In recent years, few racehorses have captured the hearts of horse fans as much as California Chrome, a California-bred Thoroughbred who rose from humble beginnings to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in May 2014. Although he ultimately fell short of sweeping horse racing’s “Triple Crown,” the brilliant chestnut colt has continued to race and is now striding toward greater heights than ever before.
Earlier this year, California Chrome made history by winning the Dubai World Cup, the richest race in the world with a purse of $10 million. The winner’s share made California Chrome the highest-earning Thoroughbred in the history of racing in North America, and the impressively easy nature of his victory earned him the respect of racing experts everywhere.
After being given a rest following his Dubai excursion, California Chrome has come back as strong as ever with an eye on the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Santa Anita racetrack. A win in that race would all but assure that California Chrome reclaims the “Horse of the Year” title that he won in 2014, and further enhance the record of a horse that is virtually guaranteed a spot in horse racing’s Hall of Fame.
On July 23rd, California Chrome took the next step toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic when he ran in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar racetrack in California, his first race since the Dubai World Cup. Although he was facing only four rivals, one was an extremely talented four-year-old colt named Dortmund, best known for finishing a close third behind American Pharoah in the 2015 Kentucky Derby.
Reports indicated that Dortmund was training very well and had a chance to upset California Chrome, and for a few moments, it looked as though that would be the case. Dortmund, setting the pace with Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens in the saddle, wasn’t about to go down without a fight. When California Chrome made his customary bid for the lead on the final turn, Dortmund accepted the challenge, and the two horses entered the homestretch side by side with virtually nothing separating them. Dortmund, benefiting from saving ground while racing along the rail, briefly appeared to have a slight advantage, but California Chrome’s heart of a champion shone through in the final yards, and Chrome dug deep to stick his neck in front and keep it there as they crossed the finish line.
“I saved something for the end. I knew I’d have to,” said winning jockey Victor Espinoza. “I have a lot of respect for Dortmund and he made me run hard. I could see he (Dortmund) was running so hard. When we came down the stretch, I was concerned. [California Chrome] was carrying a lot of weight [five pounds more than Dortmund]; that was the challenge. But he was a runner all the way today. What a terrific comeback race for him. He’s back. He’s such a special horse. This was exciting; an exciting race. He showed everyone today just how special he is.”
“They both ran terrific,” said California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman. “I tell you, Dortmund made him work for it. It’s going to be an interesting few races coming up… [Dortmund] is a really game horse… [Chrome] is that kind of horse, he loves to grind it out and he shows a lot of determination. What can I say—he’s just Chrome, a wonderful horse to be around.”
California Chrome and Dortmund will meet again in the prestigious Pacific Classic (gr. I) on August 20th, California Chrome’s second prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. In that race, they could be joined by defending Pacific Classic winner Beholder, a sensational three-time champion mare many believe could be the best horse in the country. But for all she has accomplished, she has never faced a horse as accomplished as California Chrome, and their showdown in the Pacific Classic promises to be among the most anticipated, exciting, and significant races in many years.
J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and racing enthusiast who considers Zenyatta to be his all-time favorite racehorse. He is the founder of the horse racing website TheTurfBoard.com and writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.