03/29/2015 10:11AM

Watchmaker: California Chrome's move to England admirable but strange

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So much happened on Saturday that’s it’s difficult to know where to start. But let’s start with the news Sunday morning that California Chrome, our Horse of the Year of 2014 and a fine second Saturday in the Dubai World Cup, will not come home, at least not right away. California Chrome will instead go to England, train at Newmarket, and point to a race at Royal Ascot, with the likely suspect being the Prince of Wales’s Stakes on June 17.

On one hand, you have to admire this out-of-the-box approach with California Chrome. So often, we all have been frustrated when our big horses stick to ultra-conservative schedules. How many times did we want Wise Dan to do something a little different and not target the same races he already had won? Now that an important horse actually is taking the road less traveled, we probably should embrace it, even if it is a little unsettling and despite some conflicting feelings.

The big negative here is it is clear that Art Sherman, the trainer who is more responsible for the success of California Chrome than anyone else on the planet, now has been completely marginalized when it comes to decision-making for this colt. Reports say Sherman remains the trainer of record, but that just seems like a technicality. In every other sense, Sherman has had the colt he developed from humble beginnings into a Horse of the Year yanked from his care. All the quotes I’ve seen from Sherman about this were diplomatic. But it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see that he does not think this is a great idea, and that should tell you something.

And this idea, while sporting and admirable, is strange. If international competition is your desire, then I could see California Chrome going on to, say, Japan or somewhere and competing in major events on dirt. But California Chrome’s two-length victory over Lexie Lou in the Hollywood Derby in his only turf start does not inspire confidence that he can be competitive with the kind of horses he’ll face at Royal Ascot or be as competitive as he was Saturday in the Dubai World Cup.

I know California Chrome likes to run outside of horses, but a ride from Victor Espinoza that had him getting caught four wide on the first turn and three wide on the far turn in the World Cup was a ride that did him no favors whatsoever. Send a little bit if you have to. Or take back a little bit if you have to. But don’t get caught four wide on the first turn in a two-turn race.

Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference, and maybe California Chrome would not have been able to hold off the implausible Prince Bishop under any circumstance. But the kind of ground loss California Chrome had Saturday is very costly, no matter what kind of race you’re competing in.

Other Saturday notes

** For five straight racing days from Saturday, March 21, through last Friday, the rail on the Gulfstream main track was absolutely, undeniably dead. It was the kind of track bias that bettors lock into and capitalize on. But all of us thought for sure that by Florida Derby Day on Saturday, the track would be evened out for Gulfstream’s biggest day of the year. It wasn’t. The rail was as dead Saturday as it had been at any time the previous week, if not more so.

** Fortunately, the dead rail had little to no impact on the running of the Florida Derby. Materiality and Upstart, the two best horses on paper in reverse order going in, broke from posts 7 and 9, were away from the rail all the way around the track, and thoroughly dominated, finishing one-two.

Rick Violette, whom I have immense respect for and like, trains Upstart and blamed the outside post for his colt’s loss. I strongly disagree. Upstart’s position on Materiality’s outside flank was actually ideal with the way Gulfstream’s track has been playing. Upstart was just second best this time but remains a top-level Kentucky Derby contender.

Materiality now is 3 for 3 and has earned Beyer Speed Figures of 110 and 102 in his last two starts, both going 1 1/8 miles. Materiality is a force, but he did not race at 2 and will attempt to become the first to win the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2 since 1882. This is not just some silly statistic. This is big history to overcome.

** Unfortunately, Gulfstream’s dead rail did impact the results of a couple of other main-track stakes there Saturday. Eskenformoney made an outside run to the lead in the Gulfstream Park Oaks, then dropped to the inside, and was run down by Birdatthewire, who stayed outside. And Valid, the even-money favorite in the Sir Shackleton, was swallowed by the quicksand on the rail. Both Eskenformoney and Valid were ridden by Javier Castellano.

** Competitive Edge made it three blowout scores from as many starts with his successful comeback in Friday’s Tamarac Stakes at Gulfstream. And as impressive as Competitive Edge’s return was, it was even better when you consider he went to the rail early in that race and stayed there. I’ve been playing Gulfstream regularly, and I can tell you that from March 21 through March 28, Competitive Edge was the one and only main track winner who spent any meaningful part of the race on the inside. The only one.

** You have to hand it to International Star for sweeping the Kentucky Derby prep series at Fair Grounds, a sweep he capped with his victory over Stanford in the Louisiana Derby. And yet, I still don’t consider International Star a top-level Kentucky Derby aspirant. He had a beautiful trip Saturday, and he only scored by a neck over Stanford, who was crushed by Materiality earlier this month at Gulfstream.

** But I’m a Chatterbox, who completed her sweep of Fair Grounds’s Kentucky Oaks preps with a decisive score in the Fair Grounds Oaks, absolutely is the top contender for the Kentucky Oaks, and by a clear margin. I’m a Chatterbox just looks like she’s in a different league than the crew who disputed the Gulfstream Oaks.

