08/21/2016 10:47AM

Watchmaker: Void? What void? We have California Chrome and Songbird


Remember how much concern there was late last year when American Pharoah, Honor Code, Liam’s Map, and Tonalist were all leaving the track for the breeding shed? Remember how some wondered how the giant void those retirements created could ever be filled?

Now, doesn’t it seem silly that any of us wasted even one second on such worry?

Horses such as California Chrome and Songbird will do that for you. Horses of their ilk are not a panacea; they can’t lower takeout or remedy the sport’s integrity issues. But horses such as California Chrome and Songbird are about everything that is right in this sport, and they have a remarkable knack of putting everything into better perspective.

Saturday’s Pacific Classic was unquestionably the race of the summer, thanks to the matchup of California Chrome, Horse of the Year in 2014 and powerful winner of the Dubai World Cup last March, Beholder, a three-time champion, and Dortmund, a highly talented colt who gave California Chrome everything he wanted in last month’s San Diego Handicap.

But it turned out to be not much of a matchup at all.

Simply put, California Chrome was monstrous Saturday. California Chrome had to break from the inside, and the whole world knows that he doesn’t like getting pinned down on the inside. So jockey Victor Espinoza did the very smart thing of sending California Chrome right to the front and getting him away from the rail.

If Beholder and Dortmund weren’t so good, you could have said that once the tiny layer of uncertainty over California Chrome and post 1 was stripped away, this Pacific Classic was history when the field passed the stands for the first time. It turned out it was, anyway.

Dortmund couldn’t keep up this time, but Beholder tried every step of the way (and did not lose one iota of stature finishing second), and yet California Chrome just kept running away from her.

If you want to put California Chrome’s five-length beatdown of this Pacific Classic field under the microscope, the 113 Beyer Figure he was assigned was two points better than his victory in the San Diego, and matches his previous career best in his close third in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic. And while it’s hard to say, as fast as California Chrome’s Pacific Classic pace seemed visually, it might not have been that remarkable.

There was only one other route race on the main track at Del Mar Saturday, a $25,000 claimer at a mile two races after the Pacific Classic, and the fractions of that race were 22.31 seconds, 46.13, and 1:11.64. The corresponding splits for the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic were 23.20, 47.29, and 1:11.22.

However, where California Chrome might pick up some extra points for his Pacific Classic effort – like he needs them – is speed did not look like it was carrying at all on Del Mar’s main track Saturday. In fact, California Chrome was the only front-running winner from the seven dirt races on the day. So he did what he did on a track that appeared tilted against the method he employed.

Yeah, most impressive.

Pace was much more of a factor in Songbird’s romp in the Alabama at Saratoga, and a big reason to both appreciate the fact that she was able to rack up a seven-length win margin, and to take her winning Beyer of 95 in the context it was earned.

Songbird’s early pace in the Alabama was much, much faster than the paces set in the two main track routes earlier on the card. Maiden special weight fillies set fractions of 24.07, 49.05, and 1:13.07 in race 3, and starter allowance horses posted splits of 24.54, 49.22, and 1:13.74 in race 4. By contrast, Songbird contested splits in the Alabama (which went as race 10; there is no indication whatsoever the main track sped up later in the card) of 23.76, 47.77, and 1:11.13.

For more evidence of how draining Songbird’s pace in the Alabama was, consider this: Songbird contested the early lead with Go Maggie Go. Go Maggie Go is a very good filly. She won the Gulfstream Park Oaks in just the second start of her career despite stretching out from a sprint to a route, she would have finished second instead of fourth in the Kentucky Oaks in just her third career start with only a decent trip, and she won the Black Eyed Susan decisively in her fourth career start.

Go Maggie Go and Songbird went at it up front for the first seven furlongs of the Alabama. Songbird went on to win in isolation. Go Maggie Go finished sixth of seven, beaten 16 3/4 lengths.

We’ve come to the point now, 10 lopsided victories into Songbird’s 10 race career, where there is nothing left to do but to view what she’s done through an historical prism, because she has no measure in her division. There have been other fillies in recent years who had more daring 3-year-old campaigns. But no one in recent memory has been more dominant over her contemporaries at both 2 and 3 than Songbird. The only ones who come to mind are Silverbulletday and Go for Wand, but they didn’t dominate the way Songbird has. And if you want to go back before them, you go back to Ruffian, and I am NOT going there.

But what is so compelling about this is, Songbird is making a mockery of a deep division. Carina Mia and Cathryn Sophia are high-class horses, and Songbird is just on an entirely different level.

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Jim Fields More than 1 year ago
and frosted couldn't beat any of the top four in the Pacific Classic
Jim Fields More than 1 year ago
The bandwagon is good to jump on, and both CC and Songbird deserve the accolades.  This is why horse racing has , and needs contemporary champions and leaders.  CC proved he is a great one Saturday, and Songbird is ten for ten, and may be headed to a showdown with the great Beholder.  Their greatness is comparable to champions of the past, such as Seattle Slew, Zenyatta, Ruffian, Spectacular Bid, Shared Belief, and others, and contemporaries such as Run Happy, and maybe Enola Gray. Oh, I forgot a couple that most people would have included, but my bias against those unnamed heroes, is that they beat questionable competition of their time.
Robert Clayton More than 1 year ago
Not even a cursory mention of Frosted? 9 out of 10 people would have picked him to beat CC before the PC.....What a what have you done for me lately World we live in now
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
In the classic, chrome was beaten by bayern, toast of new york and shared belief was more impressive.  These three avoided regular lasix use when they were young.  It was toast of new york first time on dirt in chrome's hometown.  Pharoah didnt get to meet chrome or the belmont tonalist.  The no lasix using run happy is the only other true talent for dirt racing.  Turf racing much better.  Didnt understand why beholder ran back in only three weeks.  Dirt needs more recovery time than good synthetic
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
We have them... but what have we done to deserve them? Be thankful people, it could be another 35-40 years before we are blessed with such a bounty.
Bill Keating More than 1 year ago
I think that we still have a void. It's not enough for each year to have a champion horse to itself. You have to have the top horses stay in training as four year olds and race against each other.

American Pharoah's connections are to be complemented for send him to Saratoga for the Travers. But why was he unraced at four? For financial considerations, no doubt. If necessary, have racing put up enough purse money to keep three year olds in training. A race this summer with Pharoah and Chrome might have put racing pack on the front page for once.
btgriz More than 1 year ago
No doubt, she is special. As far as Chrome, well wouldn't it be great to see him against Pharoah???
Gary Peacock More than 1 year ago
California Chrome a Great one. And we are getting to see it. So glad he was kept racing. What the sport needs.
Pete Gold More than 1 year ago
The final time of 2:03 was pretty slow though no? Won by that many lengths i wonder if the division isn't as deep as people think. The beyers she gets for the large margains of victory are kinda light too. 88 to start the year 93 in SA oaks coaching club she breaks 100 finally but now a 95? I think shes the best 3yo filly no doubt but i think theres a reason they wont run her vs older or the boys 
Laura Grosmaire More than 1 year ago
The omission in both cases is the come home time.  And comparing times in a mile race vs a 10 f race is suspect too.