California Chrome went to post in the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday as something of an anomaly — he was the first Horse of the Year since All Along in 1984 not to enter the gate as the favorite in his or her first start back the following year. All Along had a few excuses — the 1983 Horse of the Year didn’t return until the Turf Classic at Belmont the following September, 10 months after last winning the D.C. International at Laurel, and had to face the venerable John Henry, in his final season and peak form. He won the Turf Classic as the even-money favorite, and she finished fourth.
Shared Belief also had a recency edge, but it was the widely shared belief (sorry) that he was the better horse — if unlucky in not being able to prove it last year, first missing the Triple Crown races, then getting slammed out of contention by Bayern in the Breeders’ Cup Classic — that made him the odds-on favorite in the San Antonio and California Chrome the 7-5 second.
You have to appreciate that the race was run in such a way — clean from start to finish — that there’s no questioning the results:
How Shared Belief passes California Chrome in the final sixteenth? It’s what I’d feared would happen to Rachel Alexandra if she and Zenyatta met. He’s so brilliant, it’s almost possible to miss that the top pair is lengths ahead of the rest of the field. They’re both monsters; Clark Handicap winner Hoppertunity ended up finishing 6 1/2 lengths behind California Chrome.
Shared Belief was given a Beyer speed figure of 106, and a TimeformUS figure of 112, for winning the San Antonio. Per Ed Golden’s stable notes, he and Chrome reportedly came out of the race in good shape. The two will point to separate races for their next starts — Shared Belief targeting the Santa Anita Handicap and California Chrome the Dubai World Cup.
Two weeks ago, the Breeders’ Cup Classic looked as though it would be a showdown between two California 3-year-olds. Now it’s setting up as an East Coast vs. West Coast sophomore clash, after Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist exited a troubled Jockey Club Gold Cup with his second Grade 1 win and an improved, blinkers-off running style, and undefeated Shared Belief was tested, but not bested, by trainer Bob Baffert’s duo of Fed Biz and Sky Kingdom in the Awesome Again. Both winners reportedly came out their races in fine shape.
That’s the good news. The bad is that jockey Rajiv Maragh is out indefinitely with a broken arm after falling from Wicked Strong during the first half of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Junior Alvarado, aboard Moreno when he veered into Wicked Strong’s path, causing the two to clip heels, is due before the stewards at Belmont Park this Wednesday to discuss the incident. [10/1/14 Update: Alvarado has been suspended for 15 days (DRF+ link).]
At Santa Anita, the stewards have already handed Victor Espinoza a seven-day suspension for the Awesome Again, in which his mount, Sky Kingdom, the longest shot in the field, steered Mike Smith and Shared Belief toward the center of the track on the first turn and then kept them running wide until he tired on the far turn and fell back to finish last. Trakus shows Shared Belief running 66 feet more than runner-up Fed Biz, who had a rail trip.
“It’s ridiculous,” Espinoza told Art Wilson on Saturday, responding to the allegation that Sky Kingdom was acting as a foil for his stablemate’s competition. “I would never try to hurt anybody or bump somebody, especially a horse like that. He’s an amazing horse. My horse, he always runs on the outside. He doesn’t like having dirt kicked in his face.”
Whether intentional or not, writes Mike Watchmaker, “what Espinoza did in the Awesome Again looks bad. Really bad. It appeared unprofessional.” You can judge for yourself: Watch Santa Anita’s HD replay.
While Smith was hotly deriding his rival’s post-race explanation, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was playing it cool. “We’re all big boys,” he said. “It’s no big deal for me. Mike [Smith] will have to settle up with Victor [Espinoza]. It’s not the worst thing in the world to have a tough race and be double fit for the Breeders’ Cup. That race will be tougher, so we’ll need to be tougher too.”
Beyer speed figures and TimeformUS ratings for Super Saturday’s Belmont Park and Santa Anita graded stakes winners:
Re: Shared Belief’s 114 for the Awesome Again, Craig Milkowski tweeted, “If our figures included ground loss, particularly ground loss in relation to pace, Shared Belief would easily be 125+ …”
With rider Gary Stevens up, Beholder worked a mile in 1:40.20 at Santa Anita on Monday in preparation for the June 7 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park. Trainer Richard Mandella got her in “1:38 and change,” and apparently, thought she looked so good that he “did a giddy jig afterward,” reports Jay Privman. Marcie Heacox observed her recent afternoon schooling:
Beholder schooled in a new way — without a pony but with a saddle and regular exercise rider David Nuesch. Like previous schooling sessions, she wore a hood to block noise, and Racing Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella distracted her with peppermints. The team put the saddle on soon after she arrived at the paddock, and Nuesch mounted a few minutes before she exited, but she didn’t react to either change. She usually goes crazy at some point during schooling, but this time she behaved absolutely perfectly.
Sounds like she’s physically and mentally in the same shape as she was before winning last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and ready to meet Princess of Sylmar and Apple Blossom winner Close Hatches on their home turf.
Favorites won 32 percent (38-120) of races in the sample, a figure comparable to the record of racing favorites in general. The fact that BC fields are considerably larger than average may make the 32 percent strike rate higher than expected.
Favorites have had mixed success finishing in the money in the recent years. In 2012, favorites finished in the top three in five of six races on Friday, six of nine on Saturday. In 2011, three of six on Friday, four of nine on Saturday. In 2010, four of six on Friday, four of eight on Saturday.
10/26/13 Addendum: Breeders’ Cup contenders, by the numbers. “There are 121 group or graded stakes winners in the entries, including 71 winners of Group 1 or Grade 1 races.” And 74 of the 172 pre-entries won their last starts.
Today’s group and graded stakes with potential Breeders’ Cup implications from Newmarket to Churchill Downs, listed in order of approximate post time:
Race names link to summary results, winner names to replays.
There’s also the ungraded Unzip Me Stakes at Santa Anita (post time 9:14 PM ET), and almost a full card’s worth of maiden special weights for juveniles: Race two (1:36 PM ET) and race three (2:07 PM ET) at Belmont; race one (4:00 PM ET), race three (5:04 PM ET), and race four (5:37 PM ET) at Santa Anita; and race three (6:56 PM ET) and race six (8:30 PM ET) at Churchill Downs.
Among the many notable runners today are Pachelbel, the first foal of Music Note, winner of several stakes, including the 2008 Mother Goose and 2009 Beldame, making his first career start in race two at Belmont for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, and Take Control, the now 6-year-old son of Azeri and A.P. Indy making his first start in more than a year and just his fourth career start overall. What’s he been up to? That’s a good question.