Six entered against California Chrome in San Diego Handicap

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Jen Caldwell

July 20th, 2016

California Chrome returns to competition on Saturday against six rivals as the 126-pound highweight for the $200,000 San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar.

The popular chestnut made a name for himself when romping through the 2014 Triple Crown season, taking the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) before missing the sweep when a dead-heat fourth in the Belmont Stakes (G1). He would go on to run third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and capture his turf debut in the Hollywood Derby (G1), which was enough for the Art Sherman trainee to be honored as the 2014 Horse of the Year and champion three-year-old.

California Chrome raced just once in 2015, finishing second in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1), and had several aborted attempts at contests around the world. The California-bred finally returned to action in the San Pasqual Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park on January 9, scoring by 1 1/4 lengths, before once again shipping overseas for a tilt at the Dubai World Cup.

The five-year-old son of Lucky Pulpit lived up to all the hype, easily pulling away to record a 3 3/4-length triumph in the 1 1/4-mile affair when last seen on March 26

California Chrome has been given plenty of time to recover from his pond-hopping and posted a five-furlong bullet in :59.20 when breezing at Del Mar on July 16. He’ll cut back to 1 1/16 miles for the San Diego and keeps regular rider Victor Espinoza in the irons as he faces the likes of Dortmund and Hard Aces.

Dortmund was a major prospect during the 2015 Triple Crown campaign trail, and might even have been favored in last year’s Kentucky Derby if not for his stablemate American Pharoah. That Bob Baffert pupil would go on to sweep the Triple Crown and take the Breeders’ Cup Classic en route to Horse of the Year honors while Dortmund wrapped up his sophomore campaign with a pair of stakes wins in late fall.

Those followed the Big Brown colt’s third-place run in the Derby and fourth-place effort in the Preakness. Dortmund brought an undefeated mark into the Run for the Roses, including a 4 1/4-length victory in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), but wouldn’t reappear after the second jewel of the Triple Crown until late October in a listed event at Santa Anita. He captured that one-mile contest and concluded 2015 with a 4 1/2-length win in the Native Diver Stakes (G3) on November 28.

Dortmund brings a 1:12 six-furlong move at Del Mar on July 17 into his four-year-old bow, and gets jockey Gary Stevens, aboard for the first time in the Native Diver, back in the saddle on Saturday.

Hard Aces’ last win came when upsetting the Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes (G1) by a nose in June 2015. His next five starts resulted in well-beaten, off-the-board runs against graded rivals, but the John Sadler charge showed sparks of his Gold Cup glory when runner-up in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) on March 12.

The six-year-old son of Hard Spun dropped his next race in the Charles Town Classic (G2), but got back on track with a second in the Californian Stakes (G2) and third-place run while going for a title defense in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita on June 25. Santiago Gonzalez had the call that day and retains the mount for the San Diego.

Win the Space was sent off at 24-1 in the Gold Cup but held well to take second in the 10-furlong test. That is the Pulpit four-year-old’s only stakes credit to date, for which he earned a 103 BRIS Speed rating, and he’ll break from the far outside Saturday under jockey Mike Smith.

Completing the San Diego field are Crittenden, a Grade 3-placed two-time stakes winner; Grade 1-placed multiple stakes victor Soi Phet; and Follow Me Crev, who brought a four-race win streak into the Californian last out while making just his second try against stakes rivals but finished a one-paced fifth under returning rider Alonso Quinonez.

A couple of races before the San Diego, 11 sophomore fillies will take to the turf going a mile in the $200,000 San Clemente Handicap (G2).

Among those entered are Stays in Vegas, winner of the Senorita Stakes (G3) and third by a short neck in the Honeymoon Stakes (G2) in her two starts this season; Santa Anita Oaks (G1) runner-up Mokat, who was 13th in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) last out; and Be Mine, a head second in both the Senorita and Honeymoon.

California Chrome photo courtesy of Cecilia Gustavsson/