03/12/2015 1:40PM

Crist: A comeback for clashes of the titans

Shigeki Kikkawa
The meeting between Shared Belief (right) and California Chrome (left) in the San Antonio Stakes could be historic should Shared Belief win Horse of the Year.

When Shared Belief and California Chrome met in the San Antonio Stakes last month, the race seemed like a passing of the torch: Shared Belief won so easily that he became the front-runner for the Horse of the Year title that California Chrome won last year.

Shared Belief then burnished his status with a runaway romp in the Santa Anita Handicap last weekend, after which he received all 47 first-place votes in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s weekly media poll. According to Joan Lawrence of Thoroughbred Racing Communications, it was the first time there had been unanimity in the voting since Ghostzapper received all 16 votes in the poll taken on Halloween of 2004.

If the San Antonio turns out to have been a meeting between a past and future Horse of the Year, it will be the first in more than a decade. Meetings between Horses of the Year are rare, and more so now than ever.

Recent HOTY titlists including Curlin (who won in 2007 and 2008), Rachel Alexandra (2009), Zenyatta (2010), Havre de Grace (2011), and Wise Dan (2012-2013) never raced against a past or future Horse of the Year. The last time that happened was in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic, when Ghostzapper (2004) won and Azeri (2002) finished 5th in her final career start. Ghostzapper beat a future Horse the Year one start earlier, when he edged Saint Liam (2005) by a neck in the 2004 Woodward.

Those were the only two showdowns between Horses of the Year in the last 19 years. The ones before that comprise a rich tapestry of racing history:

In the 1996 Jockey Club Gold Cup, Skip Away (who would win his HOTY title two years later in 1998) beat 1-5 Cigar (1995-1996) by a head.

In the 1995 Donn Handicap, Cigar was a 5 1/2-length winner while Holy Bull was injured and eased in his final career start.

Criminal Type accomplished the previous two such victories in the space of a month en route to his 1990 Horse of the Year title. First, in the Metropolitan Handicap, he beat champions Housebuster and Easy Goer, with 1991 Horse of the Year Black Tie Affair 6th (at 132-1!) Twenty-seven days later, Criminal Type beat 1989 Horse of the Year Sunday Silence by a head in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

The previous four Horse of the Year matchups were all between Ferdinand (1987) and Alysheba (1988). Ferdinand won the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic by a nose, but Alysheba bested him the three other times, all in 1988. They ran 1-2 in the San Bernardino and Santa Anita Handicap, and ran second and third in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Extra credit if you remember that it was Cutlass Reality who beat them both that day.

In all these cases, one horse had already won his title while the other would do so in the future. It appears that the only time, at least since 1972, that two already-titled Horses of the Year met was the 1984 Turf Classic at Belmont, won by John Henry (1981, 1984) with All Along (1983) running 4th. Those two also met on foreign soil, in the 1982 Japan Cup, when All Along ran second (to Half Iced), with John Henry 13th.

The only other Horse of the Year meetings since the Eclipse Award era began in 1971 were a quartet of clashes among the five great horses who accounted for all nine Horse of the Year titles from 1972 through 1980: Affirmed (1978-1979) held off Spectacular Bid (1980) in the 1979 Jockey Club Gold Cup; Seattle Slew (1977) finished in front of Affirmed winning the 1978 Marlboro Cup and while finishing second to Exceller in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup; and in the only such showdown in a race for 3-year-olds, Secretariat (1972-1973) won the 1973 Kentucky Derby with Forego (1974-1975-1976) running fourth.

Whether or not the San Antonio turns out to have been a torch-passing race from one Horse of the Year to another, especially greedy students of history can hope for something even more rare: Let’s not forget that Wise Dan is still in training, and there’s a small chance he could end up in a Breeders’ Cup Classic with Shared Belief and California Chrome. That could end up being the first race three Horse of the Year titlists since the 1967 Woodward, when Damascus (1967) scored by 10 lengths over Buckpasser (1966), with Dr. Fager (1968) third.


