02/19/2015 3:20PM

Hovdey: Main Sequence gets back in the picture

Barbara D. Livingston
Main Sequence is using the Mac Diarmida to prepare for the Dubai Sheema Classic on March 28.

Those 53 noble souls – the few, the proud – who voted for Main Sequence for 2014 Horse of the Year will be able to climb back onto their high horse Saturday when their chestnut hero returns to action in the $200,000 Mac Diarmida Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

California Chrome outpolled Main Sequence by 90 votes in the 2014 paper chase, but those 53 holdouts are anxious to join the “I told you so” bandwagon already fueled by Shared Belief in the debate over the best American horse in training. Chromies, Beliefers, Mainliners ... good grief. Sounds like a Roller Derby league.

The Main Sequence lobby made a good case. Four starts in 2014, his first year of U.S. competition. Four wins, all of them in Grade 1 events, climaxed by a victory over international star Flintshire in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. It was hard to argue against perfection, although it ended up harder to argue against a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner who captured hearts, minds, and a whole lot of television time.

The good news is that both Main Sequence and California Chrome are still in training, along with five of the other runners crowned divisional champions of the 2014 flat season. The only retired Eclipse Award winners were the older mares Close Hatches and Dayatthespa, who owed their people nothing after each had pounded the boards for multiple campaigns.

Of course, it is no big deal that 2-year-olds American Pharoah and Take Charge Brandi have come back for more. That’s their job. Main Sequence and male sprint champ Work All Week are geldings, so they really have nothing better to do. But California Chrome certainly could have headed to the shed, and likewise the 3-year-old filly champion Untapable and female sprint champion Judy the Beauty.

“Judy has been at Keeneland, where she’s always done so well,” said Wesley Ward, Judy the Beauty’s trainer and part owner. “The weather has kept her from doing a whole lot lately, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Down here in Florida, where we’re blessed with such beautiful weather, we tend to lean on them a little too much because you never miss any training days.”

Ward has put a light circle around the Madison Stakes at Keeneland on April 4, which Judy the Beauty won in 2014, for her possible return. In the meantime, the game is already better for the presence of the other reigning champs. Take Charge Brandi was first out of the box with a carefully measured win in the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn on Jan. 31. A week later, California Chrome finished a solid but humbling second to Shared Belief in the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita. Now it is time for Main Sequence, a champion in two categories, to strut his considerable stuff.

Main Sequence captured the vote in both the older-male and turf-male categories of 2014 while running only on grass. This upset so many people that the older-male and older-female categories were changed to “Older Male Dirt” and “Older Female Dirt” beginning this year, solving a problem that should not have been one in the first place.

Graham Motion reacted with amusement that his stable star should have sparked such a significant shift in voting guidelines. He was reminded of the NCAA ruling to outlaw the dunk in response to Lew Alcindor’s dominance of the mid-1960s at UCLA. Not really.

“He’s a game-changer,” Motion said. “I think it’s funny, but at least this time I was on the right end of it. When I won the King’s Bishop, it was the last year it was a Grade 2. That’s always frustrated me.”

Motion is using the Mac Diarmida as a prep for the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic, to be run March 28. The last time Motion was there, he won the $10 million Dubai World Cup in 2013 with Animal Kingdom, which was impressive enough, but this time, he might be biting off a whole lot more to chew. Did he take a look at the field that assembled for the 2014 Sheema?

“I think I’d be afraid to,” Motion said. “Was it that bad?”

Only if you had to run in it. Gentildonna, a two-time Japan Cup winner and Japanese Horse of the Year, beat a group that included the French superstar Cirrus des Aigles, Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Magician, and Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden.

“My feeling is that this year the race might be a little more competitive because some of the horses who would have run in the World Cup on the Tapeta surface would now be running on the grass,” Motion said, citing Meydan’s switch from the synthetic surface to dirt.

