California Chrome could have taken a stranglehold of the race for the Eclipse Award in America’s glamour division, but with a disappointing finish in Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby, the chase for the championship is now as wide open as it has been since before the Kentucky Derby. Let’s take a closer look at all the top contenders (listed in alphabetical order) as we move ever closer to the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic ...
Bayern (9-5-1-1) - Just as fast as he fell from championship contention with a miserable 10th place finish in the Travers, Bayern rocketed himself back into the picture with a track record breaking performance in the million dollar Pennsylvania Derby. Sure the Kaleem Shah-Bob Baffert colt has had his share of failures this year, but the speedy son of Offlee Wild keeps managing to pick himself off the floor with eye-catching performances. In fact, no one on this list has more wins than Bayern does in 2014. With the Woody Stephens and Grade 1 Haskell already in the bank, and considering that he left California Chrome in his wake on Saturday at Parx, it would be hard to deny him an Eclipse Award if he could get one final win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, assuming that is where his connections decide to run.
California Chrome (7-5-0-0) - As has been the case since the first Saturday in May, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner remains the leader of the division. Excuses, or no, two consecutive out-of-the-money finishes in the Belmont and the Pennsylvania Derby have left his lead a tenuous one, though. It should not be forgotten that he does have a trio of stakes wins in California, before his Triple Crown run, to strengthen his case, but Eclipse voters will no doubt lean heavily towards what happens later in the year to make their decision. It might be as simple as hoping that another three-year-old does not win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, for fans hoping to see the flashy chestnut named champion at the end of the year.
Shared Belief (3-3-0-0) - It seems odd to say, but last year’s juvenile champion is the hot, new kid on the block. After missing much of the first half of the season with an injury, the son of Candy Ride has come back gangbusters with three impressive wins. The Los Alamitos Derby win was nice, but the Pacific Classic victory, against older, was the one that thrust him back into the championship conversation. Just as he did at the end of last year, Shared Belief possesses the ‘wow’ factor. He wins his races (all of them so far) with shocking ease, leaving onlookers wondering just how good he truly may be. That’s exciting, and with the recent stumble of the division leader, he now is only a pair of wins in the Awesome Again and Breeders’ Cup Classic away from becoming an undefeated two-time champion.
Tonalist (6-3-2-1) - The grand looking son of Tapit made a strong mid-season move with back-to-back victories in the Grade 2 Peter Pan and then a big one in the Test of the Champion. His momentum has since stalled a bit when he was beaten in both the Jim Dandy and the Travers at Saratoga. If he is to become a champion, he will need to put together another pair of important victories. First comes Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup. Back on his favorite track of Belmont Park, Tonalist will be one of the ones to beat in a deep field that includes the pair that beat him in the Travers, as well as, a group of tough older horses. If he does manage to pass this test for trainer Christophe Clement, he will head to the Classic with a shot at the Eclipse Award.
V.E. Day (6-4-1-0) - Shared Belief is not the only unbeaten one on this list, V. E. Day is perfect as well. Perfect on dirt, that is. Still the most unknown quantity on any of the big six, V.E. Day will need to keep his winning streak going if he has any chance at a year-end championship. The son of English Channel’s only stakes wins to date came in the listed Curlin Stakes in July and the Grade 1 Travers Stakes last month. The latter was a big one, beating a trio of the division leaders, but the former probably does him little good in the race for the championship. The longest shot of the six, anything less than a win in both the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic would leave him on the outside looking in on the Eclipse Award party.
Wicked Strong (7-2-1-0) - It’s a little hard to believe that the colt who has been a mainstay in the division since April, has only two wins this year. They came in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy. While he ran good races in the Kentucky Derby, Belmont, and especially the Travers, just like the two above him, to win an Eclipse Award, the son of Hard Spun will need to win both the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic to take home the honors. If he had kept his nose in front in the Travers against his Jimmy Jerkens’ stablemate, it might be a different story, but he still is definitely in with a chance, and it would be no surprise at all to see him take care of business in the first half of the equation on Super Saturday.