03/26/2016 7:37PM

Watchmaker: California Chrome takes it to another level


California Chrome won a Kentucky Derby, a Preakness, and a Horse of the Year title. That is quite a lot for one horse’s career. Yet for all of that, California Chrome redefined himself Saturday with his brilliant victory in the Dubai World Cup.

Unless California Chrome finds a way to surpass even this performance – and I wouldn’t put it past him at this point - this Dubai World Cup became the new reference by which California Chrome will be spoken of and measured. It was that good.

By a margin about as wide as the bulging gap between him and the rest of the field at the Meydan finish line, this Dubai World Cup was the best performance of California Chrome’s career. It was stunning how California Chrome left his field for dead in upper stretch with a devastating burst of late foot. I mean, these were horses good enough to contest a $10 million race, and California Chrome was just on an entirely higher level than them.

By virtue of what he did Saturday, California Chrome demanded we all look at him now in a different way.

For that reason, it rubs me the wrong way when people, knowingly or not, artificially embellish California Chrome’s brilliant score with silly stuff.

For one, folks openly wondered how much more California Chrome would have won by had he not had a four-wide trip. It’s amazing to me that this still requires addressing. I thought it was finally settled once and for all 18 months ago in the Pennsylvania Derby when California Chrome showed (not for the first time) how much he dislikes being caught down inside, and tossed in a dud effort.

Once again, with emphasis, California Chrome much, much prefers to be outside of horses. That’s where he wants to be and is most comfortable. Put him inside of horses where, say, Mshawish was on Saturday, and this Dubai World Cup might easily have wound up with a different look to it.

People are also saying that California Chrome’s wide trip was against an inside-speed-biased Meydan main track. All I can say is, I watched all the Meydan stakes Saturday and nothing I saw in the UAE Derby or the Dubai Golden Shaheen, the two dirt races that immediately preceded the Dubai World Cup, gave any hint whatsoever that Meydan’s main track today was biased toward inside speed.

* I will admit I was skeptical of Gun Runner in Saturday’s Louisiana Derby. Even though I acknowledged Gun Runner easily could improve off his victory in last month’s Risen Star Stakes, if for no other reason that it was his first start off a layoff, I also thought his Risen Star win was largely uninspiring because he ran toward the inside on a track strongly favoring inside runners, and his Beyer Figure, even with the bias, was mediocre.

But Gun Runner improved in the Louisiana Derby, and I think he improved significantly. Okay, there are reasons to take a harsh view against the field Gun Runner beat Saturday. It was, on the whole, a suspect group. You can also wonder about the Beyer Figure Gun Runner might be assigned, because it might not be one that will knock your socks off.

That said, it is equally valid to note that while his Risen Star victory was bias-aided, his score in the Louisiana Derby was on a Fair Grounds track that showed no bias.

Moreover, if the field Gun Runner beat in the Louisiana Derby was a bit hungry, at least he blasted them, which is just what you would want a Kentucky Derby aspirant of some account to do.

Other Saturday notes:

* It might sound funny, but there are indeed occasions when odds of 9-5 represent real value, and 9-5 on Land Over Sea in the Fair Grounds Oaks was genuine value.

Land Over Sea made her last five starts against the brilliant undefeated champion Songbird, and actually managed to finish second in three of those outings. Tired of pounding her head against the wall, Land Over Sea shipped east to face easier company at Fair Grounds.

I honestly thought Land Over Sea would be odds-on Saturday. She wasn’t, but blew her field away precisely like an odds-on favorite should. And of course, in the process, Land Over Sea greatly flattered Songbird, as if Songbird really needs any flattery.

* It’s tremendously sporting that the connections of Lani, the Japan-based colt who won the UAE Derby, are bringing their Tapit colt to the Kentucky Derby. I’m very skeptical of his chances, however. I question the quality of this UAE Derby field, and the race did not appear to be strongly run by any reasonable measure. Besides, I have a policy. The first UAE Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby will be at my expense.

