The popular chestnut took command of the race entering the lane and cantered home under his own power, with Espinoza merely a passenger in the saddle.
The contest didn’t unfold as many might have expected, with California Chrome on the lead. Instead he found himself running widest of all in midpack down the backstretch after breaking from the far outside 10 post. The five-year-old son of Lucky Pulpit continued his wide trip around the bend but that didn’t stop him from gliding up to take over.
From there the talented runner drew off to be 12 lengths clear on the wire while setting a new track record of 1:40.03 for 1 1/16 miles at Los Alamitos. He was the massively heavy favorite at 1-20, with the next lowest odds being runner-up Point Piper’s 21-1.
Papacoolpapacool followed in third by 3 1/4 lengths at 98-1. It was another 1 1/4 lengths back to 57-1 shot Ain’t Misbehavin, who had a half-length to spare on 22-1 third favorite Avanti Bello.
California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman, was using the Winter Challenge as a final prep before his charge took on the $12 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park on January 28.
The California-bred horse, who captured this year’s Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1), entered the Winter Challenge off a tough half-length loss to Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) on November 5. Just as they did in that race, California Chrome and Arrogate are currently fighting it out to be the 2016 Horse of the Year.