07/21/2016 8:50AM

California Chrome begins final run in San Diego Handicap

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Barbara D. Livingston
California Chrome has five races left on his schedule, starting with the San Diego Handicap on Saturday.

DEL MAR, Calif. – It is possible to list on one hand the starts remaining for California Chrome, who leads Saturday’s $200,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.

For California Chrome, the San Diego Handicap is a prep for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 20, which is expected to be followed by the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 1 and the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 5. California Chrome’s final start is expected to be in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28. After that, he is scheduled to go to stud in Kentucky.

“I’ll really miss him,” trainer Art Sherman said.

California Chrome has not raced since his win in the $10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates on March 26. Early in the race at 1 1/4 miles, California Chrome’s saddle slipped backward. Jockey Victor Espinoza maintained control and rode California Chrome to a convincing win by 3 3/4 lengths.

After spending most of April at Taylor Made Farms in Kentucky, California Chrome resumed training with Sherman at Los Alamitos on May 1. In the last 12 weeks, Sherman has seen gradual improvement from California Chrome, notably since his arrival at Del Mar on July 12.

Sherman has been pointing California Chrome to the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at 1 1/16 miles for months.

“I thought this was perfect timing for everything,” Sherman said. “When he got down here, he got into the game. He’s more focused.”

Owned by Perry Martin and Taylor Made Farms, California Chrome has won 12 of 21 starts. He has earned $12,532,650, making the 5-year-old California-bred the richest North American-based horse in history.

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The San Diego will be California Chrome’s first start in the United States since he won the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes at 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita in January. He is not the only world-class runner in the field of seven returning from a layoff. He will have a target in the speedy Dortmund, a multiple-stakes-winning millionaire trained by Bob Baffert and owned by Kaleem Shah.

California Chrome will carry the top weight of 126 pounds, five more than Dortmund. The remaining five runners have been assigned weights ranging from 118 pounds for Hard Aces, the winner of the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita in 2015, to 114 pounds for Crittenden, a winner of two minor stakes in 2015.

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A win by either of them or the other three runners in the race – Follow Me Crev, Soi Phet, and Win the Space – would be a surprise.

KEY CONTENDERS

California Chrome, by Lucky Pulpit

Last 3 Beyers: 104-105-96

◗ California Chrome has been a stalker throughout his career, and Sherman is banking on jockey Espinoza employing those tactics to neutralize any threat from the front-running Dortmund.

“You know Baffert will send,” Sherman said. “His horse has speed. We can’t let Dortmund get an easy lead.”

◗ In the Dubai World Cup, California Chrome raced off the rail and took the lead in the final quarter-mile. The same tactics worked in the San Pasqual Stakes in January.

Dortmund, by Big Brown

Last 3 Beyers: 103-105-78

◗ Dortmund was third in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness Stakes in 2015, then was taken out of training until last fall. Dortmund won both of his starts last fall with little difficulty against secondary competition, including the Grade 3 Native Diver on Nov. 28.

◗ Dortmund’s winter campaign was derailed because of foot issues.


DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 2 Dortmund. Trainer Bob Baffert is 19-8-2-2 with a $2.44 ROI over the past five years in graded stakes routes following a layoff of 90 days or more. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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◗ Dortmund has trained forwardly in recent weeks, with a six-furlong workout in 1:12 last Sunday. Still, Baffert cautions not to expect too much from Dortmund on Saturday.

“You don’t want to hook a horse like California Chrome first time out,” he said.