* I was wrong to doubt that X Y Jet’s freakish Gulfstream form would travel. The only thing X Y Jet lost in the Dubai Golden Shaheen was the photo. He was terrific in defeat.

* Even though she was off the board, I thought Lady Shipman ran perfectly well in the Al Quoz Sprint. She wasn’t beaten that far, and from a visual sense this was a strongly run race.

* It might not have been quite Solow-like, but Postponed’s decisive victory in the Dubai Sheema Classic was a show of high class. Most impressive.

Classhndicapper More than 1 year ago
I agree with your analysis that California Chrome probably prefers running outside, but what I think some people are suggesting is that conceding that much ground to the others demonstrates greater superiority than the winning margin. He likes being out there, but it's a disadvantage to him that he's like that.  The assumption being that if he didn't have that preference to remain outside and was more like the typical horse, he would be able to beat horses like that by a lot more with a ground saving trip. 
brad More than 1 year ago
exactly!  well put, i'll add, that if he has an inside post he would've went to the lead,  
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
I'm kinda stunned that Horse and Rider both kept their cool when that saddle slipped. His girth ended up just about where you'd set a bucking strap. I've seen that get very ugly at times. Thanks Art and Family and thanks to California Chrome I've seen one more great Horse in my life.
Jim Fields More than 1 year ago
How great does this make Shared Belief, he toyed with CC when they both were good, only two times he got beat were freak happenings. AP couldn't have warmed him up. I think that sprinter, that's laid up right now, could come back and be a serious middle distance G1 horse, and it would be interesting to see those two in the Met Mile.
Eric Rickard More than 1 year ago
Shared belief was an awesome horse. To be fare, that was a prep race for California Chrome. I said it at the time. I also have watched the BC Classic replay on a number of occasions and feel while Shared Belief was definitely interfered with , he had ample time to recover. He was not injured in the race. Shared belief was great and so is Chrome. Lets leave it at that.
Mark Howell More than 1 year ago
The thought process of maintaining a three to four wide trip throughout a race is ridiculous and shows just how great and effortless chromes race was that day. Being inside on Parx track is and always will be very bad and state chrome does not want to be inside is stupid.
Scott More than 1 year ago
Mike, how many Tapit's have won at 10F? I know Tapit is one of the best sire's going right now, but it seems his foals can't get past 9F.
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
The belmont park park loving tonalist won at both 10f and 12f grade 1s. Careless jewel won the alabama.
Scott More than 1 year ago
Thanks Joel...I knew there had to be a couple, but even you qualified Tonalist as a track specialist. I would take it one step further and say that the Belmont Stakes is one of the greatest illusions in the whole sport. While I agree that it is truly the test of Champions, it deserves to be noted that the test occurs against fresh horses while the would be champion is running his (or her if that ever happens) 3rd race in 5 weeks.
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Lani (tapit) just won the dubai derby at 9.5 furlongs. Closers can stretch limits a little further. I dont think most tapits like tight turns or clay.
Ian Chef King More than 1 year ago
He comes you forgot the Josie Caroll trained Tap filly that took the Alabama? 
Scott More than 1 year ago
I thought California Chrome performed brilliantly. I don't care that the field was probably not as good as most would like to believe. CC did his job and won by open space. I truly hope he comes back and recovers from the trip in time to get 3 more races in this year stateside. With American Pharoah enjoying a well deserved retirement, we need CC's star power at the Breeder's Cup Classic.
Fred Reardon More than 1 year ago
Hi Mike, Have to agree with your analysis of the Chrome trip. I was stunned by the post race comment section where certain talkers called the trip "horrible." I am sure Victor would have preferred to be in the 3 path instead of the four, but I'd also be pretty certain that outside is where they knew that they would be. And when the question was asked with, what,300 meters to go, the explosive move was breath taking to watch. Very happy for all the Chromies today. Thanks.
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
