Like Abraham Lincoln, California Chrome overcame humble breeding to achieve greatness. Honest Abe was born to poor folks in a Kentucky log cabin, and Chrome entered the world with an obscure pedigree in California’s San Joaquin Valley, known for producing fruits and vegetables, not champion thoroughbreds.
As a 5-year-old, “Chromie” is 6-for-6 with earnings of $7,110,000, most from the $10-million Dubai World Cup, and his career bankroll of $13,432,650 is a world record. Winning Saturday’s $6-million, 1¼-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita would clinch his second Horse of the Year award. The main challenger to the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner is Arrogate, who crushed the Travers by 13½ lengths in 1:59 1/5, a track record at 153-year-old Saratoga.
Arrogate is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who swept the last two Classics with Bayern and Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.
“I can’t believe I’m blessed to be going for a third in a row,” Baffert said. “After what we went through last year with Pharoah, I thought it’s going to be a long time between drinks before I get a horse of that caliber, and then Arrogate comes along.”
Baffert said unless Arrogate can repeat his Travers performance, he’s unlikely to win. America’s top big-race trainer has great respect for the flashy chestnut whom Bayern edged by a nose and a neck in the 2014 Classic at Santa Anita.
“This is Arrogate’s time, but he has to step it up,’’ Baffert said. “It’s going to take a huge performance to beat Chrome, because he looks unbeatable right now.”
Trainer Art Sherman, 79, calls his horse of a lifetime “awesome to watch.” He respects Arrogate but sounds more curious than concerned.
“I’m waiting to see, because the Chrome Buster sounds pretty good,’’ Sherman said. “I don’t know. He’s a nice 3-year-old, but he’s never run against Chrome. He has to outrun me before he makes me a believer, I’ll tell you that.”
Perfect Songbird tops Distaff. Songbird is undefeated, untested and favored in Friday’s $2-million, 1 1/8-mile Distaff. For the first time, the 3-year-old will face older fillies and mares, and to be 12-for-12, she must beat champions Stellar Wind and Beholder.
Jockey Mike Smith has asked for Songbird’s best just once, for about 150 yards in the Coaching Club American Oaks, which became a 5¼-length runaway. From the rail, Smith likely will go for the early lead.
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is as low-key as it gets. Yet when reminded that Songbird’s speed figures don’t match Beholder’s and Stellar Wind’s, Hollendorfer wasn’t his usual humble self.
“I think when the numbers come out after the race,” he said, “she’ll have risen to the occasion.”