This galloping adventure gives new meaning to globetrotting.
More than 8,000 miles from home, California Chrome will attempt Saturday to win the world’s richest horse race, the $10 million Dubai World Cup. Representing the United States in an international equine spectacle, the Cinderella colt with humble Central Valley roots will try to add another chapter to his fairy tale career.
California Chrome already has captured the imagination of his home state. The first California-born thoroughbred to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness races will soon be celebrated with a special exhibit at the state’s California Museum in Sacramento. He’s the best-known California horse since Seabiscuit, only faster.
“He’s a rock star,” trainer Art Sherman said. “He’s got a following you can’t believe. It’s amazing; his fans are all over the world.”
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And now, America’s most famous horse has gone global. Accompanied by his Yuba City co-owners Perry and Denise Martin and partners Steve and Carolyn Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nev., the rags-to-riches chestnut will be a heavy favorite Saturday in the World Cup against a field of all-star horses from the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Great Britain and Japan, as well as the United States.
“He’ll have to run the race of his life,” Sherman said. “They’ll be coming at him from all angles. He’ll have a great big target on his back.”
Sherman is confident that California Chrome, North America’s reigning Horse of the Year, is ready for the challenge.
“He’s a lot stronger horse right now,” Sherman said. “He’s training awesome, better than he ever has.”
Now age 4, California Chrome has impressed Dubai handicappers.
“He has it all going for him,” said Pat Cummings of Dubai Racing News. “(He) needs an outside draw ... to really set it up.”
That’s exactly what California Chrome got in Wednesday’s post-position draw for the 2,000-meter (1.24-mile) stakes. With regular rider Victor Espinoza aboard, he’ll break on the far outside in the nine-horse field. That pleased his owners.
“We’re very happy,” Steve Coburn, wearing his ever-present cowboy hat, told reporters. “He has natural speed. He can get out and not get any dirt in his face.”
Perfect racing conditions are expected for Saturday’s race, which will run at night under lights. (Post time in Sacramento will be 10 a.m.) Meydan Racecourse, in the desert outside Dubai’s coastal metropolis, recently installed a new dirt main track. The forecast calls for temperatures in the mid- to upper 70s and a fast track.
California Chrome already has taken his entourage on an unbelievable adventure. The product of a $10,000 mare and an inexpensive stallion, he was the first horse bred by his owners, who call their one-horse racing stable Dumb Ass Partners. So far, their bargain baby has won nine of 17 starts and more than $4.3 million.
A World Cup victory would add $6 million to that bankroll, boosting Chrome to No. 2 on the list of all-time-richest American horses. Currently atop that earnings list are past World Cup winners Curlin (2008) and Cigar, who won the inaugural World Cup in 1996. Coincidentally, Chrome’s chief U.S. rival in the Cup – Lea – is trained by Bill Mott, who also trained Cigar.
Hosted by a billionaire sheikh, Team Chrome has enjoyed royal treatment in a country where racing truly is the Sport of Kings. A tiny emirate on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf, Dubai is a cosmopolitan business hub with towering skyscrapers and lush tropical resort hotels, surrounded by desert.
Sheikh Mohammed, Dubai’s emir and UAE prime minister, created the World Cup 20 years ago to celebrate his own passion for horses. He personally hosts this $30 million equine extravaganza at Meydan Racecourse, which has its own five-star hotel but no on-track wagering; gambling is forbidden in Dubai.
“I’ve been all over the world, but Dubai – this is a first,” Sherman said. “I think this is a fantastic place. It reminds me of an oasis in the desert, a lot like coming into Las Vegas in our country. It’s gorgeous so far what I’ve seen.”
Since arriving Monday night, it’s been a nonstop schedule. On Tuesday, Sherman got up at 3:30 a.m. to watch California Chrome breeze a half-mile shortly after 5 a.m. to get used to running on the track under the lights.
“They’ve got me booked up from early morning to night with media (interviews) all lined up,” Sherman said. “I don’t know when I’ll sleep.”
California Chrome arrived in Dubai on March 18. Before he left, about 100 “Chromies” gave him a send-off at Los Alamitos Race Course, where he lives and trains. Dressed in purple and green (the colors of Chrome’s jockey silks), the crowd watched the powerful chestnut work out March 13. As usual, he had the whole track to himself, befitting his celebrity status.
Chrome didn’t travel on his own private jet, but close. With other American entries, he flew on a custom jumbo cargo jet, courtesy of Sheikh Mohammed. The journey from Los Angeles to Dubai took 25 hours. For security reasons after the Sept. 11 hijackings, the horses make the journey without their usual grooms and attendants.
“Ever since 9/11, no people can travel with the horses,” explained Alan Sherman, Art’s son and assistant. “Sheikh Mohammed has his own plane and his own crew. They take care of everything. Only people who work for Sheikh Mohammed can get on the plane.”
Alan Sherman, groom Raul Rodriguez and exercise rider Willie Delgado were waiting for Chrome when he arrived.
“He was bouncing off the van (from the airport),” Alan Sherman said. “He travels great. By the second day, he was rearing up and feeling good. If he gets the opportunity to run his race, he’ll put on a show.”
Much closer to home, California Chrome soon will be honored in Sacramento at the California Museum with a new exhibit devoted to his 2014 exploits, including his Kentucky Derby and Preakness trophies. It will be the first time that Chrome’s Triple Crown bling and other mementos will be shown in public. The yearlong exhibit opens May 2 – 2015 Derby Day.
“California Chrome’s remarkable six-race winning streak in 2014, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, captured the imagination of people nationwide, including us here at the museum,” said Brenna Hamilton, the museum’s spokeswoman. “The story of this California-bred horse who rose from humble beginnings to become the 2014 American Horse of the Year aligns well with the museum’s goal to inspire visitors to pursue their own California dream.”
Dubai may not be the end of Chrome’s global adventure.
“With a horse like this, everybody wants you,” Art Sherman said. “Royal Ascot (in England), Hong Kong; they’ve been after me (to commit).”
Most likely, California Chrome will race more in the U.S., too, before his expected retirement at year’s end.
“We went all over the country last year and let people see him run,” Sherman said. “Now, we’re running for $10 million. If he wins, it would put Chrome right up there with Curlin and Cigar and the greatest horses of all time. That’s something worth racing for.”
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.
WATCH CHROME RUN
What: $10 million Dubai World Cup, featuring California Chrome and eight other horses
When: 10 a.m. Saturday
TV: FOX Sports 1 and TVG
Watch and wager: Cal Expo will offer advance World Cup wagering Friday. The Sacramento track will simulcast the race live Saturday; gates open at 10 a.m.
A CHROME CELEBRATION
▪ The California Museum (1020 O St., Sacramento) will honor the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner with a new yearlong exhibit, “California Chrome: A Race for the Dream,” May 2 through April 30, 2016. More details coming soon at www.californiamuseum.org.