12/05/2014 2:51PM

Hovdey: Two noble horses but only one Eclipse winner


It seems as if everyone with a digital platform and a key to the quarter pole has weighed in by now on the subject of 2014 Horse of the Year. Clearly, there is nothing left to say.

That said, there is always room to burst a few lingering bubbles, starting with this:

There are many worthy candidates for Horse of the Year.

This is coming from the Main Sequence corner of the room, and he is a fine animal, quite worthy of unseating Wise Dan as male turf champion. But really, people, do we want to reward an injury-free season of only four starts with the ultimate honor?

For the first time in a long time there were two comprehensively talented 3-year-olds with enviable records and year-long campaigns. One of them will be division champion and the division champion will be Horse of the Year. That much is not complicated.

Bayern gets the edge because he won two of the three races in which both he and California Chrome competed.

Life is beautiful when rendered with such simplicity – as long as you’re discussing Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. Not certain the rule can be applied with the same confidence this time around.

In the Preakness Stakes, Bayern did a stumbling stutter-step at the start and was squeezed between horses, then had to shift lanes to avoid heels. He made a game mini-run around the final turn but was finished at the quarter pole. Rosie Napravnik hit him three times then wrapped up to finish a meaningless 21 lengths behind California Chrome.

In the Pennsylvania Derby, Bayern was coming off his meek surrender in the Travers (in which he broke straight as a string), while California Chrome was racing for the first time since the Belmont Stakes, having required time to recover from the sliced foot he suffered in New York. Once again Bayern broke perfectly and walked his beat to win by nearly six. California Chrome was in tight early but dead short late and geared down at the end, beaten an official 7 1/4 lengths.

In the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Bayern did his slide dance at the start, hugged the inside, and took them all the way around, while California Chrome kept to the outside without a straw in his path. They were less than a yard apart at the end.

Bayern should not be held responsible for the decision of the stewards to take no action regarding his erratic break. But to give him a clear edge in head-to-head competition a voter would have to be either dogmatically literal (2 is always greater than 1) or interpret the chaotic Classic as conclusive evidence one colt is superior to the other. I am guessing you could fit the latter group in a phone booth.

The Hollywood Derby was a weak Grade 1 race and therefore did little to help the case for California Chrome.

Anyone thumping this drum needs a refresher course in just how messed up the graded race system is, and how its application has been perverted through the years.

To review, a race is designated Grade 1 because of the quality of the fields that have populated that race in past runnings. The grade describes the history of the race, not the depth of the field assembled for the running about to happen. The quality of the current field will go toward determing whether or not the race retains its Grade 1 rating for future runnings. The winner will always be a Grade 1 race winner and all that implies, even if the race suffers a subsequent downgrading based in part on the version he won.

I didn’t make the rules.

Anyway, let it be stipulated: both Bayern and California Chrome are Grade A, kick-ass colts.

Bayern won the Haskell, the Pennsylvania Derby, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He also won the Woody Stephens sprinting, finished first in the Derby Trial but was disqualified, and finished third in the Arkansas Derby.

Besides his close third in the Classic, California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Santa Anita Derby, and the Hollywood Derby on grass. He also won the San Felipe and ended up in a dead-heat for fourth in the Belmont Stakes, his third race in five weeks.

Finally, should Bayern be penalized for being a virtual no-show in the Triple Crown? Or, from another angle, is California Chrome’s Derby-Preakness double enough to outweigh his Classic loss to Bayern?

Let’s check historic precedent.

The last 3-year-old to win two legs of the Triple Crown and be denied the division championship was Riva Ridge, during Nixon’s first term (there was no known connection).

Since then, the list of horses who won two jewels and the division championship includes Little Current, Bold Forbes, Spectacular Bid, Pleasant Colony, Swale, Alysheba, Risen Star, Hansel, Thunder Gulch, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, Point Given, War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Big Brown, and I’ll Have Another.

In the 31 years of the Breeders’ Cup era, Tiznow, in 2000, has been the only 3-year-old voted division champion with a win in the Classic but without a Triple Crown win (he did not compete). The other 3-year-old Breeders’ Cup Classic winners without a Triple Crown scalp were Proud Truth, Concern, Cat Thief, and Raven’s Pass.

In the end, those who vote for California Chrome have history on their side, which never hurts. Those who vote otherwise have discovered exceptional circumstances that are not readily apparent to this reporter. As for leaving Bayern without an Eclipse, I’d like to think that a Breeders’ Cup Classic trophy along with $4,389,680 in earnings can be its own reward.


TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
and the winner is,...........CC 2014 HOTY! EAT CROW hovdey!
Jerome More than 1 year ago
I agree with this assessment. I also think that Chrome was poorly prepared for the Classic. He appears to need racing to gain top form and I think he should have had 2 races leading up to the Classic. Unfortunately Chrome has also suffered from having a less than competent jockey. I believe Espinosa's decisions cost Chrome the Classic and also a much closer finish (and maybe a win) in the Belmont.
Hail No More than 1 year ago
I don't "hate" Bayern, or any horse, I bet him in the Classic, although I am a proud fan of the wonderfully talented CC. The ONLY reason I bet Bayern, was because how SA's track is manipulated. A handicapper can literally pick out the top four pace horses, (speed figs or projected figs) and come up with almost every winner and exactas in a box just about every race. Same as last year. I don't hold Bayern's' win against him, he is a gorgeous guy and literally matured into a fine runner right in front of our eyes.., but the start? Although, by rule, the stewards made the "correct" call, that race should have an asterisk, and initially I thought he'd be taken down, and reading the CHRB rule, still muddled things...Does anyone honestly think Bayern would go gate to wire at CD, Arl, Bel, Keen, Woodbine, etc? His 7F Woody race I thought was his most impressive, but the Haskell, and PA Derby were both rock-hard tracks(and in PA, they even announced that it would be "manicured"), as was SA (same as last year) It's not that I don't think Bayern is worthy, I just don't think Championships are decided by one race, especially at Santa Anita, where the track, once again, dictated how the races had to be run, to win, if you were more than 5 lengths off the early pack leaders, you had zero chance of winning. That is not a fair track, Lit de Justice, Concern, Point Given and other great closers would have no shot at making up any serious ground to get the win..
Peter Langelaan More than 1 year ago
Thank you for such a balanced and objective article about HOY. I think some of the people who posted comments failed to read your last paragraph. You like CC as HOY and so do I. But I still don't see what all the Bayern bashing is about. Why would anyone think a need to lead horse would intentionally interfere with other horses? The best way to get to the front is to have clear sailing. He could have gotten turned sideways at the break and lost all chance as well. The jockey could have lost an iron if another horse had broke with him. He could have had a chunk of his hide taken of his back foot by a horse behind him. etc. On the topic of chunks of hide missing, the one greatest attribute CC had over the other three year olds was his health. I'm sure the connections of Bayern, Shared Belief, Tonalist, Wicked Strong, and all the other trainers who took the cowards way out would be happy if that was the only trouble they had. Like I said before I think CC should be HOY but looking at his glass being half full (or right full) not Bayern's as being half empty. P.S. Jay Hovdey wrote the story not Privman. And he doesn't strike me as being an idiot.
Scott More than 1 year ago
I'm not a fan of the Grading system, but the Turf race for California Chrome deserves more credit than Mr. Privman is giving for a couple reasons: 1) The first time on the Turf is angle is the biggest thing for me. CC might have shown he was solid on the synthetics, but there was a fair amount of risk trying the turf for the first time at this point of the year. If he laid an egg, then his candidacy for HOTY takes a huge hit and probably sways many voters to vote against. Of course, he won the race with the greatest of ease confirming my belief that he still needed one more race to be at his peak after his 3 month layoff. 2) Was this field that weak or was CC simply the most talented individual on the track? I think the answer is yes and yes with one exception: Lexie Lou was/is a legitimate turf horse. Her win against mixed company in the Queen's Plate can't be overlooked even though she didn't get close enough to CC to even catch his kick back. 3) I think many voters needed to see CC run one more race this year and the fact that he did it on the turf adds that extra dimension that no other candidate has this year. He was on a 3 race losing streak, even though there was only one bad performance in that string (note: Bayern's losses were much worse!), so winning easily to finish the year certainly will and should impress the voters. For me: Bayern won only one big race all year and that was the BCC. While he is very talented, he really seems to be a one dimensional front runner (albeit, a truly fast one!). Without his left turn out of the gate in the Classic, he would have been pressed by Moreno and/or Shared Belief and probably would have finished well up the track not unlike his Travers Stakes. He is a 4th place finisher on ballot for HOTY behind: 1) California Chrome - most versatile campaign and completely dominated first half of the Season. 2) Main Sequence - Undefeated Turf Specialist ran only 4 times, but they were all Grade 1 races and should easily win his division over the ill fated Wise Dan (hope he's back next year!), but it's just not enough racing for me to give him the top spot. 3) Untappable - Divisional dominatrix! She was by far the best filly or mare in training this year and I would have no problem having her in the second spot over Main Sequence. However, the one start in open company was a disaster and can't be ignored. She might have had excuses in that race, but not enough to have her above Main Sequence and certainly not enough to vault her into the top spot. (ironically, I do have her above the horse that beat her in the Haskell: Bayern himself. As stated above his two awful outings still outweigh his beating this great filly). It's also worth noting that in her 6 wins this year, that 4 of them were Grade 1 wins. That feat was only matched by the two horses listed above her on this list.
