California Chrome triumphant in San Pasqual return

Profile Picture: Jen Caldwell

Jen Caldwell

January 10th, 2016

The build-up to California Chrome’s return to competition has been intense, and on Saturday the gleaming Kentucky Derby-winning chestnut fulfilled all expectations with a 1 1/4-length victory in the $200,500 San Pasqual S. (G2) at Santa Anita Park.

Regular rider Victor Espinoza sported updated silks proclaiming the popular runner’s new ownership group of California Chrome LLC, but the five-year-old was easily recognizable thanks to his gleaming coat. The duo gunned for the lead as soon as the gates opened, but then settled into a stalking position outside of Alfa Bird when that one rushed up from his rail post to take command rounding the first turn.

Alfa Bird established splits of :24.82, :49.12 and 1:12.90 while unable to shake off California Chrome. Blingo tracked in third just in behind with Imperative to his outside. Hoppertunity, the near 5-2 second choice to California Chrome’s 3-5 favoritism, bided his time with the rest of the field in the rear.

Despite vigorous urging from jockey Tyler Baze, Alfa Bird was unable to hold California Chrome at bay entering the turn. The chestnut easily grabbed the lead and received some encouragement from Espinoza as Imperative attempted to catch the champion in the lane. The five-year-old held sway over that rival and a rallying Hoppertunity to stop the clock in 1:43.39 for 1 1/16 miles over the fast main track.

Santa Anita Park is where it all started for the Art Sherman trainee on the Road to the 2014 Kentucky Derby, as the California-bred romped in his sophomore debut, the California Cup Derby. He proceeded to add dominating wins in the San Felipe S. (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1) to his resume before taking the Kentucky Derby as the favorite.

California Chrome kept the dream of a Triple Crown sweep alive when scoring in the Preakness S. (G1), but ended up finishing a dead-heat fourth in the Belmont S. (G1) three weeks later. He was given a brief freshening following the grueling Triple Crown trail but offered no real run when sixth in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) in his return to action.

California Chrome made just one more start during his sophomore season, missing by only a quarter-length when third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), but the colt had done enough to be honored as both champion three-year-old male and Horse of the Year for 2014.

Once again given some time off, California Chrome embarked upon an eventful 2015 campaign. Following a runner-up effort in the San Antonio Invitational S. (G2) last February, the popular chestnut shipped overseas and ran second in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1). He continued his international travels with a trip to England next for the prestigious Prince of Wales’s S. (Eng-G1) during Royal Ascot, but was forced to miss that turf event with a bruised foot.

California Chrome headed back to the United States and was slated to take part in the grassy Arlington Million (G1) but a cannon bone issue derailed those plans. He headed to the sidelines for the rest of the year at that point. Not long after, a minority share in the colt was sold to Taylor Made Farm.

Now having finally succeeded in his return to action, California Chrome is once again setting his sights overseas with a return trip to the Dubai World Cup up next, according to his connections.

Another run in that race will only boost California Chrome’s earnings even more. The San Pasqual improved his record to 10-3-1 from 19 career starts and bumped his overall bankroll to $6,442,650, surpassing Tiznow to become the highest-earning California-bred.

Sherman said California Chrome would leave Santa Anita Sunday morning at 10 a.m. (PT) for his home base at Los Alamitos. He’s scheduled to head to Dubai on January 21.

California Chrome photo 1 – Benoit Photos
California Chrome photo 2 – Cecilia Gustavsson/


Victor Espinoza, jockey California Chrome, winner: “I wanted to make sure to let him run a little bit down the lane, so he doesn’t create any (new) bad habits.

“The way Chrome ran today is how he ran before. He’s one of the best horses I’ve ever been on. I am so proud of him, the way he ran today. As a stallion for next year, I think he’ll be one of the best.

“I don’t think he got too tired. For such a long time off I think it was a good race, I expected him to be more tired than he was.

“The slow pace didn’t surprise me. I slowed down on the first turn to let Alfa Bird go. If I went fast, I knew that would make (Alfa Bird) go faster as well and it’s his first race back. He’s had so much time off and I didn’t want to burn him too much, I wanted to go easy on him today.

“Today is what I wanted. I didn’t want to override him, I didn’t want to push him. I wanted a balance.

“American Pharoah and California Chrome are too hard to compare, I won’t.”

Art Sherman, trainer California Chrome, winner: “It set up just as we figured. I knew he’d show speed. He’s been wanting to run quite a bit right now by watching his workouts, and I said, ‘He’s got a lot of gas (speed) himself and you can place him where you want.’ That’s why he’s a perfect horse. You don’t have to bring a game plan with him. He can sit off the pace or go on the pace.

“Right now I think, Wow! Maybe the ($10 million) Dubai World Cup (on March 26). That would be my greatest thrill. He’ll ship January 21, have one prep, then come home after the World Cup.

“He could’ve opened up turning for home, but Victor put the full-Nelson on him. It was just what we needed. He’ll get a lot out of this race, believe me.

“It’s very heart-warming to see his fans and the reception he received. It was just jammed full of people around the paddock. It was just great.”

Perry Martin, co-owner California Chrome, winner: “I think he ran perfect. I missed Dortmund in there. We would have got a lot more out of this race if he was in there, he’s a real competitor.

“We now have the leading, money earning Cal-bred ever, he surpassed Tiznow with this win. I have an intuition he will surpass Tiznow in the breeding shed as well.

“We’re going to Dubai, I’m adamant. After the race today, I think we need two. I’d like to see him run at a mile and an eighth and then a mile and a quarter prior to running in the World Cup and I’ll think that’ll have him 100%.

“I believe California Chrome will leave for Dubai on January 21.

“California Chrome seemed to struggle a little bit at the end, I thought. It looked as though he was getting a little tired which is why I think we need two in Dubai. I’ll talk to the trainer and we’ll decide.

“I own the majority of the horse, so I believe I make the decisions. Until somebody tells me different.”

Frank Taylor, co-owner California Chrome, winner: “We feel blessed to be a part of this, what a horse! He’s so sound and so genuine. He’s a special, special horse.”

Mario Gutierrez, jockey Imperative, second: “I got the opportunity to start riding him, and every time I work him or ride him, he gives me his all. He gives me everything, and he has a good heart. It’s tough luck, but we lost to a champion. It’s a small field, and we didn’t want to be too far behind, but I couldn’t go to the lead, either. I tried to find the perfect place without asking him too much, and the race unfolded perfectly for us. We just got out-run in the end.”

Richard Baltas, trainer Imperative, second: “He ran great. I’m very proud of the horse. It looked like we might get to him there at the top of the stretch, but Chrome was ready.”