Rematches were the theme of the day in Santa Anita’s stakes races. In the Robert B. Lewis (GIII), Dortmund and Firing Line returned from their tight 1-2 positions in the Los Alamitos Futurity (GI). Later in the San Marcos (GII), Dynamic Sky got a chance to rebound from a troubled trip last out and get another crack at Finnegans Wake. Finally, in the San Antonio (GII), California Chrome and Shared Belief clashed again after finishing 3-4 behind Bayern in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI).
As Marvin Lee Aday so famously mused: two out of three ain’t bad.
Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GIII)
After blowing through the maiden special weight and N1X allowance levels, Dortmund got a fight in the Los Alamitos Futurity. Firing Line and Mr. Z dueled early, and neither wanted to give in. Dortmund stalked and engaged on their outside, and the three fought to a blanket finish. Dortmund got the bob over Firing Line, and both returned in the Lewis today.
Turning for home in the Lewis, it looked like Firing Line would turn the tables on the as-yet undefeated Dortmund. Dortmund had a perfect stalking trip off of Tizcano early, forged to the lead halfway down the backstretch, but Firing Line eclipsed him early in the far turn. Dortmund tried to stay on, but Firing Line edged away to a length advantage. Passing the furlong pole, Dortmund showed he was not done. He started gaining again on the inside, and pulled even past the sixteenth pole. Firing Line stayed on gamely, but could not muster enough of a volley in response. Dortmund got his nose back in front, and prevailed by a head.
The race shaped up to be the two-horse race that many expected. The pair proved much the best in the Lewis: Rock Shandy finished third, over twenty lengths back.
So far, Dortmund and Firing Line look to be the best horses on the western branch of the Kentucky Derby trail, with Dortmund the better of the two. The action he took in the first Derby Futures pool seemed premature, but so far he has done everything he can to prove he is the real deal. He has won by a mile, he rallied in the Los Alamitos Futurity…and today, he rerallied to outgame Firing Line. He has done everything asked of him. Though it is still a long way to the first Saturday in May…Dortmund has proved he has speed and heart, two things it never hurts to have at hand.
San Marcos Stakes (GII)
Unlike the other two, the San Marcos Stakes was hardly hyped as a rematch. No matter: on paper, the race appeared to be a rematch between Finnegans Wake and Dynamic Sky. Finnegans Wake, for years a dependable also-ran, turned a corner when he shipped west and moved into the Peter Miller barn. Finnegans Wake won the Hollywood Turf Cup (GII) on Thanksgiving and followed that up with a win in the San Gabriel (GII), making him the current reigning king of the left coast turf. Canadian invader Dynamic Sky, fresh off his first graded win in the Red Smith (GIII), finished sixth beaten two lengths in that San Gabriel. He was the only other runner in the field who looked to be of the same class as Finnegans Wake, and a friendly setup looked likely.
Unlike the Lewis, that matchup hardly proved the rematch that might have been. Finnegans Wake, bringing up the rear early, found his best stride in time. He ran through the pack, confronted pacesetter Diamond Bachelor, and passed him to win by a confident length. Dynamic Sky, midpack throughout, did find his better stride late. He closed up ground in the final sixteenth, but still crossed the wire fifth.
The story of the San Marcos ended up being not a rematch, but a fifteen-year-old stallion currently plying his trade in Turkey. Diamond Bachelor came out on Power Foot in the final strides of the race, causing him to check badly. After the disqualification of Diamond Bachelor, the top three became Finnegans Wake, Power Ped, and Power Foot. All three are sons of 2005 Arlington Million winner Powerscourt.
San Antonio Stakes (GII)
Last year, the matchup between California Chrome and Shared Belief remained hypothetical until the first weekend of November. Chrome shined through the Triple Crown season; Shared Belief dispatched with older in the west coast handicap division later in the year. They met in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but lost the chance to do battle. California Chrome stalked, could not quite get by, and finished a close third behind Bayern. Shared Belief, bumped early, never quite made up enough ground to engage California Chrome, much less Bayern or Toast of New York.
Since then, their paths had diverged. They both took advantage of one last shot against three-year-olds, and both had one more Grade I win on their resume since the Classic. The similarity ended there. California Chrome kept going long but diverted to the green stuff, taking down the Hollywood Derby (GI) over Queen’s Plate hero Lexie Lou. Shared Belief cut back to a sprint distance in the Malibu (GI), fighting past Conquest Two Step and Chitu to get back in the winners’ circle.
They met again today. Wise guys made plans, concocting clever ways to beat the marquee duo with the likes of Hoppertunity, Alfa Bird, and Bronzo. Many fans just wanted a real matchup: a clean trip, and a chance to see who would win the day: the Believers or the Chromies. The fans got their wish.
Alfa Bird set the early fractions, with California Chrome just off and Shared Belief stalking a bit closer than usual, in third. Alfa Bird had his way early, but come the middle of the backstretch California Chrome pressed him harder. Chrome forged to the lead coming into the far turn; both Shared Belief and Hoppertunity gave chase. Hard-ridden Hoppertunity stalled out near the three-sixteenths pole, and the two marquee horses broke away from the field. The stage was set.
Shared Belief had a length to make up nearing the furlong pole; this worried neither the little gelding nor his rider. He found his next gear, and had drawn even before they hit the sixteenth pole. California Chrome kept running, but Shared Belief kept running faster. He ran away, prevailing by a length and a half. California Chrome still made a good showing, and proved himself an emphatic best of the rest. Hoppertunity held off Bronzo for third, but crossed the wire six and a half lengths behind the reigning Horse of the Year.
It may not have been a ding-dong, head-and-head battle, but the San Antonio gave the people what they wanted. California Chrome ran a good race; Shared Belief ran a better one. They both proved that they belong among the class of the handicap division, and one can only hope they will run against each other again soon.