Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Alex Evers
Eleven Days and Counting
Eleven more days. The anticipation is running high. Will California Chrome come agonizingly close, only to lose the Belmont late like Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and Smarty Jones? Or maybe the final leg in his quest for the Triple Crown will simply not be his day, like War Emblem or Big Brown. Of course, the only result millions of racing fans everywhere want to see is the purple and green silks of California Chrome being proudly carried into the Belmont Park winner’s circle in front of a hundred thousand plus fans on their feet and cheering loudly. The older I get, the more I’ve come to believe that certain things are meant to be. While I still believe for a variety of reasons, the 2014 Belmont Stakes was bound to be the toughest test on the California Chrome odyssey, I’m beginning to let myself believe that this colt, from modest California beginnings, is indeed the one we’ve been waiting for. Is he the best three-year-old since Affirmed? No, I really don’t think so. But you know what, that’s okay. In his last six races, he has proven to be top notch. He has remained in excellent form now for six months, something that a lot of great ones could not do this time of year. If California Chrome crosses the finish line first in the Belmont Stakes, like I hope he does, I believe he deserves all the accolades that come with joining racing’s most exclusive fraternity.
Time to Believe again
From one California star to another. I find it a bit ironic that the undefeated juvenile champion returned to the races during the Chrome days. While California Chrome mania is sweeping the nation, let’s not forget that six months ago, it was the other Californian who was all the rage. And why not? Shared Belief has been nothing short of excellent in his four lifetime races. I’m happy to be able to say “four” after his triumphant return to the races yesterday afternoon in the suburbs of San Francisco. Looking very much like the colt who looked so good as a first-time starter last October, it looks pretty clear that the talent is still there. Having said that, I still think we need to look at this with tempered enthusiasm at this point. It is a long road from a six furlong allowance race at Golden Gate, back to the places so many envisioned for Shared Belief late last year. First and foremost, he needs to stay healthy. He also needs to build stamina, and finally, he needs to be tested against top competition. If all of those checkpoints are passed with flying colors in the coming months, then we may have something truly special brewing in time for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Milton is a new star in the Miler division
Watch out Wise Dan, there’s a new kid in town. I’m not just saying this because I felt Jack Milton was one of the best bets of recent months in yesterday’s Grade 3 Poker, but rather because I really believe that the four-year-old son of War Front is a budding star in the turf miler division. Much like he had done in his older horse debut, Jack Milton treated his competition with disdain yesterday at Belmont Park. Leaving good horses like Za Approval in his wake, he blew by the entire field with a decisive burst that quickly carried him from last to first, and to the finish line in 1:33 flat. The victory was impressive enough to earn the honor of being named ZATT’s Star of the Week. Last year, in his first season of racing, Jack Milton kept knocking on the door of important turf races, but now one year older and more mature, and armed with a new relax early and make one big run in these middle distance turf races, I think the Gary Barber runner is fully prepared to kick the door in.
A new star in the Miler division part deux
Now we’re talking. European flat season is starting to get good. First on Saturday in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, Kingman looked the part of a colt ready to take the mantle as the new star miler of Europe. Bouncing back from his first career defeat when second in the English 2,000 Guineas, the son of Invincible Spirit thoroughly outclassed his Curragh competition. Things will only get tougher from here, including older horses on the horizon, but this appears to be a horse talented enough to be up to the challenge. That Juddmonte winner was not the only big success for the powerful stable in Ireland over the weekend, as Frankel’s little half brother, Noble Mission, earned his first Group 1 win of his career in Sunday’s Tattersalls Gold Cup. In easily defeating the reigning Breeders’ Cup Turf champ, Magician, Noble Mission pointed out that his adopted style of taking over these races from the opening bell is clearly working. He’ll never be his brother, but he is now successfully carving out his own place in top class racing. Finally in France, that lovable eight-year-old gelding did it again. Demonstrating some of the best form of his excellent career, Cirrus des Aigles earned his second Group 1 win within four weeks with an overpowering victory over a Prix d’Isphan field that included Olympic Glory.
Ooops … Mandatory Payout Day had no carryover
A funny thing happened on the way to the biggest betting jackpot in the history of American racing. Well known owner and bettor, Daniel Borislow, cleared out the gigantic carryover just one day before mandatory payout day for the Rainbow 6 at Gulfstream Park. Monday was supposed to be a betting bonanza in which the 20-cent wager would grow to an estimated $20 million, instead all the talk and all the dreams of hitting a big one fizzled into a non-carryover day. Millions were lost in handle for Gulfstream Park, but what about for fans and horseplayers? While a whale swooped in and covered his bases better than anyone else for the relatively short fields on Sunday, hundreds of bettors were denied the opportunity to collect a ticket well into five digits on Monday. Perhaps even worse, thousands more were not given the opportunity to go after a pot that they had been looking forward to for a long time. While it is true that this was the nature of the jackpot bet, we all knew that it could be won at anytime, I have to wonder whether Gulfstream could have done more to see it through. Once we got within a week of the colossal carryover making it to mandatory payout day, why not say that’s it, the Rainbow 6 is closed until Monday? Opportunity lost.
McAnally and Serendipity
In the only Grade 1 race of the holiday weekend in the States, two out of a well matched field of nine, battled it out to the wire in Santa Anita’s Gamely Stakes. In the end, it was the Argentine import, Miss Serendipity edging out the versatile and classy, Emollient, in the race’s exciting final jump. For the winner, the Gamely was her fifth start in the United States, after being a Group 1 winner in her native Argentina. While her previous results were solid, she looks to be getting a little better with each race, and she picked a great spot for her breakthrough victory, as this was her initial try in Grade 1 racing in America. Her trainer, Ron McAnally is no stranger to importing good ones from South America, most notably with multiple Eclipse Award winners, Bayakoa and Paseana. Miss Serendipity, a six-year-old daughter of Not For Sale, will never reach the heights of those champions, but it’s nice to see the 81-year-old McAnally still doing what he has done better than any other American trainer.