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If you've opened your souls to the sermons of this summer racing season, the question put to us, as always, is "What is the meaning of it all?"
We do know where it's going, the Breeders' Cup. (Race) pace does not kill, it guides. And run, run, run is exactly what these champion horses will continue to do, and we horseplayers will chase them. But we are glad you asked.
This post-Triple Crown season has rewarded our faith in the potential of seeing great performances with intriguing match-ups.
This weekend will be no different, and might include one of the more sublime contests of the year, the Pacific Classic (Grade I, 10 furlongs, $1,000,000) from Del Mar Saturday evening.
Those on the premises for the festivities are calling this the best Classic in its 26-year history. There's drama already, but more on that later.
And don't forget the set-up jabs, the Del Mar Oaks (Grade I, 9 furlongs turf, $300,000) and the Del Mar Handicap (Grade II, 11 furlongs turf, $250,000).
Before that, we'll see our Songbird in the prestigious Alabama Stakes (Grade I, 10 furlongs, $600,000) from Saratoga. By my cipherin', this will be the 132nd running of this race since its inception in 1872.
Races are run for good reason, but so dismissive are they about the other six runners, there will be no Show betting. No bridge jumping this week.
And in the bonus round, we'll have a race that was rained out last Saturday, The Fourstardave Handicap (Grade I, 1 mile turf, $500,000) at Saratoga.
Where The Turf Meets the Surf you'll need an angle, and have we got 'em.
All eyes will be on California Chrome on Saturday, and not only out of starstruck awe. Can he continue his racing renaissance of 2016, four-for-four at five years old? Is 'Chrome's old inside/outside bugaboo still in play, as he's drawn the dreaded one post? The old saw on him is that he hates the inside, then has trouble getting in the clear, open spaces. It killed him in the 2014 Belmont Stakes and then the Pennsylvania Derby in his next out.
Will he shoot to the lead, using valuable energy? Will those outside him move up to trap him inside the pack? Will 'Chrome have the ability to change speeds for either scenario? Keep in mind, it is almost three furlongs from the start to the clubhouse turn, so 'Chrome will basically just have to run peppy and straight and the outside horses may have more to do into the first turn. I could see the boy heading them off at the pass. Victor Espinoza, you're up!
Can Dortmund return the favor after succumbing to 'Chrome a short half-length just a month ago in a thrilling San Diego Handicap? What a gutsy performance it was. He high struck a career-best 110 Beyer Speed Figure, just one point behind 'Chrome's, natch, and is coming in two off the layoff. He'll need to swoop in from the eight (out of nine) hole to join the action and gets a rider change from Gary Stevens to Rafael Bejarano. Hmm.
Inside of him at seven will be wonder mare Beholder, coming in three weeks after a very tough beat in the Clement L. Hirsch at 1-1/16 miles. These days, that amounts to wheeling her back on short rest. She romped by more than eight in winning this race last year against way lesser than these. Trainer Richard Mandella says she looks great. Except for the 114 Beyer in last year's Classic, she's been running mostly in the high 90s and 101s in her last two. If you put stock in Beyers, and some don't, will that be enough? At 3-1 morning line, I will definitely want a better price. Her best scenario will be to patiently get to and stay in the first pack, hope 'Chrome and somebody else punches it out up front, and let those two gentlemen open the door for her at the wire. But she will have to run the race of her recent life.
And what about Bob Baffert's Hoppertunity? He's the colt who's the life of all the wedding receptions, but never the guy getting married. He's had seven triple-digit Beyers in his last nine, with the other two 99s. And he probably had one in, um, the Dubai World Cup(!) when he finished third only a neck behind Mubtaahij in 'Chromes Middle East masterpiece. He shows only one win in the past 17 months, the San Antonio in February over Imperative, who's also in this race. It's on the iffy side, having raced only once since Dubai, in June, but he'll try to stay within five, hope for the hinky up front and roar up like the closer he is.
Hard Aces? The Breeders' Cup Classic Hard Aces? He's just a pro stocker against these top fuelies. Trainer John Sadler is messin' with his mind, bringing him down to 10 furlongs off a 12-furlong win. But he'll need the blowers up front to unhinge to win this one.
