11/27/2014 2:54PM

California Chrome enters Hollywood Derby with lots on the line

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Benoit & Associates
California Chrome, a three-time Grade 1 winner, makes his turf debut in the Hollywood Derby.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Throughout the first part of the year, trainer Art Sherman would often muse that as good as California Chrome was performing on dirt, he’d love one day to get him on the turf.

That day has come.

After making nine starts on dirt and six on synthetic, California Chrome races on turf for the first time when facing five other 3-year-olds Saturday in the Grade 1, $300,000 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar.

There really was no earlier opportunity for California Chrome to race on turf. It was his own damn fault. California Chrome ran so well earlier this year that there was no point in deviating from a dirt schedule that eventually saw him win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and make a bid for the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

This fall, his initial goal was the Breeders’ Cup Classic, in which he finished a close third to fellow 3-year-olds Bayern and Toast of New York.

Sherman initially thought he’d give California Chrome the rest of the year off. But a week after the Classic, he thought California Chrome had bounced out of the Breeders’ Cup so well that it was worth coming back for one more start this calendar year, especially since the race is on turf.

“The timing is great,” Sherman said Thursday.

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The long-term implications are many. Should California Chrome prevail, it would open up far more opportunities for races for him next year. More immediately, though, a win would boost California Chrome’s chances for both champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year. He owns three Grade 1 wins this year – the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Santa Anita Derby. This would be his fourth. He would be the only horse with that many Grade 1 wins on two different surfaces.

A loss, though, would be his fourth straight and would leave him winless since the Preakness.

After watching California Chrome gallop over the Del Mar turf Thursday morning with exercise rider Willie Delgado, Sherman was ready for Saturday.

“I thought he looked good,” Sherman said. “He looked like he was on the bit pretty good when he went by me.”

The largest crowd of this fall meeting is expected. The Derby is one of three graded stakes on the card. There is a beer and cider fest during the day. The popular band Cake performs after the races. This will be the first time since 2006 that a horse who won the Kentucky Derby has subsequently raced at Del Mar. And California Chrome is wildly popular.

“We should have a few Chromies out,” Sherman said.

KEY CONTENDERS

California Chrome (Last 3 Beyers: 113-98-98)

As good as California Chrome ran in the Breeders’ Cup, in which he got a career-best Beyer Speed Figure, Sherman thought he was a race away from his best. “The race at Parx,” he said, referring to the Pennsylvania Derby, “was of no benefit at all.”

California Chrome landed post 5 in a field of six, the kind of outside draw he prefers. He figures to get a perfect stalking trip, just outside of the expected pacesetter, Sawyer’s Hill.

“I don’t think he’ll be too far off the pace,” Sherman said.

Lexie Lou (Last 3 Beyers: 90-44-93)

A filly racing against males, she already proved she could beat the boys when capturing the Queen’s Plate in July.

She has won twice in three grass races, including the Autumn Miss at Santa Anita last time out.

She also was entered in the Grade 1 Matriarch on Sunday, but trainer Mark Casse on Thursday said the Hollywood Derby was where she would run.

“Our intention has always been to run in the Derby, and I haven’t seen anything to make me feel otherwise,” Casse said.

Sawyer’s Hill (Last 3 Beyers: 88-88-89)

He suffered a brutal beat in the Twilight Derby at Santa Anita, leading every step but the last two when dropping a neck decision to Long On Value.

He won twice in three starts on this course this summer, his lone loss a second-place finish in the Del Mar Derby.

Flamboyant (Last 3 Beyers: 87-78-88)

He was a close fourth in the Twilight Derby, his first start since a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Del Mar Derby.

He will wear blinkers for the first time in this race.