09/21/2014 12:11PM

Watchmaker: Hard to get handle on Bayern


Bayern is becoming a polarizing horse. There are those who feel he is enormously talented, a borderline freak. And there are others who feel he is a mirage, a pure function of favorable track biases.

As with most matters like this, the truth probably falls somewhere in the middle. I believe Bayern is indeed a running fool. He convinced me of that when he won the Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard. But I also believe we don’t yet have an accurate handle on just how good Bayern really is because his two biggest victories, the Haskell and Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby, came on tracks that strongly favored his front-running style.

Bayern, who could only be found with a search warrant at the end of the Travers on a fair Saratoga track, had the Pennsylvania Derby won mere strides out of the gate when he seized an unchallenged clear early lead and established rail position. And when 24.07 was put up for the first quarter on a surface over which Favorite Tale dueled inside in the Gallant Bob two races earlier in 21.33 and 43.38 and drew off to snap a four-race losing streak, it was only a matter of how big Bayern’s win margin would be. It was almost six lengths.

Bayern also broke the track record, although Saturday’s surface at Parx might have been the fastest it has ever been in the multi-named history of the track – ever. But in fairness, it does say something very positive about Bayern that even if everything were in his favor, you knew even with a lap around the track still to go that he was going to win easily.

Tapiture and Candy Boy ran against the grain of the track in the Pennsylvania Derby, so they did OK finishing second and third. California Chrome didn’t do OK finishing sixth. He did race on the rail, which seemed by far the best part of the track. Then again, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner has given the strong impression in past races that he doesn’t like being inside and much prefers to race outside of horses.

Still, California Chrome has more than earned a pass for one dud outing and deserves a chance to make amends. The thing is: It’s hard to be cheery about California Chrome’s prospects going into the fall. As clear-cut a divisional leader as he was in the spring, we all knew California Chrome was going to have to raise his game if he was going be competitive in the big year-end events. Saturday was not a good start in that direction.

Now, the 3-year-old male title that once looked like a near lock for California Chrome seems very much up for grabs. And the divisional scenarios only get more intriguing Saturday when Shared Belief at Santa Anita and a group of 3-year-olds at Belmont take on capable but limited only opponents in their final Breeders’ Cup preps.

Other Saturday notes:

It goes without saying that Untapable has had more impressive races this year than her victory in the Cotillion. However, Untapable wasn’t on the lead or near the rail, so overcoming the bias, which good horses can do, makes up for any style points she lacked.

And I thought Sweet Reason was terrific finishing second, finally delivering a performance around two turns to match her high-quality one-turn efforts.

Jojo Warrior, third in the Cotillion, was carried by the track.

There was a decided rail and speed bias on the main track Friday at Belmont, and I think the bias still was there early Saturday. But by the time Artemis Agrotera came from way out of it to win the Gallant Bloom later on Saturday’s card, I think the bias was all but gone.

Why do I think Belmont’s track changed during the day Saturday? Artemis Agrotera won the Gallant Bloom with 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.49. Weak 3-year-old fillies won the first race with 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.48. I don’t think those fillies in the opener suddenly became stakes-fast, and I highly doubt Artemis Agrotera and everyone who finished behind her suddenly became much slower. So that makes me think the track became slower, and when it did, the bias in play Friday and early Saturday disappeared.

While Artemis Agrotera’s Silky Sullivan-like score was exciting, the uncharacteristic lethargy she displayed in the early stages, even in the face of very fast fractions, was a concern. She can’t do that in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and expect to have a chance to compete.

