11/02/2016 4:50PM

Breeders' Cup Classic: California Chrome poised to complete perfect season

Barbara D. Livingston
Arrogate, who set a track record in the Travers, is the biggest threat to give California Chrome his first defeat of the year in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Before the year started, those associated with California Chrome mapped out an itinerary for 2016, and thus far, they’ve hit every planned stop, with nary a misstep. Victory in the San Pasqual. A pair of wins in Dubai, including the World Cup. Two wins at Del Mar, including the Pacific Classic. And, most recently, a victory in the Awesome Again.

The $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday at Santa Anita was the year-end goal, and California Chrome comes into it in the best form of his career. He was dominant in both the Pacific Classic and Awesome Again, Grade 1 races that have set him up for a big payday. There is a $1 million bonus for winning those two races plus the Breeders’ Cup Classic, on top of the more than $3 million in first-prize money from the Classic itself.

“His last two races have been big,” said trainer Art Sherman. “Let me have one more like that in the Breeders’ Cup. This is a biggie coming up. If he wins, it takes him to a different plateau.”

Standing in the way of the perfect plan are nine rivals, most notably Arrogate, the late-developing 3-year-old who turned in a freakish performance in the Travers and has trained into this race like that was not a fluke.

“The Travers was pretty mind-blowing,” said trainer Bob Baffert. “We never knew he had that kind of speed until we asked him to do that. He’s going to have to run that race again to be competitive with a horse like California Chrome.”

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The Classic is the last and richest of the 13 Breeders’ Cup races that will be run Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita and is the final race on a 12-race card Saturday. Eight of the 10 runners have won a Grade 1 race, five of them in their most recent start.

“It’s a tough, tough race,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, who sends out Met Mile winner Frosted.

California Chrome will be favored, with Arrogate a strong second choice.

“He’s never run against a horse like Chrome,” Sherman said of Arrogate. “He’s going to have to outrun me to make me a believer.

“You can always get outrun. But if Chrome does, the horse who does it is gonna know he was in a horse race.”

Baffert knows he’s taking on a formidable opponent but believes Arrogate is the real deal.

Regarding California Chrome, Baffert said: “This is the best I’ve ever seen him. He’s in peak form. I give a lot of credit to the Sherman camp. He’s the horse to beat. I don’t know if we can beat him, but I think we have a horse who can be competitive with him.”

The Travers announced Arrogate to the world, but the Baffert barn had been high on him even before he ever ran. His race in the Travers – a track record at Saratoga with a Beyer Speed Figure of 122 – was monstrous.

“I think he can do it again,” Baffert said of earning another big figure. “It’s going to take a huge performance to beat Chrome.”

Arrogate has not raced since the Travers, a schedule Baffert successfully used last year with American Pharoah.

“The only way you can do it is if you have a really good horse like Pharoah,” Baffert said. “We don’t know how good Arrogate is. The only time we set him down was in the Travers. I haven’t seen anything to tell me he can’t do it again.”

Baffert is seeking his third straight win in the Classic, following Bayern and American Pharoah. In addition to Arrogate, he also sends out Hoppertunity, fresh from a win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

“This is the best he’s ever been,” Baffert said.

Trainer Jimmy Jerkens also sends out two runners – Effinex, last year’s runner-up in the Classic behind American Pharoah, and Shaman Ghost, who upset Frosted in the Woodward.

Effinex drew the rail, exactly where Jerkens did not want him.

“I’d rather have Effinex outside,” Jerkens said. “He doesn’t like being in the gate too long.”

Frosted finished fifth behind California Chrome in the Dubai World Cup, but after returning to the United States, he turned in one of the most impressive races of the year in the Met Mile. He is 1 for 2 since then, with both races around two turns, and has looked good here this week.

“We’re not sure which Frosted is going to show up,” said his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin. “We hope it’s the one from the Met Mile. He’s doing fabulous.”

Melatonin has not run since June but is unbeaten in four starts at Santa Anita, including twice at 1 1/4 miles this year.

Keen Ice is 0 for 6 since his upset of American Pharoah in last year’s Travers. This is his second start following a six-month layoff and a switch to trainer Todd Pletcher.

Win the Space has finished in the money in major stakes behind California Chrome and Melatonin this year.

War Story, beaten more than 22 lengths at 136-1 in the Pacific Classic, looks overmatched again.