It had been over 9 months since the 2014 Horse of the Year–California Chrome–last raced in the Dubai World Cup in March of 2015. The 4 year-old’s racing campaign then was put on the shelf as he suffered a cannon bone bruise. But to the delight of many “Chromies,” he bounced back after a long layoff to win the San Pasqual Stakes yesterday at Santa Anita Park (shown below).
California Chrome understandably tired a bit down the stretch, winning by 1 1/4 lengths with a time of 1:43.39. That is not an overly impressive time. However, all things considering, it was a decent time under the circumstances. For comparison purposes, he ran 1:43.22 in January of 2014 at Santa Anita Park at the same 1 1/16 mile distance in the California Cup Derby (shown below).
After that race in January of 2014, California Chrome became a huge star in the sport, winning the San Felipe Stakes, the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and then the Preakness Stakes. California Chrome’s bid to win a Triple Crown took a blow when he gashed his foot coming out of the gate in the Belmont Stakes. He still managed a 4th place finish.
With the retirements of American Pharoah, Liam’s Map, Honor Code, Tonalist and the sad and untimely death of Shared Belief in December due to colic, California Chrome gives the sport a much-needed boost in the handicap division.
Looking forward to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic, the 2016 3 year-old class doesn’t appear to be as strong as the 2014 and 2015 class thus far. So as it stands right now, I feel that the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Champion will likely come from the older, handicap division from a contingent of horses like California Chrome, Beholder, Dortmund, Effinex, Keen Ice, etc.
In my last 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic watch list rankings, I ranked them this way: 1) Beholder, 2) Effinex, 3) California Chrome, 4) Dortmund and 5) Keen Ice, 6) Frosted, 7) Smooth Roller, 8) Firing Line, 9) Catch A Flight and 10) Texas Red.
The only horses above that have worked out thus far in the past month are: California Chrome, Dortmund, Keen Ice and Frosted. Several horses on this list are coming back from injuries and a few from long layoffs.
The San Pasqual was originally thought to be a showdown between California Chrome and Dortmund. In Dortmund’s return to racing back in October, he ran a 1:36.42 in the 1 mile Big Bear Stakes at Santa Anita Park compared to California Chrome’s 1:36.96 through a mile at the same track yesterday in the San Pasqual. However, in Dortmund’s last workout on Sunday January 2nd, he ran 7 furlongs in an unimpressive time of 1:25 4/5. That was enough to convince trainer Bob Baffert that he wasn’t ready for the task. Consequently, Dortmund was not entered into the San Pasqual Stakes.
So for now, I see no reason to not be encouraged by California Chrome’s performance yesterday relative to his competition in the older horse division. He beat a couple of decent horses yesterday in Hoppertunity (who has never finished below 4th in a graded stakes race) and Hard Aces (who won the Gold Cup at Santa Anita last June and finished 6th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic). California Chrome is not where he was prior to the injury–but he is back and I expect him to improve in the coming months.