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California Chrome's Next Race May Be At Del Mar

California Chrome's Next Race May Be At Del Mar
California Chrome's Next Race May Be At Del Mar
GUEST: Joe Harper, President and CEO of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

TOM FUDGE: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition on KPBS. I am Tom Fudge, filling in for Maureen Cavanaugh. Well, this weekend, he did not do it. California Chrome came in fourth, in the Belmont stakes, meaning he would not become the first horse in decades to win racing's Triple Crown. There are some reasons that the odds on favorite did not win. Belmont is a longer race than the Kentucky derby. It is a mile and a half, and that may favor a different horse. But are there other reasons? Maybe it could be due to the fact that the winning horse in Belmont did not run in the Preakness or the Kentucky Derby, the other Triple Crown contest. We will talk a little bit about California Chrome, the almost Triple Crown winner, and joining me is one of San Diego's finest horsemen, Joe Harper, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club President and CEO. Thank you for being here. JOE HARPER: No, thank you for having me. TOM FUDGE: Well, are you surprised that California Chrome did not win at Belmont? JOE HARPER: I was not surprised, no. Just looking at the history of the race, it is a very difficult three races to get. That last one, as you mentioned, you go from a mile and a quarter in the Derby and then you drop down a little bit to the mile and 3/16 at the Preakness and it hits you, three weeks later at a mile and half. You have to be a pretty special horse, you have to have a lot going for you at the end, and I think that California Chrome had a lot going for him. He was training beautifully up to the race, you look at a horse after the race and you think that he left something out there, but Chrome did not seem to. He was upbeat, he did not seem that tired, he was training well up to that race. He had as good of a shot as any. TOM FUDGE: Were you rooting for him? JOE HARPER: You bet. I think from a track operator's standpoint, obviously I am rooting for a horse that could bring a lot of people through the gates at any race track. Media attention is good for racing all around. That type of thing is a positive deal, and has been quite a while since we last saw one. TOM FUDGE: What was the last race? JOE HARPER: That was back in the 70s. It has been a long time. There's a reason for that, you touched on most of the reasons. It is a grueling three races, over a shorter period of time. You would really never take a horse, if they were not the Triple Crown races, and run them in those three races. That is part of that deal, and there are not that many, and that is why it is so special. TOM FUDGE: Let's talk for a moment about some comments from California Chrome's owner, which have been very controversial. He has said, and he has apologized for some remarks that he has made, but he said something that some people agree with. He thinks that the Triple Crown should be all or nothing. In other words, the horses who run in a race shouldn't have to run in all three races, or they don't get to be in one. Is there some merit to that? JOE HARPER: It certainly is understandable. It seems like the logical way to go, but when you look at it, there are some problems with it. You know, just keeping those horses in there, by the time you get the last race you may not have enough forces to really make it a sensible race. It could be a walk over. A lot of times you have history here, you have great horses winning the Triple Crown under the circumstances that exist today. In order to change that, you had really have to know it is not really a Triple Crown winner that it used to be. You can't compare the horses that might do it if they had a long layover or that type of thing, or put them all in together to make it easier. Then that horse is not Secretariat. In my opinion, one thing I think you could do without changing a lot that is to have the Kentucky derby run with fewer horses than twenty. I think that is a problem, because you do not always get the best horse ridding that race, you get the luckiest. That might help. TOM FUDGE: Just a note that has been passed on to me by our producer Megan, last year the Belmont winner Palace Malice skipped the Preakness. As did the 2012 Belmont winner Union Rags, and in 2011 the winner Ruler on Ice won the Belmont without running in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. This is a very common thing, you have horses who win at Belmont who were not in either of the other Triple Crown races. JOE HARPER: It makes sense when you think about it, if you have a horse in the Kentucky Derby and you don't win. Let's say that you had a little trouble in the race because there are twenty horses, and of course did not come out looking that good. He had to give a lot and stay away from the other horses. Why run him in the Preakness? Why not just let him rest, give him five weeks instead of three in between races, and then you have him running back a much fresher horse. It is quite common. TOM FUDGE: I did not realize that these mile and a quarter races take so much out of a horse. JOE HARPER: It depends on what type of residence. I think the Derby is very difficult because of the number of horses in there. You are constantly worried about traffic, constantly trying to move your horse in and out of traffic that twenty horses cause. It depends on the type of horse, maybe you have one that is sticking on the rail. And then he didn't do anything after that race. You do not always get the horse that is the best one. TOM FUDGE: Joe, for people who do not follow horse racing, is a mile and a half, is that unusually long? JOE HARPER: There are not many mile and half races. The classic distance race and handicapped races a mile and a quarter. Our million-dollar race at Del Mar in the summer is a mile and a quarter. The Santa Anita handicap is a mile and a quarter. So you don't get that many mile and a half races. You usually look for horses that are bred to go the distance. You see some European horses that will run longer, run differently, less speed, more stamina kind of breeding program. That makes it even tougher. TOM FUDGE: There is a lot of talk leading up to the Belmont stakes about California Chrome being from California. Apparently only about 8% of US racehorses are from California. Do you think that will change the other people have seen California Chrome? JOE HARPER: I hope so. It certainly send a message out there that you don't need to buy a million-dollar horse or breed to have a million-dollar stallion to come up with a winner. California Chrome is certainly, it doesn't happen often. But it has happened in the past not just with California breds. John Henry was a terrific horse, one of the great horses of all time. His daddy was a horse called old Bob Bowers that I don't think did much. It can happen. TOM FUDGE: California Chrome does have a significant San Diego connection. The jockey, Victor Espinoza lives half the year in San Diego and California Chrome's trainer Art Sherman lives in Rancho Bernardo. There is a real San Diego connection. JOE HARPER: There is a San Diego connection, and two of the best there are. Victor is a terrific jockey and Art Sherman used to be a jockey and is now one of the good trainers. He is a great horseman. TOM FUDGE: Someone told me that California Chrome will be running in Del Mar this summer. JOE HARPER: It's a big maybe. The horse was injured in this last race. The horse next to him, when California Chrome broke out of the gate he came over to the right and the horse on his right stepped on the back of his have. That will take a while to heal, hopefully there is no long-term problem with that. He is heading toward the Breeders' Cup race, obviously that is where he is going and that is run to the end of October and early November in Santa at the death. I think he will need a race between now and then, and certainly our million-dollar race, at the third week in August is certainly something that he would shoot for. TOM FUDGE: You mentioned one of the horses stepped on the half of California Chrome and broke a little piece off, someone describe that as a man trying to run a race after he lost a toenail, do think that had an effect on his performance? JOE HARPER: It could have. A lot of times it is called grabbing a quarter, a horse will usually do it to himself because of the front hoof goes a lot farther than the rear hoof, so they sometimes get a little off stride and step on themselves. But this was the horse next to him. It could be, most of the time these horses are so pumped up coming out of the gate with adrenaline, they are competitive breeds anyway, whether or not they feel it I do not know. It looks to me that he got a little tired at the end. That is not a surprise at a mile and a half with the other two races there. TOM FUDGE: Another dumb question from somebody who does not follow horse racing, how old are the horses that run in a Triple Crown? JOE HARPER: They are all three. A Derby is for three-year-olds. Last year, California Chrome ran at Del Mar as a two-year-old, as one of the stakes races as a two-year-old. TOM FUDGE: When will his career be done, when will he retire? JOE HARPER: Here's the question, when he is one of the two races, his net worth went up considerably. Is he worth $10 million? Yes, probably. So, do take $10 million and sent them out to study, would you say no, I will race him a little more as I think he is capable of winning more races, I will get a little more money out of him and he will be happier running. And then I will talk about it. It is difficult for us in the working department to keep the stars out there long enough to take advantage of them. TOM FUDGE: What kind of stud fee would a horse like that command? JOE HARPER: Well, with those kind of horses they sometimes end up in different countries. You're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars for a stud fee. TOM FUDGE: Before we run out of time, I should mention that the season at Del Mar opens in a few weeks, anything new coming this year? JOE HARPER: We open up on 17 July, and we have a new turf course, we have made it a lot wider. We did that to hopefully get a Breeders' Cup out here in a couple of years or so. TOM FUDGE: Has Del Mar hosted the Breeders' Cup in the past? JOE HARPER: We never have been able to because the turf course has been too narrow to put fourteen horses on it. Now it is wide enough, 80 feet wide. We are in the running and they will meet soon and decide where to go with the Breeders' Cup in the next few years. TOM FUDGE: Finally we mentioned Arthur Sherman, it sounds like he has been a great horseman, what has his career been like? Has he been in it for a long time? JOE HARPER: He has been in it for a long time. I have known him for fifty years, we have been friends for a long time and he even trained to horse I had once. He is a horseman, he is the kind of guy that figures out and understands horses, not just how to work them. You have to have a feeling for the animal and he has got it. He was a jockey when I met him and a good one. He is a smart guy, good trainer, and he deserves every bit of this horse. TOM FUDGE: California Chrome came in fourth in the Belmont stakes and did not become the first Triple Crown winter in several decades, we're all a little bit disappointed about that, unless you were on one of the other horses than you are not disappointed about that. Joe, thank you very much for coming in.

