By David Grening
ARCADIA, Calif. – A year ago, jockey Victor Espinoza basked in the glow of an adoring Keeneland crowd after guiding American Pharoah to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, capping an unforgettable season that included the Triple Crown.
On Saturday, Espinoza’s emotions were on the opposite end of the spectrum after Arrogate, under Mike Smith, went past California Chrome in the final 20 yards to win the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by half a length, ending California Chrome’s bid for a perfect season.
For once, Espinoza was searching for an excuse as he walked back to the Santa Anita jockeys’ room. And he pinned the blame on himself.
“Now that I think back, I should have just opened it up a little earlier,” Espinoza said. “I waited a little longer, and the other horse caught me in the end. When I saw California Chrome’s ears pinned back, I said, ‘I’m in trouble,’ and the wire was just a little bit further.”
Espinoza said that was at the sixteenth pole. It was at that point that Arrogate was in full flight, running California Chrome down in the final yards.
Art Sherman, the trainer of California Chrome, said he was thinking Espinoza should have opened up his lead as he watched Espinoza sit on Chrome and look around for the competition approaching the quarter pole.
“I think he probably should have went on,” Sherman said. “When he was looking around, he could have opened up maybe a couple of lengths on them.”
For the first half of the race, California Chrome was enjoying an uncontested lead, running a half-mile in 47.14 seconds and six furlongs in 1:10.96, comfortable fractions for this horse.
“I was comfortable and happy pretty much the whole way,” Espinoza said. “But like I said, I think I waited a little longer, I should have just opened it up a little earlier than that. But you know, it’s tough, but we look forward and go for the next one. Nothing we can do for this race, we already got beat. I’m so proud of California Chrome; he ran an awesome race.”
Sherman was also proud of his horse, who lost for the first time since running second in the Dubai World Cup in 2015. He had won all six of his starts this year. His record now stands at 15-4-0 from 25 starts, and his earnings are now $14,452,650, still the North American record.
“All good horses get beat; look what happened to Songbird,” Sherman said, referring to the 3-year-old filly who had her 11-race win streak snapped by Beholder in Friday’s Distaff. “You’re on a winning streak, sometimes things happen. Maybe we can reverse it at another time.”
Perhaps that time will come in the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup, scheduled to be run at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28. California Chrome is expected to remain in training specifically for that race.
Arrogate is expected to race again next year, but owner Juddmonte Farms currently does not have a slot in that race. Slots were sold for $1 million last spring. More than likely, one will be made available for the horse at the right price.
“I’m hoping the Pegasus we’ll probably hook up again,” Sherman said.