Scott More than 1 year ago
Correction to my above comment: I stated that Untappable ran against open company and that is not true. The Haskell is a restricted race for 3 year olds only and therefore doesn't quite qualify as truly 'open'.
Scott More than 1 year ago
Apologies to Mr. Hovdey! I crossed bloggers.
Amy Hurley More than 1 year ago
Bayern deserves to be voted 3 year old champion. HOY, I'm not so sure, but certainly he proved best in the championship race, regardless of the controversial start. I really find it hard to understand the enmity toward Bayern. If you're one of Chrome's legions of rabid fans, fine, that's your choice, but why hate on Bayern, a truly deserving champion?
Scott More than 1 year ago
Amy, nobody (at least intelligent people) can deny that Bayern is a very talented horse, but he was a virtual no show for the first half of the year. California Chrome dominated the first half of the year winning every race he entered until his near miss (it was only a couple lengths, even though it says 4th place) in the Belmont. I think Bayern's followers want to make that loss more than it actually was. I'm kind of like Privman here, because usually I look at the head to head's and in this case Bayern has the edge 2 to 1. However, it really isn't that simple because of the the poor showing in the first half of the season for Bayern. He ran in 3 'important' races this year in my opinion: Preakness - awful performance, but with excuses. I could toss this if it wasn't his only poor performance. Travers Stakes - No excuses! Bayern was completely exposed as a need the lead type who simply can't handle being pressured. When pressed he folded like a house of cards. Breeder's Cup Classic - Again, if it weren't for the other two awful performances, I would ignore the taint of the start, but if Bayern doesn't make the left turn out of the gate (affecting both Shared Belief and the likely pace presser or setter Moreno), then I believe he not only loses the race, but finishes 10 to 15 lengths from the eventual winner (probably Toast of New York). Bayern is very talented and will continue to make his connections really good money as long as they pick and choose wisely. Any race that has one or more other 'speed' horses in it should be avoided. When left alone on the lead, he's money in the bank.
Scott More than 1 year ago
Can't believe I have to make another correction: I said Mr. Privman and this is Mr. Hovdey's blog. Oops and apologies!
mike More than 1 year ago
No way he wins HOTY.
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
chrome and i'll have another had very similar three year old seasons. i'llhave another started his season with a grade 2 win and then won the santa anita derby, kentucky derby and preakness. they both had minor imjuries on belmont week. but then their seasons had different paths. chrome lost lost and lost his next three races. then had easy pickins on turf. but according hovdey, you are a better horse when you go on a three race losing streak. eliminating an undefeated four race horse is foolish. take away the great frankel's HOY award. all along only had two races in the united states. ghostzapper raced only four times with two grade 1 wins. yet he easily defeated smarty jones for HOY. smarty won 6 out of 7 stakes races that year. only lost to birdstone in the belmont. smarty did not use lasix in his first four victories. he also cashed in a $5 million bonus. but the four race zapper still easily won. why did hovdey mislead the race fans by saying that main sequence didnt have any setbacks this year ?? main sequence was seriously ill when he travelled to the united states. hovdey wont let him have any excuses. how come you dont recognize the clean record of motion. because sherman's record looks like o'neill's record. more than one milkshake, a seven length winner who had a bute overage. no wonder new york doesnt allow nasal strips.
Denise M. More than 1 year ago
California Chrome is simply the BEST!! This is NOT a competition between Bayern and California Chrome. Nor is it a popularity contest. This is about acomplishments thru the year and California Chrome is by far the most acomplished horse of them all. The most talented hands down. He took the 2 first legs of the grueling Triple Crown and only finished 4th on the last race, because he got injured. He does not, did not need to BUMP other horses out of the way in order to get to the front and win. The guy who wrote the article above is an idiot. California Chrome is MAGNIFICENT and the BEST 3yr old, BEST horse of 2014. Period!
Dmarie Mayers More than 1 year ago
California Chrome all the way, Chrome is Horse of The Year!
Paul G More than 1 year ago
If HOTY is fan popularity, Chrome wins. If HOTY goes to the better resume, Chrome, narrowly. If HOTY goes to the Classic winner, Bayern. If HOTY goes to head-to-head meetings, Bayern, narrowly. So, it is close. It could go either way...but since I have to choose, I also base it on instinct. My instinct tells me that Bayern will run a limited campaign next year to hide his weaknesses. Chrome is not afraid of any race. That is what being a champion is all about. I would choose Chrome. He just better. This is not a pen and paper decision. This is not choosing a colt who loses very badly versus one who, when he wins, gallops gracefully home.