America’s Horse Heads to Dubai
By: Natalie Rietkerk
California Chrome is jetting off to Dubai today, allowing 10 days to settle in before he runs in “the world’s richest race” on March 28. All signs are pointing to an impressive outing for the reigning Horse of the Year, who captured America’s heart during his Triple Crown run.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing trainer Art Sherman and jockey Victor Espinoza at beautiful Santa Anita Park.
“This is all new to me. I’ve never been there, so it’ll definitely be a different experience,” 77-year-old Sherman said when asked about Dubai. “The horse is training good, so I’m sure he’s going to give a good effort.”
The $10 million dollar Dubai World Cup is unfamiliar territory to most back in the States. More than half way around the globe, the approximately 1 ¼ dirt mile race attracts international talent. Since its inaugural race in 1996, there have been eight US winners, most notably: Racing Hall of Famer Cigar, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Silver Charm, and the highest North American money earner of all time, Curlin. Hosted at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, California Chrome will be flying more than 19 hours – which has deterred other top American racehorses from entering.
“It’s a long flight, but I think he travels well,” said Espinoza. “When he went to the Kentucky Derby he handled it well, but he’s never been this far. It’s a long ways but if everything goes well I’m expecting a big performance.”
Espinoza will be joining California Chrome in Dubai on March 24th and is eager to see who they will be running against. With major contenders Toast of New York, who bested California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and grade one winner, Constitution, both dropping out of the race due to injuries, California Chrome is the heavy favorite. The other horses likely to make a run for the largest purse in racing are Japan Cup winner Epiphaneia, Champions Cup winner Hokko Tarumae, Ron the Greek, Prince Bishop, Tamarkuz and 2013 Invitational Stakes and defending champion African Story.
The post positions will be drawn the Wednesday before the race and Espinoza is hoping to be on the outside.
“A good post is very important for California Chrome,” said Espinoza. “For him I don’t like to really be inside, but if that happens I’ll have to deal with that and use [him] a little bit different than if he was on the outside.”
Everything seems to be going well for California Chrome in preparation for the Dubai World Cup. On March 13, he drilled a 1:23 4/5 going seven furlongs, with his most imposing fraction at 1:10 1/5 in the first six furlongs, and was barely winded.
“He’s been working pretty amazing right now,” Espinoza said with a smile. “I’m excited to get that race, hopefully we can we win.”
One thing is certain, win or lose California Chrome is America’s favorite horse and the legions of adoring “Chromies” will continue to support the flashy underdog who represented the working man during the Triple Crown. California Chrome’s rags to riches story would not have been the same without the down to earth team behind him who became horse racing celebrities almost overnight. I have watched Sherman and Espinoza on multiple occasions hustle in between races, yet never too busy to sign programs, shake hands, take pictures and chat with California Chrome fans.
“It’s been an amazing experience for me, it was very unexpected. I wish all riders could have the same experience that I’ve had,” said Espinoza.
Horse racing fans are not the only ones inspired by California Chrome and his journey.
According to Espinoza, “it’s motivated me to be a better rider and pay more attention to my career. When I ride different horses, I ride with more talent, and like I said it makes me a better rider. Every time [California Chrome] runs I don’t want to disappoint the Chromies. I was kind of heartbroken when we placed second and I had the feelings of all the Chromies too.”
A $10,000 horse from California running in a $10 million dollar race on the other side of the globe – California Chrome continues to be a story straight out of Hollywood.
Follow Natalie on Twitter @NatalieRietkerk
Photo: © Adrianna Lynch
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