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Espinoza's Derby Horse is California Chrome

California Chrome wins 2014 Cal Cup Derby
Photo: Benoit Photo
It’s been more than a dozen years since Victor Espinoza won his only Kentucky Derby, and more than a half a century since a California-bred won the Run for the Roses.

Espinoza and his No. 1 Derby prospect, California Chrome, could end those voids if the fates allow come May 3, when the 140th Derby unfolds at Churchill Downs.

As always in horse racing, however, it’s first things first, and next up for Espinoza and California Chrome is a major test against open company in the Grade II, $300,000 San Felipe Stakes on March 8, a race worth 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.

Since he has been beating up on state-breds in his last two races, presently, California Chrome has zero points, and trainer Art Sherman is acutely aware of that deficiency.

Espinoza, who won the 2002 Kentucky Derby wire-to-wire on War Emblem for Bob Baffert, has ridden California Chrome in his last two victories, the King Glorious by 6 ¼ lengths at Hollywood Park Dec. 22 and the California Cup Derby at Santa Anita by 5 ½ lengths on Jan. 25. The 41-year-old rider, fourth in Santa Anita’s standings with 23 wins, also has been working the son of Lucky Pulpit owned and bred by Steven Coburn and Martin Perry.

“He’s getting better,” Espinoza said of the chestnut colt, who would become the first Cal-bred to win the Kentucky Derby since Decidedly in 1962. “His last two wins have given him so much more confidence.”

Espinoza worked California Chrome the past two Saturdays at the colt’s Los Alamitos headquarters, going six furlongs Saturday in 1:11.80, sans blinkers.

“When he goes to the track, he knows when he’s going to work,” Espinoza said. “It was a nice, steady work for him Saturday. He went without blinkers, and he’s more settled without them. With blinkers on, he’s more aggressive.

“He’ll run with blinkers in the San Felipe,” as he has in his last five starts.



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