Dubai// It was a triumph of persistence.
California Chrome made good his failure to return to America with the Dubai World Cup last year with a performance that comprehensively laid to rest the head-scratching of 12 months ago.
As Victor Espinoza and his chestnut warrior powered across the line there was nearly four lengths back to last season’s UAE Derby winner Mubtaahij, with Grade 1 winner Hoppertunity in third and Godolphin’s Frosted edged out of fourth by the tenacious Special Fighter.
The right horses and the right result.
The California Chrome team have been through the wringer since they last departed Dubai with their tails between their legs, and Fate tried her best to intervene for one final denouement.
As soon as the gates opened Espinoza’s saddle slipped back and for the entire record time of 2m.01.83s it took for California Chrome to secure his place in the pantheon of great American horses Espinoza was pleading for the finish line to come.
“I noticed straight away when I bounced out of the gate and pretty much down the stretch it got worse and worse and I was hoping the wire would come,” the Mexican rider said.
“It never came fast enough. I had to lean forward because if I moved back I would have lost balance and it would not have been pretty.
“This shows what he can do at 100 per cent. Last year we were second and it was not very fun.”
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Ever since Espinoza won the Triple Crown aboard American Pharoah last year he has focused almost solely on winning the world’s only $US10million race and assistant trainer Alan Sherman and work rider Dihigi Gladney have spent months in Dubai away from their families with the blue collar son of Lucky Pulpit.
California Chrome may be unfashionably bred and was the cheapest horse in the race to produce, but he now stands as the highest-earning American thoroughbred of all time. A trio of Japanese horses headed by 2014 Dubai Sheema Classic winner Gentildonna stand in the way of the summit, but owner and joint breeder Perry Martin is looking to the skies.
“This race has been at the forefront of my mind for a long time,” Martin said. “I am so happy we have phase one complete. There are three horses that stand in our way and I hope to hop over them by the end of the year.”
As a joke, Martin teased Espinoza for racing four wide after Mshawish, Mubtaahij and Special Fighter broke out of the gates and took up prominent positions off the rail.
William Buick had said in the lead-up to the race that he had expected to follow the favourite, and so it proved as Frosted slipped behind California Chrome on the outside of the field.
Just before the home turn Christophe Soumillon urged Mubtaahij up the rail, which gave Espinoza the signal to go for broke on entry to the home straight.
From, there it was simply a matter of holding on and hoping.
“Victor did a fabulous job,” trainer Art Sherman said. “I rode for 23 years and when your saddle slips you really have to have good balance to keep control of your horse.
“California Chrome is a once-in-a lifetime-horse. To have him from a two-year-old and to still have him is a gift. It is wonderful to see him do this. You really get attached to them.
“My son has done a so well and with Dihigi they did all the work.
“You think about all the great trainers and owners and they have never had a horse like this.”
Over the other side of the winners’ enclosure was Soumillon and Mike de Kock, fierce competitors both, revelling in second place.
“Mubtaahij has done nothing wrong,” the South African trainer said. “On the night I was confident we would turn the form on everything in the Al Maktoum Challenge. “I am very proud of what we achieved. I think he has a good race in him in America, if he doesn’t take on California Chrome. I understand Chrome will be going west, so we’ll stay east.
“We got beaten by a superstar on the dirt.”
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