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Dec 05, 2014

Up the Backstretch: California Chrome shows maturity on turf

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 Philadelphia, PA ( - California Chrome rolled to victory Saturday in the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar in his first ever start on turf. The colt, winner of this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness, may have demonstrated his true abilities in the win.

"That kick at the end, that acceleration. It was just like when he won the (Kentucky) Derby," said winning jockey Victor Espinoza.

The chestnut 3-year-old, trained by Art Sherman, got an excellent ride from Espinoza in the 1 1/8-mile grass stakes. Breaking from post 5 in the six-horse field, California Chrome was situated off the rail, just where he likes to run.

"I knew he was going to be sharp leaving the gate and I told Victor not to be too far out of it," Sherman said. "When he broke really sharp, I said 'Oh, wow.' But Victor knew what to do when Sawyer's Hill wanted the lead. There was never any point where I was really anxious. I was confident. We're here on our home ground, he's got all the people here and he's such a favorite with everybody. It makes me feel good to know I can run him on the grass. Just another option."

California Chrome, who has now won on all three types of racing surfaces, let Sawyer's Hill take the lead after a sharp start. He raced second from off the rail and then pounced from the outside on the turn for home on his way to a two-length victory over Canada's leading 3-year-old filly Lexie Lou.

The exciting thing about what California Chrome did Saturday was how confident he ran, appearing to know exactly what needed to be done. He showed some of that four weeks earlier in his third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"I know there was a lot on the line, people have told me that," Sherman said. "If he didn't run well, I would have looked like somebody who didn't know what he was doing. But I know this horse. He wasn't going to let me down."

Owned by Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, California Chrome will most definitely race as a 4-year-old in 2015 and, as he demonstrated Saturday, any race on any surface will not be a deterrent.

"You can see now that grass is no problem. Grass, dirt, synthetic - you name it. This horse likes it and he'll run on it," Espinoza noted.

From everything Art Sherman said after the victory, the $10 million Dubai World Cup is the early season target for his charge.

"Royal Ascot wants us to come over to England," Sherman said about the colt's future. "They said 'We'll treat you royally.' And we've got Dubai (World Cup) in March. That's another option. We're going to definitely run him another year. And he's a good shipper. He gets on an airplane like he's a frequent flier."

California Chrome had a three-part 2014 campaign. He won his first five starts before a disappointing fourth in the Belmont Stakes. His return effort in the Pennsylvania Derby was not what his connections expected, but he stuck on the rail, his least favorable place to run.

Although he was third in the Classic on Nov. 1, he ran a great race and used it to advance his training in order to win the Hollywood Derby. The grass win put California Chrome in solid contention again for both division honors and Horse of the Year.

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