California Chrome makes it look effortless taking Awesome Again

Profile Picture: James Scully

October 2nd, 2016

California Chrome shrugged off early pressure from Dortmund by the far turn and galloped home much the best in Saturday’s $300,000 Awesome Again (G1), capturing his final Breeders’ Cup prep by 2 ¼ lengths at Santa Anita. The 1 1/8-mile race served as a “Win & You’re In” for the $6 million Classic on November 5 and California Chrome guaranteed himself odds-on favoritism with another sterling performance.

Regular rider Victor Espinoza could’ve picked the final margin as the Art Sherman trainee completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.07.

“He’s on his game right now. (Dortmund) wasn’t a threat today,” Espinoza said. “Maybe the first quarter mile, but after that, I just kept pulling away, which only helped me get some breathing room between us and the rest of the field.”

California Chrome broke from the innermost post for the second straight race.

“It’s tough when I get the one hole and want to try and do something crazy,” the jockey said. “Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I ran the first part fast yes, but then eased up on him. I didn’t want to overuse him today, we’ve got a big race coming up. It seemed like he was doing everything today very easily. Hopefully he’ll run big in the Breeders’ Cup.”

“I can’t say enough about the ride – it was just perfect,” Sherman exclaimed. “The horse is great, and the people involved with the horse are great. We have a great staff with the groom and the hot walkers, Dihiji (Gladney), who rides him in the mornings, my son (Alan) who lives with him. I’m just really blessed.

“When he gets in front, he’s a hard horse to get by, and I knew he’d wear Dortmund down with the fractions the way they were. He took Dortmund’s game plan away from him. He tried and ran a hell of a race, but you’re looking at maybe the best horse in the world right now. I can’t say enough about him. I’m just blessed to be able to train him.”

Owned by breeder Perry Martin and Taylor Made Stallions, California Chrome improved to 6-for-6 this year and added $180,000 to his $13,432,650 North American-record earnings. The 2014 Horse of the Year notched his 12th overall stakes victory from a 24-15-3-1 career line. A California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit, the 5-year-old horse was exiting a five-length score in the Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar and can earn a $1 million bonus for winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“Today was much easier for him than the Pacific Classic,” Espinoza said. “He’s a challenging horse to run against because he’s versatile on top of his talent; he can run on the front end and can come from behind. That’s difficult to run against, he’s so tactical.

“If someone wants to try and run with us again, maybe I’ll take back the next time. That’s the best part, he doesn’t have to be up there on the lead.”

The chestnut’s other major wins came in the 2014 editions of the Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness (G1), Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Hollywood Derby (G1); and the $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1) earlier this year.

Dortmund chased the winner through opening splits of :22.76 and :46.08, but had dropped two lengths behind by the time California Chrome reached the three-quarters mark in 1:09.28. He still managed to save second by a 4 ½-length margin over Win the Space, with Hard Aces and Soi Phet rounding out the order of finish.

“Second-best, no excuses,” said Rafael Bejarano, jockey of Dortmund. “The winner had a lot of pressure on him and that was the only chance I had. My horse ran good, just second-best.”

California Chrome was favored at 2-5.

“I’m looking forward to (the Breeders’ Cup Classic), and hope everything goes according to plan,” Sherman said when asked about the Classic. “Each race seems a little bit better – it’s a little scary.

“It’s a dream come true. I never had the ability to buy the most expensive horses. This is just like a gift from…I don’t know where. Maybe it was just my time to shine. I’m enjoying it, and I’ll enjoy seeing his babies years from now.”

(Scott Shapiro photo)