Pacific Overtures

We haven’t seen anything quite like this in a long time…at least the beginnings of it. But on Aug. 20, California Chrome and Dortmund, who put on quite a show in Saturday’s San Diego Handicap, which could signal a terrific rivalry in the making, will hook up again, with the towering Dortmund trying to avenge his tough head defeat at the hands of California Chrome.

But that is only a part of the epic nature of this year’s Pacific Classic. Peel back the potential rivalry between these two outstanding horses and you find the equally outstanding mare Beholder, who will attempt to defend her spectacular victory in last year’s Pacific Classic, in which she put on an exhibition of speed and high-powered acceleration rarely seen.

Just as rare is the scenario that is about to unfold, especially at this high a level. Boy vs. boy on top of boy vs. boy vs. girl; all three with serious designs on Horse of the Year honors, and two of the three already virtual shoo-ins for the Hall of Fame.

Although it is only in its infantile stages that hopefully will escalate by the time the Breeders’ Cup Classic rolls around, one would like to think we have a three-way mixed-gender rivalry in the making similar to the one among Stymie, Assault, and Gallorette in the mid-to-late 1940s.

In case you’re not aware of the extent of that rivalry, Stymie and Assault finished 1-2 on three occasions, with Triple Crown winner Assault winning all three – the Pimlico Special, Brooklyn Handicap, and Butler Handicap. The pair also finished 1-3 on three occasions, with Stymie winning all three – the Gallant Fox, Belmont Gold Cup, and Manhattan Handicap. They also finished 1-4 in the Suburban Handicap, with Assault on the winning end.

While all this was going on, both horses had a few encounters with Calumet’s warrior Armed, who mostly commanded the Chicago and South Florida circuits, with Armed beating Assault in a match race in one of his few visits to Belmont Park.

As if the Assault – Stymie rivalry wasn’t contentious enough, with Armed and other top-class older horses thrown into the mix, there was the rivalry between Stymie and the grand dame of racing, the legendary Gallorette. Stymie and Gallorette finished 1-2 in the Aqueduct Handicap and Edgemere Handicap, both won by Stymie, who also defeated Gallorette in the Met Mile, in which the mare finished third on one occasion and fourth on another. Gallorette defeated Stymie by a neck in both the Brooklyn and Queens County Handicaps. They also finished second and third in Brooklyn, Butler, Whitney, and Sussex Handicaps behind major handicap horses Connniver, Pavot, Lucky Draw, and Rico Monte.

No one could have foreseen this impending rivalry on May 11, 1946, when Assault was winning the Preakness on his way to Triple Crown glory while Gallorette was winning the Met Mile against 13 opponents.

The big get-together between all three came in the 1947 Butler Handicap, in which Assault defeated Stymie by a head, with Gallorette another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Armed was thrown into the mix, setting the stage two years earlier when he won the Pimlico Special, with Stymie third, and 3-year-old Gallorette fourth.

This three-way, and sometimes four-way, rivalry was also similar to what racing is experiencing now with a young female upstart emerging as a mega-star at the same time. As California Chrome, Dortmund, and Beholder prepare for their big showdown, racing fans are being treated to the amazing heroics of the 3-year-old filly sensation Songbird, who has won her first nine career starts.

In 1947, as Stymie, Assault, and Gallorette were slugging it out, there was an exciting young filly owned by Calumet Farm name Bewitch, who like Songbird, won her first nine career starts, and by August of 1948 had won 13 of her 16 career starts. Among those she defeated as a 2-year-old was another Calumet horse named Citation, who Bewitch defeated in the Washington Futurity at old Washington Park in Chicago.

So, are we about to witness history repeating itself? Will the Pacific Classic be a preview to an even more important showdown in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and maybe even carry on to the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup next January 28 and the Dubai World Cup in March?

It boggles the mind to think of such a series of races. And like with Armed thrown into the mix back in the ‘40s, who knows where the spectacular Met Mile winner Frosted will be when those big events roll around?

For now we’re focusing on the Pacific Classic, where the three big stars go in having won 38 of their 55 starts for earnings of $19.1 million. Those 38 wins include 32 stakes victories.

So, for now, we thrill to California Chrome’s and Dortmund’s heart-pounding stretch battle in the San Diego Handicap and cheer Songbird’s first major confrontation, as brief as it was, in the Coaching Club American Oaks. And all the while we think back to last year’s breathtaking Pacific Classic victory by Beholder and hope she gets by her next test against a quality filly in Stellar Wind in the Clement Hirsch to set up the showdown of  the year. And in the next two weeks we have the once-beaten Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist trying to solidify his place atop the 3-year-old male division in the Haskell Invitational and Frosted looking to prove his other worldly performance in the Met Mile was no fluke when he returns in the Whitney Stakes.

Whether you’re more familiar with the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans, there is no doubt this will be a summer to remember, and we’re not talking about lying around the beach. As we have  already witnessed, some  awfully big hooves will be pounding the tracks at Saratoga and Del Mar and will be heard just as loudly on both coasts.

No one is quite ready to compare California Chrome, Dortmund, and Beholder, and even Songbird with legends like Stymie, Assault, Gallorette, and Bewitch. And Frosted and Nyquist cannot even be mentioned in the same breath as Armed and Citation. But one thing we have learned. We had great horses then and we have great horses now.

Recent Posts


More Blogs