Even at his very best it was not enough. California Chrome went out on his shield at the Breeders’ Cup on Saturday in his attempt to become the first reigning Dubai World Cup winner to follow up in the US$6 million (Dh22m) Classic.
In front of 72,811 people packed in to the Santa Anita grandstands, the five-year-old chestnut ran out of gas, but not out of resolve, as younger rival Arrogate swept past under Mike Smith in the final 50 metres of the 2,000-metre contest.
Victor Espinoza had been looking around frantically aboard California Chrome for Arrogate, but as the three-year-old grey loomed up alongside like a bad dream the Mexican rider knew his fate. He put away his whip and resigned himself to second place in America’s most valuable contest.
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It was Arrogate’s sixth race, and having still been a maiden as recently as June Art Sherman, California Chrome’s trainer, was in awe of the new, raw champion.
“California Chrome ran his race, but just got beat in those last couple of jumps,” he said. That winner is the real McCoy. I knew he was the one we had to beat, but I didn’t know how good he was. We have no excuses. He broke so darn good that I figured we’d be in front early. The fractions were fine. When we were in front turning for home, I thought he’d win, because he usually hangs on. He’s been so good all year long, but it just shows that you can’t win every race.”
It was California Chrome’s seventh run of the year and Sherman confirmed his charge would be given a break before he took on his final race at the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in January.
Sherman hopes Arrogate might turn up for a rematch but trainer Bob Baffert issued a cryptic response when asked whether the race scheduled to become world’s most valuable was on his radar. To enter the Pegasus World Cup entrants need to stump up a $1 million entry fee, which connections of California Chrome have done, but you can buy a post position from a current place holder. “We don’t have a berth,” was Baffert’s reply.
Garret O’Rourke, representative of owners Juddmonte, confirmed that Arrogate stays in training next season, advancing the possibility of another clash with California Chrome, or even a trip to Dubai, where Baffert has already won the World Cup with Silver Charm in 1998 and Captain Steve in 2001.
According to influential speed figures guru Andy Beyer, Arrogate earned a figure of 120, with California Chrome on 119, which is the best of his career. It means Arrogate is a very special talent indeed and his intoxicating blend of speed and stamina will make him be hard to beat next season.
Arrogate had a tough draw in Gate 9, the second widest of all, and once the gates opened Espinoza hustled his mount to the front and tracked over to take the rail. Melatonin, the Santa Anita Gold Cup winner, harried California Chrome with Joe Talamo in the saddle, but not enough to make the pace a strong one. Smith bided his time on Arrogate and they crept in to a position wide of Melatonin in third, where they could see the hot favourite the whole way around.
Smith spotted a gap on the inside rail on the home turn and nestled up the inside of Melatonin. He then slipstreamed California Chrome in to the stretch, saving energy all the time and causing Espinoza neck problems as he continuously searched behind for his rival. As a display of horsemanship it was sublime, and showed why Smith now boasts a record 25 wins at the “World Championships”.
With around 100 metres to go Smith gave his mount three cracks of his whip and Arrogate responded in style. He bounded clear and went on to become the most lightly raced Classic winner since the Breeders’ Cup was inaugurated in 1984.
Smith, who won two other races at the meeting and finished second in three others, won the 14th Bill Shoemaker Award, given to the most outstanding jockey. It was his fourth Classic win and he had nothing but praise for his mount.
“That was amazing,” Smith said. “I’m at a loss for words. He’s such a young horse. He’s so talented. He’s got amazing stamina. He doesn’t quit. He could have gone around again. He’s incredible.”
As an illustration of how good the first two home were, there was a 10-length gap back to Keen Ice, who on his best form last season was the only horse to beat Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Hoppertunity, who was third in the World Cup, took fourth, ahead of the tiring Melatonin, while Godolphin’s Frosted was never in it and finished sixth.
Frosted’s trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was downbeat at the performance: “It just didn’t go well at all.
“He’s been doing so well. It’s just very disappointing. We just didn’t show up. No excuses.”
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