12/03/2014 12:56PM

Jerardi: The Horse of the Year choice is clear

Benoit & Associates
California Chrome wins the Hollywood Derby on Nov. 29 at Del Mar.

Now that all the candidates have finalized their Horse of the Year credentials, it is time to review. I pretty much decided after the Breeders’ Cup what I wanted to do, but I wanted to give it some time to gain perspective.

I am going to list six possibilities, but I think it may come down to two and should come down to just one.

I think a Horse of the Year has to run more than four times regardless of how effective that horse is in those races. Wise Dan and Main Sequence were a combined 8 for 8 with seven Grade 1 wins between the two horses.

In 2012, Wise Dan ran six times, and last year he ran seven times, ending with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile each time. I had no hesitation about voting for him both years as Horse of the Year. I just don’t think his season was long enough in 2014, but I absolutely loved the comeback after the surgery. Let’s hope we see him again in 2015.

I really thought Main Sequence’s three summer and early fall wins were a product of running against less-than-star-quality competition. Obviously, I was wrong. The horse was brilliant when he won the Breeders’ Cup Turf. A reasonable case can be made for Main Sequence as Horse of the Year – four Grade 1 wins culminating with a win over a great field in the Turf. I don’t care about grass or dirt. I am just looking for the best horse with the most accomplishments. There have been years when Main Sequence’s four-race season would be worthy of Horse of the Year. I don’t think this is one of those years.

There are no guidelines for voters, but I like to see a year with accomplishment, top performances, and durability.

Untapable qualifies on all three. The 3-year-old filly was great from late February to the last day of October, with six graded stakes wins, including four Grade 1 wins, culminating with a powerful show in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. I love that she was as good at the end as she was at the beginning. I wish she did not have to run against such a powerful inside speed bias in the Haskell in her only try outside her division. In many years, she would have done enough for me. Not this year.

I thought Shared Belief’s Pacific Classic was the best performance of the year. He may turn out to be the best of this group of outstanding 3-year-olds, but there were simply horses with better and more extensive résumés. I wish Shared Belief did not have that foot injury that kept him out of the Triple Crown. I wish he did not get crushed at the start of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Who knows how he would have done in the Triple Crown if he had the chance or in the Breeders’ Cup with a better chance?

I really think Horse of the Year should be between Bayern and California Chrome. The former ran 10 times and was good enough to run his very best race on Nov. 1 after running his first race on Jan. 4. Bayern ran in January, February, April (twice), May, June, July, August, September, and November. When he cleared the field, he was unbeatable, winning five times by a combined 38 3/4 lengths and then showing more heart than anybody knew he had in the Classic to win by a nose.

Bayern’s bad races were really bad, losing the Preakness by 21 lengths after a brutal start and the Travers by 20 lengths because he probably should not have been entered. Still, the Woody Stephens, Haskell, Pennsylvania Derby, and Classic is a serious résumé.

If Bayern is voted Horse of the Year, I will understand, but I am not voting for him.

California Chrome has a résumé unlike any in recent memory. Think about the near Triple Crown misses in recent years. When was the last time a horse ran nine times from late January to late November, nearly won the Triple Crown, and was as good at the end as he was at the beginning? When was the last time that horse was running at all at year’s end? I had to go back to Sunday Silence and Alysheba to find a Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner in top form at the end of his 3-year-old season. Curlin obviously was still firing at the end of 2007, but he only won one of the Triple Crown races.

That California Chrome is that rare horse is a tribute to the owners, the Shermans and their team, and a brilliant colt that survived everything and came out the other side.

The Kentucky Derby winner always gets extra credit from me. So does a Derby-Preakness winner. Ifs should not be part of the equation, but I will always be convinced that with a more aggressive ride in the Belmont Stakes, California Chrome would have won the Triple Crown. I am not sure what Victor Espinoza was doing in the Pennsylvania Derby, but second was the best a far-from-race-ready California Chrome was doing that day as Bayern broke a 40-year-old track record.

I was going to vote for California Chrome before he won the Hollywood Derby. I am not sure what I would have done if he had lost, but I loved that Art Sherman made that call and was pleased that a trainer who ran his horse when he really didn’t have to was rewarded with a perfect ending to a campaign for the ages.

If this vote was just about impact on the game, California Chrome would win in a landslide. That is a small factor for me, but it is much more about accomplishment and ability.

California Cup Derby, San Felipe, Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness, close fourth in the Belmont, a brilliant third in the Classic, and that Hollywood Derby is a flat-out dazzling résumé, worthy of Horse of the Year in just about any year. And remember California Chrome did not just win those six stakes – he dominated all of them, winning by a combined 23 1/4 lengths. With zero hesitation, I will be voting for California Chrome as my Horse of Year.

