When California Chrome and the rest of the horses contending the Dubai World Cup pulled around the final turn on Saturday night, you wondered if he would quite have enough.
The American horse’s tale of the past year-plus had been one of high-profile almosts. Coming around the final turn at the 2014 Belmont Stakes, running for the coveted US Triple Crown, never finding that extra gear and finishing fourth.
Arriving in Dubai for the World Cup last year amid much hype, settling for runner-up support act as Prince Bishop broke from behind and stole the show down the final stretch.
And when this time California Chrome pulled around the final turn in an effective dead heat with Mshawish, Mubtaahij and Special Fighter, you could reasonably wonder whether he would be the horse to emerge with that extra gear kicking.
You could reasonably envision another brush with a signature achievement in a recent string of agonising misses.
For a moment, it was easy to cynically write the final chapter of California Chrome, the greatest horse to accumulate as many let-downs as legacy-defining victories.
It was easy to see the gas running out, easy to see another upstaging run. Another horse rising into this moment.
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Say, Godolphin runner Frosted, as happened with Sheikh Hamdan’s Prince Bishop last year.
It was easy to see California Chrome rounding into the final stretch, fighting, but coming up short. See this becoming one last high-profile almost.
And then, well, California Chrome the would-be-almost-horse began pulling away. Kept pulling away, and pulling, and pulling still further away into a literally unrivalled Meydan victory. A track record.
It was, in every conceivable way, the exact opposite of coming up short. It was exuberant. It was exclamatory. It was dominant.
It was, from a horse whose moment seemed to pass, especially in the US sporting psyche with American Pharaoh’s successful Triple Crown run last year, a reminder that here too was still a great American horse.
For a pulsating 2 minutes, 1.83 seconds California Chrome ran the race of his life on Saturday in Dubai. A horse that might have otherwise been remembered for what he did not achieve instead delivered a clear, unassailable crowning moment.
There was definitely no guarantee things would go this way for California Chrome. After a 2015 that included last year’s Dubai World Cup disappointment, major injuries and inactivity, this race was shaping up as a make-or-break moment.
And as Victor Espinoza rode him around the final turn Saturday night, there was that immediate tinge of fear that he would lose steam and indeed it would be with a whimper and not a bang that California Chrome’s story ended. And then he made for break on the final stretch and left those foolish notions in his dust.
He outran all the setbacks, the disappointments. He outran another almost.
And for that, what we got to see on Saturday night in the 21st running of the Dubai World Cup was a race to confirm greatness.
We saw California Chrome, the horse who became the highest-earning American thoroughbred of all time. California Chrome, the rejuvenated horse who may very well yet become the highest-earning thoroughbred of any sort of all time.
We saw California Chrome, “once-in-a-lifetime” horse, as Art Sherman put it, irrepressibly, gloriously triumphant.
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