** Speaking of elite Kentucky Derby candidates, Mubtaahij created quite a buzz with his destruction of his United Arab Emirates Derby field, and he is coming to Louisville. But though Mubtaahij obviously is a talented colt and in top hands, he beat little Saturday, and he had the kind of perfect trip he could never hope to get in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby. Moreover, the Beyer folks estimated that Mubtaahij ran about a 95 at Meydan. He will have to improve.

** I’m drawing a line through Main Sequence’s loss in the Dubai Sheema Classic. That race was a mess for him, literally from the start.

** Of all the big races we saw on Saturday, was any winner more impressive than Solow in the Dubai Turf? Didn’t think so. What a monster.

Michelle Weir More than 1 year ago
I've got to wonder why Carolyn Coburn spends so much time on social media trashing her husbands partner rather than train a horse. Steve, for all of his boasting, have never owned a winning horse. So why are they bashing the guy who made their lives so much better. Got to wonder.
Marci Blatt More than 1 year ago
Just heard a report of Strangles fom one horse flown from Dubai over to Newmarket. Two other horses on that same flight. Both of them are coming up negative on the tests thank goodness. Does anyone know when Crome flew over?
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
I read the same thing in the Boston Globe.Can anyone verify this?
Andrew More than 1 year ago
at first I didnt like the move, but the more i think about it I like it. How can we ask the best in Europe to travel here for BC, if our best dont take thier show on the road?
Gary Garland More than 1 year ago
But he isn't our best on the turf not even close.
Jeff Mcintosh More than 1 year ago
I gave this guy a pass after the Belmont, but know I am absolutely convinced he has lost his mind.
Carolyn Coburn More than 1 year ago
Steve had nothing to due the decision. Perry Martin is solely responsible, so please quit making nasty remarks about Steve.
CreatingCapital More than 1 year ago
Way to go Carolyn! We appreaciate the honesty and openess you both have shown. Downright refeshing.
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
How do you know who Jeff is talking about?
Laura Pugh More than 1 year ago
Was this move strange when the connections of animal kingdom did the same thing, after a nearly identical campaign from Nov-Dubai? AK had never won a graded stakes over turf, remember that detail.
crapslover . More than 1 year ago
Animal kingdom who was a much better horse with Graham motion training and got nothing in Europe, and this horse is no Animal Kingdom and he's certainly not a grade 1 turf horse stupidest move ever by a mentally challenged owner with a horse who is heading downward, hasn't won a dirt race since the Preakness.
Andrew More than 1 year ago
Animal Kingdom did not win 2/3 of the Triple Crown
Gary Garland More than 1 year ago
Last I saw the triple crown was run on dirt
Paul G More than 1 year ago
Chrome has almost always finished in the money and never last. I think the owners should send Chrome to England. With the money that Chrome is making them, they will obviously own other horses and mares. This is part of the racing education. I admire that they will be getting their feet wet internationally. Will Chrome win in England? Unless he improves, probably not. Will he embarrass himself? Probably not. Chrome is earning his retirement, stud career, and fan base. Let him. Not every horse can be a Curlin, not every mare a Zenyatta. We should be happy for the owners. Maybe this will keep them interested in the game for the long run.
tommy More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this move!! California chrome will stay in Europe, get a new trainer, and might just improve!! Art Sherman is a nice man but he lacks the knowledge to take this horse to the next level!!
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
I am in agreement with you, Mike. I have found some comfort though in checking in at the DAP Racing Facebook page, where it appears that Mr. Martin is answering a lot of fans' questions and concerns personally. At least he is "listening" and as long as questions are respectful and not rude, it appears he is attempting to put concerns to rest. I found in particular that he reiterated that Art Sherman and Alan, and Raul, are all and ever will be Chrome's trainer and team. Also, Chrome's last race for his career will be the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland, so he is expected to return to the States after Ascot. I still would not put the horse through this, and I would send Raul over there to be by his side, and would prefer for Alan to be there as well. As horses are herd animals, a disruption in their routine and those around them can be stressful. I believe, though, that Mr. Martin is listening and any signs of stress to Chrome will be addressed. It is what it is, and hopefully it will turn out well. No one knows what the outcome will be. Just want him to come home safe. Animal Kingdom didn't do too well under this scenario...he basically bombed at Royal Ascot with his "studdishness" coming out at the wrong time! In Facebook, type in DAP Racing, and you should easily find the official DAP page.
Bugsy Anderson More than 1 year ago
Euro horses do quite well when left here in other people's care without the usuals that they grew up with, why wouldnt it work in reverse?
Andrew More than 1 year ago
Watchmaker, since you saw the head-on replay of the DWC, can you tell me if there was bumping going on between Chrome and the horse to his inside down the home stretch? To me it looked like there was, but I cant tell who is to blame. Anyways it did appear the Chrome was trying to fight back but kept getting bumped. He still kept fighting to run on well for 2nd. I still dont know that he would have beat Prince Bishop, Chrome really did not accelarate when Prince Bishop did.