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Hovdey: For California Chrome, it was 'They're off, you lose'
The fundamental difference between the fantasy of sport and the reality of competition was on full, merciless display at Parx Racing last weekend, when California Chrome answered the bell but not much more while finishing sixth to the swift Bayern in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby.
The fantasy of a lifetime was realized for the legion of California Chrome fans who came to Philadelphia from miles around, adorned in well-worn California Chrome T-shirts and caps, to see their Kentucky Derby and Preakness hero in the chestnut flesh.
The reality was a state-sanctioned, 1 1/8-mile horse race among eight young Thoroughbreds, all leaving the gate at the same time under official scrutiny, but with the result a foregone conclusion barely a furlong into the fray by the unforgiving forces of position and pace.
The fantasy was that California Chrome could overcome his 105-day absence from competition, his cross-country trip to Parx and then, as the race unfolded, his awkward position behind and inside horses and still somehow muscle his way into the clear to mount a winning attack.
The reality was the sight of Bayern and Martin Garcia traveling first class on the lead while California Chrome and Victor Espinoza squirmed in coach, knees cramped, suffering in their center seat.
The fantasy would have been a late run by California Chrome to at least throw a scare into the winner and set the table for excitement to come. But California Chrome is a thinker – we’ve seen that from the start – and in his reality the race was a hot and sandy mess, unworthy of any more than token effort at the end after a mile’s worth of banging his head against a wall.
The opposing trainers mirrored their horses. Bob Baffert watched Bayern’s rocking chair race from the comfort of his couch back home in Arcadia, Calif., while Art Sherman found himself planted on the inside rail of the Parx main track, not far from the winner’s circle and flanked by a hallelujah chorus of vocal Philly fans. A fish bowl has more privacy.
“It wasn’t one of my greatest days, I can tell you,” said Sherman, who was feeling every one of his 77 years. “Very humbling.”
Sherman took some consolation from California Chrome’s contribution toward a banner day of racing at Parx and its record $10 million handle on the program. The track’s investment in appearance fees ($200,000 for California Chrome’s people, $100,000 for Bayern’s) helped prime the local publicity pump like nothing since the era of local celebrity Smarty Jones, in 2004.
Since then, casino-fueled renovations have transformed the grandstand into a comfortable, modern facility. You can still fit Parx into the far end of Belmont Park and still have room for Santa Anita, but the house was full and the service seemed to hum. You can’t ask for more than that.
“I was happy for the people here at the track,” Sherman said. “I only wish our colt could have come through with a better race.
“He might have come up short on me anyhow, no matter what kind of trip he had. It’s just aggravating when you don’t even get a chance. Victor apologized afterwards. He said they had him right where they wanted him.
“I know he’ll benefit from the race, but you’re not sure how much,” Sherman added. “Victor wrapped up on him the last 70 yards. I just hope I can fight another day.”
As for the winner, Bayern was comprehensively humbled in his previous start, the Travers Stakes, in which he put up no more fight than a shuttlecock in a hurricane. It was the distance. It was the track. It was, in fact, a race Bayern was never going to win, a reality confirmed by Baffert’s top assistant Jim Barnes, who was on the scene at Parx.
“You love to have a horse like him when you know exactly what kind of race is his kind of race,” Barnes said. “This was his kind of race. The Haskell was his kind of race. The Travers was not.”
Give Bayern seven to nine furlongs on a fast, sandy strip soaked to the gills on a warm afternoon and watch him fly. He was nearly late to the paddock at Parx – that’s a long walk from those new barns on the far turn – but nothing else about him is slow when conditions are right. He has walked his beat now in the Woody Stephens, the Haskell, and the Pennsylvania Derby, and don’t forget he won the Derby Trial back in late April as well, only to be disqualified for an untimely drift.
Bayern was eliminated at the start of the Preakness and never saw either the lead or which way California Chrome went. He was practically eased while finishing ninth of 10. That makes the two West Coast colts all square, although advantage Bayern, because in horse racing it’s not a matter of what you’ve done, but what you’ve done lately.
With a better trip and maybe two more works under his belt, California Chrome and the Pennsylvania Derby might have been a perfect match, and the Chrome bandwagon would be rolling again. Instead, questions will persist until the Breeders’ Cup Classic, when California Chrome meets unbeaten Shared Belief, trained by Sherman’s Northern California rival Jerry Hollendorfer, and a collection of East Coast colts that could include Tonalist, Wicked Strong, and V. E. Day. If Baffert has his way, Bayern will be there, too.
“I’d love to beat Hollendorfer’s horse,” Sherman said, and who can blame him? But first he’s got to catch Bob’s.
