California Chrome ready to tackle the world

Regular exercise rider Dihigi Gladney can barely keep California Chrome on the ground during a morning gallop this week at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Regular exercise rider Dihigi Gladney can barely keep California Chrome on the ground during a morning gallop this week at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Dubai Racing Club

From trainer Art Sherman’s viewpoint, California Chrome is bigger, stronger and probably faster than ever. In other words, his horse feels just right to take on the world.

“Either I’m getting smaller or he’s getting bigger,” Sherman said after reuniting with his superstar in Dubai. “I’ve never seen him in as perfect condition as he is right now. He looks just absolutely wonderful.”

California’s most famous thoroughbred continues his global gallop into the history books as he attempts to win the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest race. Run under the lights at night in the United Arab Emirates, the stakes will be telecast live Saturday at 10 a.m. on TVG.

If he wins, America’s 2014 Horse of the Year will add $6 million to his $6.53 million career earnings and surpass 2008 World Cup champion Curlin as the all-time richest racehorse outside of Japan.

“All systems are go,” said Yuba City’s Perry Martin, Chrome’s co-owner and breeder. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

Jockey Victor Espinoza will be back aboard California Chrome, who drew the No. 11 post in the World Cup’s 12-horse international field. Other U.S.-based contenders in the 1- 1/4 -mile race include Frosted, Keen Ice, Hoppertunity and Mshawish.

“He’s better than before,” Espinoza said before departing. “He’s stronger physically, which is natural as a horse gets older. He has more strength and his body is thicker. I like the way he’s coming up to the race. He’s had two good preps and he likes the track.”

In Dubai, California Chrome has everything he needs to keep him happy, Sherman said. After morning gallops, the horse rolls in a giant sandpit to his heart’s content. He can munch on green grass in a private pasture, then take a nap in his extra-large air-conditioned stall.

For this trip, he’s surrounded by his favorite people, including Art’s son and assistant Alan Sherman and groom Raul Rodriguez. They make sure he has lots of his favorite treats – Mrs. Pastures horse cookies.

“We had 75 pounds (of cookies),” Sherman said. “He’s a cookie monster.”

After missing most of last season because of minor ailments, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner now runs for a different set of owners, with Perry and Denise Martin retaining controlling interest. Gone are the Dumb Ass Partners, dissolved after Steve and Carolyn Coburn sold their 30 percent stake to major Kentucky breeding farm Taylor Made.

In an unusual arrangement, the Martins and Taylor Made kept California Chrome on the track for an additional year before he starts his second career as a Kentucky stallion in 2017. Limited partnership shares were sold to potential breeders, who pledged to send their top mares to California Chrome each spring. As a bonus, these breeders earn a slice of Chrome’s 2016 winnings.

“If we win the World Cup, they’ll get a significant portion of their money back,” said Martin, who credited Taylor Made for suggesting the idea. “It looked like a win-win for them.”

He’s better than before. He’s stronger physically, which is natural as a horse gets older.

Jockey Victor Espinoza on California Chrome

The new owners and future breeders also want to see Chrome race, Martin said.

“We have 46 people for World Cup; we need more tables,” Martin said. “But everybody’s having a ball. They’re supportive and really excited.”

California Chrome, second in last year’s World Cup, has been training at Meydan Racecourse for two months. After winning his Jan. 9 comeback race at Santa Anita Park, the large chestnut dominated a 1- 1/4 mile prep at Meydan on Feb. 25 under 132 pounds including 20 pounds of lead.

“In our era now, you hardly ever see (a horse carry) 132,” Sherman said. “I haven’t put a lead pad on a horse in I can’t tell you when. (When he went to lift), I said, this saddle’s heavy!”

But just like his 78-year-old trainer, California Chrome is a throwback. He’s the rare Kentucky Derby winner who’s still racing at age 5.

“I thought after last year, he’d go to the breeding farm and I wouldn’t see him again,” Sherman said. “I watched him grow into the individual he is, since he’s been a 2-year-old. ... Now I look at him and say, Wow!”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Dubai World Cup

  • Where: Meydan Racecourse, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Track: 1 1/4 miles on dirt
  • Purse: $10 million
  • Post time: Saturdy at 10 a.m.
  • Simulcast wagering: Cal Expo will offer advance wagering Friday and will show the race on tape delay Saturday. Doors open 10 a.m.