By Jack Shinar
All eyes will be on California Chrome as the popular dual classic winner makes his initial start on grass Nov. 29 at Del Mar in the $300,000 Hollywood Derby (gr. I).
Connections for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner are hoping a good showing Saturday will propel California Chrome into his 4-year-old season with a wealth of options. And a victory could help the flashy chestnut pull off Horse of the year honors as well.
Just five rivals will be facing California Chrome in the Hollywood Derby, led by Queen’s Plate-winning filly Lexie Lou. The race, previously held at 1 1/4 miles when contested at Hollywood Park, has been shortened a furlong due to the configuration of the Del Mar course. It is the eighth race on the card, the penultimate program of Del Mar’s fall meet, and is scheduled for a 4 p.m. PST post.
California Chrome needs a win after being blanked in three races since taking the Preakness May 17 at Pimlico Race Course for trainer Art Sherman and owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin. The colt’s Triple Crown quest ended in a fourth-place Belmont Stakes (gr. I) effort, compromised when he was stepped shortly after the start and sustaining a front foot gash.
The California-bred had 3 1/2 months to recover from the long campaign after that, returning with a tiring sixth in the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II). However, he signaled a return to top form with a solid third in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 1 at Santa Anita Park, racing wide for the entire 1 1/4-mile journey and missing by only a closing neck to Bayern.
Sherman has given California Chrome a single workout over the Del Mar turf in anticipation of the Hollywood Derby, a four-furlong breeze in 52 seconds flat Nov. 23 with dogs well out on the course. He plans to have his charge gallop over the lawn with a blow-out through the lane Nov. 27 to make sure California Chrome is ready to go.
California Chrome was also nominated for the Native Diver Handicap (gr. II) over Del Mar’s Polytrack, also Saturday, but was not entered in that race.
Regular rider victor Espinoza will be aboard California Chrome, who comes into the race with eight lifetime wins from 15 starts and earnings of $4,042,650. They break from post 5 under equal weights of 122 pounds, except for Lexie Lou, who gets a three-pound sex allowance.
In a rare meting of Kentucky Derby and Queen’s Plate winners, Gary Barber’s Lexie Lou has a distinct advantage in that she has won two of her three starts on grass, and both of victories came against 3-year-olds.
Trainer by Mark Casse, the daughter of Sligo Bay has won four of her past five starts dating back to June’s romp in the Woodbine Oaks Presented by Budweiser. She makes her first start at Del Mar following a 1 1/4-length tally in the one-mile Autumn Miss Stakes (gr. IIIT) Oct. 25 at Santa Anita. Corey Nakatani, who got familiar with the bay filly in the Autumn Miss, has the return engagement from post 2.
Three of the remaining four starters come out of the Twilight Derby (gr. IIT) on the Breeders’ Cup undercard Oct. 31 at Santa Anita. They are led by Red Castle Farms’ Sawyer’s Hill, who missed by a neck when second to Long On Value.
The Spring At Last colt has the advantage of a race over the course, finishing second in the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) Aug. 31 for trainer Kristin Mulhall. Rafael Bejarano gets the call from post 4.
French import Talco finished behind Sawyer’s Hill in both the Del Mar Derby and Twilight Derby, but not by much. Trained by John Sadler for Hronis Racing, the son of Pivotal made his U.S. debut in the Del Mar Derby, finishing just a head behind Sawyer’s Hill when third. He experienced some traffic issues in the Twilight Derby when fifth last time out, but was just 1 1/4 lengths behind his rival.
Drayden Van Dyke takes the call on Talco, who drew the rail.
Flamboyant, another French-bred trained by Paddy Gallagher, was a neck behind Sawyer’s Hill when fourth in the Twilight Derby. The son of Peer Gynt didn’t fare as well in the Del Mar Derby, however, finishing a well-beaten eighth. He was third in the Belmont Derby (gr. IT) before that.
Mike Smith will be aboard Flamboyant, who adds blinkers for the first time in his career.
Completing the field is Kentucky-bred Cabral, who began his career in France. In his only U.S. start, he was third in the Let It Ride Stakes over one mile at Del Mar Nov. 8 for trainer Leonard Powell.