So we only call him great with a certain kind of trip. The dubai derby horses dont do anything in the states ? Which means mubtaahij who finished second with a troubled trip, makes this field look weak. Wasnt he a dubai derby winner. Didnt chrome get a perfect outside trip in the breeders cup classic at home in socal ? Didnt chrome get beat by a dubai derby winner who was small town synthetic specialist (toast of new york) ? Inside bias ? Muarrab, a grade 3 horse was 3,4 wide when beating x y jet. The dubai derby winner, lani was 4 wide. How come the media doesnt understand how good a race lani had ? He acts up before the race, gets off to a slow start. He is way back in last and makes a big move in the backstretch and still finishes with energy. Prince bishop, the 8 year old gelding did a very similar backstretch move when he easily beat chrome in last years world cup. This is a speed bias track and horses need to be close at the top of the stretch. In america, we never see horses make big backstretch moves and still finish with energy. Now thats impressive. Gun runner is having similar results to another asmussen horse. The poorly mistreated, nehro who finished second in the derby. The blasi path to the derby.
Eric Rickard More than 1 year ago
Very valid points. However, if you do not believe that California Chrome ran a great race against what was thought of asa very deep field, than all of your other points become mute. Objectively that was an awesome performance. Only our best have been able to travel and win their.
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Why would this field be thought of as "deep" ?    Chrome ran against a deep field in the b.c. Classic of 2014.  Compare this dubai field to bayern, tonalist and two horses you cant seperate...shared belief and toast of new york.  The san antonio grade 2 stakes where shared belief beats chrome and then another 6 lengths back to hoppertunity.  Todays two turn dirt divisions are horrible.  Effinex was a easy second in the classic.  Then $5000 claimer comes close to winning the clark.  An optional claimer wins california's best race.  A turf horse wins the donn. Chrome took curlins dubai path.  Curlin won by 8 lengths over well armed, who won the world cup by 13 lengths the next year.  
Robert More than 1 year ago
Moot not mute.  I enjoy your comments.
Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
Mike... you're dead right about XY Jet's performance. He was game and probably needed that Lasix to prevail. His lungs must have been "on fire" after that stretch run. I just hope he comes back to run in the BC this year and has enough time to recover.
Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
What do you think happened to Frosted? This was unlike Kieran; who had this horse acclimated.
Emmanuel IrallamJr More than 1 year ago
Frosted, was actually the choice of many handicappers. That is why he is co-favorite to win the cup. Unfortunately, he failed to show up as Chrome surprised him when he broke out of the gate like a greyhound. I believe Team Chrome is thinking along the line that Frosted will force Chrome wide open at the break and to counter this, Chrome needs to break fast like a wounded tiger. That's what Victor did. He hustled Chrome sharply and put him where he wants him to be that caught Frosted by surprised. From thereon, there is nothing Frosted can do to match the strides of Chrome. He spent much of his gas in trying to keep Chrome within his sight and he has nothing left when his jockey let him go at the top of the homestretch while Chrome still has plenty of gas left in his tank. In short, Frosted gave up right at the break
Scott More than 1 year ago
Frosted (like most Tapit's) is a really good 9F horse. Whenever, you see him in a 10F race that has any quality at all, then you can simply toss him. The truth is that this field had a whole lot of nice 9F horses, but not too many that really wanted more distance. Keen Ice and Hoppertunity were the only other American horses that seemed like the distance would be to their liking (of course CC is the other). Keen Ice is a grinder who seemed unlikely to get the right set up and Hoppertunity is just a notch below the highest level. Although, whenever I see Hoppertunity at a price, I always include him in my exotics top to bottom, because he's always a big threat to hit the board and with just a little break he is capable of the upset.
Eric Rickard More than 1 year ago
He is a very good horse whom has put up his best races when facing competition that is just below the best. When he has faced the best he runs good but has not won. His best distance has been 1 1/8.
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
Frosted was out run Jack.....
brad More than 1 year ago
frosted came from a weak crop of 3 yr olds [minus pharaoh] he's not good enough for chrome, I think he ran his race,
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Remember that he had just come off a track record win. He may simply have bounced.