“We realize it’s going to be very competitive,” the trainer said. “But I guess having won the big race at the Breeders’ Cup, it makes me think we’re justified in taking a shot.”

First things first. Main Sequence will be facing his stubborn shadow Twilight Eclipse in the Mac Diarmida over 11 furlongs. In their four 2014 encounters, all won by Main Sequence, they were separated by a total of barely three lengths.

“I also keep reminding myself that Animal Kingdom got beat in his prep race at Gulfstream for Dubai,” Motion said. “Otherwise, it’s very exciting to have him back.”

Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Yes, they have insurance on Bayern
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Show me the 4 yr old & ups profit for the year, minus the INSURANCE
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
I'm a big Main Sequence fan. AND I'm one of those that thought he should be HOY. But, 2014 is past and we move on. Taking each race one at a time like I do....I'm looking at this race and I've got to say...I'm betting Divine Oath. I'm thinking MS isn't cranked up for this and Devine Oath should have good odds. By the way, speaking for myself only of course....I've moved on...I don't need MS to keep winning to say, " I told you so". CC is the HOY of the year for 2014 and I truly wish him good health and good luck. I know one here, some of us regulars can disagree at times, but as I've said before...that's a GOOD thing. That makes paramutuel wagering possible. So, yes, I can be a fan of a horse or not and still either wager on that horse or against. Call me crazy...but, for me...ROI is everything on the betting end. As for me being a huge fan of this sport...I know I'll enjoy the race whether I cash or not. So, this Saturday, my money will be on Devine Oath. Good luck all.
tommy More than 1 year ago
I hope he loses and either twilight eclipse or divine oath win to get bigger payouts!! Main sequence is good, I mean very very good, but divine oath got better to the point where he can out last horses, especially if they let him use the drug epo because they favor pletcher!
T McElmurray More than 1 year ago
J Hovdey; do you read these? I'm 46 years old. In 8th grade the principal called my parents because my year end "book report" was a life size poster board of a horse's PP's and I walked the class through how to read the Form, Fortunately my mom answered the phone and told the principal "yes, I know, I helped him make it". You're the best there is in this business. Maybe the best there's ever been. It just needed to be said. For a long time I couldn't decide between you and Crist and Nack........ "The mind swims, binding itself to whatever flotsam comes along, to old driftwood faces and voices of the past, to places and scenes once visited, to things not seen or done but only dreamed" Maybe Crist lost out here because he has directed his considerable talents elsewhere. And maybe Nack lost because of the lack of recency; it would have been nice to see what he could do in this medium. But you are the best. I just wish you'd write more than you do. you, and in a broader forum. You are what this sport needs (In addition to 84 other things). I happen to work in moderately lofty position in the wine industry; if you ever want to go to a great restaurant, drink some great wine, talk horses and writing, I'm buying.
Ken Wiener More than 1 year ago
A very interesting comment Mr. McElmurray. I loved your 8th grade story! My vote for best ever (North America), strictly racing, would be Joe Palmer.
JayHovdey More than 1 year ago
Mr. McElmurray -- I tend to agree with Mr. Wiener. Joe Palmer was godfather to us all, but it always encourages me to know that Hemingway, Lardner, Faulkner and even Carson McCullers found the game interesting enough to apply their touch. Thanks for the kind words.
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Motion got animal kingdom ready with a similar prep for the world cup. Animal broke a little slow and joel pushed him on the backstretch during a slow pace. Animal closed in 34 without a whip and was beaten by point of entry. So dont expect the whip to be used on sequence in his prep. His rivalry with twilight is even more interesting with the two lb shift.
Gunner More than 1 year ago
Point of Entry was pretty good.
Frank More than 1 year ago
The best American horse in training last year and hopefully this year also. He deserved HOY last year -- cheering for the middle-aged gelding to run the tables again in top turf company this year.
tiddy dumpling More than 1 year ago
Haha! Stop it let 2014 be