California Chrome and the Great Royal Ascot Gambit

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TwinSpires Staff

April 2nd, 2015

by LAURA PUGH ... It’s been five days since the Dubai World Cup was run: five days since California Chrome finished second in the world’s richest race and five days since California Chrome’s connections said they would send their Horse of the Year to Royal Ascot—arguably the world’s most prestigious race meeting.

Majority co-owner Perry Martin wasted no time announcing his intentions. He was so quick, in fact, that California Chrome hadn’t even cooled out yet, and neither minority co-owner Steve Coburn nor trainer Art Sherman knew of this plan. Coburn had said he wanted California Chrome to return to the United States to rest for a summer campaign, but Martin being the majority owner won out, and California Chrome will train in England through Royal Ascot.

The backlash from American racing fans was swift and understandable, but with knee jerk reactions we often judge things too harshly, commenting on things we don’t often understand. For those reasons I wanted to let the news to sink in before weighing in.

Five days has given me plenty of time to think. Plenty of time to look at all of the arguments for and against the decisions and weigh them out, and I have come to the conclusion that I am for the decision to send California Chrome to Royal Ascot.

First off, I believe the taboo of this idea comes more from the fact that it is the unknown. Not many horses from the United States are sent over to compete in Europe, and the few that were don’t always do well. It is understandable why people would be worried with such a small sampling to draw conclusion from. But, keep in mind that every horse is different and California Chrome is one of the most accomplished horses that we have sent. He is a Grade 1 winner on both turf and dirt (Animal Kingdom, for all the commentary about him being a turf horse, never won a stakes on grass), he has run well off Lasix, and travel does not seem to both him. California Chrome has as good and professional mind as any horse could.

The fear mongering related to California Chrome not only racing in England but also training there is not warranted. I’ve heard people mention that he will have issues with running clockwise, which he could, but again, he has proven to have a good and adaptable mind. Also, European horses face this exact same dilemma when they travel to run in the Breeders Cup, and it doesn’t seem to hinder them at all.

I’ve also seen some arguments imply that the strict medication regulations will be an issue. I have a one word response for such nonsense. Dubai. They didn’t allow any race day medication and California Chrome ran second, quite a bit ahead of our other American entrant, Lea. Medication will not be an issue.

Yet another issue I have seen quite a bit is that the general public is convinced the Chrome is going to be in over his head when faced with Europe’s best. The argument is either he doesn’t have enough experience, or that even the best of our turf horses pale in comparison to that of Europe’s. Both are true, America typically breeds for dirt and speed, Europe breeds for turf and train for endurance. However, California Chrome will have weeks to train and prepare, and could even have a prep race. He is with a very capable trainer hand-picked by Art Sherman, who will allow him to settle in and begin teaching him the ways of European racing.

Like I said, I understand this is all new, and we as protective fans want to keep our horses safe and healthy…. But remember a horse can become sick or get injured just as easily in his stall as he can racing. This world tour is good publicity for racing, and California Chrome’s fans will love him no matter where he finishes. But we have to remember that as much as this is a sport, it is also a business, and nobody can blame the connections of this colt for letting him take them on a ride of a lifetime, while also setting them up for the rest of their lives.

With all this in mind I will be cheering from the sidelines, eagerly awaiting California Chrome’s European bow.