01/28/2016 4:06PM

Hovdey: Chew thinks the world of Cal Cup races


They are running the California Cup at Santa Anita again on Saturday, an entertaining subsidy of a West Coast breeding industry that was crashed by real estate and the recession and has settled into a fairly steady production of between 1,600 and 1,700 foals a year.

Anything for a party.

When the Cal Cup was introduced in 1991, California foals represented 13 percent of the national crop. Now, the number has dipped below 8 percent, which is still good enough to sit just behind No. 2 Florida. Kentucky’s crop is as large as the next five states combined.

Then again, it’s not the size of the crop. It’s what you do with it that counts. Recent Santa Monica Stakes winner Lost Bus is only the latest California-bred to go rogue in a graded event, while the big, red elephant in the room is California’s own California Chrome, who used the Cal Cup Derby of 2013 as a launching point for his attack on the Triple Crown.

California Chrome is in Dubai preparing for the $10 million World Cup, a sum that pretty much would have funded the 2015 and 2016 Golden State Stakes Series, of which the Cal Cup is a part. But enough of that. Jealously is a terrible thing.

For many California owners and trainers, the Cal Cup provides not only a day to bask in the spotlight but also a chance to win the kind of money usually reserved for open stakes company. Still, it’s hardly a handout. Besides California Chrome, the unwary opposition has come up against such West Coast stars as Lava Man, Best Pal, Dream of Summer, Dancing in Silks, and Big Jag in Cal Cup events.

“The Cal Cup is essentially my Breeders’ Cup,” said trainer Matt Chew, who will try to win two of the five races on the program.

“I asked Richard Mandella the other day how many Cal-breds he had in his barn,” said Chew, who is stabled next door to the Hall of Fame trainer. “His answer was three.”

And, just for context, how many Cal-breds does Chew train?

“How many stalls do I have?” he replied.

Last year, Chew sent out the $32,000 claim Singing Kitty to win the $200,000 Cal Cup Oaks at a mile on the grass. This time around, Singing Kitty will be among the dozen hurtling down the hillside course in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint.

(Before you ask, the race name is a vestigial remnant of the more comprehensive Sunshine Millions event that once was shared by Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita. Call it whatever – it’s a Cal Cup event.)

Singing Kitty is a daughter of Ministers Wild Cat who was bred by Tommy Town Thoroughbreds and races for Peter Jeong and Chris Aulds. Aulds is a New Mexico resident with a sizeable stable there, while Jeong lives locally and has become, literally, a hands-on owner.

“Peter’s kind of a cheerleader for her,” Chew said. “He’s at the barn early every morning before he goes to work at his job as an engineer designing oil-drilling equipment. He massages Singing Kitty, and he’s become very good at it. In fact, on weekends he does the whole barn.”

After winning the Cal Cup Oaks a year ago, Singing Kitty was sent after the division’s best in races like the Santa Anita Oaks and the Honeymoon Stakes, but she found the water too deep. When pitched perfect, though, Singing Kitty won a pair of overnight stakes and hit the board in the Grade 3 Autumn Miss to wrap up her 2015 season. She prepped in the Monrovia Stakes on Jan. 3 and was beaten five lengths by Prize Exhibit. Gary Stevens rides her back.

“Gary learned a lot when he rode her,” Chew said. “She was coming out of the 1 hole down the hill, and because of the post, he thought he tried to do a little too much with her by taking her back rather than letting her lay a little closer and do her own thing. Basically, I thought he did what he needed to do, and he thought he could have done it better.”

Later on Saturday, Chew will saddle Image of Joplin in the $250,000 California Cup Turf Classic at 1 1/8 miles. Dahlberg Farms of San Miguel, Calif., bred the 5-year-old son of Southern Image, who races for Mark Feld’s Lucas Downs Ltd.

Image of Joplin comes into the race with three wins from his last four starts, including a pair of front-running victories in his last two appearances on the Santa Anita grass. Chew was hoping his horse could use that speed to all possible advantage Saturday, but then another trainer went and spoiled those best-laid plans.

“I was a little disappointed Kenny Black put his horse in there, which gives us something we have to look at for sure,” Chew noted. What a View, the Black horse in question, comes out of his own front-running score over the Santa Anita turf.

“I thought we’d be the lone speed, but he’s still going to the front,” Chew said. “If the other horse doesn’t take back, they both might be done halfway through the race. But my horse has proven me wrong before, and he’s doing so well I thought it was a good time to swing for the fences.”