California Chrome's reputation was tarnished further on Saturday night when the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner finished only sixth to Bayern in the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx in Philadelphia.
Connections of Bayern and Tapiture, who was second ahead of Candy Boy, had stated in the lead-up to the Grade 2 contest that they felt California Chrome was there for the taking.
So it proved when he trailed in more than seven lengths behind the impressive winner.
It was California Chrome’s second loss in succession following his defeat at the Belmont Stakes, although rider Victor Espinoza blamed his rival jockeys for concentrating too much on his mount rather than Bayern.
“The other riders worried about me,” he said. “Sometimes the other ones don’t ride to win, they ride to beat horses. They were blocking in front of me.”
California Chrome came out of the gate well and Espinoza settled him on the rail inside CJ’s Awesome behind Bayern.
It was a leisurely early pace and Espinoza allowed Protonico to sit on his outside and lock him onto the rail after the first quarter.
Tapiture stalked California Chrome by halfway, when Martin Garcia began to wind up Bayern. In the straight Bayern powered clear to win by more than five lengths and in record time.
Trainer Art Sherman felt that coming from the inside gate was a contributing factor to California Chrome’s defeat.
“The other horse kept him down on the rail, which I really didn’t want,” he said. “He is a lot more comfortable if you can ease him out but it didn’t happen.”
Bayern’s win showed that his run when last in the Travers Stakes last month was all wrong and that he should be judged on his win in the Haskell Invitational in July when he beat Untapable, who won the Grade 1 Cotillion later on the card.
It was a maiden victory in the Pennsylvania Derby for trainer Bob Baffert, who admitted the other jockeys were concentrating on the favourite.
“He broke well and they let us go,” he said. “California Chrome was pinned in there and I knew it was going be tough for him. He was the target – we weren’t the target. When Bayern runs like that, nobody’s going to beat him.”
Baffert gave no indication that Bayern would join California Chrome and Shared Belief in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on November 1, but said the Breeders’ Cup Mile was a possibility.
California Chrome will be prepared for the classic at Sherman’s Los Alamitos base, where Valiant Boy SBFAR won the inaugural running of the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup at the Los Angeles track.
The US$47,000 (Dh172,000) Purebred Arabian event had been billed as the latest instalment of the thrilling rivalry between Valiant Boy SBFAR and RB Champagne Taste but it was barely a contest as Valiant Boy SBFAR secured his seventh consecutive race, and third successive Grade 1, ahead of his old rival.
“We came here to support this race and the horse was in superb form. He showed a fine turn of foot and we hope he continues his great form,” said Liz Collard, a representative of the winning yard.
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