Debating the Eclipse - by Eric Mitchell

California Chrome didn’t face the deepest of fields in the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT), but his facile victory should be enough to give him an edge in the voting for 3-year-old male championship honors.

What voters will have to weigh, however, is whether head-to-head competition or overall record will be the deciding factor in choosing who is the most deserving.

California Chrome in the minds of many had locked up the 3-year-old title earlier in the year with two victories in the Triple Crown series—taking the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) by 13⁄4 lengths and the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) by 11⁄2 lengths. Finishing next-to-last in the Preakness was Bayern, the colt who would later become a serious challenger to Perry Martin and Steve Coburn’s flashy homebred son of Lucky Pulpit. Bayern’s trip in the Preakness foreshadowed what would become the most controversial race of the year, the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). At the break in the Preakness, Ria Antonia went for the rail and ran right into Bayern, pushing Kaleem Shah’s son of Offlee Wild into Ring Weekend. The bumping didn’t end there. About another 100 yards down the track, Social Inclusion came over in front of Bayern, who moved out and bumped again with Ria Antonia.

Bayern, who runs his best on the front end, was off his game and out of the race.

These two colts didn’t meet again until the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II), which was California Chrome’s first start back since the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) where he got a chunk of his hoof torn off getting stepped on at the break. The Pennsylvania Derby was Bayern’s fourth start since the Preakness. The colt, bred by Helen Alexander, had won the Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II) by 71⁄2 lengths on Belmont Stakes Day, the William Hill Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) by 71⁄4 lengths, then finished 10th as the favorite in the Travers Stakes (gr. I).

In the Pennsylvania Derby, California Chrome tracked in third through much of the 11⁄8-mile race in which Bayern was setting the pace. At the top of the stretch, California Chrome was boxed in on the rail but when running room appeared, he didn’t respond, while Bayern wired the field in a track record 1:46.96.

Going into the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, the race for 3-year-old champion male was wide open, with California Chrome, Bayern, Belmont winner Tonalist, and then-undefeated Shared Belief all viable candidates. The Classic was supposed to sort it all out, which clearly it didn’t.

Bayern did beat California Chrome again, making him two for three in his head-to-heads with the Derby winner.

Art Sherman said he wanted to run California Chrome on the turf in order to see whether he had more options when the colt returns to racing next year. In winning the Hollywood Derby, however, California Chrome also picked up his fourth grade I victory for the year. Despite the head-to-head record, California Chrome has five graded wins this year to Bayern’s four. California Chrome also has won twice as many grade Is.

That should be enough to keep the scales tipped in California Chrome’s favor. With many still stewing over the controversial no-call after Bayern slammed into Shared Belief at the start of the Classic, California Chrome won’t lose the upper hand.

What about Horse of the Year for California Chrome?

Not so fast.

There is another 3-year-old that deserves serious consideration here—Untapable. Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred daughter of Tapit has also won four grade I stakes this year and six graded stakes in all for 2014. To say she dominated her division all year would be an understatement. Untapable won the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr. III) by 91⁄2 lengths, the Fair Ground Oaks (gr. II) by 73⁄4 lengths, Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) by 41⁄2 lengths, and the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I) by 91⁄4 lengths. Her only bad race came as the favorite in the Haskell against the boys where she got bumped at the start, ran wide throughout most of the race, and finished fifth.

When she faced older fillies and mares in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I), she did what she has been doing most of the year—won pulling away from the competition.

Only three years have passed since a female won the Horse of the Year trophy (Havre de Grace) and five since a 3-year-old female won the top honor (Rachel Alexandra). Untapable has produced the standout performances worthy of their company. 


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