California Chrome Shines Bright in Pacific Classic Win
As if there were any doubt left in anyone’s mind as to who the best race horse in training is, California Chrome put it all to rest on Saturday with an impressive five-length victory in the 26th running of the $1 million Pacific Classic (GI) at Del Mar. The California-bred 5-year-old was ridden to victory by regular jockey Victor Espinoza and the flashy chestnut dazzled the loudly cheering Del Mar crowd of 24,155 with his gritty wire-to-wire performance.
California Chrome, who has been masterfully conditioned throughout his career by trainer Art Sherman, was already North America’s richest runner of all time with more than $12.6 million in career earnings heading into the Pacific Classic and padded that bankroll to $13,252,650 — nearly $3 million more than 2007 and 2008 Horse of the Year Curlin. Overall, his record currently rests at 23-14-3-1.
In addition to winning the 2014 Kentucky Derby (GI) and Preakness Stakes (GI), California Chrome also won the Dubai World Cup (GI) this past March, as well as the 2014 Santa Anita Derby (GI) and five other graded stakes. He was also third in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) and second in last year’s Dubai World Cup.
After a clean break from the gate, chief rivals Beholder and the highly regarded Dortmund chased California Chrome until the far turn before the winner started to draw away with every stride, cruising home to victory under little more than a hand ride from Espinoza. After setting all of the pace in splits of :23.20, :47.29, 1:11.22 and 1:35.69, California Chrome posted a final time of 2:00.13 for the 1 ¼-mile fast main track test.
Champion mare Beholder held on to second, crossing the wire another 2 ¼ lengths ahead of Dortmund. Hopportunity, Dalmore, Imperative, War Story and Hard Aces completed the order of finish after Win the Space was eased, walking off the track under his own power.
“He’s just an amazing horse. He won so easy today,” Espinoza said. “I’m going to say this now — this is the best horse I’ve ever ridden. I just wanted to get out there and see what was going to happen. He was going well the whole trip. He was in a perfect rhythm. The way he’s running now he could beat anyone, anytime. He’s run on dirt. He’s won on grass. He has won all over the world. He’s just so, so special.
“Before the race, no matter what strategy I have, everything changes when the gate opens,” Espinoza said. “So right when I was behind the gate I thought, ‘you know what? I’m going to send out of here. I’m going to send hard out of the gate and then move out just a little toward the middle of the track. I tapped California Chrome a couple of times and I was surprised I opened up two or three lengths right away. By that time, I was very confident and happy. That’s where I won. The fractions weren’t that slow, the pace was pretty good. But he was doing it comfortable and I didn’t want to take him out of the race after I sent him out of the gate.”
Last year’s Pacific Classic winner, Beholder, was still cheered by the appreciative Del Mar fans following her second straight defeat and her connections showed nothing but dignity and respect for the winner in defeat.
“She ran really good, just second best,” Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella said. “I went over and told [winning trainer Art Sherman] that he did a fabulous job with his horse. He’s always been a great horseman, I’m just sorry it was at my expense.”
California Chrome was the public’s even-money favorite and paid $4.20, $2.60 and $2.20. Beholder was worth $3.20 and $2.60 at odds of 3-1, while Dortmund returned $2.40 at odds of nearly 5-2. The exacta paid $13 and the 50-cent trifecta $6.20.
California Chrome, who is owned by the Taylor Made LLC partnership that includes Taylor Made Farm of Nicholasville, Kentucky and Perry Martin, is a son of the California stallion Lucky Pulpit and the Not for Love mare Love the Chase. He was bred in partnership by Perry and former owner Steve Coburn.
“When you’re training a horse like Chrome, he’s kind of push button,” Sherman said. “Being a former rider, I can understand Victor’s thinking. When you’re in front you can’t get shut off, right? He’s Chrome and I can’t believe that I get to train him. I’m sure he’ll be in the Hall of Fame some day and it will be good to know that I trained a horse that’s in the Hall of Fame.”