Although California Chrome's Triple Crown hopes were dashed this weekend when the horse tied for fourth place in the Belmont Stakes, the 3-year-old's career is far from over. California Chrome is expected to be in Del Mar in August for his next race.

Joe Harper, president and CEO of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club said, nothing’s firm in horse racing, but there’s a good chance that Del Mar's $1 million race in August would be a good steppingstone on the way to the Breeder's Cup.

"California Chrome's injury has to heal, but hopefully that will all come together to get him to come to Del Mar," Harper said. "And it would give him a break because he’d be running against older horses."

Besides, Harper said, California Chrome's trainer, Art Sherman lives right up the road in Rancho Bernardo.

The injury, which happened Saturday when another horse stepped on California Chrome’s front foot coming out of the gate, is expected to take a few weeks to heal.

One controversy after the Belmont Stakes stemmed from remarks made by California Chrome’s owner Steve Coburn. Coburn said it was not fair for his horse to compete against horses that had not run in the Preakness Stakes and the Kentucky Derby — that the Triple Crown should be all or nothing. He’s since apologized, but some would argue that there was some merit to the points he raised.

In 2013, the Belmont Stakes winner, Palace Malice, skipped the Preakness Stakes as did the 2012 winner Union Rags. In 2011, Ruler On Ice won the Belmont without running the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness Stakes.

Harper said it’s something that this industry has talked about for quite some time.

"A Triple Crown winner would be great for the sport," Harper said. "Look at the history and that so few horses have done it, it tells you that they are a heck of a horse: Secretariat, Seattle Slew — how can you change it, without changing the whole system?"

Harper said he's against changing the rules. But he said, the one thing that could be looked at is the number of horses allowed to compete in the Kentucky Derby. Now, 20 horses are allowed to race, while for most races it's 14.

"Most people will tell you that’s too many horses," he said.