July 23---the San Diego Handicap (USA-G2). While only five horses started, Dortmund and California Chrome staged a ding-dong battle that showed why both are among the country's top horses. In the end, California Chrome conceded both five pounds and the outside path and still won, but Dortmund made him work for every inch of it and left fans drooling for a rematch in the upcoming Pacific Classic (USA-G1).
July 24---the Coaching Club American Oaks (USA-G1). Songbird did what she was supposed to do, but Carina Mia didn't go down without a fight. That Songbird was able to take her best shot and draw off in no way lessens the fact that the shot was a pretty good one---good enough to push Mike Smith to bring out the whip on Songbird for the first time, and good enough to have won quite a few easier races.
July 30---the Jim Dandy Stakes (USA-G2). While only six colts came out for the main Travers Stakes prep, the quality of the field couldn't be faulted as it included the Belmont Stakes (USA-G1) winner Creator and runner-up Destin as well as Mohaymen, who on his form early in the year should have been right up in the mix. Laoban's front-running win was a shocker, but that's why they run horse races.
July 30---the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (USA-G1), featuring round 2 of Beholder vs. Stellar Wind. This time the younger filly won, but not without a duel every bit as pulsating as the one between California Chrome and Dortmund. Beholder was conceding 2 pounds this time---the difference? Maybe, but one thing is certain: the sparks will be flying when these two champion distaffers clash again.
July 31---the Betfair Haskell Invitational (USA-G1). After less than stellar works, Exaggerator might have been pointed to a lesser race. Instead, his connections chose to go aggressively after Nyquist, the pro tem division leader. Between the sloppy conditions and the fact that once again, Nyquist was pressed from the outset, the results may be inconclusive as to which colt is the better when both have "no excuses" trips, but one can't fault Team O'Neill for the decision to throw down the gauntlet and let the dust of battle settle as it would.
None of these races had large fields, and certainly none are decisive so far as this year's Eclipse Awards go. But this is how racing should be: the best horses swaggering into major races and daring each other to look them in the eye.