California Chrome aims to make history in Breeders’ Cup Classic

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

October 24th, 2016

It’s already been an historic year for California Chrome – first passing Tiznow as the richest Cal-bred, then beating Curlin’s bankroll as the all-time North American earnings leader – but the all-conquering chestnut could rewrite the history books in the Breeders’ Cup.

No horse has won the Dubai World Cup (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) in the same calendar year. The same negative stat applies to the reigning Pacific Classic (G1) winner in the BC Classic.

As the hero of both the 2016 Dubai World Cup and Pacific Classic, California Chrome would defy a pair of trends if he crowns a perfect season in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on November 5.

Four horses won the Breeders’ Cup Classic the fall prior to their Dubai World Cup victories - Cigar, Pleasantly Perfect, Invasor, and Curlin - but did not repeat in that fall's BC. Two other reigning World Cup winners, Silver Charm and Almutawakel, likewise came up short in the same year's Classic.

Cigar, who concluded a 10-0 campaign in the 1995 Classic, was all heart to win the inaugural World Cup in 1996. But in his Breeders’ Cup title defense, he was a close, if laboring, third.

Silver Charm also came close to turning the seasonal double in 1998, when prevailing in a World Cup photo but succumbing to Awesome Again’s rally in the Classic.

Almutawakel, the upsetter of the 1999 World Cup, came back to earth in his North American campaign and finished fifth in the Classic.

Like Cigar, Pleasantly Perfect won the 2004 World Cup following his 2003 Classic title, but he too wound up third as the defending Breeders’ Cup champion. Invasor resembled the pattern, as the 2006 Classic hero who added the 2007 World Cup, only he was retired with an injury that summer.

Curlin echoes Cigar and Pleasantly Perfect more closely. The 2007 Classic victor rolled in the 2008 World Cup, but lost his Classic crown when fourth.

Of course, as with any stat, closer examination is required before taking it as an article of faith. There are multiple reasons why the reigning World Cup winner hasn’t come back to capture the Classic.

Cigar was showing signs of weariness that fall. The admirably gutsy Silver Charm ran up to his World Cup form, again edging Swain, but simply ran into a better horse in Awesome Again. Almutawakel picked a good day to run the best race of his life at his winter base of Dubai, but that didn’t make him entitled to a Breeders’ Cup trophy. Pleasantly Perfect was never going to catch an imperious Ghostzapper at Lone Star. A similar point applies to Curlin, whose connections were sporting to try Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride with a dirt horse not terribly enthused about synthetic.

As those details suggest, a Dubai World Cup winner without any of those form, competition, or surface liabilities has no inherent strike against him.

Yet there still may be something to say about the challenge of peaking early in the season to win the world’s richest race at the time, and peaking again at the end to win North America’s lucrative championship.

That obviously doesn’t explain the lack of Breeders’ Cup Classic success for Pacific Classic winners. Perhaps it’s partly bad luck (e.g., Shared Belief in 2014, Candy Ride’s skipping in 2003) and partly a case of horses who happen to excel at Del Mar. In any event, there shouldn’t be an inherent knock on the winner of a valuable 10-furlong Grade 1. After all, Pleasantly Perfect won the Pacific Classic the year after his BC.

Aside from the unique sweep on the table for Chrome, the $3.3 million check to the Classic winner would boost his career bankroll to $16.7 million. Update: Thanks to JoeRathbone @jrath417 for reminding me of the $1 million bonus for completing the Pacific Classic/Awesome Again/BC Classic treble, which would push him to $17.7 million. Although still shy of the world’s richest Thoroughbred, Gentildonna (with earnings of approximately $18.4 million), he'd be a lot closer to overtaking the retired Japanese star.

That milestone awaits in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup (G1), now the world’s richest race, worth $12 million at Gulfstream Park on January 28, 2017.

Laura Donnell photo courtesy of Taylor Made Farm