12/15/2016 2:10PM

California Chrome makes West Coast curtain call in Winter Challenge

Barbara D. Livingston
California Chrome will make his final start in California in Saturday's Winter Challenge.

CYPRESS, Calif. – There has never been a race quite like Saturday’s Los Alamitos Winter Challenge.

The race was developed in recent months to give California Chrome, the 2014 Horse of the Year, a final start in California before the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28. California Chrome will be retired to stud in Kentucky in 2017.

Los Alamitos expects a bumper crowd on Saturday afternoon, most attending for the specific purpose of seeing California Chrome.

On Thursday, trainer Art Sherman was happy with California Chrome’s condition and hoping for an easy race in what should be little more than a trial for the Pegasus.

“I like the way he’s coming into it,” Sherman said. “He’s a remarkable horse. He’s got a lot of stamina. You want a good prep, give everybody a chance to see him before he leaves.”

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Owned by Perry Martin and Taylor Made Farm, California Chrome is the leading candidate for the 2016 Horse of the Year title on the strength of six wins in seven starts in two countries. He won the $10 million Dubai World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in March and three stakes in California in the spring and fall, including a five-length win in the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August.

The only blemish on his record was a half-length loss to top 3-year-old Arrogate in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 5. Plans for the Winter Challenge were finalized rapidly after that race.

Track officials were concerned about drawing a sufficient field to face California Chrome, and yet the race oversubscribed, with 12 entrants. The Winter Challenge will be run at 1 1/16 miles and will have a safety limit of 10 starters. There is a possibility that the race could have a smaller field, with late scratches.

Even with a big field, the race has a limited betting menu. There will be no place or show betting if California Chrome starts, as expected. The race, the last of nine for the afternoon, will have exacta, trifecta, superfecta, and super high five betting and will be the last leg of several multirace bets.

The pick six is an exception. Track officials said on Thursday that the pick six will cover the third through eighth races. Post time is 4:28 p.m. Pacific.

A majority of those betting tickets will begin with No. 10 – California Chrome. The 5-year-old California-bred is the richest North American-based Thoroughbred in training with earnings of $14,452,650.

The Winter Challenge will be worth $180,000 if 10 start.

Los Alamitos has offered an enhanced purse structure to lure participation. The winner will receive $50,000, followed by $30,000 to second, $20,000 to third, and $15,000 for fourth and fifth. All other finishers will receive $10,000. The percentages are higher for the second- through fifth-place finishers than in a typical race.

California Chrome’s rivals include two stakes winners this year – Avanti Bello, who won the Tiznow Stakes at Santa Anita in May, and Point Piper, who won the Grade 3 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs in August. Seven of the 12 entrants have run for a claiming price this year.

On Thursday, Sherman expressed some concern about the weather. Rain was expected overnight on Thursday into Friday, but conditions were forecast to be clear on Saturday.

“They told me it will be fast. That’s all I can go by,” Sherman said. “I want a safe trip. I’m glad he got the 10 hole. He won’t be in there long. They can kick it, and he’ll be out of there.”