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TrackNotes: Here Comes California Chrome

Horseplayers tend to swim on, like sharks, looking just ahead for the next score, the big overlay.

Racing fans do much the same thing, except that if a big-name horse is still running, you keep an eye on him, perhaps nostalgically. California Chrome falls squarely into this category.

Seems there's plenty of intrigue, speculation and politics surrounding the star of the 2014 Triple Crown drive, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner who fell about two lengths short in the third jewel, the Belmont Stakes.

'Chrome is heading home to America and will land at none other than Arlington Park, for both U.S. quarantine and race preparation purposes. He'll be pointed to our own Arlington Million on August 15 at Chicago's white palace of racing, Arlington Park (What's with that home page, about 12.5% devoted to racing?)

But it ain't over 'til the stewards post OFFICIAL. Hold all tickets, and I'll say this: It will be very interesting to follow 'Chrome's health and training progress between now and then and see if he even makes it to the gate for what was the world's first million-dollar race. I don't know about medical confidentiality laws for horses, but you know trainer Art Sherman won't say 'nuthin except "he's settlin' in just fine, doin' great." 'Chrome's been ordered to say not one word to what we fondly once knew as "The Press."

Since his Belmont loss, it's been an OK up-and-down for the former America's Horse. His worst, appearance fee and all, was a dismal sixth in the Pennsylvania Derby to Bayern, whom he couldn't catch again next out in the Breeders' Cup Classic, finishing third a neck behind Toast of New York. He won his first turf race on the golf fairways of Del Mar in the Hollywood Derby after Thanksgiving and then headed off for the holidays. The very nice Shared Belief had his number in early February, back on the dirt at Santa Anita in the San Antonio Invitational. He finished a respectable second in the Dubai World Cup, taking home a boatload of money in the $10 million race.

After the World Cup, it became clear 'Chrome's connections were not all on the same page. Majority owner Perry Martin took charge of the operation and declared that California Chrome would hop to England and prep for and run in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, the prestigious Group I, 10-furlong turfer run during the big Royal Ascot meet, so big even the Queen becomes a broken down horseplayer for a bit. That's when rumors of a run at Arlington also got stronger. A globetrotter's got to come home sometime.

Is this just for the money? Is this to boost breeding fees? Is 'Chrome all of a sudden a world-class turf horse? Did he see family on and go up there to find his roots? The answers are yes/yes, they hope him to be, and maybe.

At least Martin laid out his thinking in an angry tone of a press release.

Seems Martin never wanted 'Chrome to run in the San Antonio, preferring go straight to Meydan, Dubai, and get in a prep over that course.

Before setting sail for England, Martin fired off like Old Ironsides.

"Both [trainer] Art [Sherman] and [co-owner] Steve [Coburn] wanted to prep in the San Antonio against Shared Belief. The argument was that the match-up was good for racing. I did not want to disappoint them, so abstained," Martin said. He wasn't finished: "This time we will do what gives Chrome the best chance to win. This time I've got Chrome's back. Hopefully after a bit of time has passed I'll know team Chrome has my back."

Do they talk to each other? "He didn't have any training over the track. We just got here (a week ago), he had no works and only galloped the track. I'm not sure he liked it. We weren't in Dubai long enough," Coburn said almost immediately after the World Cup. Which is it?

For 'Chrome's people, money, sometime cash on the barrelhead, has always been a factor. Now they're looking ahead to 'Chromes stud career. Sure, he's got Lucky Pulpit (Pulpit) on his sire's side, but his dam side (Love the Chase[Not for Love]) was not considered strong, at least during the Triple Crown chase.

Martin explained. "Chrome's bloodlines descend from A.P. Indy. This line is known for superior dirt performance. However it is looked down on by the regions of the world dominated by turf racing. Chrome's stallion value is currently very low in these regions and we really do not have to worry about it going lower with a loss at Royal Ascot. A win would help to demonstrate that the outcrosses in Chrome's breeding have been beneficial to turf performance. Yes, U.S. turf is different from the turf at Ascot - exactly why it is important for us to go."

So, he took a shot. Except it didn't turn out well, never mind the plan. California Chrome never got in a prep for the Prince of Wales's and two days before the race assistant trainer Alan Sherman announced an injury to 'Chrome's right front foot. Soon, he was scratched from the race. It was the same foot he injured in a tangle with Matterhorn coming out of the Belmont gate.

While that was a specific race incident, I've learned 'Chrome may have had other things on his mind.

"Looking back, there were a bunch of little things not going quite right that might have added up," Sherman said. "One thing everybody noticed was that he wasn't acting the same in the paddock in New York as he did before the Derby and the Preakness."

You'll have to click through and scroll it yourself.

So, what now?

Based on Martin's strategy, the Arlington Million is a perfect race for him to make his point. Unless it stops raining tomorrow, the Arlington turf course should be a luxurious, thick track just like those in England, perfect for Martin's plan.

But you can't just throw 'Chrome into the Million after not having raced since March. Scheduled to arrive here in the first week of July, can he be ready for the July 11 Stars and Stripes? It's a the 9.5-furlong local prep for the Million. He'd be running on a surface completely new to him. I'm not sure he's a 10-furlong horse anymore and I really don't like the idea of him training on ANOTHER new surface, the crap PolyTrack of AP's main course. Re: butt soreness, they say.

He did extremely well as a young three-year-old, but he's not a super horse. Martin just wants breeders to think that, or something close. Step one would be a prep race of some kind at Arlington.

Right now, if he were to run in the Million, I have dreams of tons of money on him and a huge Show pool and pouncing on a European invader for a big winner.

But sharks don't look that far ahead, now do they?

Arlington's Fingernails
Churchill Downs Inc. is continuing its shock and awe offensive to ruin Thoroughbred horse racing, this time deploying its assets to its northwest front, Arlington Park.

Doing business as Arlington Park, it petitioned to run fewer races in July and August. The petition was denied Tuesday, but CDI and Arlington still won a major battle in being able to manipulate carded races.

"Arlington also sought emergency action to permit Racing Secretary Chris Polzin to use his discretion is replacing canceled races from the condition book from the published list of substitute races," reports.

For example, if a race (ostensibly at a higher purse, thus counter to Arlington's desires) from the pre-written conditions book has six horses and one or two scratch, the racing secretary would have the power to cancel the race and substitute another from the substitution book, at a lower purse, of course.

So how is a horseman going to really know that a race 10 days from Wednesday, a race in the official conditions book, will be run? Why save and prepare his horse for a race that very well might not be run, even at a lower purse?

Think Illinois horsemen are hanging on by their fingernails? They were even willing to listen to yet another slow cut.

"If purses have to be cut, we will support you on that," said Glen Berman, executive director of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "There is no reason to take this type of drastic action. These projections, if they are true, can be dealt with in a much more common-sense way."

CDI and its Arlington Park are not really interested in conducting actual horse races. It wants the easy-money simulcast and online account wagering revenue. Its behavior has demonstrated this for years. Their business model at Churchill Downs is to drink the Kentucky Derby cash and make itself out to be a cathedral.

It's somewhat the same at Arlington with the Million, on a smaller scale, but the reality is Arlington does not even have a dirt track in the land of dirt tracks, so its "main track" program is outside the consciousness of American racing, if you can believe that.

This is a calculated and relentless strategy by CDI and it's been successful in hurting racing at Calder, Fair Grounds and Arlington. It simply sold Hollywood Park, which has since, sickeningly, been blown up, literally. Showing no good faith in helping racing, CDI simply awaits the largesse of slots, which it got at Calder, which it still abandoned by selling it racing rights to Frank Stronach's Gulfstream crew.

You ask, what if California Chrome wants an appearance fee, say $100,000, to run in the Million? Where will the money come from? Dick Duchossois, president of Arlington, can certainly afford it. And corporate might not balk, with the profits it's making. They'll run the PR of getting 'Chrome to Arlington - just like Secretariat and John Henry - into the ground and pull out the moldy oldie about Arlington rising from the ashes back in the 80's. That's cheap for that kind of pub and perhaps even national TV.

In the toilet bowl that is Illinois racing, filled with the waste of Arlington's and CDI's sabotage, the water is swirling down, with CDI pressing and pressing and pressing the lever.


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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