It's time for a mea culpa. I have long taken the stance of opposing California Chrome. Doubting him. Mocking him at times, even. For a long time that has served me pretty well. In 2014 I went to the bank thanks to him repeatedly - first in the Belmont, then in his flop in the Pennsylvania Derby when he returned to action, and then in that year's Classic. The next year went well for me, too - he was second at Santa Anita and fell short at the Dubai World Cup amidst endless hype. Then injuries became an issue and the rest of the year was lost.
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Then I got cocky.
He returned to action in January, and I assumed that he was going to be the same old cash machine for a skeptic like me that he has always been. I stuck with it - much longer than I should have - and have looked increasingly foolish. He won his return to action at Santa Anita. Then he headed to Dubai, won a tune-up, and dominated the World Cup. I thought he was vulnerable at Del Mar is his return stateside He wasn't. Nor was he the next time. Or the time after that. Six races this year. I've doubted him all six times. He's won easily all six times.
So, I admit it. He's the best horse in the world right now. He's exceeded his breeding and his training and is a truly great horse. I said it. I quite probably won't bet on him given the lack of value he'll represent in this race, but I am fully willing to acknowledge that he is the best horse here and that if he runs his best race he'll win. So, can California Chrome win the Breeders' Cup Classic? Of course he can.
Big races: No shortage here. Two years ago he won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. He won the Dubai World Cup this spring. He's taken down the biggest races California has to offer - from the Santa Anita Derby on down. He's won well over $13 million in his career. He's done so well in so many big races, and so well on this track, that he isn't going to be phased by anything he sees here. He won't be the least bit intimidated. He's the one who will do the intimidating.
Last race: The last race was an ideal prep race for this effort. On Oct. 1 he ran in the Awesome Again here at Santa Anita. It was a solid field, with ongoing rival Dortmund the biggest threat. He set some fast early fractions, stayed with the lead, and won by daylight. It was a strong enough effort that runner-up Dortmund headed to the Dirt Mile - a $1 million race instead of the $6 million of the Classic - just to avoid yet another loss. He did everything he needed to do on that day and proved he should be ready.
Effort: He was fast last time out - faster through a half mile than he has been for years. And he finished reasonably well, too. It was a fast effort but not a hard enough one that you fear for what he has left. He'll be tight and ready here.
Distance: Chrome has won the mile and quarter Classic distance seven times in his career. He has five wins, a second and a third. Needless to say, he's fine with the distance here.
Works: California Chrome is a good work horse. Not a great one but a very good one. He has been true to form leading up to this race. He has run well within himself, looking fit and strong. There is no reason to believe that he isn't ready - at least based on how he is working.
Jockey: Victor Espinoza won the Classic last year. He's the only active Triple Crown-winning jockey. He won the Derby and the Preakness aboard this horse. He's won the Dubai World Cup. He's a big-day rider with excellent chemistry on this horse. He's an asset.
Trainer: I wouldn't probably want Art Sherman training any horse of my own. Not at this point. He's 79 years old, and his barn, which he runs with his son, is an odd one. In the big picture he's not a big asset. He has found the way to connect with this horse, though, and that's all that matters.
Race shape: There is a lot to look forward to about the Breeders' Cup, but what stands out most is what happens in the Classic. California Chrome is a fast frontrunner who will mostly likely look to set a fast early pace to wear down his rivals. Arrogate is a freakishly-fast-but-very-raw youngster who will be looking to do the exact same thing. There is other speed as well but likely not of the same caliber. There is a chance that these two could set up a pace duel for the ages. To add to the intrigue, Arrogate is trained by Bob Baffert - the trainer that has been foiled many times by Chrome with Dortmund and Hoppertunity and who beat Chrome in the 2014 Classic with Bayern. There are some scores to settle. I can't wait.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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