By Annie Ross
The biggest race with the biggest purse in Pennsylvania history has attracted the year’s biggest name in horse racing.
California Chrome, who came within two lengths of being horse racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner last June at the Belmont Stakes, is coming to Parx Racing for Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby.
The $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at 1 1/8 miles at Parx Racing in Bensalem, is the last big race of the season for 3-year-olds. The son of Lucky Pulpit is the morning-line, even-money favorite and drew the dreaded No. 1 post. He faces seven rivals, including the ever-dangerous Bayern, the Bob Baffert trainee who won the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth and was favored over California Chrome in the San Felipe at Santa Anita in the spring before his own foot issues caused him to miss that race on the Derby Trail.
“I think my horse is ready,” trainer Art Sherman said after Chrome’s last work last Saturday at Los Alamitos. “He’s been working great, just fantastic. Being turned out for five weeks like that, you’d think he might be a step or two off, but I’ve been impressed with the way he’s been working.”
Assistant trainer Alan Sherman, who is Art’s son, arrived at Parx Monday, one day before the colt arrived. When asked if he felt Chrome was “all the way back,” Sherman said. “I think after this race he’ll be all the way back. Going into the Breeders’ Cup, you want a good race in him.”
The racing world, including lots of skeptics about the horse’s true talent, wants to see if California Chrome is the same horse whose Triple Crown run electrified the nation and elevated horse racing. Has Sherman managed to rebuild that incredible foundation under this horse with six works at Los Alamitos? As one Twitterite said on Twitterverse: “I’ve seen enough photos of California Chrome working and getting baths. Let’s see him run.”
Like all sports, horse racing is a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” deal, and California Chrome just hasn’t done enough lately to capture the short-attention span of the sporting public, not even the thoroughbred pollsters who are supposed to pay attention to every development. The latest National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll lists Wise Dan No. 1, Shared Belief second and California Chrome third for Horse of the Year.
Wise Dan, who is trying to three-peat as Horse of the Year, received 25 first-place votes for his three wins and no losses this year. Shared Belief drew six top votes for the same record. California Chrome? He received just three top votes for five wins that included three Grade Is – the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
As much as he hates to see it, Art Sherman understands the voting mentality, especially when it comes to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s Shared Belief, who is expected to run next for the Jim Rome-led ownership group in the Awesome Again Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at Santa Anita on Sept. 27.