Time off didn’t dim California Chrome’s luster.
Nine months after his last race, the 2014 Horse of the Year roared back into action Saturday with an authoritative victory in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita Park and stamped his passport for a return trip to the Dubai World Cup.
The $120,000 winner’s share increased California Chrome’s earnings to $6,442,650, surpassing Tiznow’s career record and making the popular chestnut the all-time richest California-bred thoroughbred.
“He ran perfect,” said Yuba City’s Perry Martin, Chrome’s co-owner and breeder. “We now have the all-time leading money-earning Cal-bred ever, surpassing Tiznow. … And I think we’re going to add to that some more.”
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“The way Chrome ran (Saturday) is the way he ran before,” said jockey Victor Espinoza, his regular rider who won the Triple Crown in 2015 with now-retired American Pharoah. “He’s one of the best horses I’ve ever been on. I am so proud of him. American Pharoah and California Chrome are too hard to compare, so I won’t.”
Pressing the pace from the start, California Chrome, the 3-5 favorite, opened up at the head of the stretch and easily turned back a challenge from the late-running Imperative, who finished second 1 1/4 lengths back. Chrome covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1 minute, 43.39 seconds on the fast track. Hoppertunity, the 2015 San Pasqual winner, finished third.
Espinoza wore Chrome’s new silver and red jockey silks, reflecting his new ownership group, California Chrome, LLC; Taylor Made bought a 30 percent share in the horse.
“We’re blessed to be part of this amazing horse,” Frank Taylor of Taylor Made said in a packed winner’s circle.
California Chrome will leave Jan. 21 for the United Arab Emirates and a second try in the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest race, on March 26. Chrome finished second in the 2015 World Cup, his last start before the San Pasqual. He’ll likely have one prep race, maybe two, in Dubai before the World Cup.
“Here we go again,” said trainer Art Sherman. “It will be cool. He really benefited a lot from this race.”
Sherman admitted that he felt a lot of pressure conditioning the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner for his return to racing. Now age 5, California Chrome is scheduled to race one more season before retiring to stallion duty in Kentucky.
“There’s always pressure with a horse like this,” Sherman said. “I thought I needed two more weeks. But after the way he worked (last week), he impressed me so much. … Right now, I’m thinking, ‘Wow!’ ”
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, 916-321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.