02/15/2015 10:56AM

Watchmaker: California Chrome's 2014 record speaks for itself

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One thing I noticed in the aftermath of last week’s decisive score by Shared Belief over California Chrome in the San Antonio is there is a segment of the racing public that took the outcome of the San Antonio as proof that the Eclipse Award electorate got it wrong last December and that Shared Belief should have been Horse of the Year of 2014, not California Chrome.

Well, I can’t, and won’t, speak for the Eclipse Award electorate. But as one who has stated for the record since he dominated the Pacific Classic last August that Shared Belief is the best horse in America and yet openly voted for California Chrome for champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year of 2014, I feel it might be worthwhile for me to point out how the two are distinctly different things.

For me, a successful Eclipse Award candidate satisfies a blend of accomplishment, divisional superiority, and talent, with a strong emphasis on accomplishment. It also should go without saying, but it apparently does require mention, that this all has to happen in the calendar year in question. What happens from Jan. 1 on has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on Eclipse Award considerations specific to the previous year. Even if the San Antonio occurred before the deadline for 2014 Eclipse Award voting, it should not factor into the awards process in any way.

Getting back to accomplishment, in 2014, California Chrome earned Grade 1 victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness (two-thirds of the Triple Crown, a hardly insignificant point), and Santa Anita Derby on dirt and the Hollywood Derby on turf. He also won the Grade 2 San Felipe. Shared Belief last year recorded Grade 1 victories in the aforementioned Pacific Classic on Polytrack and in the Awesome Again and Malibu on dirt. He also won the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Derby.

Shared Belief might have taken your breath away in some of his 2014 performances in ways California Chrome never did. However, in terms of accomplishment, what California Chrome did last year dwarfed what Shared Belief accomplished. Shared Belief might be the clearly better racehorse – I think he is – but he didn’t do nearly as much as California Chrome did in 2014.

Of course, what confused the issue, and in a substantial way, was the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I’m not going to go over all of that again. I addressed it last week in this space yet again, and the subject really has been beaten to death. All I want to say in regard to the Classic at this point is there are some folks in the general racing public who feel Shared Belief would have won it with a clean trip, and if he did win the Classic, he would have been Horse of the Year. Hey, I agree. I feel the same way.

However, you cannot vote for champions on the basis of “would haves” because as convinced as we might be that Shared Belief would have won the Classic with a clean trip, we simply do not know for certain. At the same time, so much was compromised at the start of the Classic (not only the chances of some horses, but the pace scenario, a seriously overlooked aspect to what happened) that I, for one, could not take the outcome at face value. So I classified the result of the Classic as inconclusive. For me, the Classic had almost no bearing on my Eclipse Award voting. And that left California Chrome with the superior Horse of the Year résumé, even if Shared Belief is the superior horse.

A couple of Saturday notes

I had a brief but interesting Twitter discussion the other day with a fellow who disagreed with my position that closing sprinters are severely compromised when they draw the rail because they either have to be used early to secure position at the detriment of their closing kick or get shuffled back to oblivion. I actually feel this way about closers in most situations, not just sprints.

Anyway, this fellow felt an inside draw was ideal for closing sprinters because they can save crucial ground before moving out to make their runs. I do think ground loss is a critical race factor in fair conditions. But for closers, I think it is preferable to sacrifice some ground loss for a clean, unobstructed trip. There is no guarantee closers down inside will ever get through or out to make an unobstructed run, and all that ground saved might get you nowhere.

I think this came into play in two of Saturday’s bigger stakes. Taking nothing away from Lady Sabelia, the front-running winner of the Barbara Fritchie, but the runner-up Princess Violet was a more forward early factor after breaking from the rail than she otherwise might have been, and I suspect that compromised her stretch punch.

In the Santa Maria, Warren’s Veneda and Thegirlinthatsong were the two main closers in a race otherwise full of frontrunners. Thegirlinthatsong took an inside trip from post 2 and had traffic trouble inside in upper stretch before finally getting a clear rail run late. Now, let me stress that I don’t think Thegirlinthatsong was beating Warren’s Veneda under any circumstances. But Warren’s Veneda traded a four-wide trip throughout for a clear run into an ideal pace set up, and that didn’t stop her from winning decisively and going away.

