California Chrome warms up for Pegasus World Cup in style
California Chrome (Art Sherman/Victor Espinoza) warmed up for a potential rematch with Arrogate in the best possible style when breaking the track record in the Winter Challenge at Los Alamitos.
The seven-time Grade 1 winner, who has accrued more than £9 million in prize-money, ran arguably the race of his life when headed close home by Arrogate in a thrilling Breeders' Cup Classic, and the prospect of the two meeting again in the inaugural running of the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park next month has racing fans drooling.
Arrogate has yet to be confirmed for that $12 million contest but California Chrome showed he is right on track for the world's richest horse race with a commanding win against inferior opponents in this specially prepared contest at his home track.
Breaking widest of all in the ten-runner field, 1-9 favourite California Chrome was initially settled in fourth before being allowed to stride on down the back stretch. He cruised up into a share of the lead on the swing for home and effortlessly bounded clear down the straight to win by 12 lengths under a motionless Victor Espinoza.
"He felt strong – super-strong today," Espinoza said. "I know the competition wasn't that great, but for me the most important thing was how he felt physically."
Trainer Art Sherman is not concerned about the prospect of meeting Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup in what is likely to be California Chrome's last race before being retired.
Sherman said: "I'm ready. I'm going to be chomping at the bit. I think you're going to see a hell of a race, I really do."
Also on Saturday
Gulfstream Park: Harlan's Holiday Stakes (Grade 3) 1m½f, dirt, 3yo+
Not one but two potential Pegasus World Cup runners emerged from this $100,000 event at the big-race venue as Stanford (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez) made all to score by three lengths over stablemate Keen Ice.
Stanford, who carries the colours of Stonestreet Stables, is part-owned by the Coolmore team, who have already spent $1m to secure a guaranteed place in the starting gate for the world's richest race.
Winner of the $1.25m Charles Town Classic in April, Stanford broke from the inner and was allowed to set easy fractions. Sent off a 9-5 chance, he was never in any danger from the favourite Keen Ice, although the Breeders' Cup Classic third kept on off a moderate pace and would get an extra half-furlong in the Pegasus. That said, Stanford extended his advantage from the home turn.
"I thought it was terrific for him [Stanford]," said Pletcher. "It probably worked against Keen Ice a little bit, but despite that I thought he ran pretty well to be second. Javier [Castellano] tried to keep him closer because of the slow fractions and the way the track's playing. I thought he ran pretty well considering that."
On the downside, Keen Ice's owners have yet to secure a berth and would have to purchase a spot from one of the dozen owners who have paid $1m.
Either way, both horses are now in the mix according to their trainer. "I'll talk to the connections," said Pletcher. "But Stanford and Keen Ice certainly ran well enough to consider the Pegasus."