Sports Betting

California Chrome shakes rust off before Dubai World Cup

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January 11, 2016

California Chrome’s victory in Saturday’s San Pasqual was not the best performance of his career, but it wasn’t meant to be. The 2014 Horse of the Year was making his first start since his game second in the 2015 Dubai World Cup 9 1/2 months ago, and with a repeat engagement in the World Cup in his sights 2 1/2 months from now, the San Pasqual was merely a means to an end.

In that respect, California Chrome’s outing Saturday was a rousing success, far better than the blue-collar effort everyone would have had to view it as if the San Pasqual were conducted in a vacuum. The early pace in the San Pasqual was profoundly slow (with a capital “P”) for any class of horse and especially so for the level of horse we are talking about here. The quarter-mile fraction in the San Pasqual of 24.82 seconds was anywhere from 1.29 to 1.55 seconds slower than the other four route races run on Saturday’s all-dirt Santa Anita card. The half-mile fraction of 49.12 was anywhere from 1.31 to 1.95 seconds slower than those other routes.

If the San Pasqual were run without any context, we’d be downgrading California Chrome for the trip he had prompting that glacier-like pace and going gaga over Hoppertunity for rallying from last to be a fast-closing third under seriously adverse conditions. But I totally buy into the party line that California Chrome wasn’t close to being primed for his best, really needed this race to knock the rust off, and will be a very different, much more formidable horse going forward. I believe it. And the thought of that is exciting until you realize that maybe American racing won’t fully reap the benefits of a mature California Chrome once he returns from Dubai. I don’t blame the connections of California Chrome for going after the Dubai Cup again. That’s a shipload of money. And once you’ve committed to go for it, it makes perfect sense (to me, anyway) to get a prep race in Dubai, which is exactly the plan for California Chrome. But what happens after Dubai?

Will California Chrome be able to come home and contribute in a meaningful way to an older dirt male division that is in real need this year of his quality at the top? Curlin did in 2008. Curlin won the Dubai World Cup that year after winning a prep race there, returned home, made five Grade 1 starts, and won three of them on dirt, losing only on turf and on a synthetic surface. But California Chrome is a different horse. He hasn’t yet won the World Cup or even a prep race in Dubai. And unlike Curlin, California Chrome squeezed in a U.S. race before his planned Dubai prep. The question is how much do we have a right to expect from California Chrome after this return trip to Dubai? Unless we have another Triple Crown winner this year, the 2016 racing season might hinge on the answer.

In the latest future book Kentucky Derby odds released by the Race and Sports Book at Wynn Las Vegas, 10 horses are pegged at 30-1 or less. Mohaymen and Mor Spirit are co-favorites at 12-1, Nyquist is 15-1, Airoforce, Exaggerator, and Swipe are 20-1, Brodys Cause is 22-1, Toews On Ice is 25-1, and Flexibility and Greenpointcrusader are 30-1. What is striking to me about this group is how vulnerable they all seem, to varying degrees, of course. Mohaymen and Nyquist are both undefeated and are unquestionably nice colts, but neither has looked to this point like the next Native Dancer. Beyond those two, there are very real issues in this group of early Kentucky Derby favorites in regard to distance, surface, and the simple matter of how good they really are.

This was announced more than a week ago, but I wanted to chime in and say how much I like the New York Racing Association’s new enhanced spring program for 2-year-olds. To recap, NYRA announced that six maiden races, three for fillies, will be linked as official trials for the Astoria and Tremont Stakes, the NYRA’s first two juvenile stakes of the year to be run June 9 and 10. These maiden trials, which begin in late April, will each have $100,000 purses, 33 percent higher than the customary maiden purse. There also is a bonus program in these maiden races for New York-breds. I love the attempt to stimulate a stronger early-season 2-year-old program. It’s good for the game, and it is good for the horse. Please, just don’t bury these first-time starter-loaded maiden races late in pick four and pick five sequences.



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