How California Chrome is spending 2015 Preakness Day
When California Chrome kept his winning streak alive in the 2014 Preakness (G1), and fueled hopes of a Triple Crown, few could have imagined where the popular colt would wind up a year later. On the third Saturday in May 2015, the U.S. Horse of the Year is an ocean away from Pimlico -- in the Newmarket yard of trainer Rae Guest, preparing for an ambitious tilt at Royal Ascot.
In what would have been a further plot twist, California Chrome was at one time a candidate for Saturday's Lockinge (Eng-G1) at Newbury. In the midst of the 2015 Triple Crown chase, last year's dual classic winner might have been competing a mile down a grassy straightaway.
Instead, California Chrome got more time to recover from his honorable second in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1), and his taxing international travel from California to Dubai, and then to England. He's continuing his build-up for the June 17 Prince of Wales's (Eng-G1) -- over a stiffer 1 1/4 miles than he'd ever find on an American turf course, let alone the lofty standard of class on offer.
As an international racing fan, I appreciate the sportsmanship of trying arguably the world's most prestigious race meeting. Yet "Chrome" is being set an awfully tough task where he is unlikely to succeed. That wouldn't matter so much if it were simply a case of "nothing ventured, nothing gained."
But in so doing, Chrome is leaving behind unfinished business at home. While Shared Belief has unfortunately been sidelined by injury, the older male division still claims a strong number of talented runners, including the top two from last year's Belmont S. (G1), Tonalist and Commissioner; 2013 Belmont hero Palace Malice; and Bayern, who beat Chrome in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) and Breeders' Cup Classic (G1).
Wouldn't it be a more compelling scene to have Chrome line up against his natural rivals in the U.S. older male division on dirt? Would he settle old scores, or not?
Of course, a summer turf campaign spanning England and the Arlington Million (G1) could serve as a prelude to a more traditional fall campaign on the U.S. dirt. But that's a long time away in racing terms, when anything can happen, horses can get hurt or sick, and the match-ups we'd love to see might never come off.
Perhaps Chrome's situation is best considered in contrast to Lady Eli, an American horse who would fit a certain Royal Ascot target to a tee. The Chad Brown filly blew apart a solid international cast in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), establishing her global credentials. Lady Eli returned with another emphatic victory in the Appalachian (G3). There's no doubt that she's far and away the best three-year-old turf filly in the land, so she's earned the right to seek out greater challenges abroad. Her connections appear more focused on a New York summer, however, with her main objective the $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1). That's more lucrative than Royal Ascot's Coronation S. (Eng-G1) (worth $585,000), but the prestige differential is incalculable. Lady Eli could be represented by proxy, so to speak: Appalachian runner-up Miss Temple City, who came back to dominate Friday's Hilltop at Pimlico, looks bound for the Coronation, in part to get away from Lady Eli!
When Chrome's Royal Ascot objective was first announced, I snarkily commented, "that's one way to avoid Shared Belief!" By falling short in the Prince of Wales's, Chrome won't lose any caste as a dirt champion. But his status would continue to erode if he keeps getting beaten on dirt.
Photo of California Chrome on May 12 courtesy of trainer Rae Guest, via Twitter.