Lady and The Track | September 23, 2023

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Underrated California Chrome Deserves Shot at Royal Ascot

Underrated California Chrome Deserves Shot at Royal Ascot: Imagine California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn in a top hat mingling with the Queen in her box at Royal Ascot. This scenario may happen soon, to the dismay of critics online. When plans called for California Chrome to ship from Dubai and train at Newmarket in preparation for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (GI) on June 15, handicappers scoffed at such an idea. The logic for their criticism ranged from reasonable (soft turf, different turns) to gross exaggeration about pending disaster. Most Kentucky Derby champions are cursed with expectations that every subsequent start must result in a win, but unfortunately, that curse has doubled in strength. The truth is, California Chrome belongs in the category of a top-level American colt that has been underrated for a long time. He is a proven runner on the international stage and deserves a shot at Royal Ascot.

California Chrome Royal Ascot

When plans called for California Chrome (pictured above at Santa Anita Park) to ship from Dubai and train at Newmarket in preparation for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (GI) on June 15, handicappers scoffed at such an idea. Photo: Benoit

Partly why California Chrome lost support from bettors and other racing fans comes from the incident with NBC Sports when Coburn got in front of a camera after losing the Belmont Stakes (GI) last year and complained about the horses that enter the last Triple Crown leg without contesting the other legs. People never forgot that outburst. To this day, references to Coburn as a sore loser are posted whenever Chrome starts in a race. Excellent handicappers with normally terrific picks are sometimes off whenever this horse competes because they try too hard to beat the Derby winner owned by a perceived sore loser.

Sometimes their guesses pay off, such as in the Pennsylvania Derby (GII) when the colt completely missed the board. Other times, the horse proved them wrong, such as when he finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) and won the Hollywood Derby (GI) nearly a month later.

For those who consider the Breeders’ Cup finish to be a disappointment, when is finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic ever a bad race? Stop and think about what happened. The leader Bayern slipped away with a loose lead. Toast of New York, a worthy international competitor as well, chased and quickened along with Bayern turning for home. California Chrome, not one to be outdone, kept pace and stayed with Bayern and Toast of New York. Together, the trio separated from the field while Bayern held on. Yet, that effort is supposed to be a disappointment?

The one weak point remains his reluctance to rally after taking dirt in his face. He took dirt while racing on the inside in the Belmont and Pennsylvania Derby and never kicked the same in either race. When racing wide and in the clear, this colt fires his best effort. He showed love for the wide trip while finishing second in the Dubai World Cup (GI) back in March, although he still received criticism for losing. Nevertheless, there is no doubt his effort was a quality one. Notice how he dueled with African Story and Hokko Tarumae, and look where they finished compared to Chrome. They both faded, yet Chrome had enough to keep the other American horse, Lea, at bay for second.

If California Chrome fails to transfer his Dubai form to Royal Ascot, that is okay, too! Finishing in midpack is not a big deal nor is finishing last for one or two races. No one expects him to win anyway. Only one horse will capture the Princes of Wales’s, and others besides Chrome will lose. Sadly, critics are going to be quick to pounce on him for not winning no matter what.

At least he gets to enjoy a wonderful environment for horses. Just look at where California Chrome is through a quick Google search. Granted, his American base at Los Alamitos Racecourse is not a bad area. In fact, Disneyland sits on the same road not too far away, and the neighborhood does not give the impression of the worst place around Los Angeles. The pictures of California Chrome training in Newmarket are gorgeous, though, as if the whole area is horse heaven. He gets to take walks along forest trails and run on a wide-open course. California Chrome is going to spend the rest of his life on the same farm after this year, which means he should enjoy this experience now.

Maybe American horses over two years old never win races at Royal Ascot because not enough horses try or the wrong horses are sent over there. Sometimes, bad luck is a factor, too. Last summer, the American filly Rosalind gave the Coronation (GI) a shot and dumped her jockey. Verrazano, a former competitor in the 2013 Kentucky Derby, was trained the European way and finished a good third in the Queen Anne (GI), and he was not even the best American. When good Europeans compete in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) on this soil, they do not always win either. Just last fall, highly regarded Flintshire and Telescope were defeated by Main Sequence.

Sure, if Coburn starts pointing his finger at the Queen and talks about “the coward’s way out” again, then let him have another round of online flame throwing. The man probably learned a few things from his Belmont experience, though. To be clear, California Chrome’s chances to win at Royal Ascot, and perhaps the Coral Eclipse (GI) at Sandown Park on July 4, too, are not great because of the nuances involving racing in Europe that every critic has pointed out. But, that is why European trainer Rae Guest is handling the American Horse of the Year and training him using their methods, much like how Verrazano was prepared. Regular American stakes races can wait. For now, California Chrome gets to enjoy his time in a beautiful racing environment, and this fan wishes him the best.


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