Past the Wire
By Jonathan Stettin
It’s All Good
After an exciting day of championship racing at Parx, we continue the road to the ultimate weekend in the sport of kings, The Breeders’ Cup. The road continues next Saturday at Belmont Park with an array of stakes anchored by the Jockey Gold Cup. Out West, Santa Anita counters with the Awesome Again and Zenyatta anchoring its card. Indeed, this is a big weekend coming up. At Parx last Saturday we saw three, yes three, championship divisions become a bit more focused as to the possibilities.
Untapable bounced back from a drubbing against colts in the Haskell, to take the Cotillion in work horse like fashion. She got the job done and asserted her superiority over this year’s three year old fillies. It’s no coincidence Bayern, the Haskell victor, also won on big Saturday taking the Pennsylvania Derby. Stopchargingmaria scratched in favor of the Beldame on Saturday at Belmont against older fillies. Should she win that and make some noise against older again in the Breeders’ Cup she could challenge for championship honors. Other than that scenario Untapable locked it up on Saturday. Untapable is a very nice three year old filly, but I don’t think she could make a lot of noise against the older ones right now.
It was no surprise to me that California Chrome tanked in his return to the races. As I suspected, he seemed to have left it all out on the track during his hard Triple Crown campaign. He’s now finished off the board in two straight races and given up his catbird seat for the three year old championship, let alone horse of the year. While the Belmont loss was a valiant effort in defeat the same cannot be said for Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby. His rail draw was no factor really as the rail played very well on Saturday. Rider Victor Espinoza tried to make it a factor by visibly trying to get off it most of the race. At the end of the day, however, California Chrome had no gas in the tank and no acceleration like he had in the spring. I suspected the Preakness was a much harder race than it appeared and Victor had to really get into him that day. The Belmont showed me he had enough and I thought he should have been put away for the year. He may try the Classic, and it is over a strip he loves, but he still looks like a tired horse. Again, they only have so many of those efforts in them. Remember, a horseplayer thinks they will run the same every time, a handicapper figures out why they won’t.
It was also no surprise Bayern got loose over a track that was kind to speed on Saturday and ran another of his monster efforts. Candy Boy came from far out of it against the track bias to finish third in a photo for second but looked like he was in a different race. Bayern was always meant to be real good, and showed as much promise as any of them early on. He took a bit longer to come around but he sure has and now boasts three major wins on his resume and all in impressive ,if not dominant, fashion. I think he, along with California Chrome, Shared Belief, and Tonalist, all have a chance to be the three year old champ depending on what happens from here on out. The interesting thing about Bayern is he would appear to have Breeders’ Cup options whereas the others don’t. He could run in the Sprint, Mile or Classic, and be a contender in any of them. While Tonalist is the least likely in the masses opinion to take three year old honors, if he wins the Jockey Gold Cup and then the Classic he is right at the top of the discussion. I’d have to call Shared Belief the most likely winner but he is not a lock by any means and has to first make both of his next races.
I guess because the past weekend focused on three year olds nobody is talking about the ramifications it had on horse of the year, which I think was the most dramatically impacted. Let us look at the older division. It is no secret that it has had some significant recent defections in Mucho Macho Man, Palice Malice, Game on Dude, and Will Take Charge. All of those could be considered division leaders. That is a lot of hits for any division to take, let alone the older male which hasn’t been the strongest of late. I would venture Lea, who hasn’t run since the winter at Gulfstream is the best of the lot but we will need to see him soon to have any chance at all. I think that leaves old faithful Wise Dan in a good spot to take down another horse of the year title. The champ came back from colic surgery with yet another win at Saratoga and is on target to run at Keeneland in the Shadwell Mile and then try for a three peat in the Breeders’ Cup mile. I talked a lot about campaigning and horse management this year and if you look at the horses spotlighted you will see how important it is. Ria Antonia and Social Inclusion are non-winning, non-factors and the Derby and Preakness winner looks to be a tired and spent horse. Wise Dan is in optimum position to take down another horse of the year title and Tonalist is in a position to make a late surge towards a three year old title. Campaigning is an art and for Wise Dan it looks like it’s all good. It also looks like one heck of a year to divert to the Classic and face mostly three year olds. I expect that is under serious consideration.
On Saturday, I look for a strong come back from Beholder. She is looking like she will be peaking come the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, while Close Hatches has been going hard all year. I also think we will see an improved effort from Tonalist back at Belmont, and definitely an effort he can again build off. The other stakes on the undercards should open our eyes to some of the other races looming on Cup day.
This goes to Oaklawn Park and Charles Cella. Oaklawn announced what I think is an innovative, outside the box, program designed to reward horses who don’t need Lasix and actually run without it. Yes, you read that correctly. By announcing the program, Oaklawn acknowledges that horses who don’t need Lasix, but are still running on it, is not in the best interest of the horse, breed or game. The program will provide a 10% bonus to the winner’s share of that purse to all horses that run and win without it. That means anywhere from $1080 for a race with Oaklawn’s minimum purse of $18,000 all the way up to $60,000 for the $1-million Arkansas Derby. This is a great example of trying to be part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem. The program is not intended to encourage horses who need Lasix to run without it. I hope it works and sets an example.
Prior to the Pennsylvania Derby every television analyst picked California Chrome and raved about him. You heard things like the race goes through him, it is his race to lose, and he can win this at less than 100%. One comment from a TVG analyst who will remain nameless took the cake though. This commentator actually stated, while talking about California Chrome’s training, that “he really trains himself.” I couldn’t help but cringe. I think it hurt my ears. How does that work exactly? Hey Art, get the tack I’m going to go an easy half today. Seriously.
Horse to Watch:
Helm had a horrendous traffic filled trip at Belmont last Friday. He was never able to get on track and was full of run.
Jonathan Stettin is a professional handicapper and contributor to DanonymousRacing.com. He currently resides in Florida. He has several large Pick-6 scores to his name, including one for $540,000+ on August 10, 1994, at Saratoga. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathanstettin.