Age just a number for California Chrome, Postponed and other star horses of the moment

Geoffrey Riddle writes from California Chrome to Postponed to Beholder, some five- and six-year-olds are among the best performers in horse racing this year – and in action this weekend.

California Chrome shown during his winning run in the Dubai World Cup in March. Kaz Ishida / Eclipse Sportswire / Getty Images
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Three of the horses currently dominating the landscape of racing are all in action on one of the busiest weekends of the year on the racing calendar.

Sheikh Mohammed Obaid’s Postponed starts as the overwhelming favourite for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly on Sunday seeking his seventh successive victory.

California Chrome has the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday at his mercy in pursuit of his sixth consecutive success, while Beholder was on a run of eight straight before she ran in to Saturday’s Zenyatta Stakes rival Stellar Wind in the Clement L Hirsch Stakes and then California Chrome in the Pacific Classic.

These are the sort of enduring characters that keep a sport going.

California Chrome is a five-year-old. Postponed is too. Beholder is a year older, and when you add in to the heady mix of six-year-old Flintshire, the favourite for the Joe Hirsch Classic at Belmont Park who is on a roll of three wins, and the mighty mare Tepin, who is five, age has certainly not wearied them.

California Chrome is in the form of his life right now and trainer Art Sherman, who has seen training vogues ebb and flow with his 59 years in racing, believes more should be done to keep racing’s greatest draw cards in training for longer.

“A five-year-old is one of the best times to race a horse of California Chrome’s calibre and I just think he’s so much stronger,” Sherman, 79, said. “He’s just blossomed into something special right now. I can’t say enough about him.

“We used to do that years ago, horses went on to six, seven, eight years old. It brings out the people.

“You have to have superstars in the game to keep everybody interested, and I think you’ve got probably the best group of horses that I’ve ever seen coming to the Breeders’ Cup in quite a few years.”

Not everybody agrees with Sherman, however, and unlike, say National Hunt racing, or Purebred Arabian racing where the horses are only just getting going aged six, commercial pressures often hold sway on the Flat.

This week Irish owners Coolmore revealed that Air Force Blue, the champion European juvenile last season, would be retired to Ashford Stud in Kentucky on account of failing to live up to the ability he showed last year. That came on the heels of the news that Al Shaqab’s Mehmas was also going to stud as a two-year-old.

Are horses being rushed in to the breeding sheds?

“It’s just economics, and I don’t think there’s much we can do about that,” Beholder’s trainer Richard Mandella said.

“I’ve always thought that their five-year-old year should be their best. They’re usually finished growing, their mind is kind of settled into a groove, and if they’re sound enough — we’ve had horses that at seven were at their best.”

California Chrome is currently rated the best horse in the world, but were Postponed to become the first five-year-old and Dubai-owned winner of Europe’s showpiece race since Godolphin’s Marienbard in 2002 he would be pushing close North America’s highest-earning runner in history.

California Chrome and Postponed have been inextricably linked this season. They ran within 40 minutes of each other at Meydan in March when California Chrome won the Dubai World Cup and Postponed powered to Dubai Sheema Classic glory.

They both won within four days of each other in August when California Chrome took the Pacific Classic at Del Mar by five lengths and Postponed shrugged off an infection to win the International Stakes at York.

And both are on a course to run at the Breeders’ Cup, where California Chrome is already favourite for the Classic and Postponed vies with Flintshire to be considered the most likely winner of the Turf.

Sheikh Mohammed Obaid has already stated that Postponed will race on in 2017, but the end of the California Chrome story is nigh.

Sherman revealed this week that after the Awesome Again Stakes and Santa Anita in November California Chrome might have a prep run at Gulfstream Park before he takes his chance in the inaugural US$12 million (Dh44m) Pegasus World Cup, a race that could displace the Dubai World Cup as the world’s most valuable race in January.

California Chrome has four races left – there is no reason why he cannot burn brightly right until the end.

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