It’s like a Hollywood ending that seems somewhat like a new beginning.
Despite all of his accomplishments and also all he’s endured both on and off the track, champion California Chrome proved to everyone exactly what it means to wear a championship title with a performance that can now only be described as epic in Saturday’s $10 million Dubai World Cup (GI) at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.
In the beginning, California Chrome’s story read like a fairy tale. A humbly-bred colt with even more humble connections who, in 2014, electrified the Sport of Kings and accomplished so much against all odds, winning the Kentucky Derby (GI) and the Preakness Stakes (GI) before earning Horse of the Year honors and a devoted fan base of “Chromies” along the way.
Behind the scenes, though, things weren’t so bright for the shiny California-bred chestnut. There were owner disagreements regarding where and when the son of Lucky Pulpit would run, who would train him (even after Art Sherman did a textbook job), and maybe even if he’d retire to stud duty. And somewhere, somehow after a grassy turf win at the end of his sophomore campaign, someone said “Dubai” and then “Royal Ascot” and off he went, a cloud of ownership controversy surrounding him and his future, leaving his many American fans wondering if they’d ever see him again.
He wore his familiar green and purple silks for his runner-up finish in the Dubai World Cup a year ago and was then sent to England as expected to prepare for Ascot, but at the same time the partners in his ownership group were barely speaking, all the while under stiff criticism from the public. And to make matters worse the colt was transferred to a new trainer an ocean away, far from the barn and the only people he’d ever known and trusted.
But as if by some divine racing intervention, Royal Ascot never happened thanks to a slight injury he suffered during training in England, and at the same time his owners’ partnership, as well as longtime friendship, had dissolved beyond repair. The decision was made to sell and Taylor Made Stallions, certainly one of the best in the game, was happy to become a co-owner.
After a nice, long summer break at Taylor Made’s sprawling farm in Kentucky, by last September California Chrome was back at Sherman’s Los Alamitos base prepping for a five-year-old season. All was finally good again for the much-beloved California Chrome, while the world anxiously awaited next race.
After returning to training, Dubai was always in the conversation for California Chrome, and he successfully prepped with a win (wearing brand new silver and burgundy Taylor Made silks) in the San Pasqual Handicap (GII) at Santa Anita in early January. Soon after he was off to Dubai and would signal his World Cup intentions with an impressive victory in the Trans Gulf Electromechanical Trophy Stakes at the World Cup distance at Meydan exactly 30 days before the big dance.
By World Cup Day, It was if everything had come together perfectly. California Chrome trained like the champ the world had come to know and love. Fit, carrying good weight and doing everything right, he was absolutely the horse to beat despite the strong field who would line up against him, including several American-based rivals like Frosted, Keen Ice, Hoppertunity, and Mshawish.
An early-running type, his number 11 post position wasn’t ideal when the field was set, but as a horse with some gate trouble, the outside was a better spot than the inside to achieve a clean break and establish a good forward position early.
So from the break, nothing went wrong for California Chrome. He was hustled up to his comfortable position pushing the early pace and was comfortable under regular jockey Victor Espinoza for three quarters of a mile and, as he made his move, it looked like nothing could stop him.
But as if things went too perfectly for the oft-troubled California Chrome, he’d need to hurdle one more obstacle to become North America’s richest race horse of all time.
As he made his way down the stretch and with each deliberate stride, his saddle began to slip. Just a little at first, then dramatically to the point that it wasn’t even close to the preferred spot just behind his front legs, but, rather, it was positioned closer to his back legs. Victor Espinoza, probably aware of the slip but certainly not of just how bad it was, never panicked and sat still aboard his mount, expertly guiding him to the wire. One false move and his mount would go from racehorse to bucking bronc thanks to a cinch turning into a bucking strap. Thankfully, all calm heads prevailed — especially California Chrome’s — and Espinoza was able to jump off and fix the cinch before heading back for the celebration in the winner’s circle.
California Chrome finished 3 3/4 lengths in front of Mubtaahij at the wire, with fellow American Hoppertunity closing strongly to finish a neck behind the runner-up in third. Special Fighter, Frosted, Mshawish, Candy Boy, Keen Ice, Hokko Traumae, Teletex, Vadamos and Gun Pit completed the order of finish.
Final time for the about-1 1/4-mile distance was 2:01.83, just more than one tick off the record set by African Story in 2014. And in winning, California Chrome joined Silver Charm and Animal Kingdom as the third Kentucky Derby winner to capture the Dubai World Cup.
“I’m just trying to keep my balance and not move my body,” Espinoza said. “I wasn’t that concerned about it (the slipped saddle), I just kept looking forward and thinking ‘where’s the wire’. It was not coming fast enough. I felt like if I could hit the turn three or four wide I’ll be in good shape. Today it proves how he can run when he’s 100 percent. The prep he felt strong. He won easy. I didn’t want to override him because I knew he was going to have a tough race today.”
With the $6 million winner’s share of the Dubai World Cup purse, California Chrome is now officially North America’s richest Thoroughbred with $12,532,650 and his career line stands at 21-12-3-1. Now he’ll return to Sherman’s Los Alamitos base for some rest with an eye on a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race as a springboard to Racing’s Championship Day.