California Chrome cruises in San Felipe, cinches spot in Kentucky Derby

California Chrome cruised to victory in the San Felipe.

AP

California Chrome delivered a flashy win in the $300,500 San Felipe Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita Park, where the Lucky Pulpit colt dusted the competition.

Ridden by Victor Espinoza for trainer Art Sherman, California Chrome went right to the front in the Grade 2 San Felipe and put away his only real threat entering the stretch when he shook free of Sham Stakes winner Midnight Hawk and surged clear to win by 7¼ lengths.

The win was especially impressive given how fast California Chrome went early. He blistered through an opening half-mile in 45.55 seconds and three-eighths of a mile in 1:09.45 but had enough stamina in reserve to dispatch Midnight Hawk and leave the rest of the field in his rearview mirror.

“It was great. He ran like I expected him to,” Espinoza said. “I wanted to try something new today so I let him go right out of the gate. I don’t know if people expected me to go right to the lead but I wanted to let him enjoy his race, I just let him go. In these races, you can’t just try and do too much with them. I think it’s important for him to do his thing for the first five-eighths [of a mile] and be happy.”

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The San Felipe win was worth 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard and cemented a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on May 3 for this talented California-bred, who was sent off as the 7-to-5 favorite in the San Felipe.

Owned and bred by Steven Coburn and Perry Martin, California Chrome improved to five wins and one second from nine career starts, and the $180,000 winner’s share boosted his career earnings to $534,850. California Chrome, who is out of the winning Not For Love mare Love the Chase, also figures to be one of the favorites for the Santa Anita Derby on April 5.

“I didn’t think he’d be on the lead, but he was a handful today,” said Sherman, a former jockey. “I just told Victor, ‘You got him.’ I told him he broke like that because of that Quarter Horse training at Los Alamitos. … We all know Santa Anita’s a speed-biased type of track, so it was really great to see him with the hold he had on him. It’s unbelievable.”

The San Felipe was the fourth stakes win for California Chrome, who posted dominant wins in his two previous starts at the King Glorious Stakes on Dec. 22 at Hollywood Park and the California Cup Derby on Jan. 25. He completed the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:40.59 for his first graded stakes win.

Midnight Hawk held on for second with Kristo third in a race that was reduced to seven contenders after three entrants were scratched.

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