- G1 winner (Santa Anita Derby) at 9 furlongs
- Undefeated at age 3
- Won 6 of 10 total career starts, current win streak of 4 races with consistent quality performances
- Trainer: Art Sherman (Ultra Blend, Carthrage, Summer Movie)
- Jockey: Victor Espinoza
- Owned by: Coburn, Steven; Perry, Martin
- Record: 10:6-1-0
- Earnings: $1,134,850
- Best speed figures: 107 Beyer (Santa Anita Derby), 99 BRIS Figure (4 straight races), 109 Equibase
Background: A seemingly unlikely Derby favorite in a year full of blue bloods and promising standouts, the California-bred chromey colt harks from the barn of Art Sherman, who is perhaps just as unlikely to train a winner of the Derby despite having been the assistant trainer of the unforgettable 1955 Kentucky Derby winner Swaps, who also won the Santa Anita Derby on his way to acing the roses. Bearing blinkers, sheer talent, and a fantastic backside story, California Chrome looms large as the horse to beat this year.
Prep Schedule: An early bird to the races, Chrome started his two-year-old career at Hollywood Park in late April, racing wide to register 2nd in a nondescript maiden race on the all-weather. He would win next time out, lying closer to the pace to run clear by nearly 3 lengths on poly. He lost his stakes debut in the William Procter Memorial next out scarcely two months later by getting into an early duel and fading, but won his next try in the Graduation Stakes at Del Mar, edging clear to win the same way he snatched his maiden. Upgrading to G1 status, California Chrome ran too late into tight quarters in the Del Mar Futurity (I), losing by just 2 lengths in a scrambled ending. Next out was his dirt debut at Santa Anita and his final loss, getting off slow at the start but still within 3 lengths of the win. From there, and with the addition of Victor Espinoza, it’s all winner’s circle photos: a win in the 7-furlong King Glorious in December by 6 coming from off the pace, the California Cup Derby by 5 in a stalking trip, the San Felipe (II) by 7 lengths going wire-to-wire, and the Santa Anita Derby (I) wire-to-wire by an unurged 5 lengths.
Pedigree: Certainly not what you would expect with his credentials, California Chrome comes from a modest family tree with Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, and the mare Numbered Account make two appearances in the first five generations. Sire Lucky Pulpit begat another good Derby colt similar in appearance with Rousing Sermon, but has largely been quiet on the national scene, as a son of sire maker Pulpit and out of the Cozzene mare Lucky Soph. Chrome’s dam Love the Chase is a daughter of Maryland stallion Not For Love, a son of Mr. Prospector and Dance Number, a G1 winning daughter of Eclipse winning 2-year-old Numbered Account, who is featured again on Love the Chase’s dam side with Polish Numbers (by Danzig). And yes, Swaps is mentioned in Chrome’s pedigree through Numbered Account!
Estimated TrueNicks Rating: A Variant 3.98
Dosage Index: 3.40
Running Style: Generally off-the-pace or stalking
Pros: Cool and professional mentally, California Chrome is more experienced than much of what he’ll be facing and has some of the best numbers and visually impressive past performances that have prepared him for the Derby. His connections appear very confident in his chances to parlay his win streak at least one more. A stalking sort of runner, he’s very advantaged should he draw and break well.
Cons: The Santa Anita Derby has plagued many as a prep race in recent years with the exception of I’ll Have Another’s storied success, the last being Sunday Silence in 1989, and before Sunday was Affirmed back in the 1970s. Many Californian racehorses— never mind a California-BRED racehorse— struggle in eastern soil.
Final Word: So much about California Chrome draws my attention along with the interest of many others. His jockey piloted my first Derby pick (and winner) to the winner’s circle in 2002 with War Emblem, Art Sherman is perfectly old school, and Chrome himself is a ground-eating athlete with homegrown appeal. Who dares to hate the Chrome? He’ll be the horse to beat on the first Saturday in May, and while far from invincible, he’s got the right mental mindset and one of the best strides I’ve seen in this year’s field going forward.