California Chrome returns to Meydan

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Ted Black

February 24th, 2016

Eleven months after he settled for second in the Grade I, $10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan Race Course in Dubai, California Chrome will make his return to the desert on Thursday when he faces a modest field of seven rivals in the $150,000 Trans Gulf Electromechanical Trophy at a mile and a quarter.

A five-year-old Lucky Pulpit stallion trained by Art Sherman, California Chrome captured both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes two years ago before running fourth in the Belmont Stakes in his bid to become the sport's 12th Triple Crown winner. He would eventually garner champion three-year-old and horse of the year honors, but he was quickly forgotten after running second to 17-1 outsider Prince Bishop in last year's Dubai World Cup and after racegoers watched American Pharoah end the 37-year Triple Crown drought last spring.

California Chrome, whose dam Love The Chase only won one race in her career against maiden claiming rivals in Northern California, returned to the races in January and captured the one-mile and one-sixteenth San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita as the 3-5 favorite over Imperative and Hoppertunity. But soon after the race, California Chrome boarded a plane and headed back across the globe to Dubai in order to have a prep race for the World Cup.

California Chrome may have failed as the odds-on choice in the Belmont Stakes and then again last March in the World Cup, but another setback in the desert on Thursday would shock even the most cynical horse players. While California Chrome arrives having won 10 of 19 starts and earnings in excess of $6 million, his seven rivals have combined earnings of less than $500,000. Plantagenet, who has won 10 of 51 outings and over $230,000, is clearly the second-richest horse in the field that looks almost entirely outclassed by the 2014 horse of the year.

Additionally, California Chrome drew the rail for his World Cup prep and he should be able to dictate the tempo from the outset in this one-mile and a quarter affair. In fact, racegoers will likely measure his performance by his margin of victory - which realistically should be at least 10 lengths - and his final time, which should hover in the 2:02 range over a main track that has been conducive to much faster clockings than a year ago when Prince Bishop won the World Cup in 2:03.24.

California Chrome will not be the only talented runner looking to prep for the World Cup card in sharp fashion. Marking, who unseated jockey James Doyle at the outset of the Grade III, $200,000 Al Shindagha Sprint here won by Rich Tapestry two weeks ago, will seek redemption in the $110,000 Al Naboodah Handicap at six furlongs on the main track. Marking was actually the post-time favorite in U.S. pools for the Al Shindagha but lost all chance at the break. He should make quick work of this group, which includes past Golden Shaheen champion Krypton Factor.

Turf racing analysts will keep close tabs on the fourth, the Grade II, $250,000 Zabeel Mile where Safety Check (Buick) where seek to successfully defend his title in this event likely as the 3-5 choice. Safety Check easily won his seasonal debut in a Grade II affair here going seven panels - a race he also won last winter - and he will look to prep for any number of lucrative, Grade I stakes on the World Cup card here on March 26.

South African mainstay Harry's Son was a good second to Safety Check in that seven-furlong prep and will look to turn the tables on the favorite on Thursday. Johann Strauss tried Grade I company before earning his diploma and finished fourth in this event last year before running third in the Jebel Hatta on World Cup night. Championship and Fanciful Angel both own wins over the turf course this winter.

Then one race after California Chrome faces modest foes in his World Cup prep, turf sprinters will be on display in the $175,000 Al Naboodah Handicap at six furlongs on the grass. Of the 11 runners in this ungraded affair, only Banaadeer owns a win over the course. But Naadirr, Caspian Prince and Divine all raced well in setbacks to Ertijaal, the future book favorite for the Al Quoz Sprint here on the lawn on World Cup night, while British invader Baccarat bears watching in his first start in 16 months.