California Chrome’s uplifting return to glory

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TwinSpires Staff

March 31st, 2016


Horse racing is a tough business with many heartbreaks, but CALIFORNIA CHROME (Lucky Pulpit) romp at Meydan in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1) is a feel-good story that should make up for some of his recent disappointments. 

I know, it’s hard to call a horse that is the leading North American earner a hard-luck story. But look at what has happened to him since winning the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1).

California Chrome went for history in the 2014 Belmont Stakes and lost all chance when stepped on at the start of the 1 ½-mile marathon. Instead of focusing on how gallant he ran with an injured front foot, beaten only two lengths, most of the attention went to his former minority owner Steve Coburn who ranted after the loss about how the winning Tonalist (Tapit) cheated since he did not run in the previous two legs of the Triple Crown.

After the Belmont disappointment, there was confusion as to where he would run next and his connections decided on the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G2) at Parx Racing in September. Stuck down on the inside while chasing eventual winner Bayern (Offlee Wild), California Chrome finished a non-threatening sixth.

Not only was it a poor performance but not much of a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) since he got little out of the race. He showed up for the Classic at Santa Anita and wound up a hard-luck third, with a pair of speed horses finishing 1-2 after they wiped out any other inside speed horses at the start.

Beaten only a neck, California Chrome appeared to be back after the Classic and he came back four weeks later to capture his turf debut, the Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar, and clinched 3YO male and Horse of the Year honors.

The early-season goal in 2015 was the Dubai World Cup and the chestnut colt used the San Antonio (G2) as his prep race. Unfortunately, Shared Belief (Candy Ride) showed up that day and California Chrome had to settle for being a good second. It was on to Dubai where he was upset by local horse Prince Bishop (Dubawi). Still, it was a respectable performance but this is where things began to get even weirder with the ownership group.

Steve Coburn thoroughly embarrassed himself after the World Cup loss, challenging Sheikh Mohammed to be a sport and race in America. Dreams of Royal Ascot appeared and instead of coming home to America, Chrome went to England to train without Art Sherman or his son, Alan. The plans for a prep race, a race at the Royal Ascot meet, fell apart and the plan suddenly became for Chrome to come home and point for the Arlington Million (G1).

None of those plans worked and it started to look like California Chrome was going to retire to a stud career on the downslope of his career. Luckily, Taylor Made Farm bought out Coburn and despite them being in the stallion business, they wanted to continue to race him after a physical examination showed hardly any wear and tear in his leg joints for a horse his age.

California Chrome returned him to Art Sherman, who got him ready over the winter for another trip to Dubai. The 5YO won the San Pasqual Stakes (G2) in a modest time at the start of January before shipping over the Dubai to get acclimated. He won a handicap race going 2,000 meters (about 1 ¼ miles) with ease and came back last Saturday for racing richest race.

If you watched the commentary on the simulcast feed out of Dubai, the British commentators continually talked about California Chrome drawing post 11 and how hard it was going to be since he would have to race wide. They analyzed the dirt race like it was a turf race but if you read last week’s Handicapping Insights, you knew that the wide draw would help keep him out of the severe kickback that Meydan’s dirt track is known for.

At the start, Victor Espinoza had California Chrome about four wide going into the first turn. Frankie Dettori had MSHAWISH (Medaglia d’Oro) one or two paths off the rail which enabled Christophe Soumillon to drop over to the rail with MUBTAAHIJ (Dubawi).

Usually, this would be a bad move on Soumillon’s part but since Dettori was racing off the rail, he never had an ounce of kickback in his face.

When the field bunched up turning for home and it looked like it might be anyone’s race, Espinoza pressed the button and the Dubai World Cup was over with a quarter-mile to run. California Chrome surged by horses to his inside and opened up a commanding lead as he rolled home much the best. The final margin was 3 3/4 lengths and the final time of 2:01 4/5 second was excellent considering the ground loss.

Mubtaahij held on for second to complete the exacta and Bob Baffert’s HOPPERTUNITY (Any Given Saturday) made a late rally to get third. The American horses didn’t record a clean sweep but it was awfully close.

California Chrome’s next big target is the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. With Art and Alan Sherman back in control, he should be formidable in an attempt to raise the bar and add even more money to his bankroll.

Japanese racing is very strong and their purses are so high there is not much need for their top horses to take on challenges around the world. That said, they are also incredibly sporting and willing to go anywhere, and they have a strong record in Dubai.

On Saturday, Kentucky-bred LANI (Tapit) won the U.A.E Derby (G2) from far off the pace after stumbling at the start and he is being pointed toward the Kentucky Derby. REAL STEEL (Deep Impact) won the Dubai Turf (G1) going 1,800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles) by a half-length with the great Ryan Moore in the irons.

In the Sheema Classic (G1), nobody was beating POSTPONED (Dubawi), who won by two easy lengths and will be the horse to beat in any turf race he shows up in this year. Behind him were the Japanese runners DURAMENTE (King Kamehameha), who lost a shoe before the race and raced with only three, and LAST IMPACT (Deep Impact), who hit the gate coming out and was stuck in traffic for most of the race.

Australia continues to produce the world’s best sprinters and BUFFERING (Mossman) flew the flag with a game win in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) going five furlongs. At the age of nine, he has now amassed more than $6 million in earnings with 20 wins in 52 starts.