The Winter Challenge Stakes Is Hardly a Challenge

California Chrome

California Chrome

With California Chrome competing in the Winter Challenge Stakes at Los Alamitos this weekend, I thought it would be a fantastic time to talk about a great racehorse making one of the final starts of his career, while illustrating how to handicap — or at least how I handicap — in the process.

But all that went out the window when I saw the field for the Winter Challenge. In the words of a good friend of mine, “come aaawwwnnn.”

Look, I get that a horse like Chrome discourages challengers; I used to defend Zenyatta on this point all the time. But the Winter Challenge field doesn’t even qualify as weak — it is abhorrent, like Blaine Gabbert and Jared Goff rolled into one interception-throwing machine.

The entrants in the Winter Challenge have accumulated a whopping seven Grade I and three Grade II victories… unfortunately, all of them were recorded by California Chrome.

It gets worse.

Outside of trainer Art Sherman’s stable star, only one of the 12 potential Winter Challenge contenders even competed in a stakes race last time.

And worse.

Ten — that’s a one followed by a zero — of the horses entered in the $180,000 Winter Challenge last raced in a standard or optional claimer.

Think about that for a second. Hey, I’m not saying that a race basically written for California Chrome should feature a host of top handicap horses, but I would expect a field at least on par with the one Spectacular Bid faced in the 1980 Woodward Stakes.

What bugs me most, though, is that, like the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic, there are very few legitimate speedsters that can put pressure on the big favorite early. I know that many consider it “unsporting” to enter a rabbit in these spots, but for heaven’s sake — Chrome is 1-5 on the morning line!

Rather than spotting his rivals weight (a piddling 2-8 pounds), I really believe that California Chrome should give them all a head start.

As for that handicapping demonstration I was talking about earlier, below is an excerpt from my Win Factor Report (computerized fair odds line).

9lrc121716

Personally, I think the only way to make any money on this race is to find some longshot contenders to use underneath Chrome in the exotics and also in the show pool (regular readers know how much I love those negative pools, even with a seemingly unassailable favorite).

9lrc121716ppr

In addition to Avanti Bello and Ain’t Misbehaven, I’d consider Howdy and, perhaps, Ground Rule as well.

ppr

Derek Simon
Derek Simon is the Senior Editor and Handicapper at US Racing.
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