California Chrome draws rail, installed as 8-5 favorite in dynamite Pacific Classic field

TwinSpires Staff

August 17th, 2016


The field is set for what many are calling the best rendition ever of the Pacific Classic (G1).

The 8-5-morning line favorite and 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome drew the rail in the $1 million event, while three-time Eclipse Award winning mare Beholder drew the 7-post and 5-2-second choice Dortmund drew outside his chief rivals in the 8-hole.

California Chrome appears to be a likely winner of the 2016 Horse of the Year if he can “run the table” in the remainder of his races this season. He has won all four of his starts as a five-year-old, including a 3 ¾-length victory in the Dubai World Cup (G1) in March. After training at his Los Alamitos home base, California Chrome shipped back down to Del Mar on Monday and will gallop daily leading up to the Pacific Classic.

While the race is won on the track and not at the post-position draw, starting from the rail certainly makes things a bit more interesting given California Chrome’s lack of success when starting from the inside. Granted those races came earlier in the son of Lucky Pulpit’s career, but his affinity to be outside competitors is no secret.

When last breaking from the rail in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) in September of 2014, the Art Sherman trainee finished a disappointing sixth at 4-5 at Parx. In the only other start from the 1-post, he also failed to hit the board, finishing sixth in the $200,000 Golden State Juvenile Stakes in 2013.

The 79-year-old Sherman sends out his first entrant in the Pacific Classic and has the horse to beat considering the great 2016 form. However, it will be intriguing to see the early race strategy he and regular rider Victor Espinoza deploy on Saturday. Espinoza will be on his 16th Pacific Classic mount, with his best efforts being runner-up finishes with Kettle Corn and Toast of New York in 2013-14.

Bob Baffert has won this event four times and will look to make it a fifth with second choice Dortmund. The son of Big Brown finished a strong second in last month’s San Diego Handicap (G2) in the first race of his four-year-old campaign. The massive colt took the lead from his inside post and fought gamely inside California Chrome throughout the stretch before losing by just a half-length in the end. With the race “under his belt” off the layoff, Dortmund should move forward and could be set for a career best effort in the Pacific Classic.

The Kaleem Shah runner drew outside both Chrome and Beholder and gets the services of Southern California’s leading rider Rafael Bejarano. Bejarano will take over riding duties with Gary Stevens opting to ride Beholder and likely send Dortmund from the gate. However, being outside the other “speeds” will give Bejarano options after the break with his eyes set on his first Classic win.

Defending champion, Beholder meets a much tougher group than she did in 2015 and will likely need to run back to the monster effort if she wants to return to the winner’s circle. She drew the 7-hole for Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens as she returns to the races after a narrow defeat in the Clement L. Hirsch (G1) last month. Stevens is likely to stalk the lead in Saturday’s feature instead of making the pace like Beholder did before being out-finished by Stellar Wind in the Hirsch.

The six-year-old has not been as fast in terms of speed figures and performance ratings as in years past, but she has trained well up to the race and a big effort is expected. It is doubtful trainer Richard Mandella would have opted to run his star mare in Del Mar’s premier event if he did not think she could compete with the ultra-talented males, California Chrome and Dortmund.

Mandella is seeking his fifth win in the Classic while Stevens is in search of his fourth. They teamed up in 1997 with Gentleman and of course last year with Beholder.

Outside of the top three finishers only Hoppertunity was made single digits on Russell Hudak’s morning line odds. The son of Any Given Saturday has earned nearly $3 million over his 20-race career, but has struggled to win races of this caliber. Unless the pace totally collapses, it is hard to envision a scenario where he runs by all three of the top betting options.

Hard Aces and Win the Space were both made 15-1 on the morning line and will need to run the race of their lives to compete with the likes of California Chrome, Dortmund and Beholder. Hard Aces still may opt to run in the Del Mar Handicap (G2) on the Pacific Classic undercard. Dalmore, Imperative and War Story round out the nine-horse field.

The Pacific Classic will be the ninth of 11 races on Saturday with a 2 p.m. (PT) first post. In addition to the massive purse, it is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race giving automatic admission to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) later this year at Santa Anita Park.