12/31/2014 1:02PM

Jerardi: Big players gear up for a sequel to stellar 2014 racing season

Barbara D. Livingston
Dual classic winner California Chrome will return to race in 2015, initially targeting the Feb. 7 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita.

Is there any chance 2015 can be as fascinating as 2014?

The answer obviously will be determined over time, but, given what we know about the top horses that will be running in 2015, the possibility for another phenomenal year is there.

Consider that at this time last year, Bayern was just about to make his first start, California Chrome had won only California-bred races, Untapable was a filly with more pedigree than achievement, and Main Sequence was coming off an 0-for-6 year in Europe with less than $50,000 in earnings. At least three of them will be voted 2014 divisional champions. One of them is almost certain to be Horse of the Year. All of them will be running in 2015. So will Shared Belief, who was unbeaten and about to be crowned 2-year-old champion a year ago.

So, where 2014 started with uncertainty, 2015 is going to start with the certainty of the Big 5 (and, if we are really lucky, Wise Dan) all returning to the races, and the Feb. 7 San Antonio at Santa Anita where Shared Belief and California Chrome are going to run against each other for the second time.

The Nov. 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic was exciting, but unsatisfying. California Chrome certainly got a chance to run and earned the best Beyer Speed Figure of his career. Shared Belief certainly was compromised by the wild start and the traffic right after the start. That the horse was beaten by less than four lengths strongly suggests that three-way photo may have been a four-way photo if not for the start.

We will never know what might have happened in the Classic if Bayern had not taken that left turn. Would there have been a speed duel? Would Shared Belief have gotten great position? Would Victor Espinoza have been able to wait a little longer on California Chrome?

If we are lucky, the picture may become clearer in 2015. The Big 3 from the 3-year-old male division, which combined for nearly $10 million in earnings and 13 graded stakes wins in 2014, are not only all running, they are all based in California. No reason to think the San Antonio is the only race they will run against each other this year.

Is Bayern capable of earning those giant figures only if loose on the lead? Or was that fight he showed in the stretch run of the Classic a dimension that will make him a horse very hard to get by, no matter the circumstance?

Can California Chrome learn to run inside horses and still have that great acceleration he showed in all his great victories? Was the amazing spring of 2014 California Chrome just a tease to a bigger, faster, stronger 2015 version?

Is Shared Belief as good on dirt as he is on synthetic surfaces? His four dirt races, one at Los Alamitos and three at Santa Anita, have all been excellent efforts, but none gave off the same aura as the 2013 Shared Belief who was so impressive on the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park or the Shared Belief that ran away from the field in the 2014 Pacific Classic on Polytrack at Del Mar and earned a 115 Beyer.

So we have those three, plus Untapable and Main Sequence. Put the filly and the grass horse into the money equation and the 2014 earnings swell to nearly $15.4 million and the graded stakes wins to 23, which would include 17 Grade 1 wins, among them the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Breeders’ Cup Classic, BC Distaff, BC Turf, Kentucky Oaks, Pacific Classic, Santa Anita Derby, Haskell, United Nations, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and Cotillion.

Perhaps there has been a recent year where we had that many horses who won that many major races coming back to race again, but I can’t remember it. And the Big 5 are not just horses that were in and out of form. They ran a combined 36 times in 2014 with 27 wins.

I will always look back on 2014 as one of my favorite years because we had really good horses running brilliantly in the best races all year long. I felt fortunate to have a front-row seat for most of it and feel confident this book has a few more chapters whose pages need turning.

