Rail draw can be overcome but big deal for Chrome nonetheless

Profile Picture: James Scully

August 17th, 2016

California Chrome prefers to be outside in the clear stalking the action. He hasn’t led wire to wire since the San Felipe (G2) early in his 3-year-old campaign, which is also the last time the popular chestnut thrived on the inside part of a racetrack.

The last thing connections want to see is an inside starting spot but California Chrome received post 1 in Saturday’s $1 million Pacific Classic (G1). And that makes the task more difficult for the Horse of the Year front-runner and enhances the prospects of his main rivals, Beholder and Dortmund.

For some horses, it’s the dreaded rail post. Beholder was recently beaten as the 1-9 Clement L. Hirsch (G1) favorite after starting from the rail and Nyquist bore little resemblance to his former self when finishing fourth in the July 31 Haskell (G1) from post 1. Drawing the rail cost Lookin at Lucky the 2010 Kentucky Derby.

California Chrome can lay claim to his own nightmarish experience, a dull sixth from the innermost post in the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby (G2). It’s the only time he’s run poorly since coming to hand late in his juvenile season.

You can bet jockey Victor Espinoza remains keenly aware of the experience, doing whatever’s necessary to get California Chrome outside in all eight starts since the Pennsylvania Derby. There’s no way Espinoza will risk getting beat on the inside part of Del Mar’s track Saturday.

California Chrome could still get the right trip, rendering all the rail talk meaningless during the long run to the first turn in the 1 ¼-mile race. Espinoza has the option to use his mount’s speed or take back as he attempts to change paths, and California Chrome is the Pacific Classic favorite for good reason.

After being unraced for most of last year, the California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit returned with a vengeance this season. His 4-for-4 mark in 2016 includes a convincing tally over leading East Coast rival Frosted in the Dubai World Cup (G1) and California Chrome should be primed for his best after returning from a four-month freshening with a half-length victory in the July 23 San Diego (G2) at Del Mar.

An unfavorable rail post complicates matters.