In one of the most highly anticipated matchups outside of Breeders’ Cup World Championships in recent memory, the 2014 Horse of the Year broke like a champ, took command immediately from his rail post under jockey Victor Espinoza and never was threatened in his 5-length runaway victory.
Three-time champion Beholder, who tracked California Chrome for every step of the 1 1/4 miles, finished a clear second, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Grade 1 winner Dortmund.
An Art Sherman-trained son of Lucky Pulpit, California Chrome clicked off easy quarter-mile fractions of :23.20, :47.29, and 1:11.22 through three-quarters of a mile, employing an easy stride under Espinoza.
“I saw the hold he had on him,” Sherman said. “He was just cruising. It’s all over. Turning for home, [Beholder] was already under a drive trying to catch him. … That was the race. How can you say any more about him? That’s why he’s the best horse in the country.”
Espinoza appeared surprised in the final turn, after turning in relatively swift fractions, and looked around multiple times as if he expected a challenge to come, but no horse could get within striking distance.
“I wanted to see where everyone was, to see how far they were behind me,” Espinoza said. “The pace was pretty decent. ... It’s not like he was galloping on the front. I felt like he was running, but it was hard to see the other ones behind me.”
For the Beholder camp, they felt the mare ran well, but were more than impressed by California Chrome.
“She ran really good; just second best,” trainer Richard Mandella said. “I went over and told Art he did a fabulous job with his horse. He’s always been a great horseman, I’m just sorry it was at my expense.”
“It was a gutty performance by her,” Gary Stevens, Beholder’s jockey, said. “But Victor was playing with us. I don’t think he really let him run. That’s scary to think about.”
It was California Chrome's fifth straight victory — all coming in 2016. He opened the season with a score in the Grade 2 San Pasqual, won an allowance race at Meydan in Dubai, impressively took the $10 million Dubai World Cup and last time out outlasted Dortmund in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap.