By Frank Angst
After giving his connections and fans standout victories in the Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline (UAE-I) and the TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I), California Chrome will try to extend his perfect 2016 campaign in the richest race ever run in North America.
California Chrome, the 2014 Horse of the Year who has reached another level as a 5-year-old, looks to continue his undefeated season to seven races when he faces an expected nine rivals in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 5 at Santa Anita Park.
“He’s done about everything a horse could do. Should he win the Breeders’ Cup, it would be really a feather in his hat,” said trainer Art Sherman, noting that he sees a better horse going into this year’s Classic than the one who finished third in the 1 1/4-mile race in 2014 at Santa Anita. “He’s more mature, bigger, stronger, and you can see it in the way he’s running. He’s pretty well focused.
“He’s kind of awesome to watch, to be honest with you.”
Awaiting California Chrome will be record-setting Travers Stakes (gr. I) winner Arrogate and top East Coast-based handicap horse Frosted. But even in this stellar field, the story starts with California Chrome.
Bred in California by Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, the son of Lucky Pulpit has bounced back from a trying 4-year-old season to deliver a 3 3/4-length victory in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) in the spring and a five-length tour de force over multiple champion female Beholder in the Pacific Classic Aug. 20 at Del Mar. Those types of wins have landed California Chrome atop the Longines World’s Best Racehorse rankings for most of the year.
Jockey Victor Espinoza, who has been on board for all six starts this year, will try for a second straight win in the Classic after guiding Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to victory last year at Keeneland. Espinoza and California Chrome, the even-money favorite, will start from post four.
With $7.11 million in purses this season, California Chrome has surged to the top of the all-time career earnings list for a North American-based horse at $13,432,650. A Classic victory would send his single-season earnings past $10 million, smashing the single-season earnings record for a North American-based horse set just last year by American Pharoah at $8,288,800.
California Chrome has done enough that even if he doesn’t win the Classic, he could still walk away with the Horse of the Year title, obviously depending on many circumstances. California Chrome finished third to Bayern in the 2014 Classic at Santa Anita but still took Horse of the Year on the strength of his Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) wins. Of course, Sherman wants the 2016 Classic victory to leave no doubt.
“He’s just been unbelievably good this year,” Sherman said. “Until you beat him, he’s the number one horse in the world. So there you go.”
The Classic most assuredly is not a coronation, with Juddmonte Farms’ Arrogate entered off his 13 1/2-length Travers victory in which he set a Saratoga Race Course track record for 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.36. The Travers was Arrogate’s first stakes try and trainer Bob Baffert said it’s the first time they allowed him to unleash all of his speed, after he cruised through three straight wins in Southern California. Baffert believes the son of Unbridled’s Song can replicate his Travers effort on 11 weeks rest.
“Maybe it was a one-shot thing, but I don’t think it is, I think he can do it again,” Baffert said. “I think he’s a horse that is getting better.”
Arrogate drew the outside post in the field of 10.
Baffert, who also will send out Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Hoppertunity will try for an unprecedented third straight Breeders’ Cup Classic win. Baffert’s past two victories have come with 3-year-olds, knocking off California Chrome in 2014 with Bayern before sending out American Pharoah last year.
Another horse capable of a spectacular effort is Godolphin Racing homebred Frosted, who captured two of the East Coast’s biggest handicap races when he won the Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) by a record 14 1/4 lengths and on the front end took the 1 1/8-mile Whitney Stakes (gr. I) by two lengths.
Baffert noted that because many of the top contenders possess early speed, if things get carried away up front it could set up for a late run from horses like Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith’s Found or Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman’s Hoppertunity, who closed from fourth to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Rounding out the field are last year’s Classic runner-up Effinex, last year’s Travers winner Keen Ice, two-time grade I winner at Santa Anita Melatonin, Woodward Stakes (gr. I) winner Shaman Ghost, and longshots War Story, who enters off a runner-up finish in a stakes at Parx Racing, and Win the Space, who was a well-beaten third behind California Chrome in the Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I).
Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov 5 5:35 PM PDT
Post Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
1 Effinex Flavien Prat James Jerkens 15-1
2 Frosted Joel Rosario Kiaran McLaughlin 5-1
3 Keen Ice Javier Castellano Todd Pletcher 20-1
4 California Chrome Victor Espinoza Art Sherman Even
5 Win the Space Gary Stevens George Papaprodromou 30-1
6 Melatonin Joe Talamo David Hofmans 12-1
7 War Story Scott Spieth Mario Serey Jr. 30-1
8 Shaman Ghost Irad Ortiz James Jerkens 20-1
9 Hoppertunity John Velazquez Bob Baffert 15-1
10 Arrogate Mike Smith Bob Baffert 5-2