02/25/2016 3:10PM

California Chrome easily wins Dubai World Cup prep


California Chrome’s connections got exactly what they were looking for when the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner cruised home an easy winner in a handicap race over about 1 1/4 miles on Thursday night at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.

California Chrome, the 1-9 favorite in North American parimutuel betting on the race, won by two lengths over Storm Belt despite carrying about 15 pounds more and never really being asked to run by Victor Espinoza. The race was California Chrome’s prep for the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 26.

“It was easy,” Espinoza said. “The way it looked was the way he ran. I didn’t want to overdo it with him today. He went nice and comfortable today. From the first turn, it was pretty much all by himself.”

California Chrome broke from post 1 and briefly made the lead but ceded it after a half-furlong to Success Story. Espinoza steered California Chrome to the No. 2 path, but when Hunting Ground also came up to contest the pace, Espinoza had to take another hold and position California Chrome about three paths off the rail on the first turn. There he stayed perched down the backstretch and around the second bend, moving effortlessly to the lead at the top of the stretch and overwhelming his overmatched foes while Espinoza barely moved his hands.

California Chrome ran the 2,000 meters in 2:04.24, a solid-enough time, and though he went just 0.03 seconds faster than a lesser horse named Brabbham did in winning over the same distance on the card, he carried about 14 pounds more than Brabbham and obviously was never set down by Espinoza.

“Perfect race – we were very satisfied,” said trainer Art Sherman. “He got a mile and a quarter under his belt. He’s going to be double-tough now.”

Sherman flew Sunday from California to saddle California Chrome in this $175,000 handicap race, but his son Alan has been with California Chrome since the 5-year-old horse flew to Dubai last month. California Chrome shipped in for the 2015 World Cup and finished second, and his connections have tried a different approach this season by sending the horse early. From all appearances, the plan is progressing as intended. Curlin ran in a similar race in Dubai at the end of February 2008 before winning the World Cup by more than seven lengths.

Earlier on the card, another American horse, Marking, did a few things wrong but was much the best in a $110,000 handicap over about six furlongs on dirt, a potential tune-up for the Group 1 Golden Shaheen on World Cup Night. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Marking stumbled and lost his jockey when he raced Feb. 11 at Meydan, and while Marking was away awkwardly again and traveled somewhat uncomfortably inside and behind horses for much of the trip, he quickened nicely once guided into the clear at the top of the homestretch.

“The last two furlongs is the Marking we know and were hoping to see,” said assistant trainer Neal McLaughlin. “He’s a very talented horse.”

Godolphin campaigns Marking, and it also won the featured Group 2 Zabeel Mile on Thursday with Safety Check, who beat Ghaamer by a head to score his second straight win in the one-mile turf fixture.