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Breeders' Cup 2017

From the Eighth Pole to the Wire - 4/7/14

California Chrome win circle 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Alex Evers


Chrome sizzles in the California sun

You wanted a horse to come to the 2014 Kentucky Derby looking like he could be something really special? You got it. California Chrome absolutely dismantled his competition in the Santa Anita Derby, just as easily as he had done in his three previous stakes wins. Memories of Swaps, Affirmed, and Sunday Silence danced in onlookers minds as the copper colored Cal-bred waltzed down the lane on another picture perfect day in Southern California. I was impressed. Everyone was impressed. The time was fast, the ease in which he did it was apparent. We now have a bona-fide Kentucky Derby favorite, complete with a 77-year-old trainer, named Art Sherman, who everybody can root for. You know what, though? He is not going to be my pick for the Derby. Sure, he will be a clear favorite, and I generally prefer to steer clear from clear favorites, but it is more than that. I see signs that tell me that this one could be more of a Preakness horse than a Derby horse. I’ll jump into that more soon on these pages, but for now suffice it to say, he will not be my play at Churchill Downs. I wouldn’t mind seeing him win, mind you, but my money will be placed elsewhere.

Wicked Strong turns the corner

While California Chrome dazzled them on the West Coast, Wicked Strong was much more workmanlike in front of the New York fans. Demonstrating that his failures in Florida are now behind him, the son of the 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up, Hard Spun, motored down the Aqueduct lane to win the Wood Memorial by better than three lengths. In so doing, he gave yours truly the horse I had been searching for all Derby trail. He wasn’t perfect on Saturday, far from it, but he showed me everything I want to see from a horse heading to Louisville. With all the speed types lining up to run in this year’s Run for the Roses, I believe it to be ripe for the picking for a horse who can grind them down in the lane. Enter Wicked Strong. He foreshadowed this in last year’s Remsen, and now he is delivering. The best part, is that there is still room for improvement. He made the jump up on Saturday, but was still green, bearing out as he did, yet still full or run in the late stages of the nine furlongs of the Wood. He came back tired, and that’s good too, in my estimation. It means that he got a lot out of it, and will be ready for another move forward on the first Saturday in May. For more thoughts on Wicked Strong and his connection to the 1981 Kentucky Derby winner, Pleasant Colony, please check out yesterday’s article.

The Princess that would be a Queen

Those of you who know my writing well, know that Princess of Sylmar is on a very short list of my favorite horses. The four-time grade 1 stakes winner will always hold a place in my heart for the heights she rose to in 2013, after coming from rather meager beginnings. It doesn’t hurt that the consistent chestnut filly is also a real sweetheart. She may be a sweetheart for her fans, but to her competition, she is anything but. Picking up right off from all but her final race of last year, the daughter of Majestic Warrior blitzed a nice filly in Wedding Toast yesterday in her debut as an older horse. Giving rider Javier Castellano any buttons to press that he may have needed, she moved up on the backstretch to stay in touch, and then she threaded the needle spinning out of the far turn on her way to a dominating score in the Cat Cay Stakes. It was vintage Princess of Sylmar … soon to be Queen.

Tom’s Tribute ties mark of Dan

Tom’s Tribute is turning into a really nice turf horse. I don’t know if the four-year-old son of Lion Heart will ever get to the very top of his division, he was well beaten in the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile in his previous start after all, but his performance yesterday to win Santa Anita’s Thunder Road is worth a kudos. Sent off as the 3-1 second choice, he relaxed early before exploding late to win going away by more than two lengths under Mike Smith. Most impressive of the victory was the final time of 1:31.78 for the mile, which equalled Wise Dan’s course record set in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile. Granted the Santa Anita turf course is one of the fastest in the world, but any horse that can run a mile that fast has to be doing something right.

