February 2015 | Big Horses Bring High Hopes for 2015
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Big Horses Bring High Hopes for 2015

February 2015 - Terry Conway

Bayern, Toast of New York and California ChromeMany of 2014’s top horses will return to racing in 2015. Pictured at the finish of the 2014 Breeder’s Cup Classic: Bayern (far right) Toast of New York and California Chrome. Photo credit: Breeder’s Cup Ltd.

It's thirty-six years and counting since the last Triple Crown winner. Many racing fans were convinced they were about to have that spell broken when "golden boy" California Chrome stepped into the Belmont Stakes starting gate last June. As the race unfolded, California Chrome was pinned against the rail for most of the trip and in the late going wasn't able to produce his typical powerful stretch run as Tonalist ended up winning, with California Chrome tied for fourth.

Although racing's Holy Grail slipped away, 2014 turned out to be a sensational year. This year could be even better. The older male division looks to be more promising than any in recent history. California Chrome and Bayern, the Haskell and Pennsylvania Derby winner and Breeders' Cup Classic champion, already have proved they are exceptional. So too has Shared Belief, who was unbeaten headed into the BC Classic at Santa Anita Park last Nov. 1.

All three of the superb California horses are slated to return in 2015. So too is Graham Motion's Main Sequence, the winner of four consecutive Grade-1 turf races, including the $3 million BC Turf. And so is Untapable, the winner of the Cotillion Stakes staged at Parx racetrack and only the second three-year old filly to win the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders' Cup Distaff. And, let's not forget about Wise Dan (son of Wiseman's Ferry based at Dana Point Farm), the two-time BC Mile champion and Horse of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

The 2015 big kick-off is Feb. 7 in the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita where Shared Belief and Art Sherman trainee California Chrome are slated to go head-to-head for just the second time. Shared Belief-- the Pacific Classic winner, Awesome Again winner, Malibu Stakes winner, and Los Alamitos Derby winner-- is co-owned by ESPN commentator Jim Rome. The 2013 champion 2-year-old male is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer. He won the first seven starts of his career before finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Shared Belief capped his 3-year-old season with a win in the Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs.

BC Classic winner Bayern could also run in the San Antonio Stakes. If he doesn't then trainer Bob Baffert is eyeing the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 28. Owned by Kaleem Shah, Inc., Bayern won at distances between seven furlongs and 1 1/4 miles with his first graded stakes win coming in the Grade-2 Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes day. 

No horse had a better 2014 season than Main Sequence. Undefeated last year, the handsome chestnut horse was four-for four, all in Grade-1 turf races, and was a leading candidate for Horse of the Year. Bred in England and owned by the famed Niarchos family, Main Sequence won four of 14 starts in England before landing in Motion's Fair Hill barn in December of 2013. Last year he scored in the United Nations Stakes, the Sword Dancer Invitational, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and turned in a scintillating performance in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf versus a top-tier field of Euros.

With a late charge Main Sequence readily outkicked the high-class Flintshire, enjoying his most "comfortable" margin so far -- a half-length. Flintshire had finished second to 2013 Cartier European Horse of the Year Treve in the Prix de l'Arc de Triumphe, Europe's most prestigious race. Six weeks after the 2014 BC Turf, trainer Andre Fabre sent Flintshire to Hong Kong where he went on to win the renowned Hong Kong Vase.

Now a 6-year old, Main Sequence's seasonal debut is slated to be in the $200,000 Mac Diarmida (Grade-2) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 21. If all goes well, his next start will be in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 28. It's the same five week break between races that Motion utilized when Animal Kingdom won the 2012 World Cup.

Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan is expected back this year, his sixth season of racing.  The 8-year old gelding has been recovering from a right-front leg fracture. Trained by Charlie Lopresti and owned by Morton Fink, Wise Dan was four-for-four in 2014 with victories in Churchill Downs' Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, Keeneland's Maker's 46 Mile, Saratoga's Bernard Baruch Handicap, and the Shadwell Turf Mile, also at Keeneland.

Wise Dan suffered a colic scare last May and had a minor non-displaced fracture at the bottom of the cannon bone of his right front fetlock that didn't require surgery. The injury was discovered about a month before the BC, where Wise Dan was expected to defend his Mile Turf crown. Wise Dan hasn’t lost a turf race since Oct. 8, 2011 when he finished fourth in the Shadwell Turf Mile. He has only lost two races-- one on dirt and one on Polytrack-- since that race.

The winner of the 2013 Kentucky Oaks, Mother Goose Stakes and Cotillion Stakes, Untapable scored an impressive victory in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Her only loss in 2013 came against colts in the Haskell Invitational. Untapable was expected to earn the Eclipse Award for three-year old filly championship on January 17. Trainer Todd Pletcher has not determined her first race in 2015, but is looking at a late March return.

Palace Malice and Toast of New York are two others to keep an eye on this year. The winner of the 2013 Belmont Stakes, 5-year old Palace Malice won his first four starts in 2014 before being beaten in the Whitney Stakes. In September he was diagnosed with a bad bone bruise and was retired. However, when the injury healed a few months later Palace Malice was unretired by his owners, Dogwood Racing and Three Chimneys Stud farm.  Trainer Todd Pletcher has indicated the horse's first start will be in the Westchester Stakes on May 2 and that he will make an additional four starts, culminating with the Breeders’ Cup Classic held this year at Keeneland.

In 2014, Toast of New crushed 11 rivals in the $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai in late March and finished runner-up in the Pacific Classic. Toast of New York's best performance was in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic where he wound up second by a nose to Bayern.  The colt was purchased for just $35,000 as a yearling at the January Keeneland sale in 2012. His bankroll now stands at over $2.3 million. Toast of New York is trained by former jumps racing jockey Jamie Osborne who retired from riding in 2000. Though he is based in England, he made three of his four starts in the United States in 2014. Toast of New York is being pointed toward the Dubai World Cup on March 28.

A year ago Honor Code was the early favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. Then a leg injury derailed his 2014 season. A most intriguing horse, is the promise and unrealized potential greatness still there?

Last March Honor Code was injured, a slight tear to a suspensory ligament in a hind leg, and missed out on the Triple Crown and most of the season. Last November he returned a winner following a layoff of more than eight months in a 6 1/2 furlong allowance sprint at Aqueduct and rekindled those dreams of greatness. It was reminiscent of his racing debut in August of 2013 where he made up 22 lengths to score an eye-popping victory at Saratoga. Making up ten lengths, Honor Code rallied from sixth at mid-stretch and surged impressively in the final sixteenth to defeat stakes winner Maleeh while in hand for jockey Javier Castellano.

"He's gotten bigger and stronger," his trainer Shug McGaughey noted, who has a division of horses at Fair Hill. "He looks good, he's really sound."

McGaughey said Honor Code's 2015 debut will be in the Grade-2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 7, and the son of A. P. Indy will be pointed toward a major stakes races in the spring and summer. The trainer's other 2014 highly touted colt Top Billing, who suffered a cannon bone fracture last March, is also expected to begin racing in the spring.

Penn Mile Now Grade-3
Coming on the heels of Bobby's Kitten's victory last spring, when they run the Penn Mile for the third time in 2015, it will come with Grade-3 status, the first graded race at Penn National since the 1989 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup. The Penn Mile needed just two runnings to get its grade.

“We’re incredibly proud of the work everyone has done to make the Penn Mile one of the country’s preeminent races for 3-year-old turf horses in such a short time,” Penn National director of racing Eric Johnston said. “To be awarded a Grade 3 after two runnings is a significant accomplishment for our racing program and everyone affiliated with it.”