David Musselman More than 1 year ago
CC was in SB's zip code, so all this is splitting hairs. They will hook again, maybe twice, so sit on your hands. Regards.............
Marc Rogala More than 1 year ago
Cc will never start another race after Dubai a race he should not even be entered in as he has NO chance for the win. Cc has shot his load a good 3 year old that matured faster than his class but now has been collared and passed. He did not deserve HOY but was given it I still laugh at that injustice. THe repugnant owner should do what is best for the horse and put him to stud
D'Funnybone More than 1 year ago
Great piece, Steve(as usual). Hope you are feeling well these days, and was wondering if you will be making the trip to the Spa this year? Be well.
mrbascum More than 1 year ago
What about Affirms and Alydor. I remember that one.
Amy Hurley More than 1 year ago
Alydar never won HOY, which is the point of the article - clashes between HOY's.
mrbascum More than 1 year ago
Is that like Racoon of the year
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Brilliant writing with a brilliant twist on "clashes" of Horses of the Year(s). Durkin forever immortalized the last time "The Two Derby Winners...." clashed: I am very greedy, I'd love and want to see two Triple Crown Winners, "clash again".
Tom Gaeta More than 1 year ago
Too bad Shared Belief missed the Triple Crown races last year. He sure has done everything else since, BUT. California Chrome took a wide trip to a Rail Rider winner and lost the BC by What? A fraction of a Fraction of a second? AND Whom of the two horses is taking his game Global to compete overseas a put himself in a tougher situation than staying at home and winning an Allowance Opt/Claimer for one fifth of the money. Chrome's loss to Shared belief was his tune-up first race to get ready for the Big One in Dubai. I do hope they meet again So Chrome can straighten this out.
Allan Gauthier More than 1 year ago
An allowance Opt/Claimer??? Come on!!
Tom Gaeta More than 1 year ago
Sorry Allan, just having some fun over this Shared Belief worship.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
I'd think you were kidding, but sadly I can tell you're not. Do you really think CC would have won the Santa Anita Handicap Grade 1 over SB the other day? Are you Helen Keller? CC is a very nice horse and I am a CC fan, but he is no Shared Belief. CC had a very perfect trip in the BCC and still couldn't win. Fact is CC will never win a race again. Oh, he'll run very good in Dubai....but, he won't cross the wire in front. That race and trip will knock him out for about 4 months. Then he'll be either retired or come back in a BCC prep race....and run well, but lose again....with all the Chromies chanting he needed the race. Then if the owners nut it up and actually face SB in the BCC at Keeneland....CC will run well.....and lose again. I've enjoyed CC. I will root for him in Dubai. But, looking at it objectively, the truth is he won't win another race. He just isn't good enough.
Wabstat More than 1 year ago
Man, you must make a ton of $$ at the track, with knowing everything and all. Then again, you may be just another big mouth loser that I hear crying in the simulcast room every Saturday.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Ha. Answers the question about you. I assure you, I do well.
Tom F More than 1 year ago
Frank.........to say so resolutely that Chrome won't win again is bold and an interesting argument.............but Chrome has a BIG shot @Meydan and you are a windbag.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Tom, I've got no problem with an opposing opinion. However, I will say your windbag comment is a joke. To resort to name calling in itself is where you immediately lose the argument. In addition, it shows you are a coward. Feel free to have an opinion. At least I have my name on here and express my thoughts. CC will be the favorite in Dubai. I would love to see him win. The fact that I don't think he will is my opinion. I can tell you this, I am a winning horse player. I know my racing. Of course CC has a big shot at Meydan. He has a big shot anywhere he runs. I never said he didn't have a shot. In fact, I think he'll run great. I just don't think he'll win. It's my opinion.
minor_daria More than 1 year ago
Seeing that Chrome lacks the guts to race on the inside, he needed to be outside to have any chance in the Classic. Which he still lost. Shared Belief is better than that Cal-bred.
Matthew Hood More than 1 year ago
That's not fair to say. By that reasoning SB didn't have the guts to deal with some rubbing at the beginning of a race. Just because a horse has comfort zones doesn't mean he is lacking guts.
Debbie Gardner More than 1 year ago
I think they both are in a league by their selves , way ahead of any other horses. Maybe CC needed a race last time. I hope it grows into a really huge rivalry and they both stick around. I don't really lie the fact that CC is going overseas to run in Dubai. It seems many horses that ship over don't come back the same, or it takes a long time to recuperate. But, I can't blame the owner, its huge money .And just think what a win over there would do to his breeding fees, unreal. I hope CC wins, and he and SB meet again, many more times, but at least in the BC Classic.
Marc Rogala More than 1 year ago
I can't stop laughing really i can't!
Neil Napolitano More than 1 year ago
Nice piece, Mr. Crist, thank you. I can't help but make an analogy with the forthcoming Pacquiao/Mayweather title fight (on Derby Day). Many parallels, as you know. It tells me that great rivalries can revive a dying sport, no matter the era. No doubt casual sports fans and the general public will have an increased awareness and interest in that match. (and by the way, why are all the big matches coupled with the biggest days in racing... I'm thinking this is not just a coincidence). In any case, it would be great to see some great marketing behind budding rivalries, whenever possible. It's not easy in our sport, we realize that. But i think the possibilities are there. Sports fans, heck, humans, love to take sides, and whenever there's an opportunity to promote a "one on one" battle, if you will, racing needs to be better at supporting it. California Chrome vs. Shared Belief was a good example. Thanks again.
Matthew Hood More than 1 year ago
The fight is on May 2nd because Pacquiao has fought on the Cinco de Mayo "weekend" the past few years. Their trying to capture the hispanic market which still loves boxing. It's just a dollars thing