02/25/2016 3:36PM

Hovdey: Even from half a world away, Chrome still glistens


In order to fully appreciate California Chrome’s race in Dubai on Thursday evening, UAE time, it was necessary to perform a few calculations and cultural translations. As breakfast was served, and with more than two hours to post (9:55 a.m. Pacific), there still was plenty of time.

The race is on the dirt course at Meydan at 2,000 meters. The dirt course at Meydan is laid out inside the turf course. One meter is equivalent to 0.000621371 miles, which multiplied by 2,000 is 1.24.26, close enough to call it a mile and a quarter, the distance of the $10 million World Cup on March 26, which is why California Chrome is there in the first place.

The race is called the Trans Gulf Electromechanical Trophy. Trans Gulf Electromechanical Construction is part of the Dubai-based Al Naboodah Group, which sponsored all the racing on Thursday’s program. Al Naboodah and its subsidiaries played a key role in the construction of the Meydan complex that includes the racecourse.

The race is a handicap. In a career of 19 starts, California Chrome has never run in a handicap. Three of his races once were handicaps – the San Felipe, the San Antonio, and the San Pasqual – but no more. The most California Chrome has ever carried was the 126 pounds that all the horses packed through the 2014 Triple Crown events.

For European purposes, which pretty much govern Dubai’s handicap system, California Chrome is rated at 121. Don’t ask how they get that, but 121 translates to an assignment of 60 kilograms for the race. One kilo equals 2.2 pounds, which multiplied by 60 equals 132 pounds, which is 15 pounds more than the other seven horses in the race would carry.

“Most of these horses not sufficiently compensated for their deficiency,” noted simulcast presenter James Willoughby.

Neither Willoughby nor fellow presenter Angus McNae tried very hard to make a case for the opposition. For El Tren to challenge California Chrome “would be a miracle.” Good Contact “has got to show he’s man enough.” Pit Stop is “hard to entertain as a potential winner,” and Storm Belt is “surely only part of the supporting cast.”

Of course, they can be confident because they’ve got nothing at stake. Try spending time in Frank Taylor’s shoes. As part of the Taylor Made team that bought 30 percent of California Chrome and then brought a group of breeders along for the ride, Taylor was in Dubai for Thursday’s race. By text, Taylor was asked to describe the feeling of watching their multimillion-dollar investment in action half a world away.

“Fired up and thinking positive, but always ready for defeat,” the pragmatic Taylor texted back. “He is a Derby winner and a Horse of the Year, so they can’t take it away. Hoping to have fun.”

Part of the sales hook was the chance that California Chrome could earn back part of the purchase price on the racetrack before retiring to stud in 2017 at the age of 6. The purse for Thursday’s race was a mere $150,000, which is basically couch change for a horse who has already topped the $6 million mark in earnings. The last time California Chrome ran for so little was on July 31, 2013, at Del Mar in the Graduation Stakes, the fourth start of his career. He won.

Now, the camera is on California Chrome as he is being saddled in a lonely corner of the vast Meydan saddling enclosure. Alan Sherman does the honors while groom Raul Ramirez handles the shank and exercise rider Dihigi Gladney mans the off side, as Art Sherman and Frank Taylor lurk nearby, presumably fingering their rosaries. California Chrome, having done all this before, is unfazed.

“The Chrome-ster is back,” announces one of the television presenters, thus adding a new nickname to the growing list.

I have to admit, the new grayish silks of California Chrome LLC worn by Victor Espinoza look pretty sharp contrasted against the Dubai night sky, and California Chrome’s caramel coat was a vision, at least on the high-definition screen. But pretty is as pretty does. He won with style and class under a snug hold from Espinoza that prompted race announcer Terry Spargo to proclaim, “California Chrome glistens under the Meydan lights,” and set the studio presenters on a search through their vocabularies.

Willoughby: “He was battering inferiors.”

McNae: “He won that like an exercise canter.”

Willoughby: “He showed all the qualities of a ballet dancer and a street fighter,” and then he added, summoning something he must have heard on a YouTube video, “He moved like a tremendous machine.”

But don’t take their word for it. Espinoza was on his way back to his hotel room when he stopped for one last interview.

“I think it was good,” Espinoza said. “I’m very proud of him. I know it was not really a strong race, but it was a good race for him. I didn’t want him to do too much because it’s only one month before the next one. I need him to have all his energy – 100 percent for the big, big race. There’s no 90 percent or 95 percent to be able to beat those horses. I mean, 10 million dollars. They’re not going to give it to you that easy, right?”

Right. Finally, he was asked if he learned anything from last year’s World Cup, where California Chrome finished second to the surprising Prince Bishop.

“Yes, of course,” Espinoza replied. “Not to finish second.”