Dubai: It looked like nothing on earth, not even a devastating mid-race saddle slip, could stop the brilliant California Chrome from realising his destiny in Saturday’s 21st running of the $10 million (Dh36.7 million) Group 1 Dubai World Cup.
Slipping saddles can be perilous but for Chrome’s jockey, the Triple Crown-winning Mexican Victor Espinoza, it was the last thing he was concerned with (at least that’s what he said!), as he thrust his horse to greatness and into the history books.
“I was just trying to keep my balance and not move my body,” Espinoza recounted of the incident. “I wasn’t that concerned about it, I just kept looking forward and thinking ‘where’s the wire’. It was not coming fast enough.”
Incredibly Espinoza, 43, who is regarded as one of the most composed riders in the business today, stayed safely in the saddle which had slipped back, almost to Chrome’s rear, and the pair crossed the line in a record-breaking time of 2:01.83 seconds for 2000m on the dirt track.
Mubtaahij, the 2015 UAE Derby winner was 3¾ lengths back in third and Hoppertunity, who also hails from California, was a closing third.
Should Espionza, already revered for his exploits aboard American Pharoah, the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, ever seek out work post retirement, he will, thanks to his balancing act at Meydan on Saturday, be given a red-carpet welcome at Cirque du Soleil, the highly creative and artistic live global acrobatic show.
It seems implausible that the three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey, who stands just 5”2’ tall, was able to keep his composure, and balance, aboard an animal capable of galloping at speeds between 50 to 60 kmph.
Had Chrome bolted sideways or bucked after the saddle slipped towards his rear flank on the second turn at Meydan, it could have spelt disaster. But with over 3,200 victories in his career you could say that the Mexican rider knows a thing or two about riding in adverse circumstances, which he displayed in heroic fashion.
Chrome became the third Kentucky Derby (G1) winner to clinch the Dubai World Cup after Silver Charm (1998) and Animal Kingdom (2013) .
Bred for a mere $2,500 to an $8,000 mare Love The Chance), he has now become the richest North American racehorse of all time.
The $6 million winner’s share he picked up at Meydan catapulted the chestnut’s earnings to $12,532,650, surpassing 2008 Dubai World Cup winner Curlin’s previous record of $10,501,800.
Chrome’s connections are already licking their lips at the prospects of targeting the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Championship, a 2,000 metre race on dirt, would be held at either Gulfstream Park or Santa Anita in mid to late January, next season.
Meanwhile, the legion of followers, including over 17,500 on Twitter, who call themselves Chromies took to social media to pay tribute to a great horse, a great jockey and a great race that the Dubai World Cup has become in its 21 years since Cigar won the inaugural running at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse in 1996.