03/26/2016 7:37PM

Watchmaker: California Chrome takes it to another level

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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.