03/08/2014 6:03PM

Santa Anita: California Chrome breaks sharp and never looks back in San Felipe

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Benoit Photo
California Chrome is all alone at the finish of the San Felipe under jockey Victor Espinoza. California Chrome earned 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.

ARCADIA, Calif. – California Chrome is training at a place known for horses that run a quarter-mile, but on Saturday at Santa Anita he ran like a horse who wants every part of 1 1/4 miles.

California Chrome crushed his rivals in the Grade 2, $300,000 San Felipe Stakes, a major prep for 3-year-olds for both the Santa Anita Derby and the Kentucky Derby. Under the system used by Churchill Downs to determine the field for the May 3 Derby, California Chrome earned 50 points, which should be enough to make the maximum field of 20.

If that happens, he will be the first horse to run in the 1 1/4-mile Derby who trains at Los Alamitos, which became California Chrome’s home after he was displaced by the closure of Hollywood Park. Los Alamitos is primarily a track for Quarter Horse racing, but has taken on an important role for Thoroughbreds on this circuit.

Art Sherman, who trains California Chrome, joked that California Chrome’s alert start on Saturday was “because he was training at Los Alamitos.”

“He looked like a 350-horse leaving there,” Sherman said.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Jockey Victor Espinoza wisely did not give up what came easy. California Chrome, who usually stalks, led every step of the 1 1/16-mile race. He repelled a prolonged bid from Midnight Hawk for the first six furlongs of the race before drawing away powerfully down the lane for a 7 1/4-length victory.

Midnight Hawk was a clear second by 6 1/4 lengths over Kristo. Schoolofhardrocks was fourth and was followed, in order, by Unstoppable Colby, Recanted, and Sawyer’s Hill.

Bayern, Home Run Kitten, and Rprettyboyfloyd were all scratched.

California Chrome set fractions of 23.09 seconds, 45.55 seconds – a 22.46 second quarter – 1:09.45, and 1:33.94 en route to a final time of 1:40.59 on a fast main track.

Even through California Chrome was being pressed through quick splits, “I was excited to see the hold Victor had on him,” Sherman said.

“He had horse,” Sherman said. “And when he asked him go to, he looked like a fresh horse.”

California Chrome is a California-bred who had raced just twice, without success, in open company prior to the San Felipe. Both those starts came at age 2. But he was coming off a pair of runaway victories against state-breds in his last two starts, and had the look of a horse who was getting good at just the right time. As a result, he was sent off the favorite at 7-5 and paid $4.80 for $2 to his backers.

He has now won five times in nine starts.

Perry Martin and Steve Coburn bred and own California Chrome, a colt by Lucky Pulpit who is named for his chestnut coat and generous splashes of white on his face and legs.

He’s pretty, and he looked pretty good Saturday.