California Chrome’s Pacific Classic invokes memories of Ghostzapper’s Breeders’ Cup Classic

Profile Picture: James Scully

August 23rd, 2016

California Chrome deserves all the accolades for a grand performance in Saturday’s Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar, dominating from the outset in a five-length romp. His journey over the last couple of seasons has been remarkable.

Winner of the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, California Chrome dropped his next three starts (including a close third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic) but managed to salvage Horse of the Year honors by capturing the grassy Hollywood Derby (G1) in his sophomore finale.

Little went right for California Chrome as a 4-year-old as he lost his first two starts and was eventually sidelined after a runner-up in the Dubai World Cup (G1) in late March. We didn’t even know if he’d make it back to the races 12 months ago.

The California-bred chestnut not only made it back as a 5-year-old, he returned at a much higher level. California Chrome is now 5-for-5 this year, registering a career-best 112 BRIS Speed rating for a tour-de-force performance that serves as the gold standard in the Pacific Classic’s 26-year history. He's one of the most exciting male older horses in years.

I wasn’t surprised to see California Chrome win Saturday but didn’t expect him to be loose on the lead toying with the opposition throughout. The way he took control leaving the starting gate reminded me of Ghostzapper’s Breeders’ Cup Classic victory in 2004.

A confirmed closer earlier in his career, Ghostzapper had never led wire to wire prior to the 2004 Classic at Lone Star Park. The Bobby Frankel-trained colt established himself as the pre-race favorite sweeping his first three starts that season but received no favors when drawing post 1 in a 13-horse field that included classy front-runners Roses in May and Azeri.

Ghostzapper’s supporters didn’t doubt him despite the tough starting position, similar to California Chrome’s backers who had watched him stalk the speedy Dortmund in second before winning the San Diego H. (G2). Both camps shared a common expectation for a rallying victory.

Neither California Chrome nor Ghostzapper followed the expected storyline, seizing the advantage at the start and eliminating any suspense as they led clear throughout.

And both performances are among the greatest we’ve seen in the last 20 years.