Beholder: faces a tough task to hold onto her Pacific Classic crown
PICTURE: Jeff Gross/Getty Images
By Nicholas Godfrey 4:00pM 19 AUG 2016
Preview: USA, Saturday 2.15am Sun BST
Del Mar: Pacific Classic (Grade 1) 1m2f, dirt, 3yo+
THE superstars of American racing are out in force on Saturday, when California Chrome takes on superstar racemare Beholder in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, while the magnificent Songbird bids to extend her unbeaten career record to ten at Saratoga.
On paper, the 26th edition of the Pacific Classic looks the best ever as California Chrome (Art Sherman/Victor Espinoza) faces a rematch with Dortmund, who made him pull out all the stops a month ago over a shorter trip at this same venue – with the added presence of ten-time Grade 1 winner Beholder, who won last year’s running of this $ 1 million contest by more than eight lengths.
Having been North America’s most popular racehorse after his Kentucky Derby victory in 2014 before American Pharoah stole his place in the nation’s affections, California Chrome, 3-1 favourite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic with British bookmakers, was once again the nation’s most popular horse following his comfortable success in the Dubai World Cup.
After a four-month break, he nearly lost out last month to Dortmund for the San Diego Handicap, getting the better of a giant of a rival by only a half-length after a terrific duel.
The runner-up was getting 5lb that day, however, in a race over 1m½f, a little short of the winner’s optimum, but now California Chrome must break from the rail in a nine-runner field – not an ideal scenario for a horse whose trainer Art Sherman has always said resents being crowded.
“It wouldn’t have been my top choice, but what happens is what happens,” Sherman said. “We might have to ride a different race from there. He just seems to run more comfortable on the outside. He likes to be in the clear when he’s running.
“With his kind of speed, he’s going to come away from there running but it’s not going to be an easy go for anybody. You’ve got three horses with similar running styles and something has got to give.”
Dortmund (Bob Baffert/Rafael Bejarano), who won last year’s Santa Anita Derby before coming third to American Pharoah at Churchill Downs, is bidding to give his trainer a record-equalling fifth win in Del Mar’s signature race. He is drawn more favourably in eight; Baffert also saddles Grade 1 regular Hoppertunity (Flavien Prat), the most likely prospect outside the ‘big three’.
Richard Mandella, trainer of three-time champion female Beholder (Gary Stevens), has also won the Classic four times in the past – including when he saddled Dare And Go in 1996 for a shock victory over the legendary Cigar, thereby ending the runner-up’s winning streak at 16.
Beholder, who gets the 5lb sex allowance, comes here off a rare defeat – albeit to last year’s champion three-year-old filly Stellar Wind – in the Clement L Hirsch Stakes here on July 31, a result that snapped an eight-race winning streak for the six-year-old.
“I looked for a week to find a reason not to run in this race because it is a hell of an undertaking, and I couldn’t find any,” said trainer Richard Mandella. “She had a great work, came out of it great, and you only live once.”
Also on Saturday
Saratoga: Alabama Stakes (Grade 1) 1m2f, dirt, 3yo fillies (11.18pm BST, live on ATR)
Nothing among six opponents facing Songbird (Jerry Hollendorfer/Mike Smith) offers as much of a question mark as the distance of this $ 600,000 contest as America’s star three-year-old filly bids to stretch her unbeaten sequence into double figures.
The daughter of Medaglia D’Oro has been untouchable so far, winning all in nine career starts – among them five Grade 1s – by a cumulative 47 ¾ lengths. Now, after yet another imperious all-the-way victory a month ago in the CCA Oaks at this venue, she stretches out to 1m2f for the first time.
“Based on appearances and looking at her record on paper you’d have to think that she wouldn’t have any trouble getting a mile and a quarter,” said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “I feel like an extra eighth of a mile should be right up her alley.”
Saratoga: Fourstardave Hcap (Grade 1) 1m, turf, 3yo+ (10.40pm BST, live on ATR)
Rescheduled after last weekend’s postponement owing to safety concerns after a thunderstorm, this $ 500,000 event features an evenly matched field in which Force The Pass (Alan Goldberg/Jose Ortiz) will bid for his first victory since last year’s Belmont Derby. He finished in front of several of these last time in when second in the Grade 3 Poker Stakes at Belmont.