There is no wrong coast to be on this weekend in The Sport of Kings. Both coasts offer championship caliber horse racing with some of our best and most popular equine stars competing. We’ll see last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, this year’s early Kentucky Derby favorite, and a forgotten horse, so to speak, who may very well be as good as any of them.
Most of the attention is centered on The San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita on Saturday. Most feel this is a two horse contest pitting California Chrome against Shared Belief. I certainly see that logic but don’t necessarily agree. Hoppertunity is in there as well, and deserves some consideration, especially if the two big names take it to each other early and hard. Hoppertunity may find himself in the catbird seat over a track he likes and in streaking good form. Regardless, whoever steps up and asserts themselves as the leader of the older horses in the west, will have no easy task.
California Chrome is entering the race in what seems to be peak form. He looks as good as ever, is training as good as ever, and he has really filled out and blossomed visually at four. I must admit the concern I had he was spent, after his grueling Triple Crown campaign, was unfounded. Art Sherman has done a great job with this colt. California Chrome is without excuse on Saturday and he will either prove his Chromies right or wrong. I view this as a very important race in his career. If he should lose, which is possible, it kind of raises the question of who really was the best three year old last year. California Chrome has the chance to silence any doubters on Saturday.
Shared Belief was possibly one hard bump, resulting in a bad start, and trip, away from being an undefeated horse of the year. Saturday is just as important to him as should he lose, that argument becomes somewhat moot. I am not as confidant in Shared Belief coming to a peak race as I am California Chrome, but he has shown something Chrome never has, the ability to overcome a tough trip and less than ideal circumstances. While the Breeders’ Cup trouble was too much to overcome, The Pacific Classic, The Awesome Again, and Malibu weren’t. He overcame adversity in all three of those and showed a toughness he will need on Saturday even with an ideal trip. If heady jockey Mike Smith smells a chance to pin California Chrome and Victor Espinoza on the inside, expect him to do it in true “Revenge is a dish best served cold” fashion. It was Victor Espinoza who took Shared Belief into the parking lot in the Awesome Again. This is going to be one exciting race.
The three year olds have begun to take shape, and who looks to be the best of them right now, Dortmund, puts his unbeaten record on the line. He leads my Derby Radar list going in and I expect him to hold his spot coming out. Santa Anita is loaded on Saturday.
Last year’s Donn Handicap saw as impressive a performance as we had from a racehorse all year. The problem was the horse disappeared following it, and didn’t make it back for The Breeders’ Cup or any of the other late season races. That rendered that performance forgotten. Lea, however, is back now and in the expert hands of Bill Mott may be ready to duplicate that great race and carry that form throughout the year. If he does, we may be looking at the best of the lot right here in Florida, and not California, as most people think. Lea returned from his lengthy hiatus with a strong victory in The Hals Hope and looks to be as good as he was last year. I expect a big race from him. He’ll be facing a dangerous foe in Todd Pletcher’s Liam’s Map. He probably has as much potential as any of them. He’s up and coming and will be tough.
At Aqueduct, El Kaiber leads the New York three year olds in The Withers. The days of the New York strings and horses heading the class seem long forgotten. Oh well, late July and Saratoga will be here soon.
A significant racing milestone is on the horizon as Gary Stevens sits with 4,999 US wins. 5,000 wins is an incredible achievement for any rider but to come back after all those years and then a knee replacement is truly remarkable. Good luck to Past the Wire friend Gary Stevens with this latest achievement.
It pays to listen to It’s Post Time, with JJ Graci, live from Gulfstream Park and on wdbfradio.com. Back on Dec.14 I was doing one of my first guest spots on the show. I picked a horse named Ramble who managed to get third. I told everyone no worries he was much the best and would win next out. I didn’t know who was listening. Apparently some were. He ran back in a sloppy off the turfer and just used it as a work. Back on the grass Sunday he was a major wager and at 5-1 dragged Johnny V to the lead at the half mile pole and just crunched them. It was a meet maker and I loved getting some e mails and tweets from listeners saying they heard it and bet. Nice going. It pays to listen to It’s Post Time, we’ll definitely do it again.
You could have also gotten him straight off our Tracking Trips list, where we gave him out with confidence. The winner of the prior race, Night Song, was also on our list resulting in an ice cold late double and two easy singles for any multi race bets.
To all the Ramble supporters from It’s Post Time and Tracking Trips. Nice one.
Everybody was good.