12/18/2016 12:24PM

California Chrome shows quick recovery from Challenge

Benoit & Associates
California Chrome wins the Los Alamitos Winter Challenge by 12 lengths.

CYPRESS, Calif. - California Chrome won the 15th stakes of his career with a record-setting performance against nine overmatched rivals in the $180,000 Los Alamitos Winter Challenge on Saturday.

In the hours after the race, trainer Art Sherman saw little evidence California Chrome had run.

“I’ve never seen a horse that won that way and recovered that quickly,” Sherman said Sunday morning. “He’s a horse that makes you shake your head. He’s one of a kind.”

California Chrome won the Los Alamitos Winter Challenge by 12 lengths after a wide trip. He ran 1 1/16 miles in a track-record time of 1:40.03 under jockey Victor Espinoza. The previous track record was held by the 3-year-old Uncle Lino, who was timed in 1:40.82 in April in the California Chrome Stakes, no less.

California Chrome was wide throughout the Winter Challenge, took the lead on the final turn and scooted clear in the last furlong. Point Piper, the winner of the Grade 3 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs in August, finished second.

The Winter Challenge was designed by Los Alamitos management in recent months as a send-off for California Chrome, the 2014 Horse of the Year and a California-bred. California Chrome will make his final start in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28 before beginning a stud career in Kentucky in February.

Saturday’s program was an opportunity for Southern California racing fans to see California Chrome in action on his home circuit. The event drew an ontrack crowd of 5,023, which was smaller than the high four figures track officials had hoped to draw. They were a rowdy bunch, cheering California Chrome as he walked into the paddock, through the walking ring, and as he ran down the stretch.

Even as he left the winner’s circle, fans packed eight to 10 deep on the rails chanted his name, “Chrome! Chrome! Chrome!”

California Chrome may have recovered quickly from his race, but Sherman’s hand may need more time to be back to normal.

“I signed so many autographs,” he said. “They wouldn’t let me go.

“When he was in the paddock, people started yelling and screaming. He’s got that glance, like, 'Yeah, that’s me.' ”

In coming weeks, California Chrome will have two workouts at Los Alamitos before a scheduled departure to Gulfstream Park on Jan. 6, Sherman said Sunday. The late December and early January workouts will not be strenuous.

“We’ll get more serious when we get to Florida,” he said.

Owned by Perry Martin and Taylor Made Farms, California Chrome is the richest North American-based Thoroughbred with career earnings of $14,502,650. He has won 16 of 26 starts, including seven of eight races this year. He is expected to receive widespread support for the Horse of the Year title despite losing the Breeders’ Cup Classic to the brilliant 3-year-old Arrogate at Santa Anita on Nov. 5.

Soon, his racing career will be over. Martin has a yearling full brother to California Chrome that is being prepared for the 2017 season. Sherman said the colt is scheduled to arrive at Los Alamitos in March, and will have California Chrome’s special stall, which is actually two stalls with a middle wall removed.

The soon-to-be 2-year-old impressed Sherman when he saw videos of the colt being broken recently.

“He’s got a good mind, but he’s a little one,” Sherman said. “He might get lost in that stall.”