Valley's California Chrome still favorite for Horse of the Year honor
ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) — San Joaquin Valley's California Chrome lost the Breeders' Cup Classic by a half-length, but the 5-year-old remains the favorite to win Horse of the Year honors despite his lone defeat in seven races this year.
Had he won, California Chrome likely would have been a unanimous choice for the same title he won in 2014, when he captured the Kentucky Derby and Preakness as a 3-year-old.
Arrogate's upset victory Saturday in the $6 million race inserted the late-developing colt into consideration for 3-year-old honors, proving that his 13 1/2-length win in the Travers at Saratoga in August wasn't a fluke.
Besides California Chrome, Arrogate beat fellow Grade 1 winners Effinex, Frosted, Hoppertunity, Keen Ice and Melatonin in the Classic.
"(Arrogate) wasn't even blowing when he came back," trainer Bob Baffert said Sunday. "It was like, 'When are we going to do this again?'"
Garrett O'Rourke, racing manager for Juddmonte Farms, said Arrogate "will definitely race next year." But no future plans were announced.
California Chrome is likely to run once more before being retired. Trainer Art Sherman has indicated that would be in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida on Jan. 28.
"Maybe we'll get another chance (against Arrogate) before Chrome retires," Sherman said. "I hope we'd be able to run him at least one more time before then. We'll have to wait and see."
Sherman is a former jockey who indicated he would have ridden California Chrome differently than Victor Espinoza, who had the horse cruising along on the lead for much of the 1 1/4-mile race. Sherman said he would have urged on California Chrome at the quarter pole to try and make his lead even larger.
"I know he rides this horse with great confidence and we might have been caught anyway, but I think you've just got to go for it and open up as much as you can and make them try to catch you," Sherman said. "You hope the finish line just comes up first. I know he had plenty of horse at the top of the stretch, so that tells you how good the winner was."
Espinoza appeared to second-guess himself immediately after the race.
"Maybe I should have opened it up a little bit early," he said.
Mike Smith had Arrogate in third place, directly behind Melatonin, when they took aim on California Chrome. Espinoza kept peeking behind him to track his rivals as he led on the final turn.
Anticipating a challenge, Espinoza looked to his left, then right, and back again just as Smith took Arrogate to the outside.
"Mike said that when he went outside, he could hear Victor say 'Damn it,'" Baffert said. "Then when Mike went to the right hand (whip), Arrogate got on his right lead and took off like a rocket."
Sherman said California Chrome came out of the race well and that his loss only proved it's difficult to win every race.
"You can't cry over what happens," the 79-year-old trainer said.