Super-duper Chrome highlights major weekend of Breeders’ Cup preps

Profile Picture: James Scully

October 4th, 2016

Plenty of star power will be found in other races, but California Chrome’s presence makes this year’s Breeders’ Cup special. He continued to smash the competition in Saturday’s Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita, winning for fun similar to the Pacific Classic (G1) and Dubai World Cup (G1), and it’s a treat watching him perform at age 5.

His longevity can be confusing to the casual racing fan -- I’ve fielded multiple queries seeking to confirm California Chrome as a gelding because nobody expects an older horse like him to still be in training. The future stallion received Horse of the Year honors after capturing the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2014 but with a modest pedigree, the California-bred returned to the races at age 4.

California Chrome made only two starts during an injury-shortened 2015 season and still had something to prove this year. He’s grown into a superstar for trainer Art Sherman, stretching his win streak to six Saturday. Dortmund tried to apply pressure from the start but couldn’t keep up after a half-mile as California Chrome made it look so effortless while running fast on the lead.

Victor Espinoza geared him down significantly through the final sixteenth, attempting to save plenty for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), and California Chrome couldn’t appear more intimidating. If he wins the Classic as expected, the chestnut will become the first intact male (not a gelding) to win Horse of the Year in non-consecutive years since Native Dancer in 1952 and 1954.

Stellar Wind took advantage of her favorable outside draw to edge Beholder, who was pinned down by longshot Vale Dori during the early stages of the Zenyatta (G1). Both older distaffers are registering BRIS Speed ratings superior to unbeaten 3-year-old star and Distaff (G1) favorite Songbird.

After setting the pace along the rail in the Clement Hirsch (G1) and Zenyatta, Beholder is effectively toast if she draws another inside post in the Distaff (G1). She’s been the target in both defeats to Stellar Wind, with the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Distaff and 2015 Pacific Classic examples of how Beholder is most effective when outside and rating.

Bet down to 3-10, Klimt was a shorter price in the FrontRunner (G1) than California Chrome (2-5) after producing convincing wins in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and Best Pal (G2). But the Bob Baffert-trained colt could not run down Gormley, who had everything his own way up front leading wire to wire. Klimt offered a solid rally to finish a clear second and with more early speed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) field, he’ll likely continue to be well-supported.

Don’t count out Three Rules, who recorded his most impressive performance to date winning Saturday’s In Reality division of the Florida Sire series at Gulfstream Park. Now 5-for-5 for Jose Pinchin, the Gone Astray colt led wire to wire and registered an excellent 102 BRIS Speed rating while making his two-turn bow, scoring by 10 lengths as he completed the series sweep.

There’s precedent for a Florida-based star juvenile making a successful jump to the big stage, with Awesome Feather capturing her first start outside the Sunshine State in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Churchill Downs. She also arrived with a 5-for-5 mark after sweeping the series for fillies.

At Belmont Park, Flintshire could not catch Ectot over yielding turf in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) but remains the probable favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), especially after Postponed finished fifth in Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). Flintshire prefers firm conditions and has already run well at Santa Anita, finishing second in the 2014 Turf for previous trainer Andre Fabre. Current trainer Chad Brown has captured five Breeders’ Cup turf races at Santa Anita.

Runhappy came up short while stretching out to a one-turn mile in Saturday’s Ack Ack (G3) at Churchill Downs, weakening to fourth as the 1-5 favorite in his first start since December. He had every reason to be a little short but distance remains a legitimate question given he’s now winless in a pair of starts at a mile or longer. The Sprint (G1) is probably the best spot for him this year but connections are still planning to run him two turns in the Dirt Mile (G1).

Another major weekend is ahead with Breeders’ Cup contenders competing at Belmont, Keeneland and Santa Anita.