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Homeracing

Anticipation high for California Chrome's return in San Diego

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TwinSpires Staff

July 19th, 2016

by SCOTT SHAPIRO

The second week of the Del Mar summer meeting commences on Wednesday afternoon, but all eyes are on Saturday's San Diego H. (G2) and the return of 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome. The extremely popular California-bred will return to the races for the first time since a dominating performance in the $10 million dollar Dubai World Cup (G1) in late March at Meydan.

The weights are out for the San Diego, which draws on Wednesday. California Chrome will carry 126 pounds in the prep for the $1 million Pacific Classic (G1) on August 20. This is the same weight 'Chrome' carried in his victory overseas in the World Cup.

California Chrome appears more than ready for his first race in about four months. Trainer Art Sherman has been working him at Los Alamitos, but got him a work over the Del Mar surface last Saturday afternoon. With regular exercise rider Dihigi Gladney on board, he got five furlongs in :59.20. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.

"It was a really good work and he likes the track," Gladney said after the work. "I've worked other horses on it and thought it was a little heavy. He handled it easy."

Sherman will use most of the week leading up to Saturday's race to school Chrome so he is used to the surroundings at Del Mar.

Chrome's chief rival on Saturday will be Bob Baffert conditioned Dortmund. The son of Big Brown has had trouble staying healthy since the 2015 Triple Crown trail and makes his first start since a victory in the Native Diver (G3) on November 28. The third place finisher in last year's Kentucky Derby (G1) was assigned 121 pounds in what will be his first true test since last year's Preakness (G1). Gary Stevens takes over riding duties on Dortmund in the San Diego.

The presence of California Chrome and Dortmund has led to a likely compact field in the San Diego. Among the other probable runners is Follow Me Crev. The son of Quality Road has his eyes set on the Pacific Classic and will look to rebound off a disappointing effort in the Californian (G2) in late May at Santa Anita. The Vladimir Cerin trainee rattled off four straight over the fall of 2015 and into early 2016, but was forced to the sidelines before giving the Big 'Cap a try this spring. He and Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) runner-up Win the Space were assigned 116 pounds, while Eoin Harty's Crittenden will be asked to carry 114 pounds. Hard Aces is a possibility still. If the 2015 Gold Cup winner decides to run, he will carry 118 pounds.

A strong overall start to the meet, including an Opening Day crowd of 42,562 and the fact that well over a thousand racing fans were on site early Saturday morning to watch California Chrome work, suggests a big crowd is expected to watch the fan favorite's first start in his home state since the San Pasqual (G2) on January 9 at Santa Anita. The card will also include the $200,000 San Clemente H. (G2) run at one mile over the lawn for three-year-old fillies.

It will be a huge surprise to see the five-year-old son of Lucky Pulpit defeated on Saturday after a brilliant start to the racing season. However, it will be intriguing to see how much Dortmund tests him in the San Diego. The hope is that both runners, as well as star mare Beholder, remain healthy and face off in the Pacific Classic next month.

Stay tuned for continued coverage of the San Diego and the return of California Chrome, including my "How to Bet the San Diego Handicap," later in the week.

(Benoit Photos)

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