Sidney Starliper More than 1 year ago
Ask yourself why on the seventh of June almost 21 million people across America turned there TV on to watch a horse race. It scares meet to think what 2014 would have been like if that California Bred horse had not been on the scene. He didn't win every race, but he left all of us a year full of memories.
Héctor Lebrón More than 1 year ago
You give NO importance to head to head meetings? You should as Bayern beat CC 2 out of the 3 times they met. He owns him!
mike More than 1 year ago
Tell me,who "owns" 2/3 of the Triple Crown? Bayern? eye roll
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
I would vote for Bayern if he hadn't been beaten so badly in those two important races. As it is, California Chrome is my choice. I loved that he won the Hollywood Derby and it makes it very interesting when you think that next year he will have a big menu of stakes to choose from. He's got a chance to wind up with three Eclipse Awards if he improves off what he's done this year. That's a long shot, but it's what dreams are made of.
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
im not a cc fan,he deserves the horse and 3yr old titles. in any other year the winner of the haskell,woody stevens,penn derby and the bc classic ,bayern would be a slam dunk for both honors but,his win in the classic is tainted and the turf writers have been given a golden ticket via the hollywood derby,a grade 1,albeit a joke walkover, a perfect way out to disregard the classic and give it to cc. anyone in this game in his heart knows with a fair start bayern would not have had an easy time on the lead as he had.migliore put it best,it doesnt matter how fast you go early it is how you go fast,unpressured by a comprimised moreno,due to bayern,herding at the start, and shared beliefs chain reaction at the start are the 2 most contributing factors to bayerns win. both handicapping factors,early pressure,and horse to beat were all at the start ,and both in bayerns favor due to bayern. so hats off to the derby winner,give him his props,and lets hope we see him more often in days to come.
James G Romano More than 1 year ago
I really miss the horse racing of 1978-85,,,with a few ,rare exception racing is not what it used to be,,just like boxing,,,,How many of these recent athletic quadrupeds could have competed with those champs? I wont mention any names,,if you do know know who they were you do not know what competitive horse racing at its highest level ever was.Alydar/Affirmed alone was as interesting as Ali-Frazier,or Ali-Norton,and i`m not even mentioning the best of the best[ whatshisname again?]. Cal.Chrome was good among these pretenders,but that`s not saying much. A medium sized fish in a small pond,,Whoppeee! Boy ,i even miss horses like Housebuster,and John Henry,,[John Who?],,,
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
I agree with you CALIFORNIA CHROME not only won the biggest American race of the year the KENTUCKY DERBY. but he also won the santa anita derby. the Preakness.the Hollywood derby.and ran very well in both the Belmont and especially the breeders cup.he also won the California cup derby and the san felipe earlier in the season. so overall he has the best record. BAYERN got beaten badly in both the travers and the Preakness the pen derby was a weaker race were his main rival simply did not fire.and he literally stole the breeders cup classic after taking out 1/4 of the field. MAIN SEQUENCE won 4 gr1 races but lets be honest his only horse of the year worthy race was the breeders cup turf.and none of the really big euros showed up.he would still only be my second choice. SHARED BELIEF was a victim of bad luck and that unfortunately cost him a shot at the top spot .first he got injured so he missed the big 3yo classics and was playing catch up .and just as he was catching up and needed one more big win he got mugged by BAYERN. and now all we can do is speculate about what might have been.and so that was that.
Jeff Brown More than 1 year ago
I agree fully. SB is over-rated anyway, and CC would have won the Classic if Moreno has been up front to wear out Bayern and Toast. And I also believe that the toe step at the beginning of the Belmont made a huge difference in the outcome and may have explained his tentative showing in the Penn Derby. Horses seldom win when they get that injury early in the race.
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
Jeff - Don't you think Moreno's owners wince anytime they read "CC would have won the Classic if Moreno has been up front to wear out Bayern and Toast." I know you would if you owned Moreno. They were in it to WIN the pot of money. Not act as a fee paying rabbit to enter the race and destroy Bayern for someone else to win the loot! ;-)
George Evans More than 1 year ago
As the old cliché goes ... “he who laughs last, laughs best”!
Dusty Nathan More than 1 year ago
Dick, I don't vote any longer but your arguments are persuasive. However, since Bayern beat him twice and won the BIG one, I think he will get more votes than Cali Chrome. Both colts were extraordinary in a year when Shared Belief might be the best of them all
Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
Well analyzed, documented and concise. I totally agree! Cali Chrome has had me from the start of the year; CC and his team deserve this award, without a doubt. He is a brilliant colt and Victor has the best mount of his career; he appears thankful and humble for every ride with CC ( and other TB 's). They are both inspiring together. -JerseyGirl