, $22,500 for White.

A third weekly winner narrowed his selections in the Whitney to just two, Fort Larned and Cross Traffic and went the wrong way. How ironic that the only non-winner came in the race that carries Marylou’s family name.

There is no easy choice in the Travers, not even a chance to narrow it down to two. Ditch should get the money if he can merely name the post-time favorite among the big three of Palace Malice, Verrazano and Orb. This year's Travers is not only a great race, it is a great betting race.

The latter is the least likely to go favored but the magic of “Kentucky Derby winner” should never be under-estimated. Also, Shug McGaughey is telling anyone who will listen how, after a freshening at bucolic Fair Hill, Orb looks as good or better than he did before winning the Florida Derby, then the big one on the first Saturday in May—at the same 10 furlongs as the Travers.

I made a friendly man-to-man bet after the Jim Dandy and Haskell that Verrazano will be favored over Palace Malice. I didn’t say Verrazano would beat Palace Malice, just that he would break from the gate at lower odds. Bettors love horses who have crushing margins in their past performances. Verrazano has a boat load of those, most recently in the Haskell.

But he still has to prove he can get a mile and a quarter against Grade 1 opposition. The only stinker in his resume was in the Derby, although he was out of it by the midway point for myriad reasons beyond distance limitations. He wasn’t going to be threatened in the Haskell if they ran 2 ¼ miles. Moreover, that was a superior field to the Jim Dandy.

Palace Malice, of course, has gone the distance and then some in winning the Belmont. He also has the crucial race over the track.

If Ditch wants to reach for a real life-changer, he could take a look at Will Take Charge, who was closing on Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy. The price will be right, somewhere between 12-1 and 20-1 and possibly higher if the holiday crowd gets carried away with the big three. D. Wayne Lukas can never be overlooked in a big race. Remember Oxbow in the Preakness.

Let’s not forget War Dancer. The winner of the grassy Virginia Derby at the Travers distance gave Ken McPeek all kinds of turf options, including the Secretariat last Saturday at Arlington and the Hall of Fame last week at the Spa. But McPeek held him out of those races to take another shot at the Midsummer Derby on dirt, where his 33-1 Golden Ticket shocked everyone last year by dead-heating with 2-1 favorite Alpha.

There’s also Golden Soul, who rallied for the place in the Derby, well ahead of Verrazano and Palace Malice. Who’s to say it can’t happen again?

In all likelihood, I’ll go at least three deep in multi-race wagers—Orb, Verrazano and War Dancer for a price. If I can afford a fourth horse, I’ll throw in Palace Malice, who I don’t feel will be value. But I still won’t feel safe.

What would I do if I were Ditch and had to narrow it to one? At this point, I can’t say. But I can say what I wouldn’t do: sleep a wink all week pondering the question.

More than the $600,000 winner’s purse is at stake Saturday. If any of the big three win, he would be tough to overtake for 3-year-old Eclipse honors. Anything less than a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic by one of the Travers runnersup probably wouldn’t do it.

The 3-year-old filly championship is already decided. Princess of Sylmar clinched it with her dominant victory in the Alabama, after scores in the Kentucky Oaks and Coaching Club American Oaks. There simply aren’t enough major races left on the calendar to top that triple.

Alas, Princess of Sylmar’s owner/breeder Ed Stanco indicated after the Alabama that he is thinking of putting her away until her 4-year-old campaign. A major factor is that the she is not Breeders’ Cup nominated.

Putting her on the shelf is disrespectful to the filly, who certainly has earned enough to be supplemented (which also would make her eligible to future Breeders’ Cup races), and to racing, which has experienced its highest of highs in recent years when outstanding distaffers Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra captured America’s fancy.

If Princess of Sylmar is finished for the year, it would not only deny her the opportunity to show how good she is in the Breeders’ Cup, it also would rule out a showdown with older champion Royal Delta, another match that would capture uncommon interest.

Todd Pletcher is as gifted a diplomat as he is a trainer. But see if you get the same between-the-lines interpretation that I did from Pletcher’s statement on Princess of Sylmar not racing again this year.
“There’s plenty of reasons to stop on a lot of these as you go along. So you hate to stop on one when there’s not a reason to.”

