JC / Railbird

California Chrome

Chrome Turns Right

California Chrome continued his prep for an anticipated start in the June 17 Prince of Wales’s Stakes, getting acquainted with the right-handed Ascot turf on Thursday. Frankie Dettori on how the colt handled the training session:

“We did seven furlongs,” Dettori said. “The whole idea, because he has been turning left all his life, was to get him at full-on speed round the turn to make sure he gets on his right lead.

“He was a bit surprised going into the turn. He didn’t know what was going on. Then he got onto his right lead, he learned very quickly and in the straight I asked him to quicken to make sure he knew that after the turn he was going to carry on.”

Here’s a photo of Chrome and workmate Aktabantay at the turn, and here he is in slo-mo, galloping past the finish line.

Despite saying that he expects the Horse of the Year to “be very competitive,” the rider will likely be on Western Hymn in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes.

Alan Sherman, in town to supervise for his father, trainer Art Sherman, wasn’t as positive (or diplomatic) about the American Horse of the Year’s chances:

“He’s running against the best turf horses in the world, so. Like I said, he’s a hard trier. If he’s not good enough, he’s not good enough.”

The elder Sherman is looking forward to Ascot for more than his horse — he’s hoping for an introduction to the Queen: “She loves California Chrome and the story behind him, so I’ve got a feeling we’ll get a chance to meet her.”

Chrome will return to the US after Ascot for planned starts in the Arlington Million, Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Breeders’ Cup (race to be determined).

6/7/15 Update: William Buick has picked up the ride on California Chrome. “They wanted one of the good English or European jockeys and William beat them in Dubai so they know him and he’s available,” said trainer Rae Guest, overseeing Chrome while he’s in Newmarket.


Victor Espinoza sums up California Chrome’s 2014 Belmont Stakes effort:

“California Chrome was tired going into the race and his energy wasn’t quite what it was. Also, another horse stepped on his foot and that happens when a horse doesn’t have the energy it should. They do things in slow motion, and that’s what happened.”

The week before, California Chrome was “ready,” had “a perfect work,” was full of “tremendous energy,” and “seemed to have plenty left in the tank.” Pointing those quotes out is a reminder, mostly to myself, not to get too caught up in whatever hype there is about American Pharoah as he preps for the Belmont over the next two weeks. He “looks great,” but he also had to “recuperate” from winning the Preakness by walking for four days at Churchill, and his time exercising each morning is so far being reported in single-digit minutes.

Meanwhile, challengers such as Materiality, who skipped the Preakness, are training like the fresh horses they are. The son of 2005 Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex “solidified his status … as the major threat to American Pharoah,” working five furlongs in :59.87 at Belmont Park on Friday (video).

The Deal

Eric Crawford on how Calumet ended up buying Mr. Z for a Preakness run:

Working as the go-between, Lukas mediated a conversation between Calumet and Zayat. It began on 7 p.m. Tuesday night. By 8 o’clock Wednesday morning it resumed. Lukas not only was working with a couple of wealthy parties, but against the clock. By 10:10 on Wednesday, he had a deal, and then, with the help of some fast work by Justin Zayat, completed the deal in the 20-minute window he needed in order to get Mr. Z entered …

D. Wayne Lukas likes what he’s seeing from the Malibu Moon colt this week: “He is coming into the race beautifully, the same way Oxbow did.” (Oxbow derailed Orb’s Triple Crown chase with an upset in the 2013 Preakness.) If Mr. Z wins, and that’s a longshot, it’s easy to imagine the stunned reaction — he’s won but once in 13 starts. “We think he can be a pace factor in this race,” TimeformUS handicapper Mike Beer writes, echoing the consensus view. “We would be surprised were he to be more than that.” What wouldn’t surprise me is if he finishes third or fourth; he’s been competitive enough to make the trifecta in races previously won by American Pharoah and Dortmund.

The trainer, though, didn’t pull off this caper only for Saturday — he has a plan for Mr. Z that involves running a mile and maybe on the turf.

California Chrome’s next turn on the turf is coming up in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 17; from afar, trainer Art Sherman dreams of having him back. A hint, for fans, that he may return to run at Keeneland: “We’re sure looking at the Breeders’ Cup, hopefully the Classic.” I think that may be the first mention this year of a BC tilt — co-owner Perry Martin earlier sketched out a schedule mostly abroad. But then, who knows? The Chrome team seems disjointed, a state Dick Powell would have liked to see delved into during NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage:

I was frustrated by the piece done on CALIFORNIA CHROME (Lucky Pulpit)’s ownership problems. They implied that Perry Martin and Steve Coburn are not getting along due to a disagreement on where the horse is going to run but there was not enough depth to the coverage. They interviewed the loquacious Coburn but never asked him any specific questions about when and why did the relationship go wrong. It made Martin, who is anything but loquacious, seem like the villain but he does own 70 percent of California Chrome and, thus, calls the shots.

There was a brief mention of him racing at Royal Ascot next month but they never really got into trainer Art Sherman’s feeling of not having him back at his home base. Plus, no video of him training in Newmarket. They tried to re-visit last year’s feel good story but didn’t develop why the relationship went bad. Considering how long the show is, no real excuse not to answer why it went wrong.

Chrome’s first race back in the US will be the Arlington Million, says Martin.

Everything is hunky-dory in the American Pharoah camp. “AP best he ever been,” owner Ahmed Zayat tweeted at Ed DeRosa when he floated some “anti-American” buzz. “Just ask all … at Pimlico he is A BEAST.” Dave Grening confirms: “Baffert is indeed correct when he says Pharoah floats over the ground. Man, he is an impressive individual.”

