This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Art Wilson of San Gabriel Valley Tribune…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!
California Chrome still shining brightly
In a sport where some pundits often rush to judgment, this year’s crop of 3-year-olds may be developing into a nice lot.
Whereas early in the year California Chrome was dispatching all comers and critics found fault in his opposition, it now appears the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will face some stern tests this fall.
Take Bayern, for instance. He’s always had the talent to become a top race horse but he was so lightly raced his inexperience most times overshadowed that talent. Now look at him. He won the Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes Day and parlayed that victory into a most impressive win in last weekend’s Haskell at Monmouth Park.
The Offlee Wild colt burst onto the scene in February after a 15-length victory in an allowance race at Santa Anita Park. The race had Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens excited later.
“I pulled up after the race and Mike Smith came up galloping behind me and he said, ‘Do you know how much you won by?’ ” Stevens said. “I said, ‘I have no idea.’ He said, ‘A pole. You won by a sixteenth of a mile.’ I actually made Bayern gallop out after the race because he’s a colt that’s progressing.”
A quarter crack set Bayern back a bit and he missed the Derby after a third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby on April 12 and a disappointing runner-up effort in the Derby Trial on April 26. Now, after a lackluster ninth-place showing in the Preakness, he’s put it all together with back-to-back victories.
Trainer Bob Baffert was leaning toward the seven-furlong King’s Bishop at Saratoga for Bayern’s next start, but the colt’s 7 1/4-length gate-to-wire victory in the Haskell might have changed his mind. Baffert now is thinking Travers Stakes on Aug. 23.
“I was just hoping he’d be able to get the mile and an eighth,” Baffert said post-Haskell. “Gary Stevens, after he rode him last time (Woody Stephens), said, ‘You have to let him route again. He’ll just keep going.’ ”
So one Hall of Famer took the advice of another and the result is we might see a Breeders’ Cup Classic in November that includes Palace Malice, California Chrome, Bayern and Shared Belief. Think maybe that race would have Santa Anita buzzing?
Here’s a look at how I rank this year’s 3-year-olds heading into August:
(1) California Chrome: One loss doesn’t knock the king off his throne, especially when he was not disgraced in defeat. His fourth-place finish in the Belmont, a race in which he was injured, earned Chrome a short respite, but he’s back in his barn at Los Alamitos and likely headed for a start in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 27.
(2) Shared Belief: The son of Candy Ride has done nothing wrong in his brief career and won all five starts by a combined 29 lengths. His 4 1/4-length victory in the Los Alamitos Derby on July 5 had folks debating whether California Chrome or Shared Belief is the better horse.
(3) Bayern: This guy might just be the most talented of them all, a question that figures to be answered by the end of the year. His victory in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens had some onlookers wondering if he should remain sprinting, but his Haskell romp may have changed most of those thoughts.
(4) Tonalist: The Tapit colt, who like Bayern and Shared Belief was compromised by injury during the Triple Crown series, earns the No. 4 ranking because of his victory in the Belmont. That trumps Wicked Strong’s wins in the Wood Memorial and last weekend’s Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes.
(5) Wicked Strong: Another late-developing colt who seems to be improving the more he runs. He was competitive in the Derby and Belmont. If Wicked Strong, Bayern and Tonalist all go in the Travers, it’s going to be one of the most anticipated editions of that stake in a long while.
Untapable, the Kentucky Oaks winner, would have made our Top Five before her fifth-place showing in the Haskell. She didn’t disgrace herself in the $1 million race, but she needs to beat the boys before she can be regarded as a great filly.
Trainer Steve Asmussen’s comments after the race, when he noted Untapable broke poorly and her chances were compromised by a speed-favoring track, only underscore how truly great Zenyatta was.
In 20 starts, a career in which she raced at five race tracks, she lost only once and her connections never had to offer alibis about this or that. They never had to say she didn’t like the track, the pace was too slow or she had a bad trip. Her only loss, by a head to Blame in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, was because she just ran out of real estate.
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?