By Dick Downey
Photo by Santa Anita
California Chrome, who came from off the pace to win his last race, led all the way in fast fractions to take the San Felipe Stakes.
Sometimes the phrase "ran them off their feet" is misplaced, but not in this case. California Chrome and Victor Espinoza sped through fractions of :23.09, :45.55 and 1:09.45 en route to a blistering final time of 1:40.59 in the 1 1/16 mile San Felipe -- and left the rest of the field far in their wake.
Midnight Hawk, who stayed with California Chrome for a little over six furlongs, finished a distant second, beaten 7 1/4 lengths. Kristo, who was midpack much of the way, got up for third, but he was 13 1/2 lengths back of the winner at the finish. Schoolofhardrocks gave way to Kristo to come in fourth, another 1 1/2 length back. Next in line were Unstoppable Colby, Recanted and Sawyer's Hill. Bayern was withdrawn from the race on Thursday. Home Run Kitten and Rprettyboyfloyd were scratched by their respective trainers.
It was the first victory in three stakes races against open company for California Chrome. He finished fifth in the Willard Proctor Memorial and sixth in the Del Mar Futurity last year.
After the latter race, he finished sixth in the Golden State Juvenile, but California Chrome came alive in late December and January, winning the King Glorious Stakes and the California Cup Derby by a total of almost 12 lengths. That led to his break-through performance in the San Felipe.
By Lucky Pulpit, who carried a $2,500 stud fee, California Chrome was bred by Martin Perry and Steve Coburn, who also own him. Only three California-breds have won the Kentucky Derby: Morvich (1922), Swaps (1955) and Decidedly (1962).
Longtime California trainer Art Sherman was ecstatic after the race and said he is ready to take on anything, but he was reserved about whether he'd go in the Santa Anita Derby.
The Kentucky Derby is of course the ultimate goal, and California Chrome picked up 50 Derby points with the win. That puts him fifth on the leaderboard and all but guarantees him a spot in the race. Midnight Hawk got 20 points, bringing his total to 32. Kristo garnered 10 points, pushing his total to 14, and Schoolofhardrocks picked up his first five points.
California Chrome, the 7-5 post-time favorite, returned $4.80, $2.60 and $2.10 to his backers. The winner's share of the $300,000 purse is $180,000.
Art Sherman: “I didn’t think he’d be on the lead, but he was a handful today. I just told Victor, ‘You got him.’ I told him he broke like that because of that Quarter Horse training at Los Alamitos . . . We all know Santa Anita’s a speed-biased type of track, so it was really great to see him with the hold he had on him. It’s unbelievable. I’m looking at the race saying, ‘Well, I hope that horse doesn’t press him too hard, but I’ll tell you, when (Victor) asked him to go, he looked like a fresh horse, breaking, didn’t he? Maybe I’m looking at the wrong race, I don’t know. But I had a lot of fun watching him run.”
Asked if the Santa Anita Derby might be next: “Well, we’ll kind of play it by ear. I needed this 50 points, and we’ll kind of see what happens. Now I think I deserve to go to the (Kentucky) Derby. I don’t think the distance will make any difference, a mile and a quarter. I think he’ll run all day.
"The people are just great (at Los Alamitos). The Quarter Horse people, I got more rooters over there today, you cannot believe it. Every Quarter Horse trainer came over and shook my hand and said, ‘Go get ‘em, Art.’ It made me feel good. They’re going to be proud tonight.”
Victor Espinoza: “It was great. He ran like I expected him to. Everything worked out today. I wanted to try something new today, so I let him go right out of the gate. I don’t know if people expected me to go right to the lead, but I wanted to let him enjoy his race, I just let him go. In these races, you can’t just try and do too much with them. I think it’s important for him to do his thing for the first five-eighths and be happy. It seems like he likes both tracks. He’s been training over at Los Al but he does things so much easier at Santa Anita after having trained at Los Al. He didn’t feel tired at all after the wire.”
Bob Baffert, Midnight Hawk: “I told Mike, ‘That’s the horse you’ve got to beat.’ It was a two-horse race going in. He ran good. My horse ran huge. I was a little disappointed running second -- he ran with that horse, but he couldn’t sustain it, and he got a little tired there at the end. You don’t want to see a horse go out that fast. When it gets warm like this, the track gets pretty fast. It’s pretty speed-biased. The horse that won it, he’s a good horse.”
Mike Smith, aboard Midnight Hawk: “He did good. He got away a bit slow. He didn’t break as well as we’d like, but in saying that, he had no excuse. The winner just beat me. I wish the outcome was different, but it is what it is.” (California Chrome is) a serious 3-year-old. People should start paying attention to him now. It was pretty straightforward, to be honest with you. Except for getting out a bit slow, what you saw was what happened. There are no hiccups after that. He (Victor Espinoza aboard California Chrome) asked his horse to run as I did, and he happened to have more than I did.”
David Hofmans, trainer, Schoolofhardrocks: “I thought he ran OK. I’m sure he got tired, they ran really fast and maybe the track was a little hard for him today . . . but we’ll see. We’ll go from here!”