But the whip issue has not gone away: “Whether you vilify Victor Espinoza’s Kentucky Derby ride or defend it, this much is clear,” writes Pat Forde, “all eyes in Baltimore will be on the jockey’s right arm, and how many times he brings his riding crop down on the flank of American Pharoah on Saturday …

Whether he wins the Preakness or not, says Bob Ford, he lost the Triple Crown in the Kentucky Derby:

From a tactical standpoint, Espinoza did what he thought necessary to get American Pharoah home and that is his job. It has also been said by jockeys and trainers that the lighter, softer whips used now often act as more of a metronome than a bludgeon, tapping out the stride and keeping the horse aware of the job at hand.

Unfortunately, Pharoah is not able to corroborate this theory and define whether that final stretch run was accompanied by an excited urging or something more terrifying. He arrived at the finish line spent, even though the Derby was the second-slowest running over a fast track and the third-slowest last two furlongs since 2000. American Pharoah really didn’t have it on Derby Day, but still won …

Jay Hovdey comes down on the side of what he calls the “rational” insider view: With today’s padded crops, whipping is no big deal. That Espinoza was so free with his stick (subscriber only):

… was an issue only because it was the Kentucky Derby, which 16 million people watched on NBC, although I’m guessing not many of them noticed or even pretended to care until the whip count was brought up in Derby postmortems.

The Churchill Downs stewards decided that the rider did nothing wrong, and Espinoza was unapologetic, which made sense because no apology was required. Jockeys are handed the whip and told to go win the race, only now it is in an atmosphere of ever-changing rules governing the use of the stick.

His column does highlight just how subjective it is, assessing whip use, referencing, as others have done, how many times rider Calvin Borel struck Rachel Alexandra in the 2009 Woodward. Quantitatively, the 21 hits Borel gave the filly is closer to the approximately 20 Espinoza gave California Chrome in the 2014 Kentucky Derby. But those wins look nothing alike. Qualitatively, the 2009 Woodward and this year’s Derby do — both riders determined to win, both horses giving their all. Emotion influences perception. It’s enough to make what’s a 50% increase of one over the other seem equal.

Better than Post Zero

Less than 24 hours out from the Kentucky Derby draw, and there’s already a change to Saturday’s line-up: Stanford has scratched, also-eligible Frammento is in. Here’s the brief statement from the Churchill Downs press office:

Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stewards were informed Thursday that #11 Stanford would be scratched from Saturday’s Kentucky Derby 141. The defection means #21 Frammento has drawn into the field.

Stanford drew post 11. All the horses after him in the gate will move one over, and Frammento, wearing a #21 saddlecloth (lavender — pretty), will break from post 20 (mercifully bringing an end to the jokes about Far Right breaking from the far right). “That is a lot better than Post Zero!” said trainer Nick Zito.

The historical criteria spreadsheet is now current for the 2015 Derby field.

There’s also a small update to the 2015 Derby prep schedule and results: UAE Derby winner Mubtaahij has been given an estimated Beyer speed figure of 97 for the race. Andrew Beyer describes how that number was determined:

Randy Moss, the NBC commentator and a member of the team that calculates Beyer Speed Figures, argued persuasively that Prince Bishop’s winning figure should be 112.

His reasoning: California Chrome had earned a 113 in the best race of his career, 108 in his second-best effort. In Dubai, he had a difficult trip, parked wide on both turns, and surely didn’t run his best number; 108 would make sense for him. If Prince Bishop got a winning figure of 112 — four points higher than California Chrome — the numbers for the third- and fourth-place finishers would make sense, too. In the U.S. Candy Boy often earned figures around 100; if the winner of the World Cup had a figure of 112, Candy Boy’s would be 99.

Give or take a point or two, the figure of 112 is right for Prince Bishop. And because Mubtaahij was 15 points slower, his winning figure was 97.

Make of that, and Mubtaahij, what you will — there hasn’t been a Kentucky Derby starter coming out of Dubai since 2009 when the 1-2 UAE Derby finishers Regal Ransom and Desert Party ran eighth and 14th. Contenders via Dubai are always a wild card — how will the travel and a mere five weeks between the two races affect the horse? It’s a lot to ask — California Chrome, luxuriating in Newmarket since finishing second in the Dubai World Cup, was just ruled out of an anticipated start in the Lockinge Stakes on May 16.

“He took a long time to get over the trip,” said trainer Rae Guest, who’s hosting California Chrome while he’s in the UK. “It was a long way from California to Dubai, then racing and coming here, it’s a lot for a horse to take in in one go … it would have been a rush to get him ready.”

Mubtaahij appears to be handling the experience. The Dubawi colt went for an three furlong breeze in :37.40 this morning with rider Christophe Soumillon up. “It was a very easy work just to stretch his legs,” said trainer Mike de Kock. “It just gets them breathing a little bit deeper, gets the blood oxygenated, lets them stretch and get the circulation going into the muscles.”

This Kentucky Derby will be Soumillon’s first, and the jockey — excited about his shot on Saturdayhas been studying (DRF+):

“I looked at the last 30 Derbies a couple times to see how you win it, but what I learned is there is no sure way,” Soumillon said Wednesday after taking Mubtaahij on a measured tour of the Churchill main track. “You need to be a good judge of pace, but you also need to respect your horse and ride for him. You need to be confident and clever — I saw some favorites that took the lead in the backstretch and stopped late. It’s more easy to lose this race than win it, for sure.”

That last sentence is so true, for handicappers as much as riders.

Links: It’s perfect for Kentucky Derby parties! Get the Hello Race Fans cheat sheet. How many strikes does your Derby pick have? Jon White is back with his system for 2015. If you like Materiality, forget Apollo. “With most stats of this sort, the curse is not on the horses.” Apparently this happened:

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