Harmonize Sings Winning Tune in Del Mar Oaks
Larkin Armstrong’s Harmonize earned her first Grade I win in her very first try with an impressive head victory in the $301,725 Del Mar Oaks (GIT), the undercard feature on the Pacific Classic Day program. The bay daughter of Scat Daddy, who is trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, was ridden to victory by jockey Junior Alvarado in what was the rider’s first Del Mar mount and also provided a first career Grade I victory for her owner.
Over a Del Mar turf course labeled “firm,” Harmonize sat off the early pace of :23.43, :47.87 and 1:12.69, moved between horses on the final turn, dug in for the drive after being guided out three-wide into the lane and successfully held off the late charge from Decked Out and Stays in Vegas to narrowly prevail under a vigorous ride from Alvarado. After the mile went in 1:36.88, the winner stopped the Teletimer in 1:48.71 for the 1 1/8-mile distance.
Decked Out held sway to earn runner-up honors, finishing a nose ahead of stays in Vegas. Favored Mokat, Tin Type Gal, Barleysugar, Mines and Magic, Cheekaboo, Lady Valeur and Lynne’s Legacy completed the order of finish. Mrs. Norris was withdrawn.
At odds of 7-2, Harmonize paid $9.20, $5.40 and $3.40. Decked out was good for $8.40 and $6.20 at odds of 9-1 while Stays in Vegas returned $4.20 at odds of nearly 6-1.
“We already faced the very nice fillies on the East Coast — Catch a Glimpse and Time and Motion — and we thought coming here would be a good opportunity to win a Grade I,” assistant trainer Rodolphe Brisset said. “We got a dream trip and got there at the wire, so that’s very good. We’re going back to New York on Wednesday, but now we just enjoy this one.”
Harmonize is a 3-year-old daughter of Scat Daddy and the Sky Mesa mare Mesa Fresca. She won last year’s Jessamine Stakes (GIII) and P.G. Johnson Stakes and the Del Mar Oaks marks her first win in her fourth start as a sophomore. She earned $180,000 for her first career grade 1 to bring her bankroll to $484,260 and her career line now reads 9-4-2-1.
Midnight Storm Wins Del Mar Mile, Eyes Breeders’ Cup Mile
Alex Venneri Racing and Little Red Feather Racing’s Midnight Storm earned his third consecutive graded stakes victory by a half-length on Sunday with an impressive wire-to-wire performance in the $200,000 Del Mar Mile (GII) at the Southern California oval. The 5-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile is trained by the meet’s current leading conditioner Phil D’Amato and was ridden by regular jockey Rafael Bejarano.
Midnight Storm, who broke from post four in the five-runner field, sped right to the lead and set all the pace in splits of :22.82, :46.66, 1:10.64 and 1:22.92 with at least a length advantage over the field behind him throughout, dug in gamely when challenged by Om at the top of the stretch and after a gritty stretch battle was able to hold his challenging rival at bay to win, stopping the clock in 1:33.92 for the one-mile firm turf test. Om was able to maintain his runner-up status at the finish line and was followed by Ohio, Ambitious Brew and Little Curlin to complete the order of finish.
“I had to use him a little bit to start,” Bejarano said. “I knew [Ambitious Brew] and [Om] had some speed and I didn’t want them to get a jump on me. My horse has natural speed, but I asked him for a little more to start. He’s a good horse and he showed it today.”
The nearly black colt, who was bred in Kentucky by the partnership of Venneri and the late Marjorie Post Dye, became racing’s newest millionaire with the $120,000 winner’s check and brought his career earnings to $1,101,110 and his running line now stands at 17-8-3-0. He previously won the Eddie Read Handicap (GII), Shoemaker Mile (GI), Seabiscuit Handicap (GII) and Del Mar Derby (GII).
“I felt he had it under control the whole way, but I was kind of surprised to see that big kick Om had in the stretch and it got pretty close for a while. [Bejarano] said he rode him confidently there at the end. We’ll definitely give him some time off now and then get him ready for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI).”