California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza, left, hold off a persistant Dortmund (Gary Stevens up), to win the Grade II San Diego Handicap
California Chrome came out of Saturday’s scintillating and narrow victory over Dortmund in the San Diego Handicap fit and feisty as ever. And, according to trainer Art Sherman, ready to return to the familiar surroundings of his Los Alamitos home base.
“He said he missed it and wanted to get back,” Sherman said. So the 2014 Horse of the Year, top all-time money earner, current No. 1 runner in North America and probably most popular horse world-wide, was scheduled for an 8 a.m. van ride up the I-5 and 405 freeways to the Orange County track.
“He pulled up good, ate up and looks great,” Sherman said. “I’m really happy with everything about him this morning.”
For both California Chrome and Dortmund, returning to races off long layoffs, the Grade II $ 200,000 1 1/16-mile San Diego was, as it is designed to be, a “prep” race for the Grade I $ 1 million TVG Pacific Classic on August 20.
But what a prep.
They finished only a half-length apart, nearly eight lengths ahead of third-place Win the Space, in 1:40.84, the last .84 representing the difference from Windy Sands’ 1962 track record for the distance.
“They both ran terrific,” Sherman said after the race. “I think both horses needed a race and you’ll see two stronger horses coming back in the Pacific Classic.”
Sherman said California Chrome will be put through “a couple of easy drills” while at Los Alamitos and ship back South about a week before the Classic.
Bob Baffert, trainer of Dortmund, was as pleased with his horse’s effort as Sherman was with California Chrome’s.
“Dortmund looks great this morning,” Baffert said. “He showed up (Saturday) and I’m proud of his performance. You look at his form and he only loses to Kentucky Derby winners.”
The three losses for Dortmund, in 11 career starts are: twice to Triple Crown champion American Pharoah and Saturday to California Chrome.
“I had a lot of respect for California Chrome going in and I gained a lot more respect (Saturday),” Baffert said. “Art has done an exceptional job with him.”
And if Baffert is a Sherman fan, the same can be said for his 11-year-old son Bode.
“Bode was standing with me and he said, ‘Dad, if you couldn’t win I’m glad Art Sherman did. He’s a really nice man,’” Baffert related.
Trainer John Sadler, who opted to run Hard Aces in Sunday’s $ 100,000 Grade III Cougar II Handicap rather than the San Diego, was a more-than-interested spectator.
“That was a great race and you don’t get to see many of those anymore,” Sadler said. “Guys pick different spots and you don’t get to see top horses go against each other like that much except maybe in Breeders’ Cup races.”
California Chrome was accorded a 111 Beyer speed figure for the race, Dortmund a 110.
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