DUBAI // What a difference a year makes.
A day before last season’s Dubai World Cup, California Chrome’s regular work rider, Willie Delgado, slept in and failed to show up for the chestnut colt’s final exercise.
California Chrome then finished two-and-three-quarter lengths adrift of Prince Bishop in the world’s most valuable race before he embarked on aborted trips to England and Chicago, picking up injuries along the way.
California Chrome is now rested and recuperated, however, and as a five-year-old horse with two victories so far this season he goes in to Saturday’s feature race at Meydan Racecourse once again a the firm favourite.
He has a new ownership group in Taylor Made Stallions, who understand his needs far better than former owner Steve Coburn.
He has a shiny new set of metallic silks that jockey Victor Espinoza showcased at Meydan last month and he has a new work rider in Dihigi Gladney.
Gladney started riding California Chrome when the 2015 US Horse Of the Year returned to Sherman’s base at Los Alamitos in October from Taylor Made.
Barring two workouts under Espinoza, Gladney has been on top ever since and was perched in the saddle for steady regular exercise at Meydan that was watched by trainer Art Sherman, his son and assistant Alan and Frank Taylor.
It was the first time that Art Sherman had seen his pride and joy since he won a handicap here last month. Sherman was so impressed by the size and power of California Chrome that he proclaimed the horse was five lengths better than last year.
“He is mature and strong and he knows it. They needed a cowboy aggressive rider for him and I’m it,” he says.
“He is a big old horse now and when I’m on his back it is like somebody has sewed my lips up. I don’t say nothing. My mind is totally on him.
“Every horse is different but he wants to do his work. He takes his time. When the cameras were on him he didn’t want to leave their stare.
“He walked as slow as he could so they could get every shot of him and then jogged off. By the time we came around to gallop, he’s got his head bowed, he took a hold and was showing his class. It was like he was saying, ‘hey, I know why I am here’. When he works, he floats.”
California Chrome’s physical well-being is for all to see, but it is his mental outlook, most likely from time at the serene surroundings of Taylor Made, that could, perhaps, prove the difference between success and failure.
When he slammed Storm Belt by two lengths in the Trans Gulf Electromechanical Trophy, he changed his lead legs on the turn and entering the straight with ease.
Where last year in the World Cup he wore a tongue tie, this time around he was without.
A week later, World Cup rival Frosted looked like he had too many panniers attached to his saddle when he switched tiredly in the straight on his way to victory in Round 2 of the Al Maktoum Challenge.
It was no more than a routine run for Chrome, but with the San Pasqual Stakes he won in January also a steadily run contest it has been a long time since we have seen the real engine under the polished up chassis.
Gladney, 40, does not sees this as a problem.
“You look at him last year and you think, ‘how much better can he be, he almost won a Triple Crown’?” Gladney says.
“That’s true, but had he been in this form and the way he is training now, you would have seen him get it done. He’s whole mindset is now on it. He’s so much more mature.”
California Chrome’s journey taking his blue collar connections, who paid US$8,000 (Dh29,382) for his dam, Love The Chase, and $2,500 stud fees for the services of Lucky Pulpitt, has been well publicised.
California Chrome has accumulated $6,532,650 in prize-money. Should he scoop the $6 million on offer for first place he would be within touching distance of 2014 Dubai Sheema Classic winner Gentildonna as the highest earner of all time. With the Pacific Classic and the Breeders’ Cup Classic still to come and, possibly, Frank Stronach’s proposed $US12million winner-takes-all race staged in January as his last hurrah the stratosphere is not impossible.
Gladney’s story is no less inspiring.
He grew up in Watts in Los Angeles. Earlier in his career he rode bulls and mules, but graduated to thoroughbreds.
In his first season as a fledgling jockey, he showed promise and rode two winners from 23 rides.
In 2001 he rode 31 winners, but two seasons later he broke four of his discs in his back and all of ribs on his left side in a horror fall that resulted in five years on the sidelines.
He made a comeback but, understandably, he slipped into the journeyman rut and last rode competitively in 2012.
“They thought California Chrome was done, so for him to comeback after all the negative comments, it would mean a lot if he won the World Cup,” Gladney says.
“I’ve been here for ages. I’ve left my wife and children behind.
“If we win, with my cut of the money I’m going to make my pony ride business a little better than it is.
“We sit in the infield of Santa Anita, almost every weekend, for the family fun day. When you see those GP banners and pony rides there on TV, that will be me.”
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