Toting the high weight of 126 pounds, and though he was conceding five pounds to his major rival Dortmund, California Chrome crossed the wire the half-length victor of Saturday evening's Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. The two horses turned for home together and battled for the length of the stretch, but it was the California Chrome, LLC-owned chestnut that came out on top, covering 1 1/16 miles over the fast main track in 1:40.84 under Victor Espinoza.
“It was a great race to watch,” said an ecstatic Art Sherman, the 5-year-old son of Lucky Pulpit's trainer. “He's the real McCoy, Dortmund, but my horse was just Chrome.
“They both ran terrific. I tell you, Dortmund made him work for it. It's going to be an interesting few races coming up. I told Victor the track has been playing to speed all day long and you can't let a horse like Dortmund get away. So press him as much as you can He (Dortmund) is a really game horse. I think both horses needed a race and you'll see two stronger horses coming back in the Pacific Classic. (Chrome) is that kind of horse, he loves to grind it out and he shows a lot of determination. What can I say — he's just Chrome, a wonderful horse to be around.”
Dortmund broke a bit slowly under Gary Stevens, allowing the very quick-breaking California Chrome and Espinoza to dictate the race scenario. Moving forwardly toward the first turn, California Chrome forced Stevens and Dortmund to expend more energy than they would have liked to accelerate and take the lead before the turn. Dortmund was successful in that effort, and took up a relatively easy lead, though California Chrome was never more than 1 1/4 lengths behind with clear sailing along the outside. Crittenden folded in behind those two, with the talented Win the Space tracking the pace from fourth.
Dortmund, whose only two career losses before the San Diego 'Cap came in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness behind Triple Crown winner American Pharoah – a stablemate in the Bob Baffert barn – led through early fractions of :23.41 and :47.02 before California Chrome began to close the gap. Passing the three-quarters mark in 1:10.51, the two were moving together, stride for stride approaching the head of the lane as the race truly lived up to it's billing as the clash of California's titans.
California Chrome's head appeared on the front side of Dortmund's as he gained first a neck, then a half-length advantage as the two heavy-hitters turned for home. At the top of the stretch, California Chrome looked like he would draw away to be an easy winner with nearly a full length's advantage, but Dortmund took a deep breath and rallied back against the winner of the Dubai World Cup. With a sixteenth of a mile left to run, Dortmund had shortened the distance to three-quarters of a length and was gaining ground with every stride.
As the wire flashed overhead, California Chrome still had a half-length advantage over Dortmund. Gary Stevens gave Victor Espinoza a salute with the whip after crossing the wire, acknowledging the 2014 Horse of the Year's impressive performance. Even Dortmund's owner, Kaleem Shah, joined in the crowd applauding Chrome's victory as he came back to the winner's circle. Win the Space finished 7 1/4 lengths back in third.
“I saved something for the end. I knew I'd have to,” said Espinoza. “I have a lot of respect for Dortmund and he made me run hard. I could see he (Dortmund) was running so hard. When we came down the stretch, I was concerned. This horse was carrying a lot of weight; that was the challenge. But he was a runner all the way today. What a terrific comeback race for him. He's back. He's such a special horse. This was exciting; an exciting race. He showed everyone today just how special he is. Now maybe he and Dortmund and Beholder (in the $1-million TVG Pacific Classic on August 20). That will really be exciting.”
California Chrome is expected to appear next in the TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar next month, where he will face champion mare Beholder.
Art Sherman joked: “Beholder will just have to wait and see what happens!”
California Chrome was bred in California by Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, for whom he raced to victory in the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Though he lost the Dubai World Cup in 2015, he made up for it with a resounding victory in the 2016 running of the world's richest race. He returned to part-owner Taylor Made's farm following that March effort, and the San Diego Handicap is his first start off the layoff. California Chrome has increased his career record to 13 wins from 22 starts, with earnings of $12.75 million.
His connections have said, if all goes well, California Chrome will likely have at least three more starts after the Pacific Classic: the Awesome Again and Breeders' Cup Classic – both at Santa Anita this fall – and the $12-million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in January.
Watch the race replay here:
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2019 Paulick Report.