What was up with last month’s Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream? Lea and Confrontation both ran extremely well, finishing one-two in that race, and yet both came back and lost in races they were perfectly capable of winning.

Conversely, Valid was awful in the Hal’s Hope, fading to finish fourth and next to last after volleying on a slow pace, and he came back to win the Fred Hooper. And on Saturday, Golden Lad, who was a poor fifth and last in the Hal’s Hope, even if he was coming off an eight-month layoff, came back to take the Essex Handicap decisively.

rishooti . More than 1 year ago
I have to speak up for MAIN SEQUENCE. If we are talking about accomplishment during the calendar year, no one matches what he did...IN HISTORY. The only ones who have come close to winning the 4 Grade 1's that he won in the same year are two other turfers we should all be familiar with. ENGLISH CHANNEL was 4-3-1-0 in 2007. MANILA was 3-3-0-0 in 1986 (didn't run in the Sword Dancer). Is it the relatively weak competition he faced in his first three wins last year that worked against him? Did he not make up for that by beating FLINTSHIRE? That one went on to win The Hong Kong Vase and had one bad race during his campaign that included runner up finishes to TREVE, RULER OF THE WORLD, and CIRRUS DES AIGLES. I don't think he got anywhere near enough credit. I'll be routing for him this weekend in what will hopefully be the start of an even better 2015 campaign.
Don Crook More than 1 year ago
Some people just don't understand or just don't want to. You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead.
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
Shared Belief is a fabulous horse but Shared Belief's constitution may never afford him the opportunity to rack up the milage that Chrome has racked up on his odometer in such a short time - advantage Shared Belief. Is Chrome an Iron horse? Who knows but we know that Shared Belief wasn't able to stay put together long enough in stretches for us to know that for certain. Just like his daddy who was a favorite of mine (Love you too Medaglia d'Oro)! Moving forward, Shared Belief will have to race outside of beautiful California to truly earn all the kudos he seems to warrant. Luckily, Shared Belief is a gelding and so time and I do mean leisurely time is on his side. Advantage - Shared Belief.
Brandon Layer More than 1 year ago
Shared Belief is the better horse now because of what California Chrome did in 2014. What Chrome did takes something out of a horse. Shared Belief benefited from not going through the Triple Crown and the road leading to it. Shared Belief still hasn't even raced outside California. California Chrome has done it many times.
gary Potter More than 1 year ago
CC has raced outside of California 4 times 2 wins and 2 out of the money. 4 races is not "many times". Going to Dubai will ruin him, as he is already overrated by the California crowd. He had a good run last spring and is now just a California horse.
Tom Hickey More than 1 year ago
4 times in one year is 4 times more than SB has done in his career.
gary Potter More than 1 year ago
And your point is? I was talking about chrome being washed up after Dubai and the fact he is overrated
David Robinson More than 1 year ago
and how many times has bayern won at different tracks and outside of ca.? more then the other two combined i believe. what is the heads up record between bayern and chrome? between bayern and belief? how many grade 1's? different distances? that vote was a joke for hoty.
Robin Herman More than 1 year ago
Shared Belief is a great horse EXCEPT he has never traveled outside the State of California. His connections have chosen not to test him in other states/countries. CC has traveled and won the Kentucky Derby in front of 167,0000 screaming fans. Shared Belief has not shown greatness under those circumstances. His a great horse in California only.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While it's true he's never been outside California, there really wasn't any reason for him to be last year. With his injury keeping him off the Derby Trail and the BCC being ran at Santa Anita it would have been almost foolish to run in back East. This year is different though and I will gladly agree with you if he lays an egg at Keenland in the BCC. (Note: not winning wouldn't necessarily be laying an egg in my opinion. If he fails to hit the board...that's an egg!)
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
I know one thing, if CC wins in Dubai all u haters WILL eat crow! as for Mr.Coburn, I could just see him now, waiving the Jack*** flag all over the winners circle! GO CC, GO BABY!
Larry Kaufman More than 1 year ago
california chromes owner makes it easy to be a hater. he will not win and won't be the same horse if they rush him back to the races after dubai
