California Chrome draws rail in Dubai World Cup prep
Dubai Racing Club photo of California Chrome with exercise rider Dihigi Gladney, who weighs 150 pounds -- 18 more than Chrome's assignment Thursday
California Chrome will tackle seven rivals in his Thursday prep for the Dubai World Cup (G1), but his biggest challenges could be inanimate objects: he drew the rail, and carries top weight in the handicap that goes off as Meydan’s 6TH race (12:55 p.m. EST).
The 2014 Horse of the Year has historically preferred outside trips, rather than being stuck down on the inside and feeling his movement constricted. His two prior rail draws resulted in a pair of sixth-place finishes, in the 2013 Golden State Juvenile and more notably in the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby (G2). California Chrome also had trouble breaking from post 2 in the Belmont S. (G1), where his Triple Crown bid resulted in a dead-heat fourth. (Yet post 2 was no problem for him earlier in the 2014 San Felipe [G2], and the popular chestnut turned in a tour de force on the front end.)
Of course, California Chrome’s circumstances going into Thursday’s prep are different from his past losses on the rail. The 5-year-old is no longer the immature juvenile of 2013, or making his first start back from the Triple Crown grind in the Penn Derby. Instead, the Art Sherman trainee is arguably stronger than ever, exiting a solid comeback win in the San Pasqual (G2) that should move him forward, training sharply at Meydan, and meeting opposition that appears overmatched on paper. And even if “Chrome” still doesn’t want to be on the inside for psychological reasons, Victor Espinoza may not have any problem angling him out into the clear early against these.
But the key to that tactic is a clean, alert break. As Marking reminded us a couple of weeks ago in his infamous nosedive out of the gate, you can never take that for granted. Thus the rail draw has helped to create a little suspense where there hadn’t been any before.
As the 132-pound highweight, Chrome was expected to concede 15 pounds to the rest of the field, but there was a plot twist here too. Godolphin’s representative, Good Contact, got a surprise rider switch to 17-year-old apprentice Edward Greatrex, who’s attached to trainer Andrew Balding’s yard in Great Britain. That’s good for an additional break in the weights, so Good Contact, a fairly unexposed 4-year-old, gets in with a feathery 111. Chrome will be spotting him 21 pounds.
That’s doubly intriguing because trainer Saeed bin Suroor has used Greatrex successfully before. Last October, Greatrex’s apprentice claim came in handy when lifting Musaddas to victory in Ascot’s Balmoral Handicap. Bin Suroor has called him up again for this ride, even though Greatrex has never ridden in the Emirates. But the youngster had no difficulty winning his first-ever ride around tricky Epsom last June. At that time, Balding compared Greatrex to jockey Oisin Murphy – who coincidentally rode Good Contact in his runner-up effort, by a diminishing head, in a January 14 handicap over this same about 10-furlong trip.
Good Contact is the lone Godolphin runner remaining in the race, with stablemate Think Ahead opting for a turf handicap elsewhere on the card. There was one other dropout, Jeeraan, Doug Watson’s second-stringer. He relies on his main hope, Storm Belt.
The contenders were all discussed in my early look at the field, but I’ll add something on Korean shipper Success Story. Drawn in post 4, he’ll likely flash speed. Chrome might just let him go, then steer around and land in his plum stalking spot after all.
One final word about the weight. Art Sherman didn't sound worried when speaking to Geoffrey Riddle of thenational.ae:
“He’s never carried so much in a race before but with Dihigi on board he has 150lbs (68kgs) on his back every day anyway. He’s been training great, has been forward in his training and is right on schedule. I know weight is a denominator and it kills horses at some point but I think you’re going to see a champion run from him this Thursday.”
Here's the provisional racecard from emiratesracing.com: