Trainer: California Chrome to race in Pa. Derby

Victor Espinoza celebrates atop California Chrome #3 after winning the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 17, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

THE KENTUCKY Derby winner has never run at Parx. That is about to change. Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome is coming east to run in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Sept. 20.

The timing and the money were perfect. So Chrome will be heading back across the country after coming within 2 lengths of winning the Triple Crown in the spring.

“The money helped the decision,” trainer Art Sherman said Thursday.

What was already going to be a huge day at Parx, with the $1 million Cotillion, a showdown that should decide the 3-year-old filly championship, is now off-the-charts gigantic with the Derby winner scheduled to run. It will be, by far, the biggest day in the history of Pennsylvania racing, with no close second.

Sherman said the plan is for Chrome to fly east the week of the race and be at Parx by Sept. 15. The colt will be stabled in Barn 10, the same barn that housed 2013 Pennsylvania Derby winner and eventual 3-year-old champion Will Take Charge. Trainer Keith Nations, a friend of Sherman and his two training sons, has horses in Barn 10 now.

“That’s probably where I want go,” Sherman said.

Sherman has never been to Parx or to any of the Garden State Park incarnations, so this trip will be a first for the trainer, who has been in the game so long, he was a stablehand for Swaps when that colt won the 1955 Derby.

Chrome has not raced since finishing fourth in the June 7 Belmont Stakes, ending a six-race winning streak that included dominating victories in the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Sherman wants to give the colt one race before the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 1 at Santa Anita. It came down to the Pa. Derby or the $300,000 Awesome Again on Sept. 27 at Santa Anita.

The money difference was impossible to pass up. In addition to the potential $600,000 for winning the Pa. Derby, Sherman and Chrome’s owners are guaranteed $100,000 each if the colt comes out of the starting gate, as part of a bonus arrangement that gives the owner and trainer $50,000 each for a horse that wins any of five races: Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Haskell or Travers.

“Santa Anita said we know the $100,000 that you and the owners will get made your decision,” Sherman said. “I told them, ‘It sure as hell helped.’ ”

Chrome has taken two airplane rides in his life. He got off the first one and won the Derby, and the second one was just before the Preakness. So flying is not an issue.

“He’ll be ready,” Sherman promised.

Chrome got 5 weeks of total rest at the San Joaquin Valley farm where he was born after the Belmont Stakes before returning to train with Sherman at Los Alamitos, south of Los Angeles.

Chrome was scheduled to have his third workout since his return Friday morning. Sherman said he will be worked once a week until he gets on the plane for Philadelphia.

This being horse racing, nothing is set in stone. Sherman did say the Awesome Again at Santa Anita is the backup plan if something goes wrong. But the plan is definitely the Pa. Derby.

“When you have a layup, you just kind of got to play it by ear, see how he’s coming along, see which would be the right move,” Sherman said.

The Pa. Derby, the trainer decided, is the right move.

“It’s not like you’re starting over,” Sherman said. “Five weeks, you’re not really losing a whole lot. Every time I see him train now, he looks stronger.”

Two Derby winners have actually raced at Parx, but that was before the Derby. The legendary Spectacular Bid won the Heritage Stakes at what was called Keystone in 1978. Smarty Jones, of course, won the first two races of his career at what was called Philadelphia Park.

A decade after Smarty Jones was scheduled to run in the 2004 Pa. Derby, a race he did not make because injuries forced an early retirement, another Derby winner is lined up to run in the race. California Chrome is coming to Bensalem to run in the Pennsylvania Derby.