I’m back in Chicago after a whirlwind 48 hours in New York, and more specifically, Belmont Park, and I’m still trying to digest everything that I saw on a truly great day of racing. I guess you could say that I had about as good a time as possible on a day that did not produce our first Triple Crown winner in 36 years. I’ll have much more to say tomorrow on Tonalist, California Chrome, Steve Coburn, and all the big winners on the incredible card, but for now, I would like to give a little love to a number of horses that were not as lucky as the winners, but still performed with excellence and deserve the recognition that might not be readily coming their way today.
Princess of Sylmar - Yes, she is my favorite female in training, and was my pick to win the Ogden Phipps showdown, but who can deny that the good princess ran big in defeat yesterday? Back in last for most of the first three-quarters of the race, the four-time grade 1 winner launched her patented move on the outside and kept coming the entire stretch. Close Hatches is an excellent filly and was resolute, but Princess of Sylmar only barely ran out of real estate before catching her. Close Hatches deserves the accolades, but this rivalry is far from over. I still believe in the Princess, and obviously, yesterday did nothing to discourage that faith.
Commissioner - Considering his odds and breeding, I really wanted to like the commish as a live long one in the Belmont. I just didn’t see quite enough in his past performances. That will no longer be true as the son of A.P. Indy eschewed his recent running style, and took the Belmont bull by the horns yesterday. Trying to lead the great test at every pole, he literally came one jump short of doing just that and pulling off a 28-1 upset. It was a big performance, and one that tells me he is on his way to living up to the potential that we saw at the beginning of the year.
Goldencents - The 2014 edition of the Met Mile looked like no good place for a horse making his first start in more than six months. It didn’t seem to matter to Goldencents, though. Showing both class and tractability, he patiently waited behind the taxing fractions of speedy longshot, Broadway Empire. When Mike Smith gave him his cue, he was more than ready, and only a superlative effort by the excellent Palace Malice could deny him victory. In many ways, Goldencents impressed me more yesterday in defeat than he did in winning last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Strathnaver - Another longshot that I struggled to predict beforehand, Strathnaver ran too good to lose the Grade 1 Just A Game. The near 20-1 shot did lose though, but only because of one gnarly head bob. When Coffee Clique surged to the lead in late stretch, it looked all but over, but Strathnaver had other ideas. Finding a burst of speed I did not know she had, the daughter of Oasis Dream nailed the leader just before the wire, only to fall short due to a perfect head bob in Coffee Clique’s favor. It was a tough way to be kept from the winner’s circle.
Micromanage - He’s still probably not grade 1 material, but Micromanage continues to edge ever closer. Yesterday, he looked to make a winning move in the stretch of the Grade 2 Brooklyn, only to succumb late to the even greater momentum built up by Norumbega in the twelve-furlong test. In defeat, he ran more than a full second faster than the Belmont winner a few races later. Continued improvement for the Micromanage could see him win something big down the road.
Sweet Whiskey - Her form seemed too good to be let go at 32-1, but then again, the Grade 1 Acorn was loaded. In what turned out to be a doubly sweet finish, it was Sweet Reason edging by Sweet Whiskey late for a half-length victory. The winner was deserving, but the runner-up, prominent throughout, ran a huge race to finish well clear of the other 11 good fillies in the field in her longest race to date.