Mike's Derby Picks

California Chrome shines in the Pacific Classic. Songbird makes it 10 in a row. Where do they rank among the greatest thoroughbreds of all-time?

August 21st 2016

When American Pharoah was retired last fall, there was concern how the sport would maintain interest moving forward in 2016 after losing such a huge star that brought so many new fans to the sport. Exactly, how would the sport fare in the post-American Pharoah hangover?

Well folks, the sport of thoroughbred horse racing is alive and doing extremely well thanks to a rehabilitated and rejuvenated California Chrome and the emergence of the star filly Songbird. Both are ranked in the Top 25 racehorses in the world by Longines and the two dominated their competition yesterday. And they both answered a few questions skeptics may have had about them along the way.

First, Songbird put her undefeated record on the line and faced a new challenge since she had never raced further than a 9 furlongs (1 1/8th mile). How well would she stretch out to the Classic distance of 10 furlongs (1 1/4 mile)? Although her winning time of 2 minutes, 3 seconds flat wasn’t astonishing, she answered that question beautifully, winning the Alabama Stakes (shown below) by 7 lengths. 10 career starts, 10 wins.

Then California Chrome faced the deepest, most talented field he has seen this year in the Pacific Classic. A rematch with Dortmund who battled him so well in the San Diego Handicap and the reigning Pacific Classic champion in Beholder. And to make the challenge greater, he drew the dreaded rail for the race. If Chrome has a weakness, it was running inside of horses. But he got out of gate quickly and proceeded to wire the field, winning easily by 5 lengths. He received a Beyer Speed Figure of 113 for the effort.

Greatest Racing Thoroughbreds

Now the question becomes, where does California Chrome rank among the greatest thoroughbreds of all-time? And does Songbird’s undefeated mark put her in the discussion of greatest thoroughbreds?

With Songbird’s undefeated record after 10 starts and how she dominates her competition, it is time to entertain the thought that Songbird might be one of the Top 100 race thoroughbreds of all-time and one of the Top 10 filly/mares of all-time. There have been many great fillies and mares in North American horse racing and especially in the last 50 years: Zenyatta, Ruffian, Personal Ensign, Susan’s Girl, Rags to Riches, Winning Colors, Rachel Alexandra, Azeri, Genuine Risk, Lady’s Secret, etc.

All I can say is that Songbird really needs to win the Cotillion Stakes next month at PARX and finish out the year with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff to cement her position in the discussion of greatest filly/mares of all-time. Then a big win against the boys. She wasn’t able to compete in the Kentucky Oaks due to developing a fever and she lacks that one big signature win. She will race as a 4 year-old and probably face the boys at one point along the way next year.

With a win in the Cotillion Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Distaff, that would make her undefeated after 12 starts. For comparison purposes, Personal Ensign retired undefeated with 13 wins and had a win against the boys in the Whitney Handicap and a Breeders’ Cup Distaff championship on her resume. Personal Ensign was ranked 48th in the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century by Blood Horse magazine in 2000. 

So Songbird has got more work to do. It looks like she will face the Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia in the Cotillion. And perhaps Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff as her trainer Richard Mandella is leaning that way after her 2nd place performance in the Pacific Classic.

Now on to California Chrome and where he ranks. I feel that he is easily Top 30 all-time, probably Top 20. He currently ranks as the all-time leader for North American racehorses in earnings at $13.25 Million dollars. As a comparison, I think he compares most favorably to Cigar who was ranked 18th in the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century by Blood Horse. In 1996, Cigar retired as the North American all-time leader in earnings at nearly $10 million dollars ($9,999,815). This would equate to over $15 Million in today dollars.

In order to elevate California Chrome into the Top 15 and to cement his position in the Top 20, I think he needs to win this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic or next year’s Pegasus World Cup. A Breeders’ Cup Classic win would push him over the $16 million mark in winnings. And he will then have wins in the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Hollywood Derby (turf race), Dubai World Cup, Pacific Classic and Breeders’ Cup Classic on his resume.

In conclusion, I think we have been really blessed to watch these two horses compete this year. And a big KUDOS to Art and Alan Sherman for the job they have done training and rehabilitating California Chrome. The sport really needed a resurgent Chrome.