02/11/2015 1:01PM

Jerardi: Stunted pace limits champions’ Beyers in San Antonio

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Benoit & Associates
Shared Belief (left) defeats California Chrome (right) in the San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 7 at Santa Anita Park.

Once I got past the euphoria of seeing a race between two marquee horses play out exactly as we all had hoped when Shared Belief and California Chrome hooked up with 100 yards to go last Saturday, I began to wonder why these two really fast horses had not run a faster final time.

When they both ran away from Hoppertunity in the stretch and were striding out like horses who wanted to keep running, I was envisioning a 115 Beyer Speed Figure. Then, Andrew Beyer posted a 106 for Shared Belief and a 104 for California Chrome.

So, what happened? The pace – or lack of it.

The pace in the 1 1/8-mile race was so slow that it was just about impossible for even these two really fast horses to get the big Beyers they are clearly capable of. According to Trakus, Shared Belief ran the first three furlongs in 36.10 seconds and the last three furlongs in 35.93, a serious finish for sure. California Chrome ran the first three furlongs in 35.97 seconds and the last three furlongs in 36.03, also a terrific finish.

Pacesetter Alfa Bird set the fractions of 23.65 seconds, 47.87, and 1:12.49. The big horses had no reason to go after Alfa Bird on the backstretch because the horse was never a threat to win. So, they waited and waited as the pace slowed in the middle three furlongs. When Shared Belief and California Chrome leveled off, they ran about as fast as they could in those final furlongs.

There is no way to quantify how much the pace affected the Beyers, but given the history of Shared Belief and California Chrome, how it appeared that they ran, and the big margin back to Hoppertunity, I think you could make a reasonable case that it cost them as many as nine Beyer points. So, if you told me that Shared Belief gave a performance that could have been a 115 under different circumstances, I would not argue. When he runs back, I will evaluate him like he did run a 115.

Another way to evaluate the effect of the pace in the San Antonio Stakes is to compare it with what happened earlier on the Santa Anita card in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Dortmund and Firing Line obviously ran huge, beating the third horse by 21 1/2 lengths and each earning a 103 Beyer.

Does anyone believe those obviously very talented 3-year-olds are just one Beyer point behind California Chrome in ability? Of course not.

They were able to run a really fast time because they were attending a really fast pace. The fractions in the 1 1/16-mile race were 23.18 seconds, 46.80, and 1:10.70. They did not need to fly home to finish with a fast time. The pace set them up for the time. They finished heads apart in the Los Alamitos Futurity and, seven weeks later, heads apart in the Lewis. The Beyer went up 12 points for both Dortmund and Firing Line, which is possible for improving 3-year-olds but is at least partially due to the hot pace.

Beyer figures are a tool, but just like anything else in this puzzle, they need context. Pace is part of that context. Horses loose on the lead will earn Beyers they will never earn under any other circumstance. Closers who get pace meltdowns will earn Beyers they will not get in a more typically run race.

Shared Belief ran a wonderful race because he is a wonderful racehorse. You don’t win 9 of 10 (with an obvious excuse in his lone loss) without being an exceptional horse. California Chrome did not win, but one loss to a rare talent does not negate all the colt has done in his 17-race career.

I would expect Shared Belief to run absolutely giant in the Santa Anita Handicap. Mike Smith won’t have to be concerned with California Chrome. He will just be able to settle Shared Belief and let him roll when he wants to let him roll.

Really good American dirt horses have gone to Dubai and run really good races in the World Cup. California Chrome is a really good American dirt horse. I don’t know what he is going to be running against, so it is hard to predict victory, but I saw nothing Saturday that suggests California Chrome won’t run a big one in the desert.