California Chrome Works at Royal Ascot

By The Guardian
ASCOT, Great Britain (June 4, 2015) — California Chrome ran what looked like a pleasing trial for Royal Ascot on his first visit to this track on Thursday morning but few people can ever have been so frankly and publicly sorry to be here than Alan Sherman, son of Art, the chestnut’s American trainer. “Obviously, we’d rather be home and running there,” Sherman said after watching the horse gallop.

The decision to aim California Chrome at the Prince of Wales’s Stakes later this month was made by Perry Martin, who owns 70% of the colt. Art Sherman has already made it clear that he would have formed a very different plan and, short of bursting into tears, his son could not have been plainer about sharing that regret. “It’s not our decision, that was up to the owners and we’re just going to do what we can that’s best for the horse,” said Sherman Jr.

In the buttoned-up world of British Flat racing, it would be rare to hear a trainer publicly differing from an owner’s opinion but Sherman Jr was openly scornful about the nasal strips which California Chrome has been wearing in his races, apparently at the insistence of his owners. Those strips are not allowed in Britain but, asked if that concerned him, Sherman Jr replied: “To me, it’s just a piece of duct tape.”

Nor was he at all positive about California Chrome’s chance in the race on 17 June, for which he is available at odds of 10-1. “He’s running against the best turf horses in the world, so. Like I said, he’s a hard trier. If he’s not good enough, he’s not good enough.”

It was pointed out that the horse has a perfect record on turf, having won his only race on it, at Del Mar in November. “But that turf course is more like a putting green than a turf course,” Sherman Jr replied, a reference to Ascot’s more undulating surface.

How will California Chrome cope with the pace of British racing? “It’s hard to tell. He’s used to being close to the pace at good fractions and here, you know, they don’t even let ’em run till the last half-mile, so I just hope he’ll relax and race good. If he could just kind of spit the bit out and relax the first mile, that would be great.”

California Chrome has been stabled with Rae Guest in Newmarket for most of the time since he was second in the Dubai World Cup in March and Sherman Jr was seeing him for the first time since then. “He’s a little bit leaner than he was but that Dubai race took a lot out of him. Rae has done a great job getting some weight back on him but he’s still not completely up to what he was. But he looks good.”

Frankie Dettori was in the saddle for this racecourse gallop over a mile, in which a fair pace was set by last year’s Solario winner, Aktabantay. California Chrome reeled in the leader by the turn, when he went right-handed on a racecourse for the first time in his life and appeared to cope well. He was marginally in front at the winning post but neither horse was hard pressed for the final furlong.

“He’s a very intelligent horse and he copped on straight away,” Dettori reported. “Even coming into the bend, he wasn’t so sure where he was going but that was the whole idea of bringing him here, to get in some practice.

“Horse-wise, he feels good. I expect the horse to be a lot better in the afternoons. He feels very lazy and laid back, I was told that. The Prince of Wales is one of the best mile and a quarter races in the world but I think he’ll be very competitive.”

But Dettori is unlikely to be in the saddle when that day comes around, as his prior commitment is to John Gosden’s Western Hymn, a 12-1 shot. Several European jockeys are being considered for California Chrome but no names have been disclosed as yet.

So the day’s work went well but Sherman Jr’s focus seems to be fixed on getting the horse through this experience in sufficiently good shape to contest the Arlington Million in Chicago in mid-August. “He’ll go back to Newmarket and we’ll get one more breeze into him next week,” he said.

His most upbeat comments concerned American Pharoah, who will attempt on Saturday to do what California Chrome could not do last year and win the Belmont Stakes to complete America’s Triple Crown. “ I think he’s got a great chance,” said Sherman Jr.

“That Belmont’s a tough race to win. You’ve got all the horses that skip the Preakness and stay fresh for the Belmont. It makes it tough, winning the Triple Crown, but that’s what goes with it. You’ve got to go for it. I don’t blame the people that don’t run in the Preakness. They’re just doing what’s best by their horse.”