American star California Chrome has made a triumphant return to racing with victory in the Group Two San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita.
The 2014 Kentucky Derby winner had not been seen on the track since his second in the Dubai World Cup in March last year.
The five-year-old stalked the leader in the first part of the race and eased to the lead on the home turn under Victor Espinoza.
He held off challenger Imperative by 1-1/4 lengths to the delight of his 78-year-old trainer Art Sherman.
“I thought, when he went to the lead, he (Espinoza) had a lot of horse,” Sherman told Bloodhorse.com.
“He just waved the stick at him and I knew he would respond. You have to go by him to beat him and I didn’t see anybody.
“They were closing, but he had a little left in the tank.”
“He’ll be a different horse after this race and that’s why I was a little nervous.
“After a nine-month lay-off, his first race back, we didn’t really crank the screws on him.”
Espinoza said he was hesitant to ask the 2014 Horse of the Year too much, but also wanted to make sure he felt the same burst he experienced during California Chrome’s three-year-old season.
“He feels like a champ,” Espinoza said.
“The most important thing about him today was that he accelerated in the stretch. Before, he was just steady, but this time he came back like the old Chrome.
“I had to just let him do his thing and let him run a little bit in the lane.”
Sherman’s son and assistant, Alan, said the World Cup on March 26 was again the target.
The plan is to send the horse to Dubai on January 21 and he will have one lead-up race before the World Cup.