04/10/2015 2:05PM

Hovdey: Chrome could face uphill climb at Ascot

Email

There has been plenty of uninformed speculation about California Chrome’s English adventure and whether it will turn out to be excellent or not. Just for a change of pace, how about a little informed speculation on the subject?

John Gosden knows the American racehorse better than any top British trainer working today. After all, he had to deal with them for the first decade of his career, during which time he trained champions Royal Heroine, a European transplant, and Bates Motel, who was American through and through.

Back in his native Britain, Gosden has won the Epsom Derby, the Epsom Oaks, the 1000 and 2000 Guineas (for a total of 3,000 Guineas), two runnings of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and four runnings of the English St. Leger. He was champion trainer there in 2012, and in 2014 he campaigned a pair of Cartier champions: the 3-year-old filly Taghrooda and the 3-year-old colt Kingman, who was also Horse of the Year.

Both Kingman and Taghrooda were retired at the end of last season, leaving the Gosden stable bereft of a superstar. He was asked if he has anything of promise as the classic season approaches, kicked off by the Guineas meet at Newmarket the first week of May.

“I don’t quite have a Kingman, if that’s what you mean,” he said. “I have three colts that I’ll be testing in some trials this week. But usually if at this point you’re still messing around with three, you don’t have one. If you’ve got a real Derby horse, you know a long way out.”

On Friday, a Gosden filly finished second in a maiden race at Leicester, which was worth a whopping $1,410. Such is the state of British racing, with a feast-or-famine purse structure that belies its international reputation of quality racing. It must be the accent.

Gosden stables his horses on Newmarket’s Bury Road, the fashionable side of town hard by the famous uphill gallops. California Chrome, on the other hand, is living in a yard closer to the racetrack owned by trainer Rae Guest.

“We call it the race-course side,” Gosden said. “A little less hills than over here, but that shouldn’t bother California Chrome. He should be perfectly happy over there since he’s probably not used to galloping up the 6 1/2-furlong track at Santa Anita the wrong way.

“Rae Guest is a friend, a good horseman, and a talented guy,” Gosden added. “He’s a wise choice to advise them.”

If recent accounts are to be believed, primarily attributed to majority owner Perry Martin, California Chrome will be pointed toward a possible start in the 1 1/4-mile Prince of Wales’s Stakes on Wednesday, June 17, one of the highlights of the Royal Ascot meeting. The purse is roughly $770,000.

“That will be interesting,” Gosden said. “They run downhill, through Swindley Bottom, and then he has to climb. It’s a true blue-ribbon event – nothing wrong with that.”

Gosden won the Prince of Wales’s Stakes last year with The Fugue, a filly familiar to American audiences after her pair of game but troubled runs in Breeders’ Cup events on firm turf at Santa Anita. She got her ground at Ascot on the big day, breaking the course record.

“It’s a stiff track and a real mile and a quarter,” Gosden said. “The last mile is a considerable climb, what we call ‘on the collar,’ which means it rises all the time.”

At this point, the idea of a California-based dirt horse converting to a European-style galloper in time for one of the toughest 10-furlong races in the British Isles is beginning to seem absurd. American horses, always running and training on flat, left-handed tracks, end up being best suited to running on flat, left-handed tracks.

“You’re dealing with a different conformation as well as pedigree,” Gosden said. “The turf course at Ascot, if he does run there, is a very fair track. It’s sand-based, and it was re-laid six or eight years ago. When he gets to a race, I wouldn’t want to see him run on soft ground, though, which we could get with a summer rain. I don’t think that would suit him at all.”

Gosden was in Dubai with a runner in one of the lesser races on the World Cup card – which means it was only worth a million bucks – and he was impressed with California Chrome’s second-place finish in the big one.

“He was wide all the way and strongly compromised there,” Gosden said. “I just wish he’d been able to tuck in a bit somewhere, but it wasn’t easy.”

As for his chances for success in a race like the Prince of Wales’s, Gosden preferred to let the horse do the talking. He did point out that the list of past winners is distinguished, including the likes of Ela-Mana-Mou, Stanerra, Bosra Sham, Dubai Millennium, Fantastic Light, Ouija Board, and So You Think, not to mention The Fugue.

“We’re delighted he’s here, but it’s beyond a bold move,” Gosden said. “One has to admire that.”