For so many astute handicappers, not many see the obvious. Chrome does not like to take dirt. Cost him the Belmont, cost him at Parx. He climbs, puts his head up, then quits. Good handicappers watch race replays rather than basing everything on the charts. In the Preakness, CC broke running and was immediately guided outside. I'm sure that was Victor's plan at Parx until he got pinned. At that point, Bayern had crossed over and CC was stuck taking dirt. Had he known he wasn't going to be able to stalk from the outside, I'm sure Victor would have pushed Bayern, held the rail, and moved out if he ever had the chance. However, the way the race was ridden, the other horses would have continued to try to hem in the favorite. This means the only way to keep Bayern from dropping over would be an all out speed duel with one of the fastest frontrunners in the country going 9f off a layoff,in a prep race for the Breeders Cup. I'm not sure there's much more Victor could have done there save for pushing horses out going into the first turn (which he tried doing). If CC gets an outside post in the Classic he will have a very good chance at a big price. If Shared Belief has to take dirt for the first time in the Classic, he would be a huge bet against in my mind. When Mike Smith took SB 5 wide rather than tucking in, taking dirt, and saving ground, it tells you all you need to know about SB's preferences, which we already know is polytrack.
Time to change the jockey. The pressure is getting on Victor E. He is not riding with racing instinct. He looked hesitated, riding with an excuse to lose
They paid California Chrome 200K just to go???That is a joke.This is a very common horse,nothing more,who does not deserve to be paid 200K to perform,or lack to perform like this.What a joke.
Art Sherman, you really don't want any part of Hollendorfer's horse right now. You really don't.
Mr Hovdey, you appear in your writing of this article to have some sort of disdain for Parx, any reason why?
I didnt' want to comment on this again, but I'm forced to by such ignorance. Those of you who think Victor should have sent CC to the lead are hilarious. First off, he would of had to leave CC behind. The point is CC is NOT as fast as Bayern period. Bayern was going to the lead no matter what. Everyone knew that. Including the announcer. Listen to the call. CC is NOT as fast as Bayern. So, when CC broke perfect on the golden rail...and he did. Bayern did what he does and was sent to the front. CC couldn't keep up with Bayern early if he wanted to. Victor didn't hold CC back at all in the beginning of the race. CC can NOT keep up with Bayern early and Bayern was intent on the lead. Sure, he could quarter horse CC...and Bayern would have gone faster to have the lead. Yes, if Victor did that, then Bayern maybe wouldn't of won either, but for sure CC still would of quit. And if you watch the replay, he could of settled CC better and floated out in the backstretch...he could of, but didn't....why ? because even Victor knew the rail was good. Truth is CC got outrun. Now, is he better than he showed last Saturday? Of course. But, don't think if he sent CC he would have had a better shot. CC on his best day could catch Bayern....but NO WAY can he get in front of him if Bayern is intent on the lead...he just isn't fast enough. period.
The headline really makes no sense unless you want to criticize the ride.....The horse broke great and was wrestled back by the rider and he did everything in his power to get him wide around CJ Awesome in the first turn.....Do these guys watch any races or do they just play ping pong in the jocks room?......The track was very rail biased but horses could rally as long as they did it on the inside part of the track......I do remember hearing Willie Delgado talk about how the horse hates dirt in his face and his best races have been stalking outside of the speed.....Maybe thats what Victor was trying to get him in position to do......If he really does hate dirt in his face and Victor knows it......His ride was worse than I originally thought......he should have just sent and took his chances
California Chrome had post 1 on one of the best rails you will ever see. The chart caller even referred to it as a "golden rail" by the 6th race. CC broke ideally there was no reason he couldn't have had the lead on the golden inside position through a 24.07 quarter. As it was he got a nice inside trip all the way around the track. Crowding? He only had Bayern in front of him and the overmatched CJ Awesome to his outside. The "crowding" kept CC in a perfect stalking position on the highway inside. On the turn and at the top of the stretch CC had clear sailing was asked and responded with nothing.
Who am I to criticize the ride, however, it seemed to me, there were options. When you know you have a target on your back, you don't run defensively, you better ride confidently and whatever it takes, get your horse where he wants to be. Anyone who thinks CC was at the mercy of the post position just watch the San Felipe. Chrome was in the 2 hole (not his number, but his post position turned out to be just off the rail). He jumped out and immediately ran to the front, Victor checked him slightly, then they just went on an took the race gate to wire. He had all the options about where to settle to run the race. CC has early speed, it wasn't at all on display at PA Derby. http://youtu.be/LFmE8rTcuZc Of course, he had more of an element of surprise in the San Felipe; but, he could have seized the initiative and let the rest of the field know, he wasn't going to be a sitting duck in the PA Derby. Had he run to the front in the PA Derby, he would have had all his options open: ease to the outside after the first turn, let the others catch up (if they want to), and settle in Chrome's favorite stalking position in third. Or, if they let him get away with slow fractions, take advantage of it and go on to the front and win it like in the San Felipe In the races Chrome won easily, he made his own trip. How many times does this horse have to tell his jockey, he doesn't like the dirt in his face, he doesn't like to be on the inside of horses early? I also think if you pull your punches, you oftentimes wind up getting people and horses injured. Once, Chrome started shaking his head and obviously using up energy being frustrated, it was over. I sure hope they come up with a better strategy for the Classic and not depend on post position. I don't want to watch another spectacle like that for this horse. The Belmont should have told Victor all he needed to know about getting his horse off the rail by whatever means necessary. (The first jockey, Delgado, said as much when they changed jockeys early on). If he can't ride aggressively and confidently, then maybe a rider change is called for. No more excuses. Chrome deserves better.
CC was ridden poorly, I think Victor rides him with fear. That said, I wonder if Baffert sent a case of Champagne to Prado?