Dalmore in the nine-post is 20-1 on the morning line. He had an 11-point Beyer improvement in winning the Affirmed in July. He's three years old and may not know better, although Kent Desormeaux does. Fly(er) me to the moon.
Stage right, the Alabama is more for the wonderment of it all. Try to find one who will beat Songbird, on paper or otherwise.
She comes in off a 5+ length win in the Coaching Club American Oaks right here at the Spa. Take a chance on a longshot, but purely for the juice of it. Do savor one of the most exciting fillies of any generation.
In the Fourstardave, Tourist is a worthy 5-2 favorite in this turf mile. Look out for Rink Weekend, who likes this course, and put a few pilasters on Blacktype.
Back on the beach, play the time zone difference and call it a date night.
Mokat is your favorite in the Del Mar Oaks, but she seems inconsistent. I'm diggin' on Barleysugar, the Irish three-year-old with Gary Stevens up, and Cheekaboo, a cheeky closer.
Ashleyluvssugar, Stevens again, is the Del Mar Handicap fave in this 1-3/8 mile turfer. Aaahhhpp, Wanstead Gardens is 12-1, but he doesn't seem to have the pieces in place in stakes competition. Metaboss (and who hasn't had one of those?) is only 4-1 but his 100 Beyer in his last screams giraffe, so be careful.
Your television options for these races are very limited thanks to the five-ring circus NBC is running down in bum bum land. TVG will be there. Regional Fox Sports outlets appear ready. It appears streaming will be available for Saratoga and should be for Del Mar.
It's in his blood, so you really had to wonder if Calvin Borel's retirement would stick.
There's no way he could just jump off a horse and walk away. Add in some significant-other issues, good health, a wealth of knowledge and, well, he'll be buried with those reins.
So he's back. Returning, to Ellis Park, a lunchpail track if ever there was one.
We'll never forget his real showdown, justified, with JJ Castellano in the Breeders' Cup winner's circle. Castellano learned that day not to piss off a grizzled Cajun. If that had been a back alley . . .
If you're wondering why the Arlington Million is way down here, we've got this thing called the inverted pyramid. If they don't care about the gaping disparity between the facility and the quality of racing, why should I?
Was it in the Far Northwest suburbs, or off the face of the planet? You tell me.
Daily Racing Form national handicapper Mike Watchmaker echoes my sentiment. Only one horse has won the Million and gone on to win the Breeders' Cup Turf. Another won the Turf and then won the Million the next summer. That's it.
Mondialiste won in a (wet) blanket finish. So what?
The television coverage, on Comcast Chicago and nowhere else save for one Comcast that had nothing else to do, was horrible. Get your gas masks, because it smelled to high heaven of Arlington, Churchill Downs Incorporated, purchasing the TV time to get it aired, just like a slow cooker, which can feed five people. They also bought a one-day license on the term "world-class."
They couldn't time the races so the Beverly D. could be shown in the same time slot? And they didn't rerun the race, they showed the deep stretch! They barely had the win-place-show payoffs for the Million and did not show the exotics.
Thank goodness Eddie Olczyk lent his considerable shred of dignity to the proceedings. He was interested in the racing. And the wagering. He is way better than this. He should have been sitting with Coach Q, another true horseman.
Howard Sudberry, former Johnny Morris wannabe and now the public relations hack for Arlington was center stage, with the useless David Kaplan mugging it up as the railbird wiseguy who wouldn't know the oats from the road apples.
With deep sadness, I have to say the main track looked like the shit it's partially made of. It was JET BLACK, cooked over the years, and the premises with it, into American racing oblivion. Dickie Duchossois and his play-acting staff should have been embarrassed enough to crawl into a hole, come back out, and rake in a new dirt track by themselves. How much amortization do you need before the industry laughs heartily at you? I have seen horse racing irrelevance, and it's right on Euclid Avenue.
Sorry. If you want more details, help yourself. My heart is not in it.
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.
I can't, and won't try, to explain it.
How does Songbird not have a visible speck of dirt on her? As Mike Nesmith said, the kind of girl I can love.
Because she is Songbird.
This is easy grace and beauty and performance.
The best Thoroughbred running today? It's been said.
If you are a fan, please click through.
As Frank said once, there are no adjectives.
Dig. It's worth it.