Stabled at Los Alamitos, a hotbed of Quarter Horse-style speed for decades, the three-year-old California Chrome demonstrated his own Thoroughbred twist on early flash with an electric score in the Grade 2, $300,500 San Felipe at Santa Anita on Saturday.
Breaking on top and closely hounded by Midnight Hawk through heated splits of :23, :45 2/5 and 1:09 2/5, California Chrome had plenty left in the tank to turn back that rival at the top of the stretch and draw away to win by 7 1/4 lengths in a smashing 1:40 2/5 for 1 1/16 miles on a fast track.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, California Chrome paid $4.80 as the 7-5 favorite in a field of seven for the traditional Santa Anita Derby prep.
"I wanted to try something new today so I let him go right out of the gate," Espinoza said. "I don't know if people expected me to go right to the lead but I wanted to let him enjoy his race, I just let him go. It seems like he likes both tracks. He's been training over at Los Al but he does things so much easier at Santa Anita after having trained at Los Al. He didn't feel tired at all after the wire."
Midnight Hawk, victorious in the Sham two back and third in the Robert B. Lewis in his most recent outing, finished a clear second, 6 1/4 lengths ahead of Kristo. Schoolofhardrocks, Unstoppable Colby, Recanted and Sawyer's Hill completed the order of finish. Scratched from the field were Bayern, Home Run Kitten, and Rprettyboyfloyd.
"I didn't think he'd be on the lead, but he was a handful today," said Art Sherman, who trains the colt for Steve Coburn and Perry Martin. "I just told Victor, 'You got him.' I told him he broke like that because of that Quarter Horse training at Los Alamitos...We all know Santa Anita's a speed-biased type of track, so it was really great to see him with the hold he had on him. It's unbelievable.
"I don't think the distance will make any difference, a mile and a quarter," said Sherman in reference to the Kentucky Derby distance. "I think he'll run all day."
California Chrome now possesses a mark of 9-5-1-0, $534,850. Breaking his maiden last May going 4 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood Park, the son of Lucky Pulpit next finished fifth in the Willard Proctor over the same track, but rebounded to take the $100,000 Graduation for California-breds at Del Mar going 5 1/2 furlongs.
Sixth in the Del Mar Futurity and the Golden State Juvenile at Santa Anita in his next two outings, California Chrome concluded his two-year-old campaign with a 6 1/4-length romp in the $200,000 King Glorious at Hollywood over seven furlongs. He successfully stretched out in his sophomore debut, taking the $250,000 California Cup Derby by 5 1/2 lengths over 1 1/16 miles on January 25.
Bred in California by his owners, California Chrome was produced by the winning Love the Chase, a daughter of Lucky Pulpit. This extended family is responsible for Cascapedia, the champion older mare of 1977.