It’s Chrome vs. Arrogate, for horse racing’s richest prize

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — California Chrome and Arrogate both got trophies last weekend. For Chrome, it was Horse of the Year. For Arrogate, it was the title of World’s Greatest Racehorse.

Both of those awards were bestowed by humans.

Another crown awaits Saturday – and this time, the horses will decide.

The richest race ever contested, the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup, has arrived. Favored California Chrome, in his final race before retirement, drew the outside post. Arrogate, the second morning-line choice who beat California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, drew the inside post. Neither spot is ideal, and that only adds to the drama that will play out over 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park.

“What else would we be doing right now? Getting ready for the Super Bowl?” Arrogate trainer Bob Baffert asked. “Come on. This is our Super Bowl.”

California Chrome was installed as the early 6-5 favorite; Arrogate is at 7-5. Officials expect the handle just for the Pegasus race alone could exceed $20 million, simply because of all the buzz that surrounds the rematch of the top two dirt horses in the world.

There are 10 other horses entered – three are Grade 1 winners – but if anyone other than California Chrome or Arrogate wins it would be a major upset.

“I’ve been wanting a rematch for a long time,” California Chrome trainer Art Sherman said.

Without this concept, the rematch wouldn’t have happened. California Chrome is headed to the stud farm next week to begin breeding and retirement, and would likely be there already if not for this enormous carrot. The winner’s connections are assured at least $7 million, and if California Chrome prevails he will retire as the first $20 million on-track earner in the sport’s history.

Both horses look to be in top form, and Sherman appealed unsuccessfully to postpone California Chrome’s retirement. But the mares are waiting, some of their owners already paying $40,000 in advance to have a chance of being near the front of the California Chrome breeding line.

“We’re in the position where we have all these mares booked to him and we bought a lot mares to breed to him,” said Frank Taylor of Taylor Made Farm, Chrome’s new home as of next week. “It was kind of hard to turn back.”

In case $12 million in purse money didn’t provide enough drama, the post positions add plenty of intrigue.

Arrogate starting in the No. 1 hole puts pressure on jockey Mike Smith to break particularly well, or else their race could be lost in the first few steps. Starting out in the No. 12 position means California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza will have to be aggressive early, since it’s a short distance from the gate to the first turn.

So Chrome’s final race comes with a major challenge attached. Horses starting from the No. 12 spot or farther – the higher the number, the farther away they are from the rail to begin the race – are 1-for-18 in races at this distance at Gulfstream, track officials said.

“It’s not great. I’ll say that right off the bat,” Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey said. “But I think it’s less of a problem for a horse like Chrome than any other horse. First of all, he’s accomplished about anything a race horse could. Second of all, that’s his running style anyway. I think the 12 hurts him far less than potentially the 1 could hurt Arrogate if things don’t go well.”

Chrome has been at Gulfstream for the better part of a month, acclimating. He’s been getting visitors just about every day, and Sherman said his horse not only knows what the limelight is but basks in all the attention.

“He amazes me every time I watch him,” Sherman said. “He’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”

Arrogate might not be far behind, if at all. He exploded onto the scene when he won the Travers at Saratoga last August, and has been on a meteoric rise ever since.

A win on Saturday, especially with Chrome retiring, would cement Arrogate as the biggest star in the game right now.

“I’ll miss Chrome,” Smith said. “I’m a fan of his as well. I love watching him run. I love racing against him. I know what he’s capable of. Horses like him, they don’t come around very often.”

The same, obviously, can be said for races like this one.

Renowned jockey Jose Flores dies in racing accident

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) A renowned jockey who was among the best in Pennsylvania history died Thursday of injuries suffered in a racing accident.

Parx Racing announced the death of Jose Flores, 56, who was racing Monday at the suburban Philadelphia track when his horse went down and Flores was thrown off. The jockey hit the ground headfirst and suffered a massive trauma.

He was removed from life support Thursday afternoon.

Flores won 4,650 races in a career that spanned more than three decades. He was the top career earner at Parx, formerly known as Philadelphia Park.

“It’s unbelievable, just sickening,” Scott Lake, the top trainer at Parx, who has known Flores since 1991, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “He was just tremendous, a nice guy, always a professional.”

Flores’ mounts earned $64 million in nearly 29,000 career starts, according to the Equibase thoroughbred database.

Parx called Flores an “outstanding jockey” and expressed condolences to his family.

The Jockeys’ Guild said Flores is the 157th jockey to die in a racing accident in unofficial records going back to 1940. The group said that before Flores, it had no record of a jockey ever being killed in an accident at a Pennsylvania track.

Native River gets wire-to-wire win in Cheltenham Gold Cup

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CHELTENHAM, England (AP) Native River delivered an exhibition in front-running to outlast favorite Might Bite in a thrilling duel to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Britain’s most prestigious jumps race, on Friday.

Ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, 5-1 shot Native River took the lead right from the start and was never passed in the race over 3 miles and 2 1/2 furlongs in front of a crowd of 70,000.

After they jumped the last fence, Native River and Might Bite were neck and neck, but Johnson got a kick out of the Colin Tizzard-trained horse on the uphill finish and Native River won by 4 1/2 lengths – a year after finishing third in the race.

For Johnson, it was a second victory in the Gold Cup – 18 years after his first on Looks Like Trouble.

“It’s been a long 18 years,” Johnson said. “To be honest, I was a passenger.

“The more I asked from him, the better he jumped.”

Might Bite’s handler, Nicky Henderson, was looking to become the first trainer to capture the Cheltenham Festival’s three signature races in the same year – the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, and the Gold Cup.

It was Might Bite’s first defeat over fences, and Henderson said the heavy going didn’t do the horse any favors – especially against a rival who is a past winner of the Welsh National and the Hennessy Gold Cup

“It was the right thing to track Native River because no other horse got into the race, he had to be in the right place,” Henderson said of the 4-1 favorite.

“On better ground, stamina wouldn’t have been an issue. But in that ground you have to work so much harder. The winner is a Welsh National winner and the reason I’ve never won that race is because I can’t find horses that go in that ground.”

Native River won his owners 369,822 pounds ($515,000).

Anibale Fly, a 33-1 shot, was third.