Wonder horse California Chrome seeks 'Hollywood' ending to historic year

Willie Grace | 11/28/2014, 12:08 p.m. | Updated on 11/28/2014, 12:08 p.m.
Yet victory in the Hollywood Derby on Saturday could be enough to consign those darker memories to the past and ...
Coburn and co-owner Perry Martin splashed out a mere $10,000 in total, paying $8,000 for mare Love the Chase in 2009, before then later breeding her to stallion Lucky Pulpit for a reduced fee of $2,000.

(CNN) -- California Chrome's 2014 has been something of a roller-coaster ride but the year could still end on a high in the colt's final race of the American thoroughbred horse racing season at Del Mar.

The peaks of a Kentucky Derby triumph and a six-race winning streak have been matched by the disappointing lows of narrowly missing out on the Triple Crown and a three-and-a-half-month layoff to rest.

Yet victory in the Hollywood Derby on Saturday could be enough to consign those darker memories to the past and fire the three-year-old chestnut colt to the prestigious Horse of the Year accolade at January's Eclipse Awards -- an annual ceremony recognizing the year's best thoroughbred horses.

"Winning the award after all these setbacks would be even sweeter," California Chrome's trainer Art Sherman told CNN.

"It would be a great accomplishment for California Chrome and the highlight of the year for him. To win the Eclipse would really be something special."

Coming out on top at the Grade 1 meet at California's Del Mar racetrack will be no easy task, however, given that it will be his maiden race on turf.

In the days leading up to the event, Sherman and jockey Victor Espinoza have been working the horse hard on grass in anticipation that he will feel as at home there as he has done for much of the season on dirt.

"I don't think him running on grass for the first time will be a problem myself, I have a good feeling about this," Sherman says.

"If he gets the win then I think he deserves to be named Horse of the Year. To win on grass would be a whole new dimension for him, with his running style, so the voters would have to appreciate that."

An eventful year

Victory on grass would seal a fourth Grade 1 triumph of the year -- two more than any of his rivals have managed in 2014.

The three previous successes came at the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes -- part of a six-race winning streak that captured the American public's imagination and set up the possibility of a first Triple Crown win in the sport since 1978.

"He got better and better as he turned three, he just got more mature," says Sherman, who became the oldest trainer to win the Derby in May at the age of 77.

"He really is something else, the Real McCoy. I've had some great horses, but I've never had one like him."

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes triumphs, however, could not be replicated in June's Belmont Stakes -- the three-year-old had to settle for fourth -- and so the wait for a 12th horse to achieve the Triple Crown goes on.

Steve Coburn -- one of the horse's two principal owners -- reacted to the loss with a barrage of unsporting criticism and was later humiliated in the media for what was perceived as a severe case of sour grapes. He later apologized.