Horse racing’s Super Bowl lives up to its championship billing Saturday when the world’s top horses square off in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
California Chrome, America’s all-time leading money earner, will try to add the Classic to an already stellar 2016. Owned by Yuba City’s Perry and Denise Martin, the 5-year-old chestnut could become the first horse to win the $10 million Dubai World Cup and the Classic in one season.
Ironically, the Cinderella Cal-bred will have to beat a horse owned by royalty to claim this latest title in the Sport of Kings.
With a $13.4 million bankroll and undefeated in 2016, Chrome already tops every horse racing poll. He’s rated No. 1 by media in both the United States and internationally.
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No. 2 in the world rankings is Arrogate, Chrome’s major opposition in the Classic.
“At Santa Anita, they’re calling (Arrogate) the Chrome-buster,” joked Art Sherman, Chrome’s trainer. “He has to outrun us first.”
Owned by Prince Khalid bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the precocious 3-year-old colt broke Saratoga’s track record for 1 1/4-miles – the same distance as the Classic – in the Aug. 27 Travers Stakes.
Arrogate’s trainer is Bob Baffert, who is working on a Classic three-peat. The Hall of Famer also trained 2014 Classic winner Bayern and American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown winner that completed his Grand Slam with his 2015 Classic victory.
As a 3-year-old at Santa Anita in the 2014 Classic, Chrome finished a close third to Bayern, who survived a lengthy inquiry after bumping other horses early in the race.
Since his Travers surprise, Arrogate has been training up to the Classic at Santa Anita, Baffert’s home base.
“It’s more stressful when you’re at home than on the road,” said Baffert, who also saddles Hoppertunity for the Classic. “But I’d still rather be here.”
Chrome jockey Victor Espinoza, who rode American Pharoah to victory in the Triple Crown and the Classic, has a chance for his own Classic repeat. He has been aboard for 13 of Chrome’s 15 lifetime victories, including the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
In the Classic, Espinoza has supreme confidence in Chrome. “This is the best horse I’ve ever ridden,” he said.
Including Chrome and the Baffert duo, the Classic’s 10-horse field is an equine who’s who of elite runners such as New York star Frosted and 2015 Classic runner-up Effinex. Also scheduled to race are 2016 Santa Anita Handicap winner Melatonin, Keen Ice, Win the Space, Shaman Ghost and War Story.
Baffert considers Chrome the horse to beat.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for him,” Baffert said. “(But) this is the best I’ve ever seen him. ... You have to give a lot of credit to the Sherman camp; they’ve done a tremendous job managing him. He’s going to be really tough.”