California Chrome faces 7 in the Santa Anita Derby.

California Chrome faces 7 in the Santa Anita Derby.

Benoit Photography

'Chrome Tries Candy Boy in Santa Anita Derby

California-bred colt's connections confident as San Felipe winner faces biggest test.

California Chrome  has handled everything easily so far as he approaches the toughest test of his career in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 5. Co-owner Steve Coburn could not be more confident in the upstart California-bred colt's chances.

"I don't have a doubt in my mind that this colt can win this next race, because of just the way he's been coming into the game," said Coburn, who owns and co-bred the son of Lucky Pulpit with Perry Martin. "I know he's going to be in with a little tougher, but he's a lot smarter, and he and the jockey (Victor Espinoza), they've got a pretty good team going on right there."

The flashy chestnut with distinctive white markings seeks his fourth consecutive win while facing seven sophomore opponents as the 6-5 favorite. California Chrome, who is trained by 77-year-old Art Sherman, drew post 5 in the 1 1/8-mile test. Among his opponents will be the highly regarded Candy Boy, winner of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 8 who is pegged at 9-5 on the early line, and Rebel Stakes (gr. II) victor Hoppertunity, a 3-1 chance.

The race is the eighth on the Saturday card at Santa Anita Park with an approximate 3:42 p.m. PDT scheduled post. It will be carried live on the NBC Sports Network along with the $1 million Wood Memorial from Aqueduct Racetrack. The Santa Anita Derby is one of three graded stakes on the Santa Anita card, along with the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) and the grassy Providencia Stakes (gr. IIIT), both for 3-year-old fillies. In addition, there are a pair of $200,000 stakes for California-bred sophomores at 6 1/2 furlongs, the Echo Eddie and the Evening Jewel.

California Chrome may have come from humble beginnings, produced from a mare, Love the Chase, Coburn and Martin purchased for $8,000, but he's been hard to ignore. He's had his doubters, of course. After all, his early wins, while in spectacular fashion, had come against state-breds, and his previous start in open company produced a sixth-place finish in last summer's Del Mar Futurity (gr. I).

But nobody needed convincing any longer following his front-running 7 1/4-length romp in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) March 8, when he dusted both Midnight Hawk and Kristo while running 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.59. California Chrome was awarded a 107 Beyer figure for his effort and he's now the talk of the racing world while ranked first in most Kentucky Derby polls.

California Chrome earned 50 points toward a start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) in the San Felipe, which puts him in good shape as far as earning a place in the May 3 Churchill Downs starting gate. A piece of the San Anita Derby, which carries 170 points with 100 going to the winner, would surely put him over the top.

A winner of his last three races, all stakes, by a combined 19 lengths, California Chrome, with Espinoza up, has remained razor sharp since the San Felipe. He worked a half-mile at his Los Alamitos base March 29 in a bullet :46 2/5 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:13 2/5.

"He looked sharp and he galloped out strong," said Sherman. "All systems are go. His work was super, I was very impressed. I’ll get him over there (Santa Anita), school him in the gate, go through the paddock and then we’ll be ready to go.

"I know there’s always a question until they’ve done it, but I really think this horse will go a mile and a quarter, no problem. He’s doing everything right and we’re looking forward to running him in the Santa Anita Derby.”

California Chrome has five wins and a second from nine starts and has earnings of $534,850.

"When these guys (Coburn and Martin) first sent me the horse, they said 'Here’s your Derby horse.' He’s always been a great looking horse, but it really seemed like the light bulb went on for him in the 'Cal Cup (Derby, which he won by 5 1/2 lengths Jan. 25)," Sherman added. "He’s much more focused now and he loves to train. It’s pretty exciting."

Sherman, who in 50 years in horse racing has never had a horse as good as this one, said the partners have turned down as much as $6 million offered for California Chrome. "We can't wait to run," he said.

Candy Boy, from the John Sadler barn, has been off since a half-length tally in the 1 1/16-mile Lewis Feb. 8, earning a career-best 96 Beyer. The horse that was second that day, Chitu , came back to win the Sunland Derby (gr. III).

Owned by Lee and Susan Searing's C R K Stable, the Kentucky homebred is a son of Candy Ride . Sadler won the Santa Anita Derby in 2010 with Sidney's Candy, another son of Candy Ride. Candy boy, who ranks 28th in the all-important Derby point standings, needs a good showing here to advance to Kentucky.

Candy Boy can stalk the pace or run from off of it with Gary Stevens, who seeks a record 10th win in the West Coast’s most prestigious Kentucky Derby prep. The bay colt has been training well over the track since the Lewis, most recently working six furlongs in 1:11 4/5 March 29.

With two wins and two seconds from six starts, Candy Boy has earnings of $305,600.

Bob Baffert has won the Santa Anita Derby a record six times and he's well-situated again with Hoppertunity, who defeated top Kentucky Derby prospect Tapiture  by a half-length over a wet/fast Oaklawn Park strip March 15 in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel.

A lightly raced colt by Any Given Saturday, Hoppertunity broke his maiden going a mile three starts back at Santa Anita Jan. 30. He earned a career best 100 Beyer in taking the Rebel for owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman. Mike Smith has the return call.

Amerman Racing's homebred Schoolofhardrocks was 15 lengths behind California Chrome while fourth in the San Felipe, but the the well-regarded  colt can make amends in his second start of the year. The son of Rock Hard Ten won his debut on Polytrack at Del Mar Aug. 31 in his only other trip to the post. Joe Talamo keeps the mount.

Halo Farms homebred Big Tire comes off a game nose maiden win going a flat mile March 7 and will be making his seventh career start in the Derby for trainer Mark Glatt.

Friendswith K Mill, a maiden winner from the Doug O'Neill barn, was a good second in a 1 1/16-mile allowance on March 16. O’Neill is seeking a Santa Anita Derby three-peat following Goldencents  last year and Derby/Preakness (gr. I) winner I'll Have Another  in 2012. 

Maidens Rprettyboyfloyd, who missed by a nose to Big Tire last time, and Dublin Up, third in that race but beaten by just a head, complete the field. Trainer Denise Breuer will try blinkers on Rprettyboyfloyd, a son of Bluegrass Cat  who drew the rail with leading rider Rafael Bejarano aboard.

There will be a special early first post time on Saturday of noon.

$1 Million Santa Anita Derby (gr. I, Race 8, 3:42 p.m.), 3YOs, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Rprettyboyfloyd (KY), R Bejarano, D E Breuer, 20/1
2. Friendswith K Mill (KY), T Baze, D F O'Neill, 20/1
3. Hoppertunity (KY), M E Smith, B Baffert, 3/1
4. Big Tire (KY), E A Maldonado, M Glatt, 20/1
5. California Chrome (CA), V Espinoza, A Sherman, 6/5
6. Candy Boy (KY), G L Stevens, J W Sadler, 9/5
7. Schoolofhardrocks (KY), J Talamo, D E Hofmans, 10/1
8. Dublin Up (KY), K J Desormeaux, P Miller, 30/1
All carry 122 pounds.
Blinkers On: Rprettyboyfloyd