01/28/2017 8:52PM

California Chrome physically unable to perform up to his usual greatness in Pegasus World Cup

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Emily Shields
Trainer Art Sherman detected some fluid in a knee after California Chrome finished ninth in the Pegasus World Cup.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -  Art Sherman stood quietly back at the barn, a look of both disappointment and incredulity on his face, still trying to pinpoint a reason for California Chrome’s lackluster performance only minutes earlier in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park. And within short order he may have found the answer, some fluid in California Chrome’s right knee. Nothing major, but surely enough to prevent the four-time champion from performing his best in the final race of his remarkable career.

“It might be a chip, which we could take out arthroscopically,” said Sherman.

Sherman said he could see five furlongs into the race that California Chrome, ridden by Victor Espinoza, obviously wasn’t himself.

“He had to rush him leaving there, but down the backside he was sitting in a perfect spot right next to Arrogate and he just didn’t go on,” said Sherman. “I could understand him being outrun, but he never even tried. He never fired. That’s just not like him. I’ve never seen him hang like that before.”

Espinoza also sensed something was wrong as the field neared the half-mile pole.

“Coming to the half-mile pole he was empty,” said Espinoza. “Arrogate was inside me and I wanted to go with him, and I can’t. There was nothing I could have done different. He just completely shut down. Hopefully he’s okay. It looked like he was okay. It really surprised me, because he never really ran a bad race before today. Sometimes they have physical problems, or you think you could have ridden them a little differently. But that wasn’t the case today. I can’t ask any more from him, all he’s done for me, all he’s done for the sport. He just didn’t have it today.”

Sherman said the only sense he had something might be wrong prior to the race came shortly before the start.

“He reared up just before going into the starting gate,” said Sherman. “He’s never done that before. That was something new.”

Espinoza also said he was surprised at how California Chrome acted behind the gate.

“He took back a little, like he didn’t want to go in the gate,” said Espinoza. “Maybe he was trying to tell me something was not right.”

Sherman said even though California Chrome ended his career on a down note, his ninth-place finish in the Pegasus World Cup should have little effect on his legacy.  California Chrome will retire as a two-time Horse of the Year and as the richest North American-based horse with earnings of more than $14,750,000. Had he won the Pegasus Cup, he would have retired as the richest horse in the world.

“He had one bad race after so many good ones,” said Sherman. “It’s been an unbelievable journey with him, even in defeat. He’s still got all those wins next to his name. He’s still a champion.”

- additional reporting by Jay Privman