Ongoing Tales Of Two Derby Winners

American Pharoah, the 2015 Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winner, has been strong in his return to training in California.

American Pharoah, the 2015 Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winner, has been strong in his return to training in California.

There are few things as special in my business as a Kentucky Derby winner, but the roller-coaster that is Thoroughbred racing has proven again that racing’s royalty are not immune from misfortune and – please whisper this phrase silently – bad luck.

While American Pharoah continues to ride high as racing’s 12th and newest member of the elite Triple Crown fraternity, California Chrome – the horse that was the darling of American racing and just missed a Triple Crown victory – has run into misfortune for a second time in 2015.

Sports Illustrated cover boy American Pharoah has made a flashy return to serious training after a brief post-Triple Crown break. Four-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert has circled the $1 million William Hill Haskell Invitational on August 2 at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park for American Pharoah’s first race back from the Triple Crown series. It will be the first of what is expected to be a three-race summer-fall campaign that would conclude in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on October 31.

Fans who hope to get a close look at racing’s first Triple Crown champ in 37 years at Monmouth will have to dig deep into their wallets for the privilege. Online broker StubHub had some front-row grandstand mezzanine seats at the Jersey Shore track for sale earlier this week at a price of $1,175.

Face value for those individual seats: $13.

The 12,000 reserved seats in the Monmouth Park clubhouse and grandstand have been sold out since June 14 in anticipation of another visit by American Pharoah’s trainer Bob Baffert. He has won the Haskell seven times, with the latest being a 2014 romp by eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Bayern.

But while American Pharoah sails along, last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Horse of the Year and Triple Crown near-miss California Chrome has encountered choppy waters. He was hit with some bad news after his recent return to the U.S. from an extended stay abroad following a runner-up finish in the $10 million Dubai World Cup in late March.

A foot bruise knocked California Chrome out of an anticipated run at Britain’s famed Royal Ascot meet a few weeks back. When last year’s Derby winner came home, he traveled to Chicago’s Arlington Park to prepare for a run in the August 15 Arlington Million on grass.

One’s mind did not have to wander far to envision American Pharoah and California Chrome enjoying success in the summer and fall with their paths converging at Keeneland for a rare meeting of Derby winners and a mano e mano showdown in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, America’s richest race.

But that scenario crumbled last weekend with word that an examination of California Chrome to evaluate the 4-year-old star for a possible breeding deal had revealed a bruised cannon bone. The injury will require at least three months on the sidelines and will almost certainly end his year, if not his racing career.

“Everything is perfect except that,” trainer Art Sherman told Jeremy Balan of the trade magazine The Blood-Horse. “The horse will be fine. These things heal up … He’s going sound, but it’s there and we know it’s there.”

Sherman left open the possibility that owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn could decide to run California Chrome next year as a 5-year-old. But should his spectacular racing career end with this poorly-timed injury, the California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit’s career record will stand at 9-3-1 in 18 races with earnings of $6,322,650.

It would have been wonderful to see the 2014 Derby winner close out this season with a flourish. Last year’s Preakness, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, was his last win on dirt. His only victory in six races since was an easy victory on in November’s Hollywood Derby at Del Mar.  His two outings this year resulted in runner-up finishes to Shared Belief – the star of the first half of the racing year now sidelined by injury – and longshot Prince Bishop in Dubai.

For those of us who dreamed of an American Pharoah vs. California Chrome showdown at Keeneland in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the news about the latter is a major disappointment. The 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic duel of Derby winners in which Ferdinand edged Alysheba was one of the greatest American races of the last 50 years. It would have been nice to see this talented pair in the same starting gate in Lexington.

But the good news is California Chrome will be fine, regardless of whether his racing days have ended.

Let us wish both Kentucky Derby winners the best over the next few months. And, with the high-profile meets at Saratoga and Del Mar getting underway, let’s start the search for the 2-year-old that will be next year’s Kentucky Derby winner and dream of other showdowns to come. VT