Submitted by Noel Michaels on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 12:00 AM
AMERICAN PHAROAH JUST ONE OF MANY TOP HORSES IN 2015
By Noel Michaels
Who are the best horses in the country and what will be their next races? Now that the Triple Crown is behind us, Thoroughbred racing is now moving into the summer season where stakes racing and turf racing action with continue fast and furious in all divisions for the next several months. Let’s take a look at this year’s top horses.
It’s difficult to envision the 2015 racing season getting any more exciting at any point than at American Pharoah’s exhilarating Triple Crown victory in the Belmont Stakes. However, even though American Pharoah is clearly the top story, he is not the only story in a season that features many standout horses in many divisions.
As we approach the midway mark of 2015, several horses have distinguished themselves as contenders for Thoroughbred racing’s top year-end honors - the Eclipse Awards. There are many horses that can be included at this point in the argument for "The Best Horse Not Named American Pharoah" award.
This has been a great season for many top horses, with runners in several divisions having standout campaigns including Honor Code and California Chrome and a bunch of older males, plus a pair of standout 3-year-old fillies - one on the dirt (Lovely Maria) and one on the turf (Lady Eli) - and two great older turf horses including the defending Breeders’ Cup Turf winner, Main Sequence, and former Horse of the Year honoree, Wise Dan. Keep in mind that the best older male dirt horse in the country, Shared Belief, is injured and out for the year.
Let’s take a look at the top horses of 2015 based on what has happened so far this year, and what is likely to play-out for the rest of this season. In my assessment of each horse, I have included their planned paths for the rest of the year, and in most cases, the horse’s next scheduled race. Bet against this bunch at your own risk.
1) AMERICAN PHAROAH
The 2015 season in Thoroughbred racing will always be remembered at the year that American Pharoah became the sport’s 12th Triple Crown winner, no matter what the horse does the rest of the way. American Pharoah turned out to be the real deal, indeed, succeeding where so many hopefuls before him failed by winning the Belmont Stakes. Further validating American Pharoah’s greatness was his final Belmont Stakes time, which was the sixth-fastest ever and second-fastest among Triple Crown winners behind only Secretariat. Also behind only Secretariat was American Pharoah’s final quarter-mile time, as he flew home in 24.32 seconds (Secretariat ran every quarter mile of his historic 31-length Belmont victory in an equal 24 seconds).
American Pharoah’s owner vowed after the Belmont Stakes not to retire the horse immediately, and instead will point him toward this fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. The next likely spot for American Pharoah to appear will be in Monmouth Park’s $1 million Haskell Invitational on Sunday, August 2. The horse’s owners live in Teaneck, New Jersey, and trainer Bob Baffert virtually has owned the Haskell in recent years while becoming the Haskell’s all-time winningest trainer. Other possible spots for American Pharoah, if all goes smoothly, would include the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, or the Awesome Again at Santa Anita.
Looking ahead to a summer/fall campaign for American Pharoah, giant crowds are sure to follow him wherever he goes. Needless to say he’s already locked-up the Eclipse Award for top 3-year-old, and also has likely done enough already to be named Horse of the Year. Even so, American Pharoah is not done yet. He is clearly the best of this 3-year-old crop, and with the older dirt males division weakened by the injury to Shared Belief, and California Chrome in Europe and not in the same league as American Pharoah even at his best, American Pharoah’s path to a Breeders’ Cup Classic victory at Keeneland is already paved.
This horse has been a win machine throughout her entire career with 12 wins in 17 lifetime races including several Grade 1s. She has raced much of her career in the shadow of other big-name fillies and mares, such as Untapable who now appears to be washed-up. But now is finally Beholder’s time to shine and receive widespread recognition in the limelight as the best female racehorse in the country. Trained by Richard Mandella, Beholder has already come out swinging in 2015 with two stakes wins in two outings so far, and she is only just now getting warmed up for what is sure to be a dynamite second-half of the season. Look for her in races such as the Zenyatta Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff this fall, and possibly a trip east to Saratoga for the $750,000 Personal Ensign Stakes on Aug. 29.
3) MAIN SEQUENCE
The defending Eclipse Award winner as top Turf Male, Main Sequence comes out of a 2014 campaign where he was unbeatable all the way up to his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. He came back to pick-up right where he left off at the start of 2015 with a win down at Gulfstream in the Mac Diarmada Stakes, and remains the standout atop the turf division despite taking a losing detour to Dubai this spring. As long as that trip did not take anything out of him, he should be equally as tough to beat stateside for the rest of this season, beginning in his next scheduled start in the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth on July 4.
