California Chrome Wins Winter Challenge Stakes at Los Alamitos

California Chrome on his way to winning the Winter Challenge Stakes. Photo by Nicholas Keith.

In his first race on his home track, California Chrome easily won Los Alamitos Winter Challenge Stakes on Saturday in a dominating 12-length victory that set a new track record.

The hugely popular chestnut – whose unbeaten streak this year was snapped with a runner-up finish to Arrogate last month in the Breeders’ Cup Classic – went back to his winning ways before an adoring crowd of fans who loudly applauded and cheered, “Chrome! Chrome! Chrome!”

California Chrome finished the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:40:03, rewarding his backers with a $2.10 win bet. No place or show betting was allowed.

Point Piper finished second, with Papacoolpapacool back in third in a field of 10.

California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman, said he was thrilled to have the opportunity to have his star race at his home base, where the 5-year-old son of Lucky Pulpit routinely has his morning workouts.

He called it a great day for racing.

“It’s done my heart really good to be able to run him in front of Orange County people,” Sherman said, noting that the horse has such “loyal fans” that have affectionately been dubbed “Chromies.”

“Racing needs fans, and as you can see, when you run a good horse, the fans come out and that’s what racing’s all about,” Sherman said.

He said that he had advised California Chrome’s longtime jockey, Victor Espinoza, to “keep him in the clear,” and that he rode him with a lot of confidence.

“That was great, you know, perfect, just what I wanted,” Sherman said after the race. “Now I can relax and get ready for the Pegasus race,” the trainer said. “I want Arrogate bad one more time … Something in my heart says I can beat him.”

California Chrome will be shipped Jan. 6 to Florida to get a couple of works over the track at Gulfstream Park before the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Jan. 28, Sherman said.

“He’s the kind of horse I don’t think you need to have his racetrack with him. He’s run on about every surface I can remember – the grass, the dirt (but) no slop,” the trainer said of California Chrome, who has now won on seven tracks.

Sherman said he’s hopeful that California Chrome will win his second Horse of the Year title.

“That would be a great way to go out,” Sherman said of California Chrome, who is set to retire to stallion duty at Taylor Made in Kentucky after what is expected to be his final start in the inaugural Pegasus.

California Chrome won Horse of the Year for 2014 after a season that included victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Santa Anita Derby and Hollywood Derby – the latter on turf.

He has seven wins in eight starts this year with Grade I victories in the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the Pacific Classic at Del Mar and the Awesome Again at Santa Anita.

“He’s won more money than any other horse in the U.S. It’d be nice to finish on a high note, get that $7 million prize,” said Perry Martin, who is among California Chrome’s ownership group. “That’ll give him $21 million. He’d be the leader in the world – (a) big goal for everyone else to shoot for.”

Sherman said he’s going to really miss California Chrome when he heads off to Kentucky to begin his stallion career.

“He’ll be really missed, especially when I look in that stall and don’t see him any more,” his trainer said. “But I can tell you one thing his full brother is going to take that stall … I’m saving it. He’s coming in March.”