Pletcher could not have made his opinion more plain. Let’s hope Stanco pays heed.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Government intervention? Let’s just kill racing now

Dinny Phipps made an ominous statement at the Jockey Club Round Table. He said if uniform medication rules aren't adopted nationwide, he would be in favor of inviting the government to step in. He needs look no further than NYRA to see what greedy and vindictive politicians can do when you give them the opportunity. Drugs might be a problem. Government intervention would be the death of racing because it wouldn't stop until it controlled every aspect of the sport.

Complete this sentence as best you can (take all the time you need): The federal government has done an excellent job regulating…

If you want to open with a laugh, you can say, “drugs.”

This is why Dinny Phipps had to be kidding at the annual Jockey Club Round Table when he said that if uniform race day medication rules are not adopted nationwide, he would be in favor of inviting federal regulation of thoroughbred racing.

I took this more as the kind of threat frustrated mothers make to out-of-control children. “If you don’t stop, I’m going to tell your father. Then you’ll be sorry.”

Racing surely will be sorry if the feds get their noses under racing’s tent. Put it this way. The most prominent connection Uncle Sam currently has with racing is the unjust and indefensible tax it withholds from significant winnings. How is that working out?

In an era of busted government budgets, federal intervention would have to come with a steep price, additional taxes to support the creation of another bureaucracy. Who do you think would be assessed these tariffs? Look in the mirror, racing fans.

Obamacare has more than 2,000 pages of rules and regulations. This is what happens when every special interest imaginable is given a voice in formulating policy.

Pressure groups and activists, who use political donations to get the ears of politicians, would seize the opportunity to flex their muscles. PETA is a bunch of loons, so they wouldn’t be taken seriously but more reputable organizations such as the Humane Society could exert considerable clout on Capitol Hill when it comes to breakdowns and deaths on the race track.

Owners, trainers and track management could wind up spending more time in Washington testifying than tending to horses and normal business.

Grandstanding politicians would have a new soapbox to press for tight monitoring of backstretch working conditions, wages and benefits. Given the Obama administration’s cozy relationship with organized labor, a demand for unionization might not be far behind. Unions pushed NYRA and New York City OTB into bankruptcy. This in itself could kill the sport.

As much damage as politicians might do, it could wind up minimal compared to what might happen in the courts. Just this week a federal judge decreed that the American Quarterhorse Association must register clones. If this doesn’t send shivers down the spines of the Jockey Club, it isn’t paying attention.

Granted, the following is an extreme, even ridiculous, example of what pressure-group-driven government can do but there is a bill on California Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk that would eradicate gender distinctions. At the behest of LGBT groups, the bill would allow students in California to declare which gender they prefer to identify with. Boys will be free to declare they feel more comfortable as girls and use ladies rooms and girls locker rooms. They also will be free to compete on girls sports team. They would need no proof other than their word that it makes them feel better about themself. It works vice versa, too.

Just think of the ways this will be abused. To reiterate, this is not an off-the-wall proposal. It is a bill that has been passed by both houses of the California legislature and is expected to be signed into law by the governor. It could happen before you get to read this.

This would be one of those situations where you just roll your eyes and wonder what kind of mind comes up with such nutty proposals, then gets supposedly rational lawmakers to go along. But consider how many seemingly wacky ideas have originated in California, then spread across the country.

If I were in California racing, I would shudder at the potential for an owner or trainer, accompanied by a creative attorney, suing to eliminate races restricted to fillies and mares on the basis that it denies equal opportunity to win purses to owners of male horses. Remember, we are talking about crazy California, so nothing can be ruled out.

Phipps of all people should appreciate what happens when government insinuates itself into racing. When he wasn’t patronizing high end prostitutes, Client No. 9 Spitzer conducted a never-ending vendetta against NYRA.

Video lottery terminals at Aqueduct were delayed for a decade, at a loss of billions of dollars, because every politician in the state tried to get his fingers into the pie.

New York Off Track Betting is the joke of the industry, a model for how not to do it. Because it is in the hands of politicians instead of NYRA (which has only itself to blame) it continues to be a cesspool of patronage abuse.

More recently, NYRA wanted to introduce a Pick 5 to its wagering menu in time for Saratoga, the meet that draws more out-of-state wagering than any other. In most jurisdictions, this could be done with a simple phone call, if that much.

In New York, where government now has fully seized control of racing, it has been mired in so much red tape there is no hope of getting it done before Sam the Bugler plays Auld Lang Syne on Labor Day. The new target date is sometime in the fall.

