Welcome back, California Chrome.
Now a regal-looking 5-year-old, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner flashed his brilliance of two years ago by overwhelming a talented field and winning the $10 million Dubai World Cup this past Saturday. He won by five lengths even with his saddle slipping back and jockey Victor Espinoza coolly figuring out how to stay aboard.
''I was just trying to keep my balance and not move my body,'' Espinoza said after winning the world's richest race. ''I just kept looking forward and thinking `where's the wire?' It was not coming fast enough.''
A year ago, it was American Pharoah - with Espinoza riding - who swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes to become the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. Pharoah also went on to win the Breeders' Cup Classic in the final race of his career.
But in 2014, Chrome came pretty close to his own sweep, winning the Derby and Preakness before a fourth-place finish in the Belmont. As for the 2014 BC Classic, Chrome finished third.
Chrome & Co. have come a long way since, with 2015 a year to forget - an injury, a shift in ownership, questionable racing decisions, a runner-up finish in the World Cup, to mention a few. Through it all, trainer Art Sherman and his son, Alan, have taken great care of the horse, and Chrome was absolutely at his best in winning the world's richest race last week to improve to 3 for 3 this year.
Here's a look at what's up with Chrome:
After spending two months in Dubai, Chrome is headed to Chicago in a few days, according to Alan Sherman. After clearing quarantine there, he'll be sent to Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Kentucky for about a month of rest and relaxation. Then it's back to training for his next races, perhaps the Pacific Classic this summer before the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 5. Both races are at Del Mar. There also has been talk of Frank Stronach looking to put together a $12 million race in January. If that happens, Chrome could be in for one final run before being retired to Taylor Made.
It was a year of change, to put it mildly. After his third-place finish in the 2014 Breeders' Cup Classic, Chrome's owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin - also known as DAP Stables, the DAP standing for dumb ass partners - ran their 4-year-old colt twice. He finished second both times - in the San Antonio Handicap and the Dubai World Cup. Chrome stayed overseas to train for a race at Royal Ascot. It didn't happen, and Chrome was sent to Arlington Park in Illinois to train for the Arlington Million in August. Somewhere along the line, a cannon bone bruise was discovered, and he was sent to the farm for a break. In July, Taylor Made bought Coburn's 30 percent interest, while Martin stayed on as co-owner. When Chrome is retired in 2017, he will stand at Taylor Made.
After a 3-year-old campaign in which Chrome won six of nine races, including the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness, he was voted Horse of the Year. He was 0 for 2 in 2015.
Here goes. With $6 million added to the bankroll after the big win, Chrome is North America's leading earner with $12,532,650, topping Curlin's mark of $10.5 million. He's won 12 of 21 races with three seconds and one third. His earnings average $596,793 per race. Not bad for a California horse bred for $2,500 to an $8,000 mare. After his World Cup win, he's now the future odds favorite in Las Vegas for the Breeders' Cup Classic in November. A sidenote, perhaps explaining some leg aches and pains: Chrome's first 18 starts came within a 23-month period. That's a lot of races.
VICTOR VICTORY TOUR
Who's living better than Espinoza? In the past 27 months, the jockey has won the 2014 Derby and Preakness with California Chrome, then took the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup Classic with American Pharoah, and then rode California Chrome to a powerful win in the world's richest race, the $10 million Dubai World Cup. The 43-year-old from Mexico is taking a few days off. His agent Brian Beach says the rider decided to hang out in and around Dubai before returning to ride at Santa Anita Park on Thursday. Espinoza, a finalist for racing's Hall of Fame, collected some pocket change for his big win. His cut of the $6 million winner's share was $600,000.
California Chrome was so impressive he almost ran out of his saddle in winning the World Cup. At some point in the race, Chrome's saddle slipped back, but Espinoza was able to maintain his balance and the two never missed a beat in cruising to the win in track-record time.
''I was very nice and comfortable where I was (on the outside),'' Espinoza said. Then he was aware of the saddle slipping and moving back. ''When I turned for home, I knew I had to go, but I didn't realize how far (the saddle slipped) until I crossed the wire.''
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