ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) – Thoroughbred racing’s richest horse was ready to relax. Having just come off the track from a morning gallop in preparation for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, California Chrome rolled around in the large pit of sand Art Sherman created for his superstar behind the barn at Santa Anita.
“As you can see, he loves to play,” the 79-year-old trainer said Wednesday. “He loves to just roll and scratch his back.”
In the morning sunshine, California Chrome’s chestnut-colored coat shined like a copper penny.
The 5-year-old with the flashy white markings will try to cap an undefeated year with a victory in Saturday’s $6 million race. California Chrome is the early even-money favorite for the 1 ¼-mile race, further confirmation of his status as racing’s rock star. His devoted fan base is known as “Chromies.”
“I feel some pressure from the Chromies because I don’t want to disappoint them,” said jockey Victor Espinoza, whose successful association with the horse helped land him on “Dancing With the Stars.”
The durable horse that has taken Sherman on the ride of his life is 6-0 this year, having won his last two races by a combined 7 ¼ lengths. California Chrome’s earnings of $13,432,650 make him the richest horse in North American history.
“I can’t tell you what a thrill it’s been for me, especially the last two races,” Sherman said. “Sometimes I get spooky and think, ‘Wow, what happens if he lets him run?’ Victor said he wrapped up on him the last two races. Now we’re a fresh horse coming into the Breeders’ Cup, which is what I wanted.”
Under Sherman’s patient guidance, California Chrome has overcome volatile ownership and injuries since first making a name for himself by winning the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Those victories set up a Triple Crown try in the Belmont. California Chrome finished in a dead-heat for fourth. Co-owner Steve Coburn created controversy after the race, saying the system allowed fresh horses that hadn’t run in the series’ earlier two legs to take “the coward’s way out.”
As a 4-year-old, California Chrome traveled thousands of miles to Dubai for the World Cup, where he finished second. Afterward, he was sent to England to run at Royal Ascot against Sherman’s wishes. But a bruised hoof kept him out of the race. He returned to the U.S. and X-rays revealed further bruising that ended his season early.
Coburn sold his 30 percent interest in California Chrome last year to Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky, where the horse will eventually begin his stallion career.
“I have a lot of respect for Chrome,” Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said. “Art has done a tremendous job of keeping him going.”
This year, California Chrome has returned to his winning ways. He again made the long journey to Dubai and won the $10 million World Cup along with another race there.
“He’s bigger, he’s stronger. He’s an unbelievable athlete,” Sherman said. “He’s such a cool horse to be around, he’s got such a personality.”
In a year in which all three winners of the Triple Crown races are already retired, California Chrome has met every challenge and continued to delight his fans and boost a beleaguered industry.
“It’s amazing what Chrome does for the sport. He is the star,” Espinoza said. “He is as good now as he’s ever been. He is on his toes. He’s ready to go.”
Sherman went by to check out Chrome’s biggest competition, 3-year-old Arrogate, the lightly raced 5-2 second choice trained by Baffert.
“I said, ‘Get tied on, you haven’t seen Chrome yet,'” he said. “Here we go. The match race is on.”