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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