02/08/2015 10:44AM

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.