If California Chrome’s seemingly effortless five-length victory in Saturday’s Pacific Classic deserved every plaudit going, then so did Victor Espinoza’s ride at Del Mar.
To put in to perspective what the Mexican jockey achieved by taking California Chrome’s career earnings to a monstrous US$13,252,650 (Dh48,671,682), the Dubai World Cup-winning combination became just the third horse and jockey to win from the inside post position in the 26-year history of the Grade 1 contest.
California Chrome was the first horse since General Challenge in 1999 to emerge from the inside, but it was how Espinoza flummoxed his fellow riders that will live long in the memory.
As soon as the gates opened, Espinoza gunned California Chrome to the lead and he then drifted at least three off the rail.
Gary Stevens on Beholder and Rafael Bejarano on Dortmund were conscious that the race favourite has previously enjoyed racing outside horses and were wise to not get inside of California Chrome and held off.
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Espinoza is a shrewd judge of pace and, happy he was setting solid, if not spectacular, fractions he carried on at the front end and was never headed.
It was a wildly confident ride aboard a horse at the top of his game.
Barring A Shin Hikari’s freak performance in the Prix d’Ispahan at Chantilly in May, it was the best run by any horse anywhere in the world this year.
“I’m going to say this now — this is the best horse I’ve ever ridden,” Espinoza said — a huge statement given his exploits aboard Triple Crown winner American Pharoah last season.
Espinoza said afterwards that it was in the first 400 metres that he won the race, and although the California Chrome team were gushing at Espinoza’s prowess in the saddle, the more objective view from Stevens carries the greatest gravitas.
“Victor was playing with us,” Stevens said. “I don’t think he really let him [California Chrome] run. That’s scary to think about. Hats off to California Chrome.”
California Chrome’s owners have long been eyeing the $1m bonus for sweeping the Pacific Classic, the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on October 1 and the Breeders’ Cup Classic back at Santa Anita in November, when the five-year-old chestnut is likely to renew rivalry with his Meydan rival Frosted.
The bonus has been put up by Del Mar racecourse and the Stronach Group, who are also behind next year’s proposed $12m Pegasus World Cup. Win those races and California Chrome’s position as the highest-earning horse of all time will be secured.
“A big part of our business is to bring our fans the stars of the game,” Del Mar’s executive vice president for racing Tom Robbins said. “A bonus like this is an extra added incentive for the best horses to come to Southern California and aim for our biggest prizes. With the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita again this year, it is a gold lining on a natural path for a potential champion.”
American raider Lady Aurelia put up one of the most striking performances ever seen at Royal Ascot when she blitzed the Queen Mary field and she backed up that run by winning the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville on Sunday.
Lady Aurelia won by seven lengths by making all with Frankie Dettori on board over 1,000 metres in June, and the Italian employed similar tactics for the filly’s first run over 1,200 metres.
Lady Aurelia was not nearly as impressive this time, however, and Wesley Ward’s charge only just held on to win by three quarters of a length from Freddy Head’s Alrahma.
British challenger Speedy Boarding won the Group One Prix Jean Romanet on the card.
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