By Jeremy Balan
The assumption many have made about Los Alamitos Race Course’s $100,000 Winter Challenge Dec. 17, a race written specifically to serve as a prep for California Chrome, is that will be a “paid workout” for the 2014 Horse of the Year.
For the chestnut’s connections, however, too much is at stake to take the 1 1/16-mile race lightly, and they are training him accordingly. Although the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park—California Chrome’s swan song—is still the main target, there’s no question a fully fit horse will be out on the racetrack Dec. 17 to perform for the first time in front of his home crowd.
“We’re training him for a race,” said assistant trainer Alan Sherman, after California Chrome worked five furlongs in 1:00.45 at Los Alamitos Dec. 3. “You always want to win, and I’d be afraid, if he didn’t win, it might cost him Horse of the Year.
“He’s only got two races left. There’s no holding back now.”
In that spirit, California Chrome powered through his Saturday work in standard fashion—slow early, quick late. Under regular exercise rider Dihigi Gladney, the 5-year-old son of Lucky Pulpit ran the first quarter in :25.18 and a half in :48.76 before accelerating through the lane. He galloped out to six furlongs in 1:13 4/5.
“It was just right,” said Sherman, who oversaw the work while trainer Art Sherman tended to the barn’s string at Del Mar. “He’s fit. It’s just a matter of keeping his air in him. We’re very happy with his training right now.”
As for the upcoming Winter Challenge, Alan Sherman did express some concern about who might be running against his standout. The way the purse is structured, finishers would be guaranteed at least $10,000 to encourage horses to take on California Chrome.
“These guys are going to enter just for the $10,000,” Sherman said. “If one of those horses ever broke down or something—there’s so many things that can happen and you just want to eliminate that. This is not the big prize we’re after. We just want to get through it safe, hope (Los Alamitos owner Ed) Allred has a good day, and get to Florida.”
Sherman expects to get another five-furlong drill in for California Chrome Dec. 10, and if all goes well in the Winter Challenge, he’ll get one more local work into the chestnut around Dec. 31, before shipping to Gulfstream during the first week of January. The seven-time graded/group I winner will be stabled in Todd Pletcher’s barn at the Hallandale Beach, Fla., racetrack.
“We’ll get two or three works into him down there,” Alan Sherman said.
The Shermans considered running a race at Gulfstream to prep for the Pegasus World Cup, before Los Alamitos offered to run the Winter Challenge, but ultimately decided to stay local.
“We thought about it,” Alan Sherman said. “The more I thought about it, the more I thought we really owed it to (Allred). If it wasn’t for him (expanding the racetrack and stabling area to accommodate Thoroughbreds after the closure of Hollywood Park), we’d all be at San Luis Rey (Training Center) or Galway Downs—or out of business.”