North American racing’s all-time money leader California Chrome is as expected, the 8-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s $1-million Pacific Classic at Del Mar. But the popular thoroughbred will have his work cut out for him after drawing the No. 1 post in a field of nine scheduled to race 1¼ miles on the main track.
As if the competition itself wasn’t tough enough. This is set for the race of the Summer.
The brilliant mare Beholder (3-1 odds) is back to defend her title in Del Mar’s signature race, and will break from the No. 7 post. Dortmund(5-2), who pushed California Chrome to the limit when the two hooked up for a classic stretch duel in the July 23 San Diego Handicap, drew the No. 8 post.
“The No. 1 post is never any good at any track,” said Art Sherman, Chrome’s 79-year-old trainer. “But I still wouldn’t take my chances with any other horse. He’s coming into this race with no excuses. Plus, the last time I checked, the rail is the shortest way around the track.”
Oftentimes, though, it’s the most difficult. That’s because a horse, even one as great as California Chrome, can get trapped by other horses on the inside if it doesn’t get off to a fast start. On the other hand, Chrome could compromise his positioning for later in the race if he starts too quickly to avoid being pinned.
Beholder had to deal with that in her last race, breaking from the rail and eventually being upset by Stellar Wind after a sensational stretch duel in the July 30 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes.
“We let her run out of there pretty quickly, and it may have taken her off her game a bit,” said Richard Mandella, Beholder’s Hall of Fame trainer. “It will be nice to be out away from the early action this time.”
Besides the three headliners, the rest of Pacific field stacks up this way: No. 2 Hoppertunity (8-1), No. 3 War Story (30-1), No. 4 Hard Aces (15-1), No. 5 Win The Space (15-1), No. 6 Imperative (20-1) and No. 9 Dalmore (20-1).
Last year, Beholder turned the race into a one-horse affair, exploding around the far turn and running away from the boys to an otherworldly 8¼-length victory. Even before this summer’s meet started a month ago, most have been anticipating a showdown between last year’s champ and this year’s favorite.
California Chrome comes into Saturday having won four straight, including the $10-million Dubai World Cup in March. He has won 13 of 22 career starts, including the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Beholder, meanwhile, has won 17 of 23, with a pair of Breeders’ Cup wins and three Eclipse Awards to her credit.
Dortmund can’t be overlooked. The Bob Baffert-trained colt has run 11 career races and lost only three, all to Kentucky Derby winners. American Pharoah beat him in last year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness, before California Chrome barely got the better of him last month.