There’s no longer any question as to who the 2014 Kentucky Derby favorite will be. California Chrome took care of that matter today in scintillating fashion. Sent off as the 7-10 favorite in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby, the copper chestnut made it look like little more than a walk in the park in the California sunshine, galloping home an easy 5 1/4 length winner over Hoppertunity.
Trained by the 77-year-old Art Sherman, and ridden by Victor Espinoza, the California-bred broke a beat slow, but quickly recovered and sped his way into second outside of longshot leader, Dublin Up, with the second choice, Candy Boy, just to his outside.
"He broke a step slow but I put him right into race, I wanted to be aggressive," said the winning rider. "I bounced out of there as quick as possible."
Dublin Up led all the way to the far turn, but Espinoza was sitting chilly waiting to press the button, as Candy Boy stayed in close contact and was outside those and Hoppertunity moved up from fourth on the rail. It liked for a fleeting moment as if the race might be on, but none of the others could match the effortless moving of California Chrome. He hit the front easily and quickly opened up on the highly regarded sophomores in his wake. From there, he cruised home the easiest kind of winner over the Rebel winner, Hoppertunity, with Candy Boy a distant third.
The winning trainer was understandably pleased with his star. “It was awesome. That’s all I can say. I got a little spooked leaving the gate. He got banged around pretty good, but I really think he’s a better horse stalking," said Sherman. "When he won the San Felipe, he was on the lead all the way which is something new to me, but I really prefer this type of race where he’s right off the lead. I know that the horse likes to have to have company (when asked his thoughts early in the race). I’ve seen all his races; he’s pretty competitive. He doesn’t mind being hooked. Right now, he’s kind of freaky and I’m enjoying it. I can’t believe the races I’ve been seeing. A length or two might have been all right with me.”
California Chrome now streaks to the Kentucky Derby, four weeks from today, as not only the best prospect on the West Coast, but almost a certain favorite for the Run for the Roses.
"I don't think distance will be problem in the Kentucky Derby," added Espinoza.
Today’s grade 1 victory marked the sixth win in ten lifetime starts for California Chrome, and his fourth in a row. Coming off a series of seriously flashy performances, including most recently a 7 1/4-length victory in the San Felipe Stakes on March 8, the son of Lucky Pulpit led all the way that day finishing the 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.59, making it the second-fastest San Felipe in the race’s 77-year history. The Steve Coburn and Perry Martin homebred has now won his last four races by more than 24 lengths combined.
Today’s final time of 1:47.52 for the nine furlongs over the fast Santa Anita track, fits with the overall look of the performance. Much like his previous three wins, it was an eye-catching victory, and the strong time represents the fastest Santa Anita Derby in 16 years.