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Watchmaker: Action-packed Saturday leaves a lot to ponder
The only downside to fantastic racing days like Saturday is you wish there were more of them. Many more. But Saturday’s stakes action was so good that it left us with plenty to savor for a while. Here are a few morning-after thoughts on the big day:
**Art Sherman and company have been straight shooters in regard to California Chrome, so if his assistant trainer and son Alan raised the point of fitness after the San Antonio, then it makes it something you should consider. Shared Belief did have the edge in recency Saturday, as his last start in the Malibu came Dec. 26, and California Chrome’s last start in the Hollywood Derby came Nov. 29.
So you can consider what role fitness might have played in the outcome of the San Antonio. And then, in my view, you can dismiss it. California Chrome had the slightly better trip in the San Antonio, stalking and getting first run into a pace that was downright slow for the class of animal involved, then opening a clear lead in upper stretch. For me, California Chrome’s better trip neutralizes the recency factor, almost as much as the image of Shared Belief rolling by him to score going away, proving decidedly best.
** After the Breeders’ Cup Classic, I went on record several times stating why I thought California Chrome deserved to be Horse of the Year of 2014 and voted as such. Count me as a fan. But since the Pacific Classic, I’ve also stated several times that I believe Shared Belief is the best horse in America, Breeders’ Cup Classic result notwithstanding.
Those two positions are not contradictory. Shared Belief, through no fault of his own, wasn’t able to accomplish enough in 2014 to be a truly viable Horse of the Year candidate. He did not have a resume as deep as California Chrome’s. But at least Shared Belief finally got to show where he stood against California Chrome on an even playing field in the San Antonio. Even if that doesn’t come close to making up for what happened to him in the Breeders’ Cup, it is not insignificant.
** I know it’s treading over worn ground, but consider again for a moment the repercussions of what Bayern did out of the gate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Some, including yours truly, speculated at the time that the foul committed at the start of the Classic would reach beyond “merely” affecting the outcome of a $5 million race. After what we saw in the San Antonio, it should be abundantly clear that what happened out of the gate in the Classic had a profound impact not only on the outcome of that race but on the outcome of the 2014 3-year-old male title and Horse of the Year, too.
** But let’s not forget, if Bayern were disqualified in the Classic, Toast of New York would have been elevated to first, California Chrome would have been placed second, and Shared Belief would have only been moved up to third. That would not have helped Shared Belief in championship voting, not anywhere near what a clean trip would have done for him.
** How lucky are we as racing fans that Shared Belief is a gelding? It’s exciting to think what we have to look forward to with him.
** It says a lot about how tremendous the battle between Dortmund and Firing Line was in the Robert B. Lewis that their race rivaled the San Antonio for sheer excitement. The fact that these two finished 21 1/2 lengths, or a time zone, ahead of the third finisher would usually be a huge post-race talking point. But that almost completely was overshadowed by the way Dortmund came back from what seemed certain defeat to gain the decision.
** My one concern about the Lewis is the possibility of it being too much, too soon for Dortmund and Firing Line. There is precedent of 3-year-olds never being quite the same again after throwing it down this way in an early-season Kentucky Derby prep, with the 1981 Gotham between Proud Appeal and Cure the Blues often cited as a classic example. I think the idea for Dortmund to skip the next round of Derby preps and wait for the Santa Anita Derby is a smart one. It’s being attributed to Dortmund going through a growth spurt, but it also will afford him ample time to recover from what had to be a draining effort.
** Constitution’s emergence as a major player in the handicap division with his determined victory in the Donn over a no-excuse Lea is welcome. The more good older horses we have, the better. But let’s not be too literal with Constitution getting a 113 Beyer Speed Figure and Shared Belief getting a 106. Hoppertunity, who beat Constitution by almost two lengths when he won the Clark last November, was beaten eight lengths by Shared Belief in the San Antonio.
** That isn’t an endorsement of comparative handicapping. We all know how dicey that can be.
** The immediate and seemingly universal reaction (including mine) to Far From Over’s victory in the Withers was that his performance was remarkable for him to overcome a bad stumble at the start that cost him at least five lengths and beat as well regarded a colt as El Kabeir. However, we were quick to note, the Withers fell apart late, meaning Far From Over’s performance wasn’t that great.
Well, the Withers couldn’t have fallen apart that badly because it received a perfectly solid winning Beyer of 96. For comparison, the Lewis got a 103.
