10/01/2016 8:16PM

California Chrome foils Dortmund's new tactics in Awesome Again

Benoit & Associates
California Chrome, geared down by jockey Victor Espinoza, wins the Awesome Again by 2 1/4 lengths.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The first murmurs began as the field neared the far turn in the Awesome Again Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita, the cheers grew ever louder as California Chrome began to pull away from Dortmund on the turn, and by the time California Chrome reached the eighth pole, the cheers turned into a roar of appreciation, hands clapping, arms waving, all in joyous celebration of what the fans were watching, as California Chrome cantered to the wire, best again.

 At the wire, California Chrome had won the Grade 1, $300,000 Awesome Again by 2 1/4 lengths, as jockey Victor Espinoza geared him down, cognizant that the big goal is still five weeks away, in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5. But this was another in a series of spectacular performances by California Chrome, because this time Dortmund took it to him at the start, unlike the Pacific Classic, and California Chrome still shook him off.

 “Wow,” trainer Art Sherman said as he exited his box. He then made his way through the box seat section, as horsemen and fans reached out to congratulate him. Sherman seemed almost overwhelmed by the attention, and by what he had seen from the best horse in the world.

 “He’s the best I’ve ever seen,” said Sherman, who 60 years ago was the exercise rider for the great Swaps, like California Chrome a California-bred Kentucky Derby winner.

 The win was the sixth in six starts this year for California Chrome, who will go into the Classic as the favorite to be named Horse of the Year, the title he won in 2014. In addition to the lucrative first-prize money in the Classic, California Chrome is eligible for a $1 million bonus if he can add the Classic to victories in the Pacific Classic and Awesome Again.

 In the Pacific Classic, Dortmund’s connections – jockey Rafael Bejarano, and trainer Bob Baffert – conceded the lead to California Chrome, and California Chrome never looked back. This time, Dortmund was outfitted with blinkers, and a different strategy was employed, as he went with California Chrome early.

 It didn’t matter.

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 “They wanna go with me, but I was, okay, let’s roll,” said Victor Espinoza, California Chrome’s jockey, who won three Grade 1 races on Saturday's card. “I knew what was going to happen. I knew what they’d try. But he’s on his game right now. I had the one-hole, and if he didn’t break, maybe then I try to get outside. But he broke well. It’s hard to tuck in. So I let him go.”

 California Chrome ($2.80), hounded by Dortmund, went the opening quarter-mile of the 1 1/8-mile race in 22.76 seconds, and the half in 46.08 seconds. He began to draw away after six furlongs in a swift 1:09.28, was up by nearly four lengths with a furlong to go after a mile in 1:34.45, and was allowed to coast home to complete nine furlongs on the fast main track in an ordinary time of 1:48.07 that clearly was impacted by the hot early pace and Espinoza’s understandable easy ride late.

 “They can’t keep up with him,” Espinoza said. “They can try, but they can’t.”

 Dortmund held on to second, 4 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Win the Space. Hard Aces was fourth, and Soi Phet last in a field reduced to five following the scratches Saturday morning of Hoppertunity and El Huerfano.

 “He took Dortmund’s game plan away from him,” Sherman said. “You’re looking at maybe the best horse in the world right now. I can’t say enough about him.”

 California Chrome has now won 15 times in 24 starts, and the $180,000 he earned on Saturday increased his career bankroll to more than $13.4 million. His previous wins this year included the Pacific Classic and the Dubai World Cup, and that adds to a resume that includes victories at 3 in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

 Now age 5, California Chrome is scheduled to enter stud next year in Kentucky at Taylor Made Farm, which owns the horse with Perry Martin; they race as California Chrome LLC. In addition to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, California Chrome has the inaugural $12 million Pegasus at Gulfstream Park next January on his agenda.

 If he finishes out his career with two more wins, he’ll retire with more than $24 million in earnings. All for a horse by a $2,500 stallion out of an $8,000 mare. That deserves a round of applause.