Logic behind California Chrome’s Feb. 25 prep for Dubai World Cup

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January 28th, 2016

Assistant trainer Alan Sherman has revealed the thinking behind California Chrome’s prepping for the Dubai World Cup (G1) in a handicap rather than in the Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) – and he apparently didn’t even mention the historical precedent set by Curlin.

In interviews with the Dubai Racing Channel’s Laura King (video below), as well as The National’s Geoffrey Riddle, Sherman cited the extra week that the February 25 handicap affords. Should “Chrome” try Round 3 of the Maktoum Challenge on March 5, he’d have to come back three weeks later for the main event.

But aside from the more congenial spacing, there’s another reason to prefer the handicap route. Although Chrome will lump more weight in the handicap, it’s shouldn’t be as hotly competitive as the Group 1 course-and-distance prep. He’ll get the benefit of a relatively easier race, also at the about 10 furlongs of the World Cup, that’s eligible to top off his fitness without being too hard on him. A delicate balance to be sure, but one you’re likelier to strike in the handicap than in Round 3, where Chrome might run too hard and leave his World Cup performance behind in his prep.

As discussed previously in this space, the other theoretical options in that time frame were on turf. Connections understandably wanted him to get the experience of a race over the track, however, so there went any outside-the-box ideas of a turf-to-dirt gambit.

It’s surely just an insurance policy, a back-up plan in the remote corner of the mind, but note that Chrome has also been nominated for the Dubai Turf (G1) at about 1 1/8 miles on World Cup night.

At any rate, Sherman is convinced that the 5-year-old model of Chrome will prove a tougher proposition than the 4-year-old who ran a hard-trying second in the 2015 World Cup.

“This year, we’ve got a bigger, stronger horse running at ‘em,” he told Laura King.

The extended time off last year “could have been a blessing” because the flashy chestnut has grown up and strengthened up. Indeed, his R&R at new co-owner Taylor Made Farm in the Bluegrass was the making of him.

“When he came in from Taylor Made, he looked like a completely different animal. He filled out, he grew. They did a phenomenal job with him.”

Chrome’s competitive spirit never faded, though.

“I was a little worried about it,” he admitted, “after being in the country club at Taylor Made for three months, that he might get a little lazy on us. But he came back better than ever.”

Sherman was accordingly delighted with Chrome’s comeback victory in the January 9 San Pasqual (G2), especially considering that “he wasn’t really cranked.”

Unlike 2015, when Chrome had just one prep before the World Cup – a second to ill-fated champion Shared Belief in the San Antonio (G2) – he will have two. That makes the World Cup his third off the layoff, and as Sherman noted, typically the peak of the form cycle.


Adding to the positive vibe from the Chrome camp is jockey Victor Espinoza, who gave fans a bulletin about how the 2014 Horse of the Year is taking to life in Dubai.

In a Facebook post addressed “To All the Chromies,” Espinoza wrote: “I think Chrome likes it in Dubai, he has his own barn, a massage therapist and all the grass he wants. He's living large. And deserves it. Go Chromie.”

The news stream on the other American-based World Cup hopeful currently in Dubai, Frosted, is not as intensive. Yet trainer Kiaran McLaughlin did post this photo of the Godolphin colt stretching his legs on Tuesday.

And in a Thoroughbred Racing Commentary piece by Karen M. Johnson, McLaughlin said that Frosted could take in both of the remaining Meydan preps. He was already scheduled to contest the February 4 Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2), and might then advance to Round 3.

“Frosted just does well with racing, and less time between starts is good for him,” McLaughlin said. “He thrives on training and racing.”

Projected World Cup rival Keen Ice will use a tried-and-tested route, the February 6 Donn H. (G1) at Gulfstream Park, as his springboard to Dubai. The Donn could attract a few additional World Cup nominees, including Mshawish, who may end up in the Dubai Turf again (he was third last year after last-minute foot trouble).

The most tantalizing question is if Dortmund will take up his World Cup engagement or simply run the lucrative table at Santa Anita.

In other odds and ends from the potential U.S. contingent, note that 2013 Kentucky Derby (G1) runner-up Golden Soul has left Dallas Stewart for Mike de Kock. He remains in the ownership of Charles Fipke, as Sid Fernando confirmed via Twitter.

Effinex is still with Jimmy Jerkens, DRF’s David Grening confirmed, contrary to the World Cup nominations list, which had him transferred to David Jacobson. That wasn’t the only error on the list either – e.g., Sobhy Sonbol is not training Vyjack or anyone else whose nominations he simply submitted. So if you’re just going by the list and think there’s been a trainer change, tread carefully and check it out.

Vyjack is still with Bill Mott, who’s also given Team Valor’s Argentine recruit Liberty Holiday several options on World Cup night, including the UAE Derby (G2). As usual, a raft of U.S.-bred 3-year-olds has been nominated, but you’ve got to think they’ll be chasing Derby points closer to home.

The Pizza Man is one of only two U.S. runners eligible for the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), along with the Todd Pletcher-trained Itsaknockout, who’s got plentiful other choices on the card too. Among the logical types in line for the Dubai Turf, there’s the speedy Om. Interestingly, Lady Shipman was nominated to the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) on dirt in addition to her main target, the Al Quoz Sprint (G1), where she could get a rematch with Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) hero Mongolian Saturday.

And after wondering out loud if Charming Kitten might seek international targets, it’s good to see that the Ramsey homebred is indeed nominated to the Dubai Gold Cup (G2).

Photo of California Chrome and Alan Sherman courtesy of Sherman Racing Stables via Twitter.

Photo of Frosted courtesy of Kiaran McLaughlin via Twitter.