03/26/2016 3:35PM

California Chrome, Espinoza add Dubai World Cup to trophy case

Email

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Has anyone asked Victor Espinoza about bringing about world peace, ending hunger, turning lead into gold?

Because Espinoza the last 23 months has done things scarcely to be believed – winning two Kentucky Derbies, two Preaknesses, one Triple Crown, a Breeders’ Cup Classic –  and now a Dubai World Cup. And the horse that took Espinoza to the top of this mountain Saturday night at Meydan Racecourse, California Chrome, added another chapter to his fairy-tale career, setting a track record and making short work of an outstanding field while becoming the richest American racehorse ever.

California Chrome won by 3 3/4 lengths over Mubtaahij, and it didn’t even seem that close, but Chrome’s beloved 76-year-old trainer, Art Sherman, a jockey for 23 years, wasn’t taking any chances.

“Oh I was riding that horse down the lane!” Sherman said. “I felt like I was back in the saddle again.”

While Sherman imagined himself into a saddle, Espinoza worried he was losing his actual one. The girth on California Chrome’s saddled loosened at some point in the race, and Espinoza’s seat had slid considerably down Chrome’s barrel by the time the race was run.

“I was just trying to keep my balance,” Espinoza said. “I wasn’t really concerned about it, but I was just looking forward. ‘Where’s the wire? The wire’s not coming fast enough.’”

California Chrome crossed it, the crowd roaring for the favorite. He galloped out, was pulled up, at which point Espinoza dismounted, tightened the girth, remounted, and rode slowly back with one of the most famous horses in the world to get his picture taken.

“After I won the Triple Crown, I had a goal to win the Dubai World Cup,” Espinoza said. “I was second last year, and that wasn’t very fun.”

The man hasn’t been second much. He’s won five of the last six Triple Crown races, and ended his 2015 season raising his arms as American Pharoah ran out of the racing world a brilliant Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. Even as that was happening, California Chrome was in the early phases of his comeback. Beaten into second in this race last year at 4 by shocking winner Prince Bishop, California Chrome didn’t race again in 2015. As Espinoza won the Derby, California Chrome struggled to adapt to life and training in England, where his owners had directly sent him after the World Cup. California Chrome never adapted, didn’t race there, and after a couple weeks at Arlington, where he shipped coming back home, the plug was pulled on his campaign.

Steve Coburn, the horse’s minority owner, sold his share of Chrome to Taylor Made Farm, where California Chrome went to recuperate. Taylor Made stands stallions, and Sherman wasn’t sure he’d ever train his once-in-a-lifetime horse again, but eventually the decision was made to give California Chrome a 5-year-old campaign, one with two main objectives: The Dubai World Cup and the Breeders’ Cup.

One down, one to go.

The plan to send California Chrome early to Dubai shortly after he won his comeback race Jan. 9 in the San Pasqual at Santa Anita bore rich fruit Saturday night. An easy handicap win over the World Cup’s 2000-meter distance here Feb. 26 had California Chrome tuned for this race.

California Chrome broke crisply enough from post 11 in the World Cup, but with Mshawish going for the lead while two paths off the rail and Special Fighter stacked up outside him, California Chrome was four wide going into the first turn – just where Espinoza wanted him.

“I thought if I could hit the turn three or four wide I’d be in good shape,” he said. “I don’t want to go six or seven wide.”

California Chrome held his position down the backstretch, lost ground again on the second turn while three paths wide, and after straightening for home, was stoked for run by Espinoza. And he gave plenty. California Chrome jumped on the tiring leaders more than furlong out, hit the front with relative ease, and steamed home with the largest World Cup winning margin since Well Armed’s 14-length romp in 2009.

Alan Sherman, Art’s son, was here with the horse last year, and this winter he’s been in Dubai for more than two months, eating, sleeping, and dreaming Chrome. The horse hit the wire, and Alan Sherman came flying down the path from the winner’s circle to meet him with a whoop and a leap.

“You didn’t know a fat man could jump that high, did you?” he said in victory’s glow.

California Chrome also jumped to a new level Saturday night. This was his first win over older Grade 1 or Group 1 horses, and easily his most important victory since the Preakness nearly two years ago. He’d been a fine, close third in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup, but after his lost 4-year-old season, it seemed fair to wonder if Chrome - the product of an improbable by-nothing-out-of-nothing mating, with his flashy socks and blaze, and his huge fan base, known as Chromies - was more hat than cattle. But he brought it Saturday night, running the fastest 2,000 meters of the two-year Meydan dirt era, 2:01.83.

California Chrome is the best horse by a country mile ever sired by Lucky Pulpit, and as every Chromie knows, he’s out of the Not For Love mare Love the Chase. Martin and Coburn bred him in California. He ran his record Saturday to 12-3-1 from 21 starts, and the $6 million share of the purse gave him $12,532,650 in earnings, surpassing Curlin’s American record $10,501,800. California Chrome, heavily favored in U.S. betting, paid $4.40 to win.

“That’s great,” said Sherman. “Everybody cashed a ticket.”

California Chrome leaves Dubai on Thursday, flies to Chicago for a brief quarantine, and then will be sent by van to Taylor Made outside Lexington, Ky., for a 30-day rest. Plans aren’t set, but Sherman suggested it was likely California Chrome would race just twice before going to stud, in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar and in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

“He runs really well fresh,” Sherman said.

Mubtaahij, trained to the minute by Mike de Kock, ran easily his best race among three this winter, hugging the fence for most of the trip and running on gamely for second, a neck in front of Hoppertunity, who ran a very strong race to finish third after settling in the rear and winding up about six paths wide around the far turn. Special Fighter, whose course record Chrome broke, was a creditable fourth, while Frosted, the second choice, got into a great stalking spot on the outside, but came home a one-paced fifth. Mshawish, the somewhat surprising pacesetter, didn’t stay and faded to sixth, and was followed by Candy Boy, Keen Ice, Hokko Tarumae, Teletext, Vadamos, and Gun Pit.

Mubtaahij, the runner-up, was eighth in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Belmont, and after acting up in the gate, ran a strong enough race in the World Cup that de Kock said his 4-year-old is likely to come to the U.S. to try and win a Grade 1 at some point this year. What de Kock doesn’t want is to bump into the flashy chestnut again anytime soon.

“If California Chrome is staying west, we’re going east,” De Kock said. “I want to go to the opposite side of the world from him if I can.”