Edward More than 1 year ago
How many horses can you name that are a mortal lock to win a race like the Pa Derby simply because they got an easy lead? maybe 2, Moreno and Bayern. Not as easy as you make it sound. It is a testament to talent. All the other horses in the race also got to run easy fractions yet they all got opened up on and lost ground down the lane Most jockeys would pay to have their horse in the position Chrome had so I agree he is a little worrisome in this deep of water.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The track was intensely speed favoring. That's why the race was over very early when Bayern cleared without pressure, and especially after that absurd first quarter.
Handi Capper More than 1 year ago
Bayern got an easy lead and the rest was history.
Elizabeth More than 1 year ago
I was not impressed by Untapable's performance. It was workmanlike. I am really interested to see how Stopchargingmaria does in the Beldame against the older girls. That filly has dramatically improved with time and maturity. A win in that and the Eclipse is by no means a sure thing for Untapable, who is nice, but very overhyped in my opinion.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Horses like Bayern are what cause horseplayers to get ulcers, lose sleep, etc. On their day nobody can beat them, but trying to figure out when their day is .....well, that's no easy feat. I won't even say categorically that Bayern cannot win at a mile and a quarter - which at one time I was convinced of. If he gets a glib racing strip at SA and he probably will, there's no telling what this horse cannot do. You cannot ignore him.
Edward More than 1 year ago
The same can be said for most horses. Bayern has won 50% of his races and in the money 75%. Not exactly Jekyll and hide stuff.
Kenny More than 1 year ago
All the posts about bias blah blah Candy woulda won if,,,,blah....blah.....mean 1 thing and 1 thing only.....go to the bank and bet Bayern at the overlaid odds he is going to be in the BC Classic and cash a nice ticket.......add in the Shared Belief hype etc and the price is gonna be REAL NICE
Ayala Anthony More than 1 year ago
Back in the late 80s & 90s top horses coming back from a good lay-off would run in a allowance race or a low stake race in their familiar race track. I don't under stand why the took California Chrome to race in a unfamiliar track!!!
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
sadly it was greed Ayala, pure greed. 200k and they were stupid enough to think the race would come up soft. Those of us around for years know they don't just hand 1 million dollar purse races away. CC is a very good horse with very bad connections. Simple as that.
Jack More than 1 year ago
Anthony - I totally agree with you. Back in the day, that home track Allowance race would have had to be worth $333,333.00 and they would have had to win the race to get that $200K they got. I don't blame Parx or CC's connections. Parx's handle increased 88% to over $10M (from a little over $5M last year) and I don't think Victor or Sherman did anything other than run him on an unfamiliar souped-up surface 2000 miles away in a respectable 1:48 and 3/5ths tune-up race. They did get paid and didn't have to win anything to do it. I could tell CC wasn't racing fit in the pre-race and he rode just like I felt he would. Bayern is a freak and may get better with age. Baffert now has another G.O.D., just a younger version. Had I had an extra $100.00 to risk, I wouldn't have hesitated on putting on Bayern (knowing the existence of the bias). Mike pointed out the bias of 2012 at Parx where the rail was dead. I still don't think any of those first 3 finishers have won any races yet. Stephanoatsee ran back and won his next, but hasn't won anything since. Handsome Mike is still searching for the winner's circle and I can't recall the other horse's name that finished 3rd in 2012. Mike and the rest of us who listened got some of our money back on Stephanoatsee's next race... but it wasn't longer than 5/2 money.
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Tony Ayala, Jock?
Kyri Freeman More than 1 year ago
I think Bayern is a nice horse up to 1 1/8th and with a relatively unpressured pace scenario. I have the feeling that if he and Moreno both run in the Classic, the latter will be the last speed horse standing (and will probably be 3rd or 4th). Sweet Reason also broke through the gate before the start. Very good effort from her.
Elizabeth More than 1 year ago
California Chrome's connections were stupid, plain and simple. I would never have flown my horse across the country for his first race back in three months. hey admitted they did not want to take on Shared Belief in the Awesome Again, but that is exactly what they should have done. CC would not have had the shipping, extra time for the Awesome Again, a race over a track in his own backyard where he has proved himself to be one of the best horses in the country. Even if he had finished second or third to Shared Belief--I myself think CC could take him if he is in his best form--he would have earned tremendous respect. Shared Belief is a really, really good horse. Now, CC has had an exhausting long-haul ship, a disastrous performance, and a serious blow to his confidence. He may rebound, but I think there is a real possibility he could get dusted in the Classic, if he even runs now, and championship honors will go down the drain id Shared Belief, Wicked Strong, or Tonalist step up to win. Winning 2/3 of the Triple Crown does not guarantee a championship, as happened with Majestic Prince and Riva Ridge. His connections were looking for a "soft spot" and big payday. I'd have kept him home--longer time til the Awesome Again, no shipping, favorite track. Dumb, dumb, dumb, greedy, greedy, greedy.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
I 100% agree. Win or lose the Awesome Again was the prep race he should have run in. Now, they should retire CC and be happy with the great, albeit short, career he had.
Edward More than 1 year ago
So you either run in a Grade 1 with a Grade 3 purse or you retire? Silly stuff.
Elizabeth More than 1 year ago
NO, he should not retire yet. But he was badly mishandled by going to Pennsylvania. And as for the purse money--I am of the old school--a Grade I win is worth more in residual value than a win in a hyped-up Grade 2. Even a second or third in the Awesome Again, if he had gone that route, would have been more prestigious than a win in the Pennsylvania Derby. Apart from CC and Bayern, the race in Pennsylvania attracted a non-descript field. The Awesome Again today has attracted every top runner in the west, apart from the recently-retired Game On Dude.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
Um VE Day?...If he wins the JCGC, or Classic, or both, he will win the 3 year old award.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Favorite Tale is a real horse-for-course. After taking all that Fast Anna had to throw at him he put her away and held off the fast closing Bump Start. Given that the latter lived up to his name and was bumped at the start and still closed that well against the bias has to encourage those who wish to bet him back. Great day of racing at PARX on Saturday.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
Game On Dude 2.0