California Chrome Gallops in Cal Cup Derby

With a 5 1/2-length victory over nine 3-year-old rivals in company restricted to Golden State Series eligible California-bred sophomores, the 3-year-old Lucky Pulpit runner punched his ticket to the March 8 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II), a step on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

The 5-2 second choice off an equally dominant 6 1/4-length victory for trainer Art Sherman in the Dec. 22 King Glorious Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park, California Chrome was never far back off a pace set by Better Bet, who showed the way in :23.47 and :47.47 after sprinting up to take the early lead.

Jockey Victor Espinoza kept his mount clear on the outside and in striking position while three-quarters went in 1:11.95, and as they turned for home the chestnut colt struck the front full of run.

“We wanted to find out if he could go that far and today, he showed he can go the distance,” Espinoza said. “He did it easy. I had to tap him once though just so he kept going because he waits for other horses.

“I talked with Art Sherman before the race and he asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to put him in the race; you have to let good horses run. I didn’t want to do too much with him, I didn’t want to take a hold or anything, I wanted him to be happy.”

From the turn to the wire after a mile in 1:36.73, it was a one-horse show. Tamarando closed down the center of the track but could not make headway against the winner’s dominant form. “I certainly didn’t expect him to be that far back,” trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said of his beaten favorite’s position under Rafael Bejarano.

Final time was 1:43.22 on a fast track.

“He’s maturing, nice 3-year-old,” Sherman said. “We’ve got a lot of nice races ahead of us. I hope he stays sound, and we’re gonna have some fun.

“I thought he would run awesome today. He’d been training like a bomb. I brought him over here about a week before and schooled him and took him in the paddock. The horse, the light bulb went on. He was kind of green starting out. He had a couple of rough trips in his races, he kind of got banged around and had no place to go. Now, he’s learned how to rate himself and have speed and in California, that’s the type of horse you want, where you can place them close up.

“(Adding blinkers and Lasix) helped him quite a bit. When he was first out, he was green. You didn’t want to rush him into everything. I let him get his legs under him and grow up a bit and now he’s starting to mature. Coming into this race, I knew he’d be awesome. He’s been training lights-out.”

California Chrome returned $7, $3.80, and $3.20 while Tamarando paid $3.40 and $2.60. Life Is a Joy brought $4.60, as Awesome Return, Better Bet, Public Policy, Lucky Views, Oh Billy Billy, Electric Eddie, and Aotearoa completed the order of finish. Lawly’s Goal scratched.

The results were slightly marred by a mishap with Electric Eddie, who injured his left foreleg in the stretch and dropped rider Mario Gutierrez. Oh Billy Billy unseated jockey Martin Garcia due to the incident, and both horses crossed the wire riderless. Both riders walked to first aid and escaped serious harm; Electric Eddie was vanned off.

Bred in California out of the Not For Love mare Love the Chase, California Chrome is now a three-time stakes winner who began his success in tougher company with a score in the Graduation Stakes at Del Mar. The Cal Cup Derby victory improved his record to four wins and a second from eight starts, with earnings of $352,350.