As we bask in the glory of the magnificent effort put forth by California Chrome in The Pacific Classic, I can only wonder why the powers that be can’t see what it takes to get this game back to glory days past. People are anxious to compare California Chrome’s effort to the two previous efforts of Frosted, both of which were equally impressive in their own rights, and I understand that. I wouldn’t mind seeing them race either. That brings me to my point, I’d like to see it in a 12 horse field, where more than half of them have a legitimate chance. You see, for those who don’t remember, or were not yet a part of this great game, that is precisely how it used to be, and not all that long ago.
It’s no secret American commercial breeding has shifted their focus from stamina and endurance along with longevity, to speed, speed, and more speed. Yearlings are prepped for sales, two-year olds are pushed to the limit for speed to inflate their sales prices and sire’s stud value. You can’t argue with money, and breeding is where the money is. Even to the point where it is to the detriment of the sport, money wins. California Chrome and Frosted are great illustrations of this.
Race horses do not fully develop until they are three, four, and even five. Their bones and joints, cartilage and conformation do not hit their full strength and potential until then. Pushing them hard, and pumping them up with medicine to make them faster and heal quicker, takes away from that development and hinders it. This stops horses from reaching their full potential and prevents us from seeing more performances like the recent ones from California Chrome and Frosted. The commercial breeding industry doesn’t care; however, and they have a good reason. Most of the better three-year old classic performers and Kentucky Derby winners won’t race past three. They will be retired and go off to stud, that is where the money is and that is where they will head, and you can’t argue with money. You really can’t fault the owners either. While most fall into the sportsman category, racing is a business, and most of these people did not get a hold of the money they use to compete in this game by making bad financial decisions.
One can only imagine how good American Pharoah would be at 4 and 5. Others as well. Breeding for stamina and longevity, and getting away from the pressure to run fast and win early would allow more horses to develop to their full potential, and would give us races with a host of Chromes and Frosteds in them on which we could wager. When I think back to The Marlboro Cups, Jockey Club Gold Cups, Woodwards, Brooklyns, Suburbans, Wideners, Santa Anita Handicaps, Hollywood Gold Cups, all with large competitive fields, I cringe at the 4 and 5 horse Grade 1 and 2 races we see today regularly. It’s those big fields and great horses competing that made The Sport of Kings what it was. No, racing is not dead but it isn’t what it could be. Imagine if we had pick 4’s and pick 5’s and pick 6’s back then, even superfectas, the payoffs would have routinely been huge, and huge payoffs on great horses is what the game needs. No, it’s not the end all be all cure for all our issues, but it would be a giant step in the right direction for growth as opposed to decline.
It hasn’t been all bad. We’ve had our geldings like Wise Dan who stuck around and reminded us what those old timers can do on the racetrack. We had horses like Zenyatta and Beholder who also stuck around and showed us what a racehorse resume should look like. But one can only remember when the game was filled with horses like this who ran against each other several times over a few years.
California Chrome is likely still racing because his less than blue blood breeding made it difficult if not impossible for him to get the kind of stud deal his owners wanted and were expecting. Taylor Made stepped up and created a campaign with marketing and sponsorship capitalizing on the horse’s popularity and appeal and thanks to California Chrome’s huge heart and talent, he delivered and now they have a horse that will make a more popular sire. Huge stud fee, probably not. Sire of champions, I doubt that, but a decent fee, full book, good mares, and a chance at success in Kentucky, sure. Well played.
California Chrome’s race in The Pacific Classic was a thing of beauty, as was Victor Espinoza’s ride. We all knew California Chrome didn’t like the inside and that the other riders, particularly Gary Stevens on Beholder, and Rafael Bejarano on Dortmund, would try and pin him down. Victor knew it too. He broke running and hustled Chrome to the lead then guided him several paths off the inside. He looked over at Gary and Rafael as if to say go ahead, take the lead, go inside me, and I assume the catbird stalking position my horse loves. Gary and Rafael didn’t take the bait and let California Chrome keep the lead Victor had him work for early. The race was pretty much over. Beholder, one of the best mares in a very long time and another example of keeping a horse around until they develop, took her shots at Chrome, and never stopped trying in what I’d call a gallant effort. If you think she’s lost a step, I suggest an eye doctor. Chrome accelerated and won geared down in what I think is by far the best race he has ever run.
Frosted ran two huge races back to back in The Met Mile and Whitney. We likely will have to wait until The Breeders’ Cup Classic to see these two hook up, and hopefully they can hold their present form until then. That is no “gimme” by any means. In the old days we may have seen them meet sooner, but that was then and this is now. I’d just like to see more California Chromes, Frosteds, and Beholders stick around.
Songbird was simply awesome in The Alabama. She just gets better with each start. Owner Rick Porter likes to race, and we anticipate Songbird being even better at 4. She’s 10 for 10 now by open lengths each time, and usually throttled down. There is no telling how good she can get.
A special shout out to two friends and supporters of Past the Wire. First, congratulations to John Da Silva who broke his maiden as a jockey agent this past Saturday at Monmouth Park. John represents Addiel J. Ayala, who was brought here by Jorge Velasquez. John, a former handicapper for The New York Post recently took out his jockey agent license and we wish him continued success. Addiel brought in Startripenterprise for trainer Bobby Dibona. He paid $27.20 to win.
A second shout out to William Gottimer who is also a contributor to Past the Wire, and hosts the Racetrackers radio show. Bill owns Greyjoy, who today became the second two-time winner at this Saratoga meet thus far. You may have heard of the other, Songbird. Bill and Greyjoy are in good company.