California Chrome chases another big payday in Pegasus

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- The only reason California Chrome is running Saturday instead of already being at stud is that the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park will be the richest race in the world, with a $12 million purse. He could win a $7 million first prize.

The only reason California Chrome will head to Kentucky on Sunday morning is that the breeding season is about to commence, and mares have been booked, many of them owned by those involved in the current ownership group, California Chrome LLC, precluding any further starts.

But the day is growing closer, believes Frank Taylor -- whose family's Taylor Made Farm co-owns California Chrome and will stand him at stud -- that prize money on offer for the best horses will be more than most horses can make at stud, which will help keep those horses on the track. With the Pegasus at $12 million, the Dubai World Cup at $10 million and the Breeders' Cup Classic at $6 million, that's a robust triple. As of Saturday, California Chrome will have run in all of them in the past 10 months.

In fact, Taylor said the California Chrome partnership in recent months strongly considered racing the horse through 2017. "A few guys didn't want to do it," he said. "He has 120 mares booked."

Taylor said he called the racing authorities in Dubai to see whether the purse for the World Cup could be increased to $15 million. "I said, 'Surely, you want to bump it to $15 million,' " he said. "You don't want the Americans to outdo you." It remains at $10 million.

Taylor said keeping California Chrome in training or breeding him came down to a "risk-reward situation."

"We can breed him and make $6 million," Taylor said. "If we run in all these races, he could earn $15 million, but he'd have to win all those races and stay in training for the year."

Taylor said there was no chance of postponing stallion duty until after the Dubai World Cup because by the time California Chrome would return from that trip, it would be April before he could be bred to mares.

"We'd either have to run in Dubai and then race all year or go to stud now," he said. "You can't do both."

For too long, the economics of the sport have made it far too risky to keep a valuable horse on the track as opposed to going to stud. The Pegasus offers another reason to stick around.

"You've got the Breeders' Cup, the Pegasus, Dubai," Taylor said. "You get one more, like at Saratoga between Dubai and the Breeders' Cup, something in August, that could get it going," Taylor said. "A lot of these studs would not go to stud if they're still sound.

"These races can change the dynamic. California Chrome would have gone to stud last year if it wasn't for Dubai."

Saying goodbye will be hardest for those who have been around California Chrome for nearly four straight years, like trainer Art Sherman. It's especially difficult for them when they see the condition California Chrome appears to be in as he nears the last, and richest, start of his career.

"This horse is getting better and better," Sherman said. "I'd love to have another year.

"It's kinda sad. He's a once-in-a-lifetime horse. It's been a hell of a ride. I watched his work on Saturday and said, 'Give me one more year, please.'"

He'll have to settle for one more race, and a potential $7 million first prize. Second place in the Pegasus is worth $1.75 million, third $1 million.

The field for the 1 1/8-mile Pegasus was to be drawn late Monday and was to feature a rematch between Arrogate and California Chrome, the 1-2 finishers from the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Their 10 rivals were to be Breaking Lucky, Eragon, Keen Ice, Neolithic, Noble Bird, Prayer for Relief, Semper Fortis, Shaman Ghost, War Envoy and War Story. Three horses will be listed as also-eligibles -- Madefromlucky, Sea Raven and Stanford.

According to David Fiske, racing manager for Ron Winchell, who co-owns Gun Runner, an attempt was made to enter Gun Runner on Monday but the entry was rejected by Gulfstream Park owing to requirements the track has put in place for horses stabled at Fair Grounds because of the equine herpesvirus situation at the New Orleans track, where Gun Runner is stabled. Gun Runner would have taken the place of War Envoy in the slot owned by Mick Ruis.

Play the Pegasus World Cup Invitational with DRF

-- additional reporting by Matt Hegarty