Sports

California Chrome hasn’t lost his luster

California Chrome, ridden by Victor Espinoza in purple silks, wins the Hollywood Derby on the turf Nov. 29 at Del Mar.
California Chrome, ridden by Victor Espinoza in purple silks, wins the Hollywood Derby on the turf Nov. 29 at Del Mar. The Associated Press

In the eyes of fans and racing experts, California Chrome proved he’s the top thoroughbred in North America. As an encore to his 2014 Horse of the Year campaign, the Cinderella colt is ready to take on the world.

California Chrome makes his 4-year-old debut Saturday at Santa Anita in the $500,000 San Antonio Invitational, which will be televised nationally by FOX Sports 1. It’s a rematch against Shared Belief, the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic favorite, and rising handicap star Hoppertunity.

“Chrome is not just Horse of the Year but horse of the whole world,” said Mike Pegram, Hoppertunity’s owner and chairman of Thoroughbred Owners of California. “No doubt, he’s definitely sparked interest in our sport. He’s proved that little guys can win in this game. California Chrome represents the dream.”

Owned and bred by Perry and Denise Martin of Yuba City and Steve and Carolyn Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nev., California Chrome will, after Saturday, be pointed to the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race, on March 28 in the United Arab Emirates.

But first, California Chrome has to get past a salty field in the San Antonio, including rival Shared Belief. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and co-owned by sports radio personality Jim Rome, Shared Belief has won eight of nine starts; his only loss was the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 1, when he was essentially eliminated by two hard bumps at the start. Shared Belief rallied to finish fourth in the Classic, behind winner Bayern, Toast of New York and California Chrome.

To start 2015, Chrome could have gone straight to Dubai to prepare for the World Cup, Perry Martin said. Instead, the superstar colt will stay closer to home for his seasonal debut.

“We have decided to give our U.S. fans the rematch race they wanted in the San Antonio,” Martin said Wednesday. “I hope it works out. Chrome has displayed much resilience and I’m sure he will again.”

After the World Cup, California Chrome has many options in what could be another whirlwind year.

“We hope to keep Chrome happy and healthy through 2015,” Martin said. “Running keeps him happy, and we’ve identified several high-profile races to showcase his talents in the States and around the world. We’ll take them one at a time and let Chrome tell us when he’s ready to run again.

“In addition, we’ve begun discussions with several farms about standing Chrome (as a stallion) in 2016,” he said. “We will take in the proposals, discuss the benefits of each and perform farm tours in late April and early May.”

Martin expects the ownership group will reach a decision on Chrome’s post-racing career by the end of May so they can concentrate on enjoying their star horse on the track.

As the first California-bred Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, California Chrome already has earned tremendous honors, topped by the 2014 Eclipse Awards as North America’s Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old colt. Monday, he’ll pick up trophies from the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association as the state’s top 3-year-old, turf horse and undoubtedly California Horse of the Year. With just one racehorse, the Martins and Coburns will be honored as California’s top breeders.

“Everyone associated with Chrome is overjoyed,” Martin said. “He is a special horse and deserves all the attention. I think the honors also reflect well on the team getting him through the tough Triple Crown races, his recuperation at Harris Farms (in Coalinga) and back at it to finish the year again at the top of his game.”

A lot of the credit goes to trainer Art Sherman. “It’s fun to get a horse as popular as he is; his following is unbelievable,” Sherman said. “It’s all been kind of a dream come true.”

This winter, Chrome has worked steadily at Los Alamitos for his comeback. Sherman is confident Chrome’s best is yet to come.

“He’s doing very well,” Sherman said. “Maybe I’m biased, but I think he’s a better horse now than last year.”

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

THE PARTICULARS

What: San Antonio Stakes

Where: Santa Anita Park in Arcadia (telecast includes Donn Handicap from Gulfstream Park)

TV: Saturday, 2:30-4:30 p.m., FS1

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