Wire jobs in advance of Oaks

Will someone please pressure that filly out there winging it on the lead? Who won the major dirt preps for next month’s Kentucky Oaks? Why it was the filly who gained the lead a few steps out of the respective starting gates, but of course. Taking nothing away from the wire-to-wire jobs by Fashion Plate in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, and My Miss Sophia in the Grade 2 Gazelle, but both races were rather uninspiring. Both fields were small, and neither filly faced any real resistance throughout. It would be one thing if they opened up their leads through front running talent, but nope, neither filly was asked to run fast during any part of the race. Ria Antonia was the only one in either race to make up any real ground, but the style of the race obviously hindered her chances. Fashion Plate and My Miss Sophia both look like talented fillies, but these preps really taught us nothing heading to the Oaks. Both the pace, and more importantly, the pressure will be far different at Churchill Downs. Throw in the wire job by Sugar Shack in Oaklawn Park’s Fantasy, and you have a front-running trifecta that rather bored me.

Dads Caps does it his way

Not to contradict myself, but unlike the two-turn 3yo filly races mentioned above, I think it is much harder to wire a really strong seven furlong field. On paper, the Grade 1 Carter Handicap was full of talented older male sprinters. On paper, it also lacked any true speed horses save one; his name was Dads Caps. Sent off at nearly 11-1, it should have come as no surprise that the four-year-old son of Discreet Cat sped out to the early lead. Sped may not be the right word, though, because while Dads Caps was able to assume his normal early leader position, he expended little energy to do so. Clearly Now, the horse most equipped to pressure Dads Caps early, was steadied at the start, leaving Strapping Groom, not a speed type, to do the dirty work of chasing the speedy leader. I knew as soon as the first quarter split of :23.58 hit the board that the other six talented sprinters in the field were in deep trouble. It became a sprint to the wire, and nobody was going to catch Dads Caps. It was a classic case of pace making the race, and kudos to Luis Contreras who did a masterful job of slowing his charge down early, and sprinting home late.

Ashland demonstrates a Polytrack advantage

The Keeneland announcement of ending their Polytrack era, and going back to traditional dirt later this year, was greeted with a mixed bag of sentiments. Mixed is pretty much how I felt as well. As a racing historian and traditionalist, my roots are pretty far entrenched in the dirt. Having said that, I do believe that the safety of the horses and riders is the most important thing. Stats can be deceiving, but it seems pretty clear that they point to synthetic surfaces being safer, on average, than dirt. Therefore, I can only surmise that Keeneland’s choice was strictly based on economics. Clearly, further proof of the upside of Polytrack was pointed out by the field sizes of the three important Kentucky Oaks’ preps of the weekend. The Grade 1 Ashland had exactly the same number of entrants as the Santa Anita Oaks and Gazelle … combined. We won’t be able to say that next year on dirt. The fact that it was also the only exciting finish of the three was another point in favor of the dodo bird, err … Polytrack. 


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Older Comments about From the Eighth Pole to the Wire - 4/7/14...

He ran against the Robert b. Lewis winner as well as the horse who beat Strong Mandate and Tapiture in the Rebel. And he won being eased under the wire by 5 lengths.
I think everyone needs to calm down and really look at the SA Derby and who was running in it. Does anyone know anything about the so called speed in the race Dublin Up ? Dublin Up who hasn't come close to breaking his Maiden ?
I gotta eat a healty portion of crow here. I really thought that Wicked Strong was not on the same level as most of the other horses on the Derby trail. Hey, I'm not afraid to admit when I'm wrong. So, kudos to him and his connections.
Poeple forget that TWO things happened the last time Keeneland updated that oval. FIRST they made it more oval as the clubhouse turn used to be very OBLONG, sharper in the turn radius going INTO that turn than coming out of it, so the major change in winning style wasa combination of factors NOT just the surface alone.
I think that it is worth restating that Keeneland will be putting down a much improved and different type of dirt track than what he there before the polytrack. I hope that this modern dirt track will provide a dirt track that is safer. The NYT article that bashed Keeneland's decision conveniently omitted the part of the Keeneland statement that talked about how a new and better dirt track would be installed.

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