California Chrom: has been imperious this year
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
By Nicholas Godfrey 10:01aM 01 oct 2016
Preview: USA, Saturday 11.30pm BST
Santa Anita: Awesome Again Stakes (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo+
Breeders’ Cup Classic favourite California Chrome (Art Sherman/Victor Espinoza) is the number one attraction among a galaxy of stars on both US coasts on Saturday, when there are no fewer than eight Grade 1 events.
Five of them take place at Santa Anita, which stages not far off a full-scale dress rehearsal for the Breeders’ Cup, with the meeting set to return to the Los Angeles venue in five weeks’ time.
Highlight of a stellar card is the Awesome Again, in which the nation’s most popular horse California Chrome has his final tune-up for the Classic. After a perfect five-from-five campaign so far in 2016 – including an emphatic Dubai World Cup triumph – the five-year-old is a best-priced 6-4 with British bookmakers.
And the worry for his rivals is that California Chrome seems to be getting better, having produced the best run of his brilliant career according to Racing Post Ratings last time out in the $ 1 million Pacific Classic, where he made all to thump superstar mare Beholder by five lengths. According to official handicappers, that was the highest-rated performance anywhere on the planet this year.
Beholder ducks California Chrome this time to stay with the girls in the Zenyatta Stakes, but Dortmund, Hoppertunity and Hard Aces – third, fourth and eighth respectively – are back for more.
Although they all benefit from a 4lb pull, a bigger worry for the ‘Chromie’ army is the draw. Connections have always said California Chrome does not like to be crowded, and he is drawn on the rail in gate one.
“I get tired of getting the one-hole but there’s nothing you can do about it now,” said veteran trainer Art Sherman. “He’ll come out of there running, but if Dortmund wants the lead, we’ll let him go.”
Otherwise, however, Sherman is sounding confident. “I think I’ve got the best horse in the country,” he said. “I might be a little prejudiced about it, but he’s done about everything a horse could do.
“The horse is very happy,” he went on. “Everything’s going great. I think he’s better now than he was before the Kentucky Derby. He’s definitely a bigger, stronger horse than he was when he was three. He’s ready to roll.”
The giant Dortmund (Bob Baffert/Rafael Bejarano) gave California Chrome a fright in the Grade 2 San Diego before capitulating more tamely last time. His is an imposing presence next door to the favourite in gate two, and he will probably appreciate this trip and track more than the 1m2f at Del Mar for the Pacific Classic. He also gets blinkers this time.
Also on Saturday
Santa Anita: FrontRunner Stakes (Grade 1) 1m½f, dirt, 2yo (11pm BST)
Since being beaten on his debut, Del Mar Futurity winner Klimt (Bob Baffert/Rafael Bejarano) has been unstoppable.
He bids to complete a four-timer for a trainer who has won this seven times in the past, including two years ago with American Pharoah. Last year’s winner Nyquist also went on to win the Kentucky Derby.
Santa Anita: Rodeo Drive Stakes (Grade 1) 1m2f, turf, 3yo+ f/m (Sun 12am BST)
A maximum field of 14 lines up for this open-looking race, a ‘Win and You’re In’ contest for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf and better known in a former life as the Yellow Ribbon.
Among those in with a shout is former Luca Cumani-trained Frenzified (James Cassidy/Santiago Gonzalez) and Grade 2 scorer Nancy From Nairobi (John Sadler/Mike Smith), a winner in Britain for Mick Channon.
Sobradora Inc (Simon Callaghan/Rafael Bejarano) shoulders topweight by virtue of a pair of Argentine Grade 1 wins but Del Mar scorer Avenge (Richard Mandella/Flavien Prat) is the likely favourite.
Santa Anita: Zenyatta Stakes (Grade 1) 1m½f, dirt, 3yo+ f/m (Sun 12.30am BST)
Round Three in the battle between dual Breeders’ Cup winner Beholder, who is bidding for a four-timer in the $ 300,000 contest, and last year’s champion three-year-old filly Stellar Wind.
Beholder (Richard Mandella/Gary Stevens) brushed aside her younger rival in the Vanity at this venue in June to record her tenth Grade 1 success, only for Stellar Wind (John Sadler/Victor Espinoza) to turn the tables in the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar.
Beholder, who has since come second to California Chrome in the Pacific Classic, has a 2lb pull this time as she returns to her favourite venue where she has landed 13 of 17 career successes.
Santa Anita: Chandelier Stakes (Grade 1) 1m½f, dirt, 2yo fillies (Sun 1am BST)
A major trial for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, this race is still better known in its former guise as the Oak Leaf. Bob Baffert is looking for his tenth victory with American Cleopatra (Stewart Elliott), the full-sister to Triple Crown hero American Pharoah who was runner-up in the Del Mar Debutante.