Wednesday, July 09, 2014
It’s not fair: East has big races but titles are won in California
Shared Belief once again demonstrated the potential to become one of the most exciting horses in years with a dominant score in the Los Alamitos Derby. If he runs the table in the Pacific Classic and Breeders' Cup Classic, he could not only grab the 3-year-old title from California Chrome but also capture Horse of the Year. He could do all this without ever leaving California. That isn't right.
MIAMI, July 9, 2014--Here we go again.
Beholder has won a pair of Eclipse Awards without winning a stakes east of California. Itâ€™s not inconceivable she could capture a third in 2014 under the same circumstances.
The dazzling sophomore stakes debut of Juvenile Eclipse champion Shared Belief in Saturdayâ€™s Los Alamitos Derby suggests that overtaking California Chrome for 3-year-old honors is within reach. If it happens, he, too will do it without ever racing outside the Golden State.
Jerry Hollendorfer said after Shared Belief crushed his rivals in the Los Al Derby (nee Swaps Stakes) that he has no intentions of putting his star on a plane. Why should he? Shared Belief is a gelding so itâ€™s all about earnings and thereâ€™s plenty of easy money to be made in California.
The Los Al Derby was a $500,000 event. Del Marâ€™s Pacific Classic against older horses, the next stakes Hollendorfer has targeted, carries a $1 million purse and itâ€™s on an artificial surface. Shared Belief is 4-for-4 on fake dirt. The Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic at Santa Anita is worth $5 million. On top of that, there is a $1 million bonus awaiting a horse who sweeps that triple.
If Hollendorfer opts for a BC Classic prep at Santa Anita, thereâ€™s the Awesome Again, whose $250,000 pot amounts to pocket change.
Itâ€™s a formidable gauntlet, especially for a horse who missed the first half of his 3-year-old season with recurring foot issues. But after Saturday, whoâ€™s to say Shared Belief is incapable of pulling it off?
He answered the biggest question surrounding his unbeaten record, now five-for-five: could he be as effective on real dirt as synthetics? Another eased up victoryâ€”no horse has yet been able to seriously challenge him in the stretchâ€”with a 105 Beyer, a point below his career best while racing a mile and an eighth for the first time, puts that to rest.
The next test is a mile and a quarter in the Pacific Classic, the same distance as the Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic. But his sire, Candy Ride, won Del Marâ€™s biggest race at 10 furlongs.
All sports have become star-driven, so should the dynamic son of Candy Ride continue to roll, he could do more for racing than even California Chromeâ€™s run at the Triple Crown. Being a gelding, Shared Belief could be around for years. Perhaps more importantly, heâ€™s partially owned by Jim Rome, whose talk show audience is dominated by young males, the demographic racing has to attract. And Rome loves to talk up his horse.
If both stay sound, a showdown with Derby-Preakness champion California Chrome seems inevitable. It, too, will almost certainly be at Santa Anita. Art Sherman has said California Chrome will have one race before the Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic, either the Awesome Again or a prep at his Golden Gate base.
The only downside is even if Shared Belief runs the table, which would make him odds-on for both the 3-year-old championship and Horse of the Year, he will have done it without ever leaving the West Coast.
Tonalist could add the Jim Dandy and Travers to his Belmont Stakes and Peter Pan scores and further burnish his resume with a win in one of NYRA fall races against older horses. None of this will matter if he doesnâ€™t go west and beat Shared Belief on his home court.
Think Princess of Sylmar last year. She seemed a lock for an Eclipse after consecutive wins in the Kentucky Oaks (Beholder was among those behind her), Coaching Club American Oaks, Alabama and Beldame, vanquishing multiple Eclipse winner Royal Delta, among others. If the Princess had stayed in her stall back east, she would have been a strong favorite to be voted queen of her division.
But on Santa Anitaâ€™s concrete speedway, more appropriate for NASCAR than a horse race, she had no shot against hometown speedball Beholder. There went the Eclipse.
Four of the seven dirt races (excluding the Marathon, a now discontinued novelty) were won by Californians. A fifth, Sheâ€™s a Tiger, used her speed to finish first in the Juvenile Fillies only to be disqualified. She won an Eclipse anyway.
Sprint winner Secret Circle took home an Eclipse after only two wins, both at Santa Anita.
Only three of those winners have run outside California since (New Yearâ€™s Day was retired after the Juvenile). None have won. Sheâ€™s a Tiger was seventh in the Eight Belles at Churchill. Goldencents was second and seventh in stakes at Belmont. On her home track at Santa Anita, Beholder won a small stakes. Then she came east for the Ogden Phipps, where she was a well beaten fourth.
This underscores the inequity of anchoring the Breedersâ€™ Cup in one place, especially one with the pronounced bias of Santa Anita, then using the results as the decisive factor in determining championships. Itâ€™s like making Dukeâ€™s Cameron Indoor Stadium the permanent home of the Final Four.