California Chrome’s prep race attracts nine others at early entry stage

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

February 22nd, 2016

California Chrome could face nine rivals in his Thursday prep race at Meydan, contested over the same about 1 1/4-mile distance as the March 26 Dubai World Cup (G1). A few are cross-entered to other spots on the card, and final declarations (along with jockeys, post positions, and the scheduled post time) won’t be announced until Tuesday.

As expected, California Chrome is far and away the top horse on official ratings (121), and he’ll be spotting 15 pounds all around as the 132-pound highweight with regular rider Victor Espinoza. Recall that Hall of Famer Curlin did the same eight years ago in his World Cup prep as well, where he gave his handicap foes 15 pounds and a drubbing.

His nearest competitors are the 105-rated pair of Storm Belt and Think Ahead.

Storm Belt, primarily a dirt horse, is entered in Chrome’s race alone. From the barn of Doug Watson, a Kiaran McLaughlin protégé whose runners have been in terrific form on dirt all Carnival, the 7-year-old veteran will be making his third start off a layoff. Storm Belt’s 2015 Carnival ended with a distant fifth in the Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1), and he’s been no match for Special Fighter in his two recent outings. But he did move forward from his remote sixth on December 17 to a better (relatively speaking) fourth January 21. To put this in context, note that Special Fighter couldn’t hold a candle to Frosted in the Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2).

Godolphin’s duo of Think Ahead and Good Contact are both cross-entered to an about 1 1/4-mile turf handicap on Thursday. Good Contact may be the likelier of the Saeed bin Suroor pair to line up in Chrome’s race. In a similar dirt handicap January 14, Good Contact was a fast-finishing, near-miss second, while Think Ahead was third. Think Ahead subsequently reverted to turf to capture a February 4 handicap. Unless Godolphin wants to fill the entry box in an excess of hospitality for Chrome, my hunch would be that Think Ahead stays on turf and Good Contact gets a second dirt chance.

Hunting Ground, a son of Street Cry and multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Panty Raid, captured a lesser handicap over this track and trip in his lone appearance of the 2015 Carnival. Up in class this term, he’s been a staying-on third January 7 and fifth a week later in the Good Contact/Think Ahead handicap. Again, to put this in perspective, the winner of that January 14 handicap, Munaaser, was a well-beaten fourth behind Frosted (and was a close fifth to Maftool last Thursday).

Bin Ghadayer has also entered Pit Stop, who was sixth in that same Munaaser handicap in his seasonal reappearance, while Watson is also double-handed with Jeeraan, who would be more competitive in a lower-rated handicap.

Nine-year-old Plantagenet, now in his fifth Carnival, can still pay his way. Two starts back, he was best of the rest behind Special Fighter in a short-lived track record time for about 1 3/16 miles.

Korean shipper Success Story was a useful third in his Carnival premiere over a metric mile January 21. But the two who beat him (Top Clearance and American Hope) have both been beaten in their respective returns. Success Story is cross-entered to an about seven-furlong handicap, and considering the speed he showed here last time as well as his overall record back home, it wouldn’t be surprising if he opts to cut back rather than step up in trip.

Rounding out the early entries is German Group 3-placed El Tren, who’s shown little on the Meydan turf so far and has never raced on dirt.

For whatever it's worth, I've occasionally seen races re-opened, and additional horses surface, especially in very short fields. Just another reminder to wait for the final field to be declared.

By the way, another notable American is entered Thursday: Marking, who spectacularly unseated James Doyle out of the gate as the heavy favorite in the Al Shindagha Sprint (G3), is cross-entered to a pair of dirt handicaps. McLaughlin gets to choose between about six and seven furlongs. Thursday's feature, the Zabeel Mile (G2), looms as a rematch between Godolphin's defending champion Safety Check and South Africa's Harry's Son, the top two from the Al Fahidi Fort (G2).

Photo courtesy Dubai Racing Club via Twitter.