Updated on 01/13/2016 9:44AM

California Chrome scores comeback victory in San Pasqual

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Barbara D. Livingston
California Chrome, racing for the first time in more than nine months, delivers as the 3-5 favorite in the San Pasqual.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The ninth stakes win of California Chrome’s career in Saturday’s $200,500 San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita reminded winning rider Victor Espinoza of the horse’s sixth stakes win in the 2014 Kentucky Derby.

California Chrome took the lead with a quarter-mile remaining in the Grade 2 San Pasqual at 1 1/16 miles. While 7-1 Imperative offered a brief challenge in the stretch, California Chrome was too sharp in his first start in nine months, and won by 1 1/4 lengths.

“He accelerated in the stretch,” Espinoza said. “In the Kentucky Derby, he had a kick in the stretch and today he did the same thing. I’m so proud of him.”

The Kentucky Derby remains California Chrome’s most famous win and contributed to him being voted Horse of the Year in 2014. This year, the same Horse of the Year title is a goal for a popular 5-year-old who will be sent to Dubai later this month to be prepared for the $10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse on March 26.

Judging from the San Pasqual, California Chrome will be competitive in the Dubai World Cup, a race in which he was second in 2015.

California Chrome ($3.20) was timed in 1:43.39 for his win in San Pasqual. He had an ideal trip.  Espinoza positioned California Chrome in second for the first six furlongs, following the 38-1 outsider Alfa Bird, who set fractions of 24.82 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 49.12 seconds for the first half-mile.

Racing on the outside, California Chrome moved closer to Alfa Bird on the turn before taking the lead. He led by 1 1/2 lengths with a furlong to go.

“I was confident the whole way,” Espinoza said.

Espinoza said that California Chrome’s six-furlong workout in 1:10.04 at Santa Anita on Jan. 2 gave him more confidence that the horse was ready for the San Pasqual.

“He put me in a different mentality,” he said.

Imperative, best known for winning the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic in West Virginia in 2014, closed from fourth to finish second. Imperative gave trainer Richard Baltas a brief thrill in the stretch when he closed into California Chrome’s lead for a few strides, but the moment was short-lived.

“I’m proud of the horse,” Baltas said. “It looked like he might get to that horse in the stretch, but Chrome was ready. He’s a special horse that racing needs.”

Baltas said that Imperative was troubled with a tender foot earlier in the week, but that he showed no problems in a key gallop on Friday. Baltas consulted with his veterinarian and farrier before making final plans for a start.

“They said we were okay to run,” Baltas said.

Hoppertunity, who won the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes in 2015, finished third, beaten 2 1/4 lengths. Hard Aces, the winner of the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita last June, finished fourth, followed by Blingo, Point Piper, and Alfa Bird. Mystery Train was withdrawn on Saturday morning.

California Chrome earned $120,000, and is now the richest California-bred in history, with earnings of $6,442,650. He surpassed Tiznow, the 2000 Horse of the Year who earned $6,427,830.

The win in the Grade 2 San Pasqual will be California Chrome’s final start in the United States for several months. He is scheduled to be sent to Dubai on Jan. 21 and will have a prep race there in advance of the Dubai World Cup.

Trainer Art Sherman was as relieved as he was delighted that California Chrome won his comeback.

“It worried me for a moment that he could get late,” Sherman said. “I’m hoping he got a lot out of the race. I think we’ll have a big 2016 if we can keep him sound and happy.”

California Chrome races for Perry Martin and Taylor Made Farm. Last summer, Taylor Made Farm bought breeder and previous minority owner Steve Coburn’s 30 percent share. The win left Frank Taylor of Taylor Made Farm eager for the rest of 2016.

“He’s such a special horse,” Taylor said. “I thought he needed a little bit of a race. It tested him. I think it was a good start.”