By Dick Downey
California Chrome didn't just win, he ran away with the California Cup Derby at Santa Anita. As the second betting choice at 5-2 odds, he beat 9-5 favorite Tamarando by 5 1/2 lengths.
While the race was restricted to state-breds, California Chrome looked good enough to take the step forward to open company for trainer Art Sherman.
The colt won the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:43.22. Victor Espinoza guided him through an ideal stalking trip a couple of lengths behind longshots Better Bet and Life Is a Joy. They set splits of :23.47, :47.47 and 1:11.95. As the field struck the end of the far turn, California Chrome separated himself and ran through the stretch alone.
Tamarando, who was seven lengths off the pace after a half-mile, made a belated wide wide run to best the rest of the field. Life Is a Joy was another 3 1/4 lengths back in third, followed by Awesome Return, Better Bet, Public Policy and Lucky Views.
Oh Billy Billy, Electric Eddie and Aotearoa did not finish. Electric Eddie broke down and impeded Oh Billy Billy, unseating Martin Garcia inside the eighth pole. Aotearoa, making his first start on dirt, was eased.
The race carries no Kentucky Derby points, but California Chrome will probably seek just that in his next start if he stays sound. A local possibility would be the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes on March 8, and Sherman intimated after the race that California Chrome would be pointed to it.
California Chrome is a homebred owned by Martin Perry and Steve Coburn. He was sired by Lucky Pulpit and is out of Love the Chase, by Not For Love.
The Cal Cup Derby was California Chrome's 2014 debut and his first race at two turns.
As a 2-year-old, he raced six times, winning twice at 4 1/2 furlongs and 5 1/2 furlongs -- against state-breds in a maiden race at Betfair Hollywood Park and in the Graduation Stakes at Del Mar. He was fifth against open company in the Willard Proctor Memorial and sixth against like company in the Del Mar Futurity. He closed out 2013 with a win in another restricted race, the seven-furlong King Glorious Stakes.
Art Sherman: “I thought he would run awesome today. He’d been training like a bomb. I brought him over here about a week before and schooled him and took him in the paddock. The horse, the light bulb went on. He was kind of green starting out. He had a couple of rough trips in his races, he kind of got banged around and had no place to go. Now, he’s learned how to rate himself and have speed, and in California, that’s the type of horse you want, where you can place them close up.
“(Blinkers and Lasix) helped him quite a bit. When he was first out, he was green. You didn’t want to rush him into everything. I let him get his legs under him and grow up a bit and now he’s starting to mature. Coming into this race, I knew he’d be awesome. He’s been training lights-out.”
Victor Espinoza: “I know he’s doing great, but it was his first time at two turns. We wanted to find out if he could go that far, and today, he showed he can go the distance. He did it easy. I had to tap him once though, just so he kept going because he waits for other horses.
“I talked with Art Sherman before the race and he asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to put him in the race; you have to let good horses run. I didn’t want to do too much with him, I didn’t want to take a hold or anything, I wanted him to be happy. He told me to do whatever I wanted.”
Jerry Hollendorfer (Tamarando): “I certainly didn’t expect him to be that far back.”
Rafael Bejarano (Tamarando): “He’s better coming from behind. If I move too early, he won’t finish. Once no horses are in front of him, he kind of stops. I was in good position, right behind the speed, but the winner was much the best today; he won easy. My horse finished out great; a better horse beat us.”