12/05/2016 12:16PM

Los Alamitos two-week meet features several big stakes

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CYPRESS, Calif. – Two Grade 1 stakes for 2-year-olds on Saturday and a scheduled start by 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome on Dec. 17 will dominate the Los Alamitos winter Thoroughbred meeting that begins Thursday.

Earlier this year, only one of those races had been planned for the two-week meeting. Track officials were skeptical that they could afford Saturday’s $300,000 Starlet Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, and the $100,000-estimated Los Alamitos Winter Challenge on Dec. 17, designed to lure California Chrome, had yet to be unveiled.

Funding was found for the Starlet, to be run the same day as the $300,000 Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity; both races will be 1 1/16 miles.

The Winter Challenge was developed in recent months to give California Chrome a local prep before his final scheduled start in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28. California Chrome will enter stud in 2017.

“It will be an eventful eight days,” general manager Brad McKinzie said. “We’re looking forward to opening Saturday.”

McKinzie said the Starlet was restored to the stakes schedule after officials with other Southern California tracks said they could not add the race to their seasons. In addition, Los Alamitos had a $250,000 purse underpayment from its three-week April meeting, McKinzie said, adding that those funds were diverted to the December meeting with approval from the Thoroughbred Owners of California. The TOC is the official representative of horsemen in the state and must approve purse-related decisions.

“We can’t lose a Grade 1 race,” McKinzie said.

Five stakes are scheduled for the meeting, including two $100,000 races for California-bred 2-year-old milers – the Soviet Problem Stakes for fillies on Dec. 17 and the King Glorious Stakes on Dec. 18, closing day of the brief season.

The Dec. 17 program is certain to draw the biggest crowd and will be the first time California Chrome has raced at Los Alamitos. The richest North American-based Thoroughbred in history, California Chrome has been based at Los Alamitos when in training in Southern California since January 2014.

The Winter Challenge has a purse structure designed to lure a field to race against California Chrome. The winner will receive $50,000, with $30,000 to second and $20,000 to third – higher percentages for second- and third-place finishers than typical races. The fourth- and fifth-place finishers will receive $15,000, while additional finishers will receive $10,000.

Racing secretary Bob Moreno said over the weekend that he hopes to draw a field of five or six to face California Chrome, who has won 15 of 25 starts and has earned $14,452,650.

“All signs are pointing to Chrome running on the 17th,” McKinzie said. “I’ll be disappointed if we don’t have very good attendance. He’s added so much attention. We got a ton of people to watch him work at 6 a.m. If they don’t come out to watch this race, they just won’t get out.”