02/13/2015 3:51PM

Hovdey: Desert mystery awaits California Chrome


The emotional response to the decision by the California Chrome camp to head for the $10 million Dubai World Cup instead of staying home to run in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap is perfectly understandable. I forgive myself.

But dang, another race against Shared Belief in the Santa Anita event would have been a blockbuster. Fans would have had tales to tell the grandchildren. For those two minutes, the racing world would have stopped dead in its tracks to witness history, pulling a decent chunk of the general sports audience along for the ride. Who knows? ESPN might even have noticed.

Still, it is hard not to be encouraged by the record of American horses in the 14 runnings of the 1 1/4-mile World Cup on dirt at Nad Al Sheba, its former Dubai home. From 1996 to 2009, there were eight American-trained winners (nine if you count Street Cry, who began his career in California with Eoin Harty and raced primarily in the States). Another 15 have finished second or third, including Brass Hat, the runner-up in 2006 who was disqualified for trace levels of a corticosteroid administered 28 days before the race.

Those eight winners have included U.S. champions Cigar, Curlin, Invasor, and Silver Charm. Roses in May, Captain Steve, Pleasantly Perfect, and Well Armed were not champions, but they looked the part in Dubai. Medaglia d’Oro, Sandpit, Siphon, Victory Gallop, Harlan’s Holiday, and Behrens all hit the board.

So, California Chrome is going, and in a month he will be gone. His departure will leave the Santa Anita Handicap at the mercy of Shared Belief, whose finishing flourish to beat California Chrome in the San Antonio Stakes last Saturday was a sight to behold. Art Sherman had a good view from trackside, and while he would love another crack at the winner, he’s got those 10 million reasons to head for the desert with his reigning Horse of the Year.

Sherman undoubtedly will be in the crowd on Santa Anita Handicap Day, March 7, to watch his pal Jerry Hollendorfer scoop up the loot with Shared Belief. At the same time, Sherman’s thoughts will be 8,000 miles away, wondering what mysteries await at Meydan Racecourse.

Then again, he could ask Carl or Graham.

In the five years that the World Cup and its rich array of supporting races have been held at Meydan on grass and synthetic Tapeta, only two American-based runners have managed to win (the Tapeta was replaced by dirt for this season).

Kinsale King, trained by Carl O’Callaghan for Dr. Frank Sheehy, captured the 2010 Golden Shaheen at six furlongs, while Animal Kingdom took the 2013 World Cup for Team Valor and trainer Graham Motion.

“It doesn’t seem like those guys need a lot of advice,” Motion said of Sherman and his son, Alan. “I read this stuff on Twitter like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe they’re taking the horse to Dubai ... it will be his ruination!’ I don’t get it. They’re right to take a shot, and the horses I’ve taken over there have handled it pretty well.

“California Chrome seems like a horse that handles everything,” Motion said. “That’s good because the night of the race is a tough ordeal for a horse. It’s a big crowd, and it’s very intense. But this horse handled the Kentucky Derby, and there’s nothing more unnatural for a horse than the Derby experience.”

Motion noted that the greatest culture shock is the distance a horse must walk from the quarantine barns to the track for daily training.

“It must be a mile,” he said.

O’Callaghan recalls the long trudge with Kinsale King.

“I think it took a toll on some of the horses,” O’Callaghan said. “I did it one time, then I ended up staying at the quarantine barn. There’s a little quarter-mile jogging track right there to do something with them if you want. I’m not saying it was right or wrong, but it’s what I thought was best for my horse.”

As far as the night of the World Cup, the trainers described how the horses are taken by van from the stables to an underground holding area beneath the massive grandstand, then moved to another area for saddling before they emerge into the parade ring. A full dress rehearsal is offered to school horses in the procedure, but O’Callaghan recommends against it.

“By all means, the trainer should observe, but I’d keep my horse back at the barn,” he said. “It’s a three-hour ordeal, nothing at all like what we know as schooling back home. Anyway, California Chrome doesn’t seem like a headstrong horse. He’s got a lot of class, although he does tend to scream at fillies.”

Motion is looking forward to returning to Dubai next month with Main Sequence, the double Eclipse Award winner of 2014 who comes back to the races next week in Florida. He will be pointing for the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic at 1 1/2 miles on grass.

“Let’s face it, a 10 million-dollar race is life-changing,” Motion said of the World Cup. “And it’s an amazing experience to take on the rest of the world. I think we spend too much time trying to find the easiest spots for our horses. I really admire those guys for what they’ve done with California Chrome, and what they are trying to do.”

Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Think the breeding now will catch up with CC, really never beat much at yum brands and old hilltop. Only race has won since , Hol Dby on a pool table at Dmr, beat nice filly ! Best race to date was B C Classic, when short & they rave about Sherman >>>>>>
TRacingLifeMore More than 1 year ago
Chrome may win or lose, but some critics are sounding like this is animal abuse or something. American horses hold the advantage, if this race is similar to the "dirt" on American racetracks because most international horses are not bred to compete on this surface.
D'Funnybone More than 1 year ago
I'm sure Coburn and Sherman are writing down their excuses already on why California Chrome got beat in the desert(the travel, the change of scenery, different dirt surface, racing at night). This horse does get a lot of attention, especially a horse who has won exactly one race since last May, and a horse who has never won a race outside of restricted company. I'm not a hater, just reciting the facts. I'm sure California Chrome will win the Dubai World Cup, especially if he has horses such as Commanding Curve to beat up on.
Lawrence MacSelwiney More than 1 year ago
It does sound like you are a hater. You took the time to post and point out who he has beaten. This is an immensely talented horse. He may have been short when Shared Belief beat him and they were a mile clear of a very nice horse in Hopportunity.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Hi Lawrence, when I refer to open company, of course I mean open to all horses...which, yes, includes older horses. Yes, I agree CC is good....geeze...even Funnybone knows that....and by the way Funny isn't a hater either. What has been evident to those of us that write the truth about CC, is because of overzealous popularity, CC is over rated is all. Nothing more or less. It doesn't take away from his greatness. The reason why we comment is because the 3rd best horse of his generation won HOY based on popularity, not because anyone thought he was the best horse. I'd like to point out he ran good against SB, but lost. He will run very good in Dubai, but he will lose. Fact is, because his owners think he is better than he is he'll never be entered in a race again where he'll win, they think because he romped last spring and beat restricted 3 year olds in November he is the best...and truth is , he just isn't. It doesn't mean he isn't awesome. I'm rooting for him to remain healthy. But, he won't win over in Dubai, he just won't. It's ok, to be 2nd or 3rd best...it really is...Funnybone and I are just keeping it real. And truth is most of the betting public is real......dumb.
mike More than 1 year ago
Lawrence,he knows nothing about what a good horse is.
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
Funnybone - How can you have THE FACTS when THE FUTURE has yet to happen? Just wonderin pal!
Justin Young More than 1 year ago
California Chrome has won a race since May. He won the Hollywood Derby on the Del Mar Turf course. If you're claiming to recite facts then let's get the correct facts.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Justin.....Funnybone clearly wrote, " a horse who has won exactly one race since last May". Seriously dude...it's called reading comprehension.....try it sometime.
mike More than 1 year ago
Yeah he gets alot of attention-the voters attention. He won,as I predicted HOTY. Tell me,do you have anything remotely like him?
Rob Talstra More than 1 year ago
So it sounds like according to you, that if you win the Kentucky Derby And the Preakness because they are restricted races you shouldn't get a lot of attention? If you win THE MOST IMPORTANT race in America you are going to get a lot of attention no matter where you run next..FOREVER. Are you new???
Linda Sain More than 1 year ago
Look at the stats for what happens to those horses after they run that race. Most of them don't win another race the rest of the year. It is a grand experience for the owners and connections, not so much for the horse.
P Davis More than 1 year ago
mike More than 1 year ago
Felton Suthon More than 1 year ago
I loved "he tends to scream at fillies" - thanks, Simon!
Capo Capo More than 1 year ago
Oh and Graham motion as classy as they come.
Capo Capo More than 1 year ago
Toast Of New York will win the Dubai world cup. Wattani (Ron The Greek) could run big also ONLY if there is no bias favoring front runners, like there has been all carnival.
Capo Capo More than 1 year ago
Chrome has to go through them to win the $6 million share of the purse.
P Davis More than 1 year ago
hey how much for your crystal ball there capo?
Salvatore Agro More than 1 year ago
Hey Frank, Godolphin monster? On traditional dirt? Name the horse to whom you refer.
Jamie Murphy More than 1 year ago
i agree. there is no monster. that is why so many want to go
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Who knows Sal? I was just referencing that generally speaking CC just isn't good enough to beat open company in that race. I don't even know who's in the race yet. But, I'll tell you what...when they have the entries, I'll make sure to put my selection of who I think will win on here under comments somewhere. Trust me, I'm not an anti CC person. I bet him in the Derby and loved him in the Preakness....but, I took a lot of heat when I said he couldn't get the lead in the Belmont and he'd lose...and in the Classic I stated he couldn't either. I'm not against CC. I love the horse. I'm just a bit more objective in my thoughts in here and for sure when I handicap a race...I look at the race in present time, which gives me an edge. So, to answer your question, I don't know...but, I do know this, most open company horses running over there are better than CC. He will run well, but he won't win. If I'm wrong I'll step up and take the comments. But, I can tell you this....I'm right a lot.
Lawrence MacSelwiney More than 1 year ago
Not good enough to beat open company. You mean older horses...right? His last race is good enough to beat any horse in training, minus shared belief. He may have been short there as well. If he handles the trip there, they're running for second.
P Davis More than 1 year ago
he beat OPEN company in the breeders cup and the san Antonio. all the horses who finished BEHIND him, he BEAT.
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
The owners after being invited to Dubai want to go , let them. Let them go and have an expirience of a lifetime. They should, CC and Art Sherman did there job on the track to prove that he belongs, he deserves to go. If CC wins, well that would be awesome. If he loses, half of you all are gonna comment, I told you so. CC today is definatley one of the best older horse in N.A. Is he good enough to win ? That remains to be seen. Guarenteed we all will be watching and rooting for CC and company to get it done, I know I will.
mike More than 1 year ago
Wayne (troll) Say you have a horse a fraction as good as Chrome in your little stall. Right.
wayne haehner More than 1 year ago
very mature, well thought out retort the fact is the horse is probably the most hyped and over-rated horse ever to race
mike More than 1 year ago
You're the one who's inmature. Your brain can't process what a good horse really is. Pot calling kettle.
P Davis More than 1 year ago
you are the most hyped and overrated person to post here. jealous goober
P Davis More than 1 year ago
Wayne the warted TROLL
mike More than 1 year ago
He's an idiot to bash a horse that's a champ like Chrome.