Here’s Why: It’s Time to Step Up or Step Aside
By Candice Hare
“…And look at Will Take Charge. The big colt has done it again.” Those were the words spoken by veteran Parx racecaller Keith Jones as the big, strapping son of Unbridled’s Song once again showed he had improved by leaps and bounds over the summer (and with the removal of blinkers).
Horses, not unlike people, mature both physically and mentally at different rates and while pedigrees can give us glimpses as to who may be the early or late developers, only results well and truly confirm our beliefs.
The early part of last season was all about Verrazano and Vyjack, both of whom won their first four starts. It was after that, however, that the others caught up to them. Verrazano only won two from nine from that point on before being retired and Vyjack has only won one from nine since.
Following that duo’s domination was Orb’s rise to stardom. He won four straight to start his three-year-old season, including the Kentucky Derby, but he never won a race from that point on and was ultimately retired.
At the start of 2013, those three looked potential stars and by November, none of them were in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and instead it was Will Take Charge, Palace Malice, and Moreno — who had one triple crown race top three finish between them — who got the call in the feature at America’s most prestigious meet.
2014 is of course a new three-year-old crop with a new set of questions, the biggest of which revolves around California Chrome. After winning six straight races, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, he was never a factor in the Belmont Stakes and got a much deserved rest afterwards. While I don’t doubt he’ll be every bit as good as he was earlier in the year, has the competition improved? I think so.
California Chrome’s best Beyer speed figure came (108) in March in the G2 San Felipe. Bayern, for example, has twice matched or bettered that mark over dirt since Belmont Stakes day, and he’s not the only one who’s improved since June; in fact, every runner in the Pennsylvania Derby except Noble Moon has posted a new career-high Beyer speed figure since the last time we saw California Chrome race. Among those improvers are Candy Boy, C J’s Awesome, and Tapiture who all posted a triple digit figure for the first time in their most recent runs.
That’s not to say California Chrome can’t win the Pennsylvania Derby or the Breeders’ Cup Classic, if he runs, but his Kentucky Derby performance isn’t going to cut it. The opposition is now better, so if he isn’t better, he’s not going to consistently win races at a high level anymore.
In this very race last year, we got confirmation that a new star was on the horizon in Will Take Charge. Will that be the case this year? Perhaps Candy Boy or Tapiture will be the ones to step up after perhaps not having been ready yet in the Kentucky Derby, or maybe Bayern will confirm his early hype and run them off their feet. Noble Moon has had a bevy of setbacks since last fall; if healthy, he surely still has improvement left in him. Protonico and C J’s Awesome have both won two of their past three races, maybe these two are ready to show what they’re made of on a big stage.
Or maybe this will be nothing like last year and California Chrome will again confirm his place at the top of the three-old-standings. I personally think one of Bayern, Candy Boy, or Tapiture will have something to say about that and I question California Chrome’s capability to further improve off of the marks he set in the spring, particularly after such a long, hard campaign.
Regardless of his upcoming performances, however, California Chrome will still be a Kentucky Derby and dual Classic winner and nobody can take that away from him. If he’s going to win more though, he’ll need to be better, especially after this when he’ll face older.
Good isn’t good enough anymore. This is it. It’s time to step it up and show one belongs with the “big boys” and in three days, we’ll find out who from this group has done exactly that. For the record, I’m thinking it’ll be Bayern.
She handicaps races on her website ‘Capping with Candice and is the co-host of a weekly YouTube race preview show entitled “Down to the Wire.”
You can follow Candice on Twitter @Chare889.