ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) - California Chrome barged into the Kentucky Derby picture with a 71/4-length victory in the $300,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday, running the second-fastest time in the 77-year history of the race.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, California Chrome led all the way in covering 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.59. He paid $4.80, $2.60 and $2.10 as the 7-5 favorite. The colt is trained by Art Sherman, who has been in the business for more than 50 years but won the race for the first time.
"I had a lot of fun watching him run," said Sherman, a former jockey.
Trained by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, Midnight Hawk returned $3 and $2.20. The Sham Stakes winner is co-owned by Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and Atlanta Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice. Midnight Hawk bumped another horse leaving the starting gate under Mike Smith, but recovered to engage California Chrome much of the way.
"I was a little disappointed running second," Baffert said. "He ran with that horse, but he couldn't sustain it, and he got a little tired there at the end. You don't want to see a horse go out that fast."
With the temperature in the low 80s, the dirt track was fast.
"It's pretty speed-biased," Baffert said.
California Chrome inched away to the lead going into the stretch and drew off under a tap of the whip by Espinoza.
"I wanted to try something new today so I let him go right out of the gate," Espinoza said. "I don't know if people expected me to go right to the lead, but I wanted to let him enjoy his race."
California Chrome has been training at Los Alamitos, a quarter horse track in Orange County.
"I got more rooters over there today, you cannot believe it," Sherman said. "Every quarter horse trainer came over and shook my hand and said, 'Go get 'em, Art.' It made me feel good. They're going to be proud tonight."
Smith said people should start paying attention to California Chrome after such an impressive victory.
"He's a serious 3-year-old," the Hall of Fame jockey said.
Owned by his breeders Martin Perry and Steve Coburn, California Chrome won his third in a row. The victory, worth $180,000, increased his career earnings to $534,850, with five wins in nine starts.
Baffert's other horse, Bayern, was scratched because of a bruised front foot. Bayern was the morning line favorite after winning both of his starts easily.
Kristo was another 61/4 lengths back in third and paid $2.60 to show. Schoolofhardrocks was fourth.
California Chrome earned 50 points in the system used by Churchill Downs to decide the 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby on May 3, moving him into the top 10 in the standings.
"I needed this 50 points," Sherman said. "Now I think I deserve to go to the (Kentucky) Derby. I don't think the distance will make any difference, a mile and a quarter. I think he'll run all day."
Midnight Hawk earned 20 points for second and has 32 points total, also putting him in the top 10. Kristo picked up 10 points for third and Schoolofhardrocks got 5 points for fourth.
Also scratched were Home Run Kitten and Rprettyboyfloyd, leaving a seven-horse field for the Grade 2 race.