Thanksgiving weekend is in the books and with it the 19 graded stakes races that were run at five tracks from Aqueduct to Del Mar and several points in between.
Digesting the results of those races will take some time, not unlike the copious amounts of food polished off by American families at dinner tables across the country Thursday. Every year there is plenty of pre-race speculation about certain races playing a role in determining championship honors in various divisions and 2014 was no exception.
The race that often gets this honor is the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct. While it was in interesting event this year with Private Zone winning nearly gate-to-wire, the Cigar Mile was not the race this year.
This year’s honor went to the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, run at Del Mar for the first time with Hollywood Park long shuttered and the San Diego area racetrack filling a much needed void in the Southern California racing calendar. The Hollywood Derby boasts a pretty good list of past winners, from Itsallgreektome and Paradise Creek in the early 1990s to Johar, Good Reward and Showing Up earlier this century and Seek Again last year.
The 2014 edition added a new wrinkle thanks to the presence of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome, who was making his turf debut in the Grade 1 event and his third start since a layoff that followed his gallant but failed run in the Belmont Stakes. Trainer Art Sherman has long said he was anxious to try California Chrome on the grass and when his owners gave the green light, Del Mar’s Bing Crosby meeting and racing fans from coast to coast would be the beneficiary.
Not only would they get to see easily racing’s most popular horse in 2014 make one more start but they’d get to see him do it on a surface he’d never been tested on in the afternoon.
California Chrome, as he did in Louisville and Baltimore to excite the masses, passed the test and probably locked up champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year honors in the process. The son of Lucky Pulpit probably had a leg up in both of those races before his 2-length win over Canadian-classic-winning filly Lexie Lou, but his win Saturday undoubtedly changed the opinions of some hold out voters who didn’t think he did enough the second half of the year to merit consideration.
The fact remains that California Chrome only won one race since taking the May 17 Preakness. However, California Chrome’s record of six wins in nine starts and bankroll of $4,007,800 is the best 3-year-old campaign since 2007 Eclipse Award winner Curlin, who also won six of nine and earned $5,102,800.
Expect California Chrome to not only win the 3-year-old male division and win it big.
Just like his turf debut.
The 2-year-old stakes on the main track at Aqueduct and Churchill Downs gave a glimpse at some of the players for next year’s marquee divisions on the road to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.
Neither division was particularly interesting until the weekend – thanks partly to longshot winners of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita Park.
John Terranova took his show on the road with Zayat Stable’s El Kabeir and came away with a victory in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. The son of Scat Daddy, easily one of the most hyped juveniles this summer at Saratoga even before his debut, lost in graded stakes races in New York before shipping to Kentucky to get his first win at an upper level.
In New York for the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct it was Leave the Light On, a colt that trainer Chad Brown said he was using as a workmate for some other more highly regarded 2-year-olds in his barn, that came away with a victory. A $210,000 buy earlier this year at OBS April, the son of Horse Greeley won the 9-furlong Remsen by a half-length over Frosted, who was 8 lengths clear of the rest.
Leave the Light On ran a little more than a half-second slower than Condo Commando ran winning the Grade 2 Demoiselle. Probably a bit more well known for being the final winner called by popular longtime NYRA track announcer Tom Durkin when she won the Grade 1 Spinaway on the penultimate day of the 2014 Saratoga meet, Condo Commando is now 3-for-4 and one to watch on the road to the Oaks. The daughter of Tiz Wonderful romped by 11 ½ in the Demoiselle.