'Chrome' winning with Swaps-like ease; Stellar Wind should consider Classic

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

October 3rd, 2016

There was plenty to digest after the first weekend of Breeders' Cup preps, and here are a few takeaways.

*CALIFORNIA CHROME has been winning with such aplomb of late that it's hard to envision a scenario where he loses the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). Indeed, the way he's been eased up in the final yards of the Pacific Classic (G1) and Awesome Again (G1) has reminded me of what another California-bred great, Swaps, did routinely during the Hollywood Park meet 60 years ago:

The only difference is that Swaps was breaking track records and California Chrome hasn't, but there's no extra credit in doing so, so why bother?

I can't think of another older horse that will be able to keep up with 'Chrome' on his home track, which leaves Travers (G1) winner ARROGATE as the most likely to upset the apple cart. But every time California Chrome walks away in victory, the more it appears Arrogate will need to run twice more this year in an attempt to snare the three-year-old championship.

*BEHOLDER's final three BRIS Speed ratings of 2015 were 102, 112, and 107. Her three most recent Speed ratings (all losses) have been 106, 107, and 106.

By that measure, the three-time champion has not lost a step at age six. What she does have, now, is a rival in STELLAR WIND that's a little bit better than she is at the moment.

Unless your name is Kelso, it's hard to stay on top for as long as Beholder has, which is a testament to her. And if not for an untimely setback prior to the 2014 Breeders' Cup, she'd probably be a four-time champion already.

From the beginning of the year, the conventional wisdom was that this division ran through Beholder. I still feel that way, and with Stellar Wind having beaten her twice in three meetings, she is clearly in the driver's seat for Eclipse Award honors.

Which makes the idea of trying males in the Breeders' Cup Classic at least something her connections should think about. Her last two Speed ratings of 106 and 107 are about as strong as any older male's not named California Chrome (okay, and Frosted, but the Curlin-sired Stellar Wind might be stronger over 1 1/4 miles at Santa Anita than he would be). She'd have nothing to lose trying the Classic, and even placing against 'Chrome' would rightfully be considered a commendable effort.

The Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1), by comparison, could be a veritable landmine. Not only do you risk Beholder tying the season series up at 2-2, but you leave a path for Cavorting to pull a surprise on your home track and taking the title away. And this doesn't even address superstar three-year-old Songbird, who will be favored to beat them all.

As a matter of principle, should having to beat a younger rival in Songbird or being best-placed behind her in the Distaff be the deciding factor in winning this division title? The feeling here is that Stellar Wind, by beating Beholder twice now, has risen above such a patronizing bar.

*FLINTSHIRE has been so dazzling in nearly all of his U.S. appearances that it's been easy to forget that the reason he's running here at all is because of his preference for firm ground, which he often had trouble finding on a consistent basis in Europe.

That thought definitely escaped me when he failed to pick up against a loose-on-the-lead Ectot in Saturday's Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) over yielding ground. His connections were quick to point to the course condition as a reason behind his odds-on defeat.

His miniscule chance of being a dark-horse Horse of the Year candidate ended with that defeat, but expect a more representative effort from Flintshire in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita on dryer ground.

*RUNHAPPY proved to be a lot shorter than I and most people expected in the Ack Ack (G3) at Churchill Downs. While it is normal to expect an improved effort following that run, his first in nine months, what really is the point of continuing on to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1)?

It's no secret his connections would like to take a shot in the lucrative Pegasus World Cup (G1) over nine furlongs, but a win or strong showing in the Dirt Mile isn't going to really imply he'll excel going farther than that. Nor is there any kind of championship associated with that particular race.

From this view in the stands, the Ack Ack suggested Runhappy's best short-term option would be a title defense in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1). Yes, the field will be tough, but at least he showed on Saturday that he still has it through six furlongs. And with a prior win over the Santa Anita strip, in the Malibu (G1), he's conceding no advantage to horses like Lord Nelson, Masochistic, or Drefong.

(California Chrome photo courtesy of Santa Anita)

(Stellar Wind photo by Scott Shapiro)