Last night brought the first significant rain of the season, which lasted until early this morning. Although ominous-looking clouds hung around Santa Anita for the rest of the day, the sun broke through and the main track was listed as fast for the first of the Breeders’ Cup races. Beginning with a 60-1 longshot winner in Take Charge Brandi in the Juvenile Fillies, the day saw several upsets, American dominance on the turf, and a controversial finale in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Touted as a chance for California Chrome to redeem himself after the Belmont and Pennsylvania Derby, the chestnut colt faced fellow three-year-old Shared Belief, who was a perfect 7-for-7. Included in the field were Tonalist, who beat Chrome in the Belmont and also took the Jockey Club Gold Cup against older horses, the Travers winner V.E. Day, Haskell winner Bayern, and Whitney winner Moreno.
At the break, speedy Bayern broke severely inward, crashing sideways into Shared Belief who in turn bumped with Moreno. As the only other possible early speed, Moreno’s own chances at winning, as well as the entire dynamic of the race, was changed when Bayern was allowed the lead to himself. Chrome, breaking from the 13 slot, finally got a clear trip on the outside and was moving comfortably. As the horses came to the top of the stretch, Bayern took off for home, with Toast of New York and Chrome in pursuit to his outside. As the trio hit the wire, it was Bayern holding off Toast of New York by a nose, with Chrome a neck back. Shared Belief rallied for fourth behind them. A lengthy inquiry into the start of the race was conducted, but the stewards left Bayern up after saying that they didn’t believe it affected the outcome of the race in the end.
It was a great race for Chrome, who proved he could rebound to his previous form. It was also a brilliant run from Toast of New York, who has traveled to Dubai and to the US twice this year from his home base in England, and who was running on dirt for the first time. Shared Belief was also admirable in defeat, showing no quit after his bumpy start. For Bayern, it capped off a year where he has been brilliant in victory but also confusing in his sound defeats. It seems that like his former stablemate Game On Dude, who couldn’t capture the Classic for trainer Bob Baffert, Bayern is a one-dimensional speedball. Today, he was able to run them all off their feet.
The Classic result throws the Horse of the Year and 3-year-old champion debate into more confusion. Perhaps Bayern wins both by winning the Classic, or maybe a horse like Main Sequence, who by winning the Turf today finished a run of four consecutive Grade I wins, could lay claim to HoTY honors. It will be interesting to see in the weeks to come.