The Chosen Vron Back For More This Weekend

The Chosen Vron | Benoit

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Don Valpredo is to Cal-breds what tungsten is to steel.

“I absolutely love the training industry and the breeding industry here,” said Vapredo, 85, over the phone from Bakersfield. “In fact, I'm sitting here today with the Stallion Register on my lap, trying to find the right mix for my broodmares.”

When Valpredo hasn't been producing Cal-breds–along with John Harris, he's responsible for 1994 California Horse of the Year, Soviet Problem–he's sought to popularize them through multiple warmed seats on multiple industry boards over multiple decades.

They even named a race after Valpredo, on the day he helped build to eulogize those sturdy Cal-breds he's so fond of–the Don Valpredo California Cup Sprint S., scheduled to go off again this Saturday, Cal Cup Day.

The winner of his race last year was a swanky chestnut rocket with hints of a Sequoia redwood in his coat by the name of The Chosen Vron (Vronsky). You might have heard of him. Lots have, thanks to a roundhouse of a campaign last year.

“Eric Kruljac has done a magnificent job with The Chosen Vron–he's one tough hombre,” said the scion of a family of growers, about trainer and horse, respectively.

“The training methods and the attention he's got in Kruljac's barn all add to the horse's tremendous success,” Valpredo added, before focusing his tribute. “He's an Arizona cowboy horseman, and they know how to take their time.”

Eric Kruljac | Benoit

The patient cowboy is pretty sweet on his runner, too.

“He's smart and he's competitive and he's got some talent,” said Kruljac, laying down the gauntlet early for understatement of the year–though in fairness, the trainer appeared to be merely warming to the task.

“He's got a lot of heart,” Kruljac added. “Just been a blessing for me to go into the barn and see him of a morning. He's just so cool to be around. He's all class.”

Much better.

Indeed, it was this race–the California Cup Sprint S.–which launched The Chosen Vron's 2023 campaign, showcasing just how classy a sprinter he was becoming, along with his increasing flair for the dramatic. A show-boater with a lust for the camera.

In last year's race, The Chosen Vron just held off by a whisker a fast-finishing Big City Lights (Mr. Big). Next up was a Sunday stroll in the Tiznow S.

Then it was back to slugging it out against Kings River Knight (Acclamation) in the Sensational Star S, before showing his rivals another clean set of hooves in the Thor's Echo S.

Making it seven wins in a row, the Thor's Echo recalibrated The Chosen Vron's horizons, for he was then pointed towards his highest summit yet in the G1 Bing Crosby S. at Del Mar–a race he claimed his own after a dogfight involving runner-up Anarchist (Distorted Humor) and Dr. Schivel (Violence), himself a two-time G1 winner.

Kruljac, unsurprisingly, recalls the race in terms that all but mention cherries and icing.

“Well, he had to check hard along the rail and he gave up two, three lengths. And for him to dig in and come back and win the way he did was just awesome–and in grade one company no less,” said Kruljac, recalling how The Chosen Vron was on the losing end of a mid-pack skirmish heading into the turn.

“Just watching him rally that last eighth of a mile and just will his way into the winner's circle,” Kruljac added, “it was the most exciting race of my career, for sure.”

Next up was the GI Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita. And though the race ended the horse's win-streak–he finished a never threatening fifth–there were excuses.

“I think I was too soft on him going into it and he just lacked a little sharpness. I think I backed off him too much after the Bing Crosby,” said Kruljac.

After the Breeders' Cup, however, so full of vim and vigor was The Chosen Vron, the trainer sent him back down the salt-mines just two weeks later, in the Cary Grant S. at Del Mar. He turned out the kind of effortlessly cool performance deserving of the race's namesake.

“I looked and saw the Cary Grant. I said, 'what the heck?' And he fired a huge race,” said Kruljac.

Previously, Kruljac had said about his stable star that he needed time between his races to flourish. Six weeks or more. Does the Cary Grant indicate an athlete still on the improve, one hardening into an even tougher husked antagonist?

“I think he's probably at a peak, but you never know. He's not a big horse, but extremely athletic and what's the word I'm looking for? He's just got great hinges on him. When he reaches out, he just covers so much ground so easily,” said Kruljac.

Jockey Hector Berrios aboard The Chosen Vron | Benoit

“Once he figured it out, he's just pretty much been pushbutton–just a great horse to be around in the morning in the barn and just all class,” Kruljac added. “He's a gelding, so that might make him a little easier, but it certainly hasn't cost him anything in his racing.”