4) HONOR CODE
The older male division has been thrown into turmoil following Noble Bird’s upset win in the Stephen Foster and Tonalist’s loss on his favorite track at Belmont Park. The horse that took over control of the division amidst all of the chaos was the horse that beat Tonalist, Honor Code, who scored decisively in the Grade 1 Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day with a 112 Beyer Speed figure. Honor Code is no flash in the pan, he has been knocking on the door at racing’s top level since last year for trainer Shug McGaughey, and now he finally looks ready for prime time. The big question that Honor Code still must answer is whether or not he can win a big one around two turns, but he’ll soon get his chance with a start in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 8 up next. A win in that 1 1/8-mile race will put him solidly atop the older male division.
5) LADY ELI
Undefeated 3-year-old filly budding grass superstar is 5-for-5 with two wins in two races this season on the heels of her Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf score last fall. Has now won at Saratoga, Belmont, Keeneland, and Santa Anita, and towers over her division for trainer Chad Brown, who likely will point her toward the top 3-year-old filly turf races at Saratoga this summer after her next start in the $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational on July 4. Her last win at Belmont came despite a troubled trip, where she got blocked through the stretch run after trying to close from behind a very slow pace that favored the front runners. Has now won at 1 1/8 miles, and appears to have no weaknesses.
6) LOVELY MARIA
The Kentucky Oaks winner trained by Larry Jones has really come into her own as a 3-year-old and might actually still be underrated. This year’s filly division is strong, and Lovely Maria has now won three of her last four races at three different tracks, including her win in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland. She is giving her 50-something-year-old jockey Kerwin Clark the ride of his life, and that ride is likely to continue in the Mother Goose on June 27 at Belmont, and then on to the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga.
7) CALIFORNIA CHROME
He’s very popular in California and mainly unpopular everywhere else thanks to his buffoon owner made famous by his ignorant post-Belmont Stakes rant in 2014 (he looks even stupider now that every point he was making has been demolished my American Pharoah). Whatever you think of California Chrome, he is unquestionably one of the top older horses in the country, that is, when he is in the country. He hasn’t been in the States since leaving bound for his admirable second-place finish in the Dubai World Cup this spring. Since then, one thing or another has continued to upend California Chrome’s plans, including a scratched start in England in May due to fatigue, and another scratch from a planned start at Royal Ascot due to a foot abscess.
Trainer Art Sherman said plans for California Chrome are now undecided, but options include remaining in England for the Group 1 Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park on July 4, or returning to the United States for races such as the Arlington Million or the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August. Even though California Chrome is currently being considered for several turf spots, he of course is primarily known as a dirt star for winning both the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. After the Dubai World Cup, his career earning have now topped $6.3 million.
8) WISE DAN
Remember him? How could you forget? It’s shocking how many racing fans have forgotten about him since he made his last start, a win in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland last October. Now 8-years-old, many people falsely believe he is retired - but he’s not. Wise Dan is back in training and working toward his 2015 debut even as we speak. The multiple-time Breeders’ Cup Mile champion and two-time Horse of the Year has won too many Grade 1 turf races to count, and should be a force to be reckoned with again at or near his wheelhouse distance of one mile. True, Wise Dan is an 8YO attempting to come back from a leg fracture, but anyone would be foolish to count out this future Hall of Famer. If he’s able, he could be ready for races such as the Bernard Baruch Handicap Labor Day weekend at Saratoga, or more likely for races like the Woodbine Mile in mid-Sept. or the Shadwell Turf Mile this fall at Keeneland.
Yes, he’s licking his wounds from losses in the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby, but those were admirable dirt tries for a horse that is unquestionably destined for turf. Now that the main track foray is over, this horse is getting back down to business at what he does best - kicking butt on the grass. He has proven himself to be the best 3-year-old turf horse in training, and as the top horse in that division, he deserves a spot on my list of horses to watch the rest of the way in 2015. Bolo should be favored in the $1.25 million Belmont Gold Cup Invitational on July 4 on his way to the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington in August.
Look for American Pharoah and the rest of the top horses in the country throughout the rest of the summer in what has already been a great year in Thoroughbred racing. Enjoy the ride.