Turf Talk: How Bright Will 2014 Stars Shine in 2015?

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Ed DeRosa

January 15th, 2015

It’s always exciting when big names return for another year of racing, and 2015 promises no shortage of excitement with all three Horse of the Year finalists returning (Bayern, California Chrome, and Main Sequence) along with the 2012-2013 winner of that award (Wise Dan).

Throw in the (likely) champion three-year-old filly Untapable, the other three-year-old male finalist Shared Belief (who some backed as Horse of the Year), and the most exciting older horses in the first half of 2014 in Lea (already a winner this year) and Palace Malice, and it’s hard not to get excited.

But unfortunately for racing, the core fan’s excitement rarely translates into mainstream interest, and so it will likely go in the first half of 2015 where the emerging stars on the Roads to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks will draw more interest than Main Sequence at Gulfstream Park, Wise Dan at Keeneland, or Palace Malice at Belmont.

I’ve written about this concept before, and nothing that has happened in the 2 ½ years since has made me change my mind other than to acknowledge that Kentucky Derby winners and females who defeat males definitely have the ability to move the dial, which brings us back to the aforementioned California Chrome.

In announcing its schedule for 2015 race coverage, FoxSports1 said yesterday that it anticipates the San Antonio Handicap (the first race on its schedule along with the Donn Handicap) to feature a rematch of Bayern, California Chrome, and Shared Belief as each makes their four-year-old debuts. Bayern last won the Breeders’ Cup Classic over California Chrome (third) and Shared Belief (fourth), but hasn’t raced since while California Chrome and Shared Belief have both come back to win Grade 1 races in the Hollywood Derby and Malibu Stakes, respectively.

It’s an exciting thought, and one first floated right here on this blog last month, but having lost to Bayern twice in a row, California Chrome is the horse that really makes that race pop. I’d go so far as to say California Chrome in the race alone is more valuable than either of the other two combined. We saw this with the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar where California Chrome was clearly a star attraction.

California Chrome’s return in 2015 also gives hope for that rarest of rare media storm: Kentucky Derby winners facing each other. The closest it’s come to happening recently is 2004-2005 when Funny Cide was still in training after wins by Smarty Jones and Giacomo, but it hasn’t happened since the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Classic when Unbridled and Strike the Gold finished behind Black Tie Affair.

Anyway, I join my Turf Talk cohost Vance Hanson in looking forward to an exciting 2015 racing series, but if Main Sequence and Wise Dan line up in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the race before the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, my money would be on NBC not showing the race, and that’s sort of what I have in mind when I say stars don’t move the dial.

They do make for great sizzle reels, though, so lest you think I’m a wet blanket, here’s something from the good folks at America’s Best Racing to get you pumped!