No looking back on last start for the Horse of the Year
America's favourite racehorse has final run before being retired to stud
Preview: USA, Saturday 10.40pm GMT (live on ATR)
Gulfstream Park: Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (Grade 1) | 1m1f | dirt | 4yo+
After a 2016 season in which he won seven of his eight starts, California Chrome landed the most prestigious title in American racing as he was voted Horse of the Year at the recent Eclipse Awards. But if the Dubai World Cup hero won the popular ballot he was beaten on the day that really mattered when upstart three-year-old Arrogate ran him down close home in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
California Chrome's connections immediately threw down the gauntlet for a rematch in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup – and veteran trainer Art Sherman is optimistic about his chances of turning the tables on the six-year-old's final start before retirement at the end of a long and glorious career in which he also won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes during his three-year-old campaign in 2014.
"I think he's going to be a little bit more focused this time," said Sherman. "It's a little shorter distance and the stretch is a little shorter. With Chrome you have tactical speed, so if he's turning for home and in a position to open up I think you're going to see a different horse."
California Chrome's progress towards Gulfstream Park has seemingly been straightforward indeed: he cantered through his prep race last month at Los Alamitos, his home base, and has been impressing everyone in his workouts since then.
Less positive, though, is post position: the nation's favourite horse is drawn 12 on the wide outside at a track with a short run to the first bend. According to Daily Racing Form statistics, posts eight to 12 have yet to win in 25 two-turn races at the current Gulfstream meeting; the only horse to win from gate 12 over the Pegasus trip since the circuit was reconfigured in 2006 was the subsequent Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown in 2008.
Reacting to the draw, Sherman said: "The only good thing I thought about this is we won't have to be in the starting gate for long. Chrome is Chrome. He's got tactical speed. I was hoping we might get closer inside. We can overcome all this, believe me. He looks super right now – I couldn't be more satisfied.
"I know it's going to be a tough race, but I'll tell you I've never seen a horse train like him in a long time," added the trainer. "He amazes me every day I watch him. He's a once-in-a-lifetime horse."
Jockey Victor Espinoza copped flak for looking over his shoulders in exaggerated fashion as his mount loped along in front at Santa Anita before meeting his nemesis inside the final furlong at the Breeders' Cup. "I don’t think he will be looking around as much as he did in the Breeders' Cup," said Sherman. "I told him, ‘This is The Last of the Mohicans!'"
Espinoza is still blaming himself for the Breeders' Cup defeat. "I should've just let him run – I waited too long to open up," said the jockey, speaking to the Daily Racing Form.
"I think I can do a better job than I did. Maybe Arrogate still would have beaten me but when we crossed the wire, I was bummed. It's a good thing I’m getting a second chance."