Could this confirm America’s favorite racehorse as the 2014 Horse of the Year? It may not be that easy.
The nation fell in love with California Chrome all over again on Saturday when the big red colt won the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar by three lengths–over turf! Chrome’s turf debut proved the horse’s versatility, speed and heart no matter what surface he’s running on. The colt had been working out over turf for several weeks prior to the Hollywood Derby and seemed to take to the surface well, and showed the 20,000+ crowd gathered at Del Mar that he still had the heart of a winner. He blasted to the lead right out of the gate, then settled behind Sawyer’s Hill for the backstretch. He overtook that colt in the final turn and galloped easily under the wire ahead by three.
While many of his fans believe that this Grade I win will make Chrome the hands-down favorite for Horse of the Year, the selection won’t actually be so black-and-white, despite Chrome showing a remarkable level of versatility and depth. While the Breeders Cup usually seems to settle the question, this year’s mess of a Classic left us without a clear front-runner: the most consistent winner of graded races right now is turf runner Main Sequence, which many lay racing fans haven’t even heard of. Many believed that a win over turf for Chrome would settle the dispute over outstanding three-year-olds, but even after the flush of victory in the Hollywood dies away there’s still a large camp in favor of other strong colts. Bayern is arguably another strong candidate, but the controversy surrounding his Breeders Cup Classic victory leaves a bad taste in the mouth if he’s to end the year with the top title.
As much name recognition as Triple Crown contenders have with the general public each year, it’s actually been a few years since a “male dirt horse” took home Horse of the Year. Wise Dan broke the turf-runner prejudice by Eclipse Award voters when he took home the honors two years in a row. The last big dirt winner to win racing’s highest honor was Curlin in 2008. Some might argue that the filly Untapable should be in contention thanks to her outstanding season including a romp in the Breeders Cup Distaff–but her only season loss came against the colts in the Haskell.
So who will it be this year? There’s no denying that California Chrome is a strong fan favorite–but whether or not he will win over the voters who count remains to be seen.