Steve Coburn gives California Chrome some attention after his Santa Anita Derby victory (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire).
California Chrome could not have delivered a more impressive performance in his final tune-up for the Kentucky Derby as he overwhelmed the opposition in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on Saturday at Santa Anita Park.
Trainers hope to see a Kentucky Derby hopeful reaching his peak level of performance approaching the first jewel of the Triple Crown, so Art Sherman was understandably ecstatic with California Chrome’s 5 ¼-length runaway victory in his final start in preparation for the Kentucky Derby.
“It was awesome. That’s all I can say,” said Sherman, a former professional jockey who accompanied Hall of Famer Swaps for his 1955 Kentucky Derby victory as a stable boy for trainer Mesh Tenney. “He’s my Swaps, let’s put it that way. If all goes well, we’ll ship to Kentucky probably a week before the Derby [May 3].”
Not only did the victory cement the Lucky Pulpit colt’s status as the leading West Coast contender for the Kentucky Derby, it also made him the obvious early favorite for the May 3 classic at Churchill Downs.
“Right now, he’s kind of freaky and I’m enjoying it,” Sherman said after California Chrome’s fourth straight win by 5 ¼ lengths or more. “I can’t believe the races I’ve been seeing.”
California Chrome improved to six wins in 10 starts for owners-breeders Steve Coburn and Martin Perry. He has earned $1,134,850 and now sits atop the Road to the Kentucky Leaderboard with 150 points.
Hoppertunity finished well for second and also has a spot secured in the Kentucky Derby with 95 points (sixth on the leaderboard). Santa Anita Derby third-place finisher Candy Boy also is in somewhat solid position with 30 points, good for 16th on the list with two major prep races remaining and 20 spots in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
California Chrome did not get away to a perfect start under Victor Espinoza but he easily accelerated into a nice stalking position behind pacesetter Dublin Up. He tracked the leader from that point through the backstretch through a comfortable half-mile in :47.02 and six furlongs in 1:10.81.
“He knows what’s going on [when he goes to the gate]. He’s calm and focused, but for some reason, we missed the break a tiny bit, but I put him in the race right away,” Espinoza said. “I didn’t want to get stuck in traffic. It worked out well.”
Entering the final turn, California Chrome waited for his cue from Espinoza while Grade 2 winners Candy Boy and Hoppertunity rallied into contention. When Espinoza asked California Chrome to shift gears, the response was immediate and visually stunning. He dispatched pacesetter Dublin Up, Candy Boy and Hoppertunity with a remarkable burst of speed entering the stretch, opened up a huge lead and then coasted through the final sixteenth of a mile in a Santa Anita Derby performance reminiscent of another California-based chestnut colt 13 years ago, Point Given.
CALIFORNIA CHROME INSTALLED HIMSELF AS THE DERBY FAVORITE AFTER HIS SANTA ANITA DERBY VICTORY
Like Point Given, California Chrome will ride a winning streak – three races for Point Given and now four in a row for California Chrome – and a dominant Santa Anita Derby score into Louisville for the start of the Triple Crown.
Point Given faded to fifth in the Kentucky Derby after tracking Songandaprayer’s race-record opening half-mile in :44.86 but bounced back to win the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.
Right now, there does not appear to be a 3-year-old in California Chrome’s class but the best horse does not necessarily win the Kentucky Derby. So many other factors, such as trouble at the start, traffic or a ridiculous pace like in 2001, play a role in the outcome. But right now, for perhaps the first time with this group of 3-year-olds, we have a legitimate favorite for the Kentucky Derby and his name is California Chrome.
For an Equibase chart, click here.