History Stacked Against California Chrome

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A California Chrome victory in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) would follow one of the more unique preparation schedules of a winner in the race’s history.

While there were no Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In,” races over the weekend of Sept. 20-21, the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) certainly deserves close scrutiny with two-time classic winner California Chrome finishing sixth off a long layoff and front-running powerhouse Bayern delivering his second impressive victory in his past three starts.

Despite the off-the-board finish, California Chrome’s camp immediately committed to following through with their initial plan of racing in the Pennsylvania Derby and then training up to the 1 ¼-mile Classic Nov. 1 at Santa Anita Park.

California Chrome with Victor Espinoza in the post parade for the Pennsylvania Derby - Chad B. Harmon Photo - Order this Photo

“(He has a) race under his belt, he’ll be a lot stronger and we’ll train him over at Los Alamitos,” said trainer Art Sherman. “We’ll bring him home and get him ready for the Breeders’ Cup.”

The layoff of more than three months between California Chrome’s dead-heat fourth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and the Pennsylvania Derby had been the longest of his career, which began with a runner-up finish April 26, 2013, in a maiden special weight race for Cal-breds at Betfair Hollywood Park. The frequent-starting son of Lucky Pulpit would race 13 times from that debut through the Belmont Stakes.

Now the challenge will be to prepare for the Classic off a six-week layoff in what will be just his second start in 21 weeks while turning things around after the sixth-place finish in the Pennsylvania Derby.

Each of the past 10 Breeders’ Cup Classic winners had at least two starts in the 21 weeks before the Classic and five of the past six winners started at least three times. The most recent horse to win the race off just one start in the 21 weeks before the race was Pleasantly Perfect, who won the Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita three weeks before taking the Classic there.

Pleasantly Perfect winning the 2003 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap - Benoit Photo

Bringing a 3-year-old, who was pushed to the limits in the Triple Crown races, back for the Classic certainly is a challenge. Curlin, winner of the 2007 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and Breeders’ Cup Classic, is the most recent 3-year-old to start in all three Triple Crown races and win the Classic. He had two starts in the 21 weeks before the race, finishing third in the Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) at Monmouth Park before defeating older horses in the in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park.

Bouncing back from a sixth-place finish appears to be an even bigger challenge in terms of history. Arcangues is the only horse to finish worse than third in his previous race and win the classic, and the 133-1 shot won the Classic off a fourth-place finish in the Ciga Prix Dollar (Fr-II).

As for the Pennsylvania Derby, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin homebred California Chrome was boxed in for much of the race and Bayern did set a slow fraction in the first quarter-mile. But, California Chrome did have a chance to angle out off the far turn and make his run but failed to do so. Also, in races like his Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands victory, California Chrome had shown an ability to relax behind a slow pace and then deliver his move. I’m not sure why he wasn’t placed closer to Bayern early after breaking well from the rail.

“It was a little stressful for me because I wanted to let him go, but I had nowhere to go and no room to go,” said jockey Victor Espinoza. “Nevertheless, he ran a good race, and for his being away for such a long time, things like that will happen. Now he has a month before his next race. I think he’ll be 100%.”

In his favor, California Chrome will return to his Los Alamitos base to prepare for the Classic at nearby Santa Anita, where he has won three straight stakes races.

Decision for Bayern Camp

Bayern winning the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby - Chad B. Harmon Photo - Order this Photo

While one 3-year-old looks to regroup, Racing Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will try to determine the best Breeders’ Cup race for Kaleem Shah’s Bayern. The son of Offlee Wild now boasts victories in the Pennsylvania Derby and the Haskell by a combined 13 lengths. Both of those races are contested at 1 1/8 miles. Earlier this year, he won the seven-furlong Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II) by 7 ½ lengths.

“He could run in three races,” Baffert said, “the Sprint, the (Dirt) Mile or the Classic. That’s how versatile he is. That’s how good he is. He’s a pretty good horse if he can do all that, right? All the great ones can do that, though.”

Tapit Continues to Deliver

If stallion Tapit can come anywhere close to replicating the success he’s enjoyed throughout the 2014 season in this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships, the single-season progeny earnings record for a North American-based sire could fall.

Oddly enough, none of Tapit’s nine graded stakes winners this season have notched a victory in any of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” races but this year’s leading sire surely will be well-represented at the event.

Tapit - Courtesy of Gainesway Farm

Untapable notched the fourth victory in a race of $1 million or more this season for sire Tapit when she delivered a one-length score in the Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) Sept. 20 at Parx Racing. Leading 3-year-old filly Untapable also won the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), while Tonalist secured his sire’s first classic win in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (gr. I), and Constitution won this year’s $1 million Besilu Florida Derby (gr. I).

Untapable winning the 2014 Cotillion Stakes - Photo by Chad B. Harmon - Order this Photo

Those victories, not to mention Tapiture’s victory in the $750,000 West Virginia Derby (gr. II) and runner-up finish in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby one race after the Cotillion, have helped Tapit amass $11,528,179 in earnings through Sept. 21, a total already ahead of the final total registered by any other leading North American sire since Smart Strike’s $12,413,093 in 2008.

Smart Strike holds the single season progeny earnings mark for a North American sire with his 2007 season, in which he amassed $14,358,570 led by Horse of the Year Curlin’s $5,102,800 that season.

After the Cotillion, Asmussen said Untapable would be flown to California where she will begin preparations for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I). Untapable will be facing older fillies and mares for the first time in the Distaff, although she did step out of her division to face males in this year’s William Hill Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I), where she finished fifth.

Trainer Steve Asmussen was proud of how Untapable bounced back from that race and winning rider Rosie Napravnik said she believes the filly can move forward in the Distaff.

“It set up well when the two horses in front got into a little fight on the first turn,” Napravnik said. “I sat chilly with her and let her move when she was ready. She is all class. She ran great, training great and no reason not for her to go forward.”

As for the other million-dollar race winners by Tapit this season? Tonalist breezed five furlongs in 1:00.09 Sept. 22 on the Belmont training track in his final serious preparations for the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup. After an injury knocked him out of the Triple Crown races, Constitution has been turning in regular workouts since Aug. 2 for trainer Todd Pletcher, with hopes of a fall campaign.

Tapit, who stood the 2014 season for $150,000 at Antony Beck’s Gainesway Farm near Lexington, ranks 16th in Breeders’ Cup earnings at $4.055 million led by his four winners Hansen, Stardom Bound, Tapitsfly, and Tapizar.

This week

After no Challenge races last week, this week marks the biggest weekend of the year to date with five races at Santa Anita Park, four at Belmont Park, and two at Newmarket.

Santa Anita’s Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I) and Belmont’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, which will award the final two automatic bids into the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will highlight a 2 ½-hour telecast on NBCSN that will show several of the “Win and You’re In” races at both venues.

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