- CLASSIC COUNTDOWN IS ON FOR CHROME
- ESPINOZA WAS READY FOR ‘GRAND SLAM’
- MELATONIN BREEZES FOR THE BC CLASSIC
- SONGBIRD HOME TO PREPARE FOR DISTAFF
CHROME ‘LOOKS GREAT’ AFTER AWESOME AGAIN ROMP
The fairytale that is California Chrome continued to flower at Santa Anita Saturday.
In what amounted to a paid workout, the five-year-old horse rolled to his sixth straight victory in the Awesome Again Stakes, winning by two-and-a-quarter lengths under regular rider Victor Espinoza before an adoring crowd of 18,563 on track and countless more watching on TV and satellites around the globe.
California Chrome left Santa Anita at 6:33 p.m. Saturday night for his Los Alamitos headquarters to prepare for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 5.
“He looked great this morning,” Art Sherman said by phone from Los Alamitos at 6:15 Sunday morning. “I went over him and he looks like a horse that didn’t even run. The horse amazes me. We’ve just got to keep him healthy and fresh for the Breeders’ Cup.”
Chrome won the Awesome Again almost pulled up, with Espinoza virtually applying the brakes “under a snug hold,” winning “handily” over Dortmund, blinkers and all, who had four and a half lengths on 26-1 shot Win the Space in the field of five, rounded out by Hard Aces and Soi Phet.
“Victor told me he eased him up the last 70 yards,” said Sherman, who will keep the same agenda for California Chrome leading to the Classic as he did for the Awesome Again.
“It’ll be the same kind of plan. We’ll train him here at Los Al and bring him to Santa Anita a week out. I’m not going to change anything. It seemed to be a good plan, so we’re not going to change it.”
While California Chrome was far from all out, Sherman seemed all out to contain his emotions in the winner’s circle hubbub after the victory. This can happen at age 79, when you realize most of your life has passed. You gain a deeper appreciation of what you had and what you have left, and Art Sherman has a lot to look forward to.
“Well, it was quite a thrill for me,” he confessed. “The people, everybody who’s involved with the horse, we’ve got a great bunch of owners, what can you say?”
Once the victory celebration was over, the TV cameras, well-wishers and assorted hangers-on were gone, Sherman, in public a man of the people, as California Chrome is a horse of the people, returned to his comfort zone.
“Faye (his wife) and I went out for a little Mexican food with my niece,” he said.
“I had a couple of margaritas and was ready for bed.”
ESPINOZA WAS PREPARED FOR HIS DAY IN THE SUN
Victor Espinoza won four races Saturday including the FrontRunner Stakes on 10-1 shot Gormley; the Zenyatta Stakes on Stellar Wind; and the Awesome Again Stakes aboard heavily favored California Chrome. Each was a Grade I event.
“It was a great day,” said Espinoza Sunday morning at Clockers’ Corner where it was business as usual for the 44-year-old Mexican native. “I was ready and prepared for a big day like that. I thought if everything went well and all the horses I rode performed the way it looked on paper, it would be a fun day and very special.
“When you ride a horse like Chrome, in addition to winning, you’re always looking forward to the next race. I was winning easy, so I didn’t want to use him too much, because the next race is going to be very important and tough. I had to save his energy for the Classic.”
As for Stellar Wind, who defeated three-time Eclipse Award champion Beholder for the second straight race, Espinoza felt she would be up to the task.
“She’s an awesome filly who’s gotten better as she’s gotten older,” he said of the 2015 champion three-year-old filly, now four. “Basically, she doesn’t do things on her own. I had to earn my pay riding her because you have to ask her to run. But for her to twice beat the best mare ever shows how great she is.
“Take nothing away from Beholder in defeat. They’re both the best, but right now, I think Stellar Wind is better.”
Espinoza rode Gormley to a front-running three-length win over 3-10 favorite Klimt in the FrontRunner Stakes, posting a $23.60 upset.
“It was a bit of a challenge for me because we had the one hole,” Espinoza said of the son of Malibu Moon trained by John Shirreffs for Jerry and Ann Moss. “I thought maybe I’d break and sit back because it was his first time going two turns. I didn’t really want to push him too much. But when something happened to the three (Secret House, the expected pacesetter, whose rider, Santiago Gonzalez, “stepped off” as the gates opened), I said ‘Forget about it, let’s go to the front.'”
‘HAPPY’ MELATONIN BREEZES PAST WORK FOES
Santa Anita Handicap and Gold Cup winner Melatonin continued working his way towards the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5 with a six furlong move Sunday in a bullet 1:11.80 under regular rider Joe Talamo.
“He worked in company with a couple other horses (Bluegrass Bronco, 1:12.60 and Majestic Kitten, 1:13.20) and went the last quarter in 22 and one,” said David Hofmans, who trains the son of Kodiac Kowboy for Susan Osborne’s Tarabilla Farm.
“Joe said he was smooth, felt good, happy and caught the horses that were five in front of him. At the eighth pole he blew right by them, so he’s doing good.”
THE BEAT GOES ON FOR SONGBIRD
All systems remain go for unbeaten superstar filly Songbird as she seeks her 12th straight victory in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita on Nov. 4.
“She’s continued to do things the way she started out doing them,” said Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who has ridden the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro in all of her races, including the Cotillion at Parx on Sept. 24. “It’s pretty incredible for her to still dominate the way she has. Her last race was one of her best, so that’s always a good sign leading into a big, big race.
“She’s doing really well, she’s happy and back at Santa Anita. I saw her the other day and she looks wonderful. She’s none the worse for wear. She seems to keep her weight on, her coat is shining, and all is good.”
Added her Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer Sunday morning: “She’s going to breeze Thursday. That will be her first work since winning the Cotillion and it will be 11 days from her race, which is longer than I usually wait, but since she shipped and everything, I’m giving her more time.”
FINISH LINES: Lord Nelson, winner of the Grade I Bing Crosby and the Grade I Triple Bend in his last two starts, worked five furlongs Sunday morning under Rafael Bejarano for next Saturday’s Grade I “Win and You’re In” Santa Anita Sprint Championship in 59.80. “He went nice; he’s ready,” said Bob Baffert, who rides Flavien Prat in the Sprint. “This will set him up.” Jazzy Times and Drefong, also nominated to the Sprint, worked four furlongs for Baffert in a bullet 47 flat . . . Mike Smith, who has ridden Drefong to three straight victories including the Grade I Kings Bishop on Aug. 27, rides at Belmont Park Saturday on Jockey Club Gold Cup day . . . John Sadler said Stellar Wind came out of her neck victory over Beholder “great” and it’s on to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and a potential third meeting with the three-time Eclipse champion. “What’s nice is that we’ll be in our own home environment (as Santa Anita hosts the 32nd Breeders’ Cup for an unprecedented ninth time on Nov. 4 and 5),” Sadler said. “We’ll give Stellar Wind a breather for a few days and get ready for the big one.” . . . Harbour Master, a two-year-old trained by Jamie Osborne, arrives Wednesday for the $100,000 Zuma Beach Stakes at a mile on turf Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 10. Jockey Jamie Spencer rides.