Given the tumult that California racing finds itself–the impending closure of Golden Gate Fields and the shellacking that will surely have on the state breeding industry–it's probably fair to say that for fans of the good ol' honest Cal-bred, The Chosen Vron has become something of a white knight. Or perhaps more accurately, a Saint Jude-type, inspiring perseverance in difficult times.

At the very least, The Chosen Vron–who Kruljac co-owns with Sondereker Racing, Robert S. Fetkin and Richard Thornburg–has tinged this 70-year-old's career with the sanguine glow of a glorious Indian Summer.

Kruljac has six horses in training, five of them at Los Alamitos, with The Chosen Vron stabled at Santa Anita, under the charge of Herlindo Garcia, Kruljac's foreman.

Before The Chosen Vron began his ascent through the ranks, Kruljac was down on horses–so much so, he considered retirement, perhaps to help his son, Ian, with his training operation.

“I was thinking, 'this might be the last year,' so that I could be semi-retired in some form. But once he started running like he did, of course I had to stay in until he goes to pasture somewhere,” said Kruljac.

But is the future of Kruljac's training career really as inextricably linked with The Chosen Vron's? Might be smart to hold your bets for now.

One of the other five horses he has in training is the 3-year-old Clubhouse Bride (Clubhouse Ride), who made it two-for-two at Santa Anita on New Year's Day.

“We came back off of only three weeks from her debut,” said Kruljac, about a filly he calls “really well-made, balanced, beautiful and classy.”

“I was concerned when I saw the track, how deep they're keeping it,” he said, of Santa Anita. “Sure enough, she got pretty tired. But once that horse came to her, she dug in and finished the job. We're really excited about her.”

He also has four or five 2-year-olds coming in, including a “beautiful Clubhouse Ride” half-sister to The Chosen Vron.

“She's not named yet,” he said. “I don't really press on them hard early. I'd look at the earliest she would be ready to run by Del Mar or maybe in the fall. I think as a breeder, you just learn to be more patient and just enjoy the process.”

Ah yes, patience–far easier to execute on paper than in practice. Into his fourth decade with a license, however, Kruljac appears to have found a rich trade-route in this noble quality.

“The very first time or two that we breezed him after we gelded him, I knew if the horse stayed sound that he was going to be more than a maiden claimer for sure,” said Kruljac. “Though I'm not going to say I would know what he was going to win.”

The Chosen Vron | Benoit

But towards the end of his 3-year-old season–and with four stake wins already under his belt, including two GIIIs–The Chosen Vron's year was cut short with a niggling problem behind.

“We had to back off, and so we did. He had some OCD [Osteochondrosis] in a stifle, and we sent him to the right doctor up in Alamo Pintado [Equine Medical Center],” said Kruljac, singling out the work of surgeon, Carter Judy. “We owe him big time.”

The Chosen Vron returned to action the August of his 4-year-old season. Since then, his resume has been a blueprint of carefully calibrated restraint.

Which means that now, heading into this Saturday's race, The Chosen Vron “is very sharp in his gallops and workouts, so I'm very confident he's going to run a big race,” said Kruljac. “He's burning fire and ready to roll.”

As for the broader agenda for this year–provided all goes to plan this Saturday and beyond–probably a similar run of races to last year, said Kruljac, including another Del Mar waltz with Bing.

What about a potential return to the Breeders' Cup?

“Oh, absolutely. And the fact that it would be at Del Mar is another plus,” he said. “So yes, we're hopeful he comes back firing like he did last year, and with a better outcome.”

One notable absentee from Santa Anita this weekend will be the man whose race bears his name–he'll be watching at home confined to a cast, nursing a broken patellar. Turns out his hinges aren't quite as sturdy as The Chosen Vron's.

“I can outlive it, it's just that I've got to give it time,” said Valpredo, whose convalescence appears driven by the promise of a return to the track. “I'm so looking forward to it–you have no idea.”

Valpredo has a personal interest–though several times removed–in the Kruljac runner.

His “dear old friend” Elwood “Buddy” Johnson initially stood The Chosen Vron's sire, Vronsky, at his Old English Rancho farm, near Sanger, Central California.

“He was an underrated stallion,” said Valpredo, about Vronsky, who passed away in 2021. “But I've got a couple fillies by him, and I'm anxious to see them run also.”

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