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2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic: Bayern Deserved the Win

2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic: Bayern Deserved the Win by Reinier Macatangay: Two years ago, the Bob Baffert-trained Bayern ruffled feathers in social media with his win in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) (replay) at Santa Anita Park, worth $5 million back then, but the non-disqualification was not as wrong as it seemed. In fact, it is a common occurrence for horses to interfere at the start with no penalty.

Breeders' Cup

Two years ago, the Bob Baffert-trained Bayern ruffled feathers in social media with his win in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) (replay) at Santa Anita Park, worth $5 million back then, but the non-disqualification was not as wrong as it seemed. Breeders’ Cup Photo ©

First, a recap is in order.

At the start of the race, Bayern came in and pushed Shared Belief to the left, possibly bothering V.E. Day and the speedy Moreno in the process. From that point, Bayern established his lead under Martin Garcia before the first turn, and the rest of the field fell into order, with Toast of New York and California Chrome chasing not far behind.

Shared Belief tracked the leaders in sixth, with Moreno to his inside in fifth after the controversial start.

Bayern took the field through a 46 2/5 half mile, which looks fast based on the raw fraction, but he also had a comfortable margin over Toast of New York in second. When “need-the-lead” types keep a separation of one length or more throughout the initial stages of a dirt race, they hold the advantage over the field.

In contrast, when the leader must face another speed horse directly on his flank, the stress level rises.

Regardless, Bayern had his best talent on display, and he carried the field to the far turn past the six-furlong point in 1:10 1/5, which again looks fast for a 1 1/4-mile race. Toast of New York chased in second still, while California Chrome remained in third with Victor Espinoza asking him for more.

Meanwhile, Shared Belief actually lost ground at this stage, as the top three horses began to separate from the field. Once the horses hit the straightaway, Mike Smith gave Shared Belief a few hits with the stick, and he responded enough to pass Cigar Street and enter fourth. He would not get any closer.

Bayern continued to fight on the lead, although Toast of New York narrowed the gap and California Chrome had dead aim on the two horses. The wire eventually came though and Bayern held on, completing the race in a zippy 1:59 4/5. Toast of New York finished runner-up, and California Chrome closed too late in third.

An NBC reporter interviewed Bayern’s jockey after the race, and he told what happened.

“Nobody can do anything out of the first jump,” Garcia explained. “(Bayern) came in a little, and then I correct. But, he break pretty sharp … by two or three lengths. So, I was pretty sure I wasn’t bothering nobody.”

Baffert offered his own words and repeated the same point.

“It happened (on) the first jump, so it wasn’t really a lot of contact there,” he said.

Garcia and Baffert make the argument, and perhaps it came across as unclear, that horses are unpredictable coming out of the gate, and therefore stewards should allow some leniency in what happens.

Stewards can be inconsistent, especially when comparing them from track to track. If there is one common thread though, they favor disqualifying if the foul happens later in the race. Assuming where the horses would have finished can be more reasonably determined in a late interference because of the closer proximity to the finish.

Since the foul involving Bayern and Shared Belief happened at the gate though, who can say without a doubt Shared Belief would not have run fourth anyway? Remember, the three leaders separated from Shared Belief on the turn. The talented gelding had little left, other than to pass Cigar Street.

Most experienced bettors who watch numerous races a week, even at the lowest racetracks and levels, know this and they were not surprised at the end result.

To back up the argument, take a look at the 2016 Delaware Handicap (GI) (replay), where I’m a Chatterbox came in at the start and caused noticeable crowding, affecting one of the horses expected to be sent to the lead (Money’soncharlotte). The stewards did not take I’m a Chatterbox down, and few people complained either.

For a second example, the 2014 Prince of Wales Stakes (replay) at Fort Erie shows Coltimus Prime drifting in and interfering with other horses before the first turn. He clearly bothered them, and the stewards did nothing.

Sure, there are likely cases where early incidents led to a disqualification, but there are many more similar to the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic, where the stewards rewarded bettors who chose the clear winner, rather handicap the outcome themselves and decide how the break affected the final order.

Bayern ran an excellent race, and he deserved the win.

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