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think he will win and I definitely don't see them rushing him back to the races. When have they ever done that? He got a nice break after the Triple Crown. I think his poor performance in the Pennsylvania Derby had more to do with his inability to handle the inside. While I don't think he was 100% geeked to go for the BCC I wouldn't consider that rushing him back. He just looked like he need another race. Some people thought they were rushing him back for the turf race, but when a horse is tearing up his stall screaming he wants to run, you run him. And he was ready! I expect you won't see him run for 3 months after the victory in Dubai.
Stephan Fisker More than 1 year ago
Well put Mike. Thanks for yet another first class article.
Judith Van Doren More than 1 year ago
Understand why you have different view of the two horses, but you said yourself California Chrome won better races than Shared Belief. California Chrome to my eye is a better and stronger mover than Shared Belief; Shared Belief has more speed, but do not think he is as capable at a distance as California Chrome. Lastly, so many elites have come out openly criticizing that no one should root for, bet on, regard as a good race horse, California chrome. It is disappointing those who are complaining are not sportsmen, not racehorse people; it is why the race is run. But you made the point pretty well why California Chrome was the better race horse, in 2014.
Barry Morrison More than 1 year ago
California Chrome and Shared Belief have faced each other twice. In both of these races Shared Belief has been favored. While the debate continues over the merits of each horse, the tote board favors Shared Belief. California Chrome deserved to be the 2014 Horse of the Year, and it is great that he is racing as a four year old. While it is admittedly too early to declare Shared Belief to be a GREAT horse, he is reminding me of a past great gelding of the 70s and 80s, John Henry. Mike Smith said after the San Antonio that Shared Belief is in the top 5 of all the horses he has ridden. High praise indeed.
Scott More than 1 year ago
They have met twice and have exchanged losses. If you want to get right down to it, then you have to say that CC beat SB by more lengths in the BCC than the latter did in the San Antonio. (I know, I know, interference and even though CC had an extremely wide trip, he definitely had the better trips, but that's racing.) The tote board is even. 1 to 1. Hopefully, we will see a best of 5 between these two before the year is up (carrying over from last year as well). I really think they're pretty evenly matched.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
You and the voters entirely missed the point. It is a given CC was only the 3rd best 3 year old in 2014. SB did not deserve the 3 year old championship as he didn't accomplish enough as CC: even though we all knew SB is a better horse. Bayern was never going to get the 3 year old championship, because of not being a winning participant in the Triple Crown races: although he clearly is better than CC, as he beat him on the square in the Classic. Oh yes, the start....well, it was bad, but CC benefited as much as anyone and still couldn't outrun Bayern. Enough said. So, the foregone conclusion that CC would be the 3 year old champ, although only 3rd best is one thing. But, HOY? First, he wasn't even the best 3 year old. If voters looked at true merit for HOY, they had to look at two others better, Untapable and Main Sequence. Untapable is a filly and even though she beat older mares in the Breeders Cup, she just never had a shot, as she did lose that one race to the boys. Main Sequence went 4 for 4 in very salty Grade 1 open company races. We all know, and if you don't you need to recheck your handicapping skills, that MS did what CC could never do, which is win those races. So, the big upset is because of popularity we now have a HOY that wasn't even the best of his crop. It's just silly, but, here we are. So, what's going to happen is CC will never win an open company race, he'll retire to stand in California, and we will be betting on his offspring at the California Fairs every summer. It's sad, but absolutely true.
TomPHickey More than 1 year ago
See, you didn't read the article. HOY is not a vote for best horse. It's Horse of the Year. If you want the award to go to the Best Horse at the end of the Year, they'll need to change the criteria. Given the whole year, CC ran in 3 G1 in 5 weeks in 3 different states and raced in California and Penn as well. SB, who I believe is a better horse, at least now, never left the state and ran against beaten up older horses in his big wins. IF the older horse division hadn't been such a disaster, or Bayern hadn't taken him out at the start of the BCC, he probably would have been HOY.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
How do you figure I didn't read the article? Of course I read it. Did you read my comment? Of course, I didn't think SB should be HOY. But, my point was CC shouldn't of either. CC was the horse of the spring. Main Sequence , in my opinion, should have been HOY. And yes, I think SB is better than both of those, but, SB needed to win the Classic and he didn't. Maybe, try reading the comments and digest what is written, before commenting on what you are already thinking about.