** It’s tempting to dismiss what Salutos Amigos is doing right now sprinting in New York as a function of soft winter competition. All I can say is Salutos Amigos was absolutely monstrous winning the Toboggan, and I can only think of a few currently active sprinters, all of them in California, who are better than him at this moment.
Mike, always enjoy your columns. I can't agree with you regarding HOY and Chrome, his loses after the breeders cup didn't earn him those honors. Those guys are in the deep end of the pool now and I think way over there heads sending CC to Dubai. They will be in a real quandary following a defeat as I expect will most certainly happen. What to do if anything if they could even get back to the breeders cup. I look forward to the rematch of SB and BAYERN...my monies on Baffert
All your points are well taken and as usual, spot on. To me, the San Antonio was won on strategy, with Mike Smith being the dean of the big-race riders outgunning Victor and Chrome. I recall how disappointed I was when Mucho Macho Man got beat by a narrow margin in the 2012 Classic, and he came back the following year, with a different strategy to win the 2013 Classic, with his rival in the 2012 edition finishing 4th. I believe on any given day, Chrome and Belief will finish 1-2, with either one able to best the other. That is good for racing as you point out. I was surprised you didn't mention in the BC Classic that Toast of New York was the second foul on Shared Belief (and possibly the second blow was the one that knocked him out of any chance at winning), and if you disqualify Bayern, don't you have to also disqualify TONY? In any case, distasteful as it was, the stewards probably made the right call. Any other call might have made a worse controversy. Thank you for pointing out the brilliant and breathtaking run by Salutos Amigos. Amidst a day that held many exciting races and finishes, it had gotten lost on my radar. Finally, when will someone write an in-depth piece on the remarkable Ortiz brothers? Has any duo electrified the jockey world as much as these two have in such a short time? "Who are these guys!"
The San Antonio proves that the horse of the year committee got it WRONG - Shared Belief is the true champion, and would have been horse of the year if not for that dirty riding in the BC
Wish I'd have known California Chrome wasn't 100% fit BEFORE the race.
I would agree that Chrome seemed at least one race short of being at his best; he seems like a horse who is at his best with a couple of starts under his belt. And how does that bode well for his next race being 7 weeks and half a world away? Be way more fun for us if Chrome stayed put and ran in the Santa Anita Handicap
watchmaker, chrome runs better when he runs more consistently, look at last years 3 year old races, I think sherman was just saying chrome needs to run more…. which brings me to another point, I hate when a healthy horse like dortmund is going to skip a race, even worse, when people like yourself think its a good ideal
Mike, it's an interesting point that you make about CC's connections being straight shooters about his training, because I remember earlier in the week Art saying he wished Victor would have ran CC a little more. It's this reason that I'm saddened that CC is heading to Dubai instead of staying home. I understand reaching for the brass ring so to speak, but as a fan, I would have loved to seen Shared Belief and California Chrome hook up at 10F's in the Big Cap. The simple fact is that Shared Belief was better yesterday than California Chrome, but they don't say "any given Saturday" for nothing. One and a half lengths isn't that much in the grand scheme of things, so I wanted to see them hook up again (and again and again!). Final note: We HAVE a superstar gelding on our hands in Shared Belief for sure! Hopefully, he can stay healthy and increase the casual fans interest in our sport!
If the entire older horse schedule was going to be run at Gulfstream Park this year, then I'd agree that Constitution. Since it isn't however, I will consider him, accurately, a horse for course like so many GP hotshots and line my pockets betting against anywhere else he runs...
The Beyer numbers on the Withers and Donn are a joke. Shared Belief would destroy that bunch and Dortmund/Firing line would laugh at that Withers group on the far turn. West coast numbers are always low compared to east coast.
1. If you concede that a horse may have been "short", how can you quantify how short other than perhaps looking at his peak speed figure/trip vs. his speed figure/trip in the race in question? 2. If you believe that CC got the better trip because he got first move into the slow/moderate pace, won't that happen every time the pace is moderate simply because CC has more speed and is tractable enough to avoid a duel? I don't disagree with you. I just can't answer these questions with confidence because despite having first move into a slowish pace, CC didn't even duplicate his speed figures from last spring, let alone his BC Classic peak of 113. Had the pace been livelier and the horse 100%, perhaps he runs a 113 and wins. Who knows? Perhaps he didn't run that way because the goal is actually Dubai for 10 million. No question, the weight of evidence supports Shared Belief being better, but IMO there's almost no way yesterday's race made it conclusive.