Maybe it’s the beautiful weather, the fast racetrack or the familiarity of his old stall in Barn 56, but California Chrome loves Santa Anita.
But how he shows his joy can cause concern.
Assistant trainer Alan Sherman has had his hands full trying to keep the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner on the ground as the chestnut colt prepares for Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, one of 14 races over two days at Santa Anita.
“He’s just a happy boy,” Sherman said Wednesday. “He knows it’s getting close to game day. He loves it here.”
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Some of that enthusiasm can be scary. While schooling in the Santa Anita paddock Tuesday, California Chrome reared up with exercise rider Willie Delgado aboard and started walking toward Sherman on his hind legs.
Rearing in the saddling enclosure, a horse can easily lose his balance and be injured. But as Delgado held on tight, Chrome looked like a Lipizzaner stallion, performing his latest trick
“He does that when he’s feeling good, and he’s feeling really good right now,” Sherman said. “He only does that (rearing) when he’s sharp, and he couldn’t be any sharper. He lets you know when he’s happy.”
While stabled in the same stall earlier this year, California Chrome won three consecutive stakes, including the Santa Anita Derby, Sherman said.
Other trainers were not nearly as happy Wednesday.
Magician, the defending Turf champion, limped out of his Santa Anita stall, lame in his right front leg. Trainer Aidan O’Brien scratched his Irish-bred star who had come from England for his career finale.
“When he came out for a trot this morning, he was found to be acutely lame on his off-fore,” O’Brien said. “It was an instant decision to take him out of the race.”
The Turf was slated to be Magician’s final start before retirement to Ashford Stud in Kentucky. Magician, a son of Galileo, won 5 of 14 starts and more than $2.5 million.
Magician’s scratch follows the departure of three other high-profile Cup contenders. Wise Dan, America’s Horse of the Year in 2012 and 2013 and winner of back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Miles, injured his right front ankle and stayed at home in Kentucky. Beholder, the defending Distaff champion, spiked a temperature last week and will stay in her Santa Anita barn.
American Pharaoh, the early favorite for the 2015 Kentucky Derby, apparently bruised his left front foot during training and was scratched Tuesday from the Juvenile.
Another Cup contender never got to Santa Anita. Free as a Bird, the winner of five consecutive stakes, refused to fly. According to trainer Ian Wilkes, attempts to load her onto a charter flight in Kentucky failed and she was scratched Wednesday from the Turf Sprint.
“She didn’t like the sound of the engines and had to be backed off the plane,” Wilkes said. “She is scratched. As long as she is OK, we’re fine.”
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.
BREEDERS’ CUP ON TV
▪ Friday: Five races, 2 p.m., NBCSN
▪ Saturday: Preliminary races, 12:30 p.m., NBCSN; Classic, 5 p.m., Ch. 3