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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.