So either Phipps wasn’t thinking or he was just making an idle threat to spur action on the praiseworthy goal of achieving uniform medication policies nationwide. He is such an influential figure that for the sake of racing, let’s hope it was the latter.

Written by Tom Jicha

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Latest outrage makes Dubai unworthy of racing’s support

Dubai strives to project a cosmopolitan, sophisticated image during its annual carnival of racing. However, a recent event illustrated it is no different than other Neanderthal Middle East nations. A Norwegian businesswoman was raped, then sentenced to 16 months in prison for having sex outside marriage. As long as this barbaric, misogynistic attitude and accompanyng laws endure, racing should demonstrate that is has standards and a conscience by refusing to support the rulers by sending our finest racing talent to compete there.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Aug. 7, 2013--I’ve never understood the American racing community’s support for Dubai and its Festival of Racing. The purse money might be other worldly but life and principles shouldn’t be dictated solely by just dollars and cents, no matter how many are at stake.

This is especially the case for owners and trainers of Jewish heritage. The sheiks might smile and glad-hand everyone on World Classic night. It’s just good business, especially when TV cameras are in range. But make no mistake, when they are behind closed doors, they are no different than many of their radical Middle East brethren when it comes to Israel and Jews. They despise both and would like to wipe them off the face of the earth.

They might have trusted Bobby Frankel with their prize thoroughbreds but if he had made a move on one of their daughters, the brute with the scimitar might have paid him a visit.

Dubai puts a polished sheen on the cosmopolitan desert city but compelling evidence that the ruling class is no different than other heads of state in the Middle East came recently in an outrageous incident involving a 24-year-old Norwegian woman, Marte Deborah Dalevl.

While in Dubai on a business trip, Dalevl was raped in her hotel room. There is no dispute about that.

She immediately reported the crime to hotel management and insisted she wanted to notify the authorities. According to several reports, she was warned by hotel officials, more familiar with the ways of their world than Dalevl, that this might not be the prudent course of action. Nevertheless, she persisted, as anyone in her position would have and should have.

The animal perpetrator was arrested and sentenced to 13 months in prison. But so was the victim. Dalevl was charged with having sex outside marriage, a crime in Dubai and much of the Middle East, an indication Dubai is no different than its Neanderthal neighbors. She was sentenced to 16 months in prison for her “crime.” In the misogynistic world of Dubai, being raped is a greater offense than being the rapist.

Outcries from Dalevl’s home nation and social media around the world managed to spring Dalevl from prison and get her safely out of the country. This was another business decision for Dubai.
But the law that brought this atrocity about endures. This means the same thing could happen to any woman in racing—owner, trainer, jockey, stable hand or TV commentator—who visits Dubai for the racing carnival.

Apologists might argue that every nation has the right to set its own laws. There also is a rich history of sports being above international politics.

Ping Pong diplomacy played a role in the thawing of relations between the U.S. and China.

At the hottest moments of the Cold War, athletes from America and the Soviet Union met regularly in all manner of competition. Their meets became the backbone of ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

However, in none of these instances were any of the athletes in peril of being savagely violated, then thrown in prison for the crime of being a victim.

These laws could be stricken with a stroke of a pen by the sheiks, who parade so proudly on World Classic night. They don’t have to answer to a Congress or Parliament. They run the nation with dictatorial authority. If they want Dubai to be viewed as a world class city and state, it’s mandatory that they start behaving like one. That they have not done so erases the camouflage that Dubai is different from any of the other nations in the Middle East.

Until they do so, all of racing should treat Dubai as just another barbaric nation to be shunned, no matter the cost.

Imagine Coney Island without Nathan’s, Las Vegas without buffets or Saratoga without mineral water.

The latter actually happened last Sunday. The Big Red Spring in Saratoga’s backyard stopped pumping the famed mineral water out of the earth. According to unauthorized spokespeople—AKA kibitzers—this has become a frequent situation.

I haven’t ever been able to swallow an entire mouthful, so I wasn’t as upset at this turn of events as I was at the reaction of those who heard and overheard me relating what happened. Out of a group of more than a dozen, there wasn’t one who knew that the mineral waters and the baths are the reasons Saratoga is known as the Spa.

I didn’t pursue it but I’d bet that almost all of them know the status of the relationship between Justin Bieber and Selena.

Written by Tom Jicha

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