wayne haehner More than 1 year ago
the love affair over Chrome is mind-boggling. Irrational exuberance is a terrible thing. Stop quoting Beyer figs, they mean very little, yet you drone on and on about them. Shared Belief and Bayern were superior 3yos-but you are blinded. CC may get HOY--not for earning it--for being California popular. of all the triple crown competitors who have won 2/3-this is the worst one of them all. All you cheerleader--pom-pom wavers are yet again delusional. Jerardi thinks Beyers are important--what a joke
Scott More than 1 year ago
Wayne, you clearly hate California as a whole, because it seems to have blinded you to a very good horse in California Chrome. Your statement about this being the worst horse to ever win 2/3 of the Triple Crown is almost an oxymoron in it's own right. Who cares where he ranks historically to date?! He won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and then only missed the final jewel by 1 1/2 lengths (after a poor ride by Espinoza to boot). How many of the previous Triple Crown participants in recent years retired shortly after failing? Not only did CC continue to campaign, he campaigned at the highest level, placing 3rd in the BCC (only 1 length from the contraversial winner to boot) and then finishing the year by winning a Grade 1 race on the Turf (a surface that he'd never raced on before). Oh and he won that last race in hand by 5 lengths. Say what you will about the field, but you really can't detract from this horses overall campaign. The other two horses weren't even blimps on the radar in the first half of the season while CC was destroying the Division! I'm not convinced that CC is better than Shared Belief at this point, because SB was clearly taken off stride to start in the BCC. Additionally, I felt going into the BCC that CC was in need of one more race to reach peak performance, so even had the race been run fairly I would still have had some doubt (assuming SB was able to beat a 90% CC that day). Hopefully, we'll get to see them meet next year more than once. My thought is that California Chrome is better on the dirt, but think that a turf or cushion matchup might favor Shared Belief. Bayern - This is a very talented front runner that can carry his speed a long way when left alone on the lead. However, he was exposed on 4 different occasions as a one dimensional front runner. When pressed he folded every time! EVERY TIME!!! Go watch his races again and you'll see that Bob Baffert was living the dream when his horse successfully took out the two possible pace pressers with a sharp left turn in the BCC. He not only would have lost had Moreno been able to press, he probably would have been fighting with that one for last place about 15 to 20 lengths behind the eventual winner. He holds two wins over CC, but the first was in the Pennsylvania Derby. It was the first race back after the grueling TC that left CC with a minor injury, so it's a clear toss and the BCC definitely has an asterisk and even if it didn't I would still be of the belief that CC still needed one more race to reach peak. That leaves one other time they met - Preakness Stakes. Both horses were clearly at their peaks and Bayern simply folded while CC went on to win easy. It's worth noting that his victory over Bayern in the Preakness was by more lengths than CC lost in all his races combined.
wayne haehner More than 1 year ago
since when does a horse who doesn't win a dirt race past the month of May suddenly get deemed a superstar?--laughable Bayern wins a Grade 1 on Belmont Day(a day where Chrome finished 5th)-then crushes CC @ Parx--then wires him in the BC Classic--and yet still there is blind faith for a horse is a nothing more than a good Cal-bred who won the Derby. I know racing needs heroes, so you delusional types make heroes out of average horseflesh-once again-you picked the wrong horse next you will say Zenyatta deserved HOY after beating washed up mares on plastic then losing the BC Classic--also a joke
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Thanks for putting it all into perspective for us. The Older Division will be exciting, and we have barely scratched the surface for the Sophomore Division! Some really interesting horses for the soon to be 3 year olds, if they can stay healthy. We saw a lot of attrition last year, losing some of the best of 2013 that didn't make it to the starting gate in 2014 until way past Derby season. Not to mention the excitement to find out if the two "princes", Cozmic One and Jess's Dream, will show even a little bit of what their parents gave us.
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
Shared Belief would run on glass shards.1 serious racehorse.Only a matter of time Dorf tries the turf ala Chrome.Hopefully fans get to see these stars many more times in 2015
Scott More than 1 year ago
Dick, nice point about the possibility that California Chrome might have been able to wait longer if Bayern wasn't uncontested on the lead in the BCC. I actually never considered that angle even though it's all for not, because it's only speculation. I'm with you on the potential for 2015 though! We've had years where we knew great horses would be running again the next year (heck, last year qualifies with horses like Mucho Macho Man, Will Take Charge, Palace Malice and Game On Dude can be included). However, I truly can't remember a scenario where the top horses were likely to meet several times prior to the Breeder's Cup. Even if Bayern and California Chrome opt for Dubai, there is still likely a race or two that they might contest with Shared Belief after their respective trips. With these 3 based in SoCal, I'm hoping for 3 or 4 meetings barring injury. Another horse that could add some spice to next year is Palace Malice. As far as I know, he's still on track to return next year. While he won't likely meet the 3 mentioned above prior to the BCC, he certainly could be the top horse on the East Coast coming into that race. My final thought is that Bayern is a one dimensional speed horse, who needs the lead, the other horses I mentioned (California Chrome, Shared Belief and Palace Malice) are all very versatile types. Here's hoping for the best year ever!