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California Chrome to bid farewell in Pegasus

California Chrome, with jockey Victor Espinoza, crosses the finish line with a victory in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, in Del Mar.
California Chrome, with jockey Victor Espinoza, crosses the finish line with a victory in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, in Del Mar. Associated Press file

In the coda to his Cinderella career, California Chrome and his legion of fans couldn’t ask for more: a chance at redemption in a grand finale.

Saturday’s inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational may have started as an improbable Gulfstream Park gimmick, but it’s turned into a rematch for the ages. In this Florida showcase created as the world’s richest race, California Chrome gets another chance against Arrogate, the only horse to beat him in 2016.

“I’ve been looking forward to this rematch for quite awhile,” said Art Sherman, Chrome’s trainer.

Sherman, 79, has guided Chrome through four seasons, earning two Horse of the Year titles and four Eclipse Awards. In 2014, Chrome became the first California-bred to win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. But now at age 6, Chrome is a much bigger, stronger and faster horse, said his trainer this week.

“He’s on his game right now,” Sherman said. “He’s as good as I’ve ever seen him right now.”

Win or lose, Chrome heads to Kentucky on Sunday to start his stallion career; he already has 120 mares waiting, according to Taylor Made Farm. If not for the Pegasus, he’d already be there.

“(The Pegasus) certainly presented us with a unique opportunity for this year,” said co-owner Perry Martin, noting that Chrome’s partnership considered competing more in 2017 before opting for retirement.

Chrome, the first horse they bred, changed the lives of co-owners Perry and Denise Martin, who own Martin Testing Lab in Sacramento. Instead of a one-horse stable, they now own more than 20 thoroughbreds, including one racing in England. Not yet retired, they’ve relocated from Yuba City to Alpine, Wyo.

“We are at 5,700 feet where the Snake, Salt and Grey rivers meet,” Perry Martin said. “Every morning, I look out our window to see elk or deer eating our bushes. … Every once in awhile, we get some work in.”

With 16 wins from 26 starts and more than $14.5 million in earnings, Chrome already holds the record as America’s richest racehorse. A Pegasus victory would add $7 million to that bankroll, making Chrome the world’s all-time earnings leader.

Chrome faces 11 Pegasus challengers – including stakes winners Keen Ice, Noble Bird and Shaman Ghost – with each paying $1 million for a starting berth. But Arrogate is the horse to beat.

In November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park, Arrogate used an explosive late rally to prevail by a half-length over Chrome, who had led all but the final few strides in the 1 1/4-mile race under jockey Victor Espinoza.

“I think Arrogate might have been the only horse in the world that could have caught him,” said Mike Smith, Arrogate’s rider.

In the Pegasus, it could be Chrome chasing Arrogate, predicted Smith. The difference is post position and distance. In the Classic, Arrogate broke from the far outside. In the Pegasus, the 4-year-old gray starts from the rail with Chrome in post 12. And the Pegasus is a furlong shorter at 1 1/8 miles.

“He’s going to be aggressive leaving there,” Smith said, adding there’s a “50-50 chance” Arrogate will set the pace.

Meanwhile, Chrome must contend with a short run to the first turn while breaking from the far outside.

Sherman isn’t too worried.

“I’ve not been very lucky with draws,” he said. “But he’s overcome about every post position that I always worry about. … He is just a push-button horse. He’s got enough early speed to put him any place you want to.

“I’ll tell you one thing, (Chrome) is an amazing horse,” Sherman added. “He seems to get better with age, like good wine. … I say (let’s race) one more year, but he’s going to the breeding shed. That’s final.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Pegasus World Cup

Where: Gulfstream Park, Hallandale, Fla.

When: Saturday, 2:40 p.m.

TV: Ch. 3, 1:30 p.m.