Breeders’ Cup Classic: Race goes through California Chrome

With the Breeders’ Cup returning yet again to California this fall, the state’s favorite son is the parasol-shaped straw that stirs the frothy drink.

California Chrome, currently ranked as the best horse in the world, is the acknowledged favorite for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 5, and his dominating victories this year – from Santa Anita to Meydan to Del Mar – have caused the connections of several of his potential rivals to adjust their prep plans, or their Breeders’ Cup plans themselves.

Beholder was a thoroughly respectable second to California Chrome in the Pacific Classic, but barring any setbacks with California Chrome, she’s being pointed to the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Nov. 4.

Frosted was trounced by California Chrome in the Dubai World Cup, and though he has subsequently won two of his last three starts, his connections are debating whether to try California Chrome again going 1 1/4 miles or instead go in the $1 million Dirt Mile on Nov. 4.

Similarly, Dortmund was no match for California Chrome in the Pacific Classic, and though he’s scheduled to try again for the third straight time in the Grade 1, $300,000 Awesome Again at Santa Anita on Oct. 1, there’s a chance he could subsequently cut back to the Dirt Mile if the 1 1/4 miles of the Classic, plus the presence of California Chrome, proves too tough an obstacle course at the Breeders’ Cup.

Hoppertunity, fourth in the Pacific Classic, might end up in the Classic, but instead of prepping in the Awesome Again, he could detour to New York for the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 8.

California Chrome was the Horse of the Year in 2014 despite finishing third in that year’s Classic, his title salvaged by a late-season victory on turf in the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar to remind voters of what he had done earlier in the year in the Kentucky Derby and Prekaness. This year, he has been acknowledged overwhelmingly as not only the front-runner for Horse of the Year but, since the World Cup, as the best racehorse on the planet.

And according to trainer Art Sherman, California Chrome is retaining the form that has carried him to five wins in five starts this year.

“He’s training excellent,” Sherman said Wednesday from Los Alamitos, where California Chrome is based. “I couldn’t be happier with everything. Just got to keep my fingers crossed.”

California Chrome will prep in the Awesome Again, and a victory in that race would put him in position to earn a $1 million bonus for victories in the Pacific Classic, Awesome Again, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which makes his potential Breeders’ Cup payoff in excess of $4 million, this on top of the record $13.2 million he’s already banked.

The major prep this week for the Classic is the Grade 2, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx, in which Derby winner Nyquist and Preakness winner Exaggerator will try to enhance their chances of being named champion 3-year-old male while also trying to raise their game before taking on elders in the Breeders’ Cup.

The best 3-year-old in terms of current form, Travers winner Arrogate, is going to train up to the Classic, with trainer Bob Baffert – who also has Classic contenders Dortmund and Hoppertunity – utilizing the same Classic itinerary he implemented a year ago with American Pharoah.

Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form’s national handicapper, has California Chrome as the current Classic favorite at 5-2, with Arrogate next at 4-1.

The Awesome Again and the Jockey Club Gold Cup are the final two races that offer fees-paid berths in the Classic through the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In program. The presence of California Chrome is expected to keep the Awesome Again field small. The Jockey Club Gold Cup is expected to include New York-based runners like Effinex, Mubtaahij, Shaman Ghost, and Watershed.

California Chrome already has earned a guaranteed spot in the Classic via his victory in the Pacific Classic. Frosted has a spot through his win in the Whitney, and Exaggerator secured a berth with his Haskell win.

Melatonin has a spot owing to his victory in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita in June, but he has not raced since then and will try to make the Classic off workouts. He went five furlongs in 1:02 on Wednesday at Santa Anita, his third drill since recovering from an illness that forced him to miss the Pacific Classic.

Bradester also earned a spot via his victory in the Stephen Foster Handicap, but he’s never raced 1 1/4 miles and is far more likely to go in the Dirt Mile, especially after his fade in the Woodward.

The Japanese-based colt Moanin has a spot based on his win in the February Stakes in Tokyo, but he has not raced since May, and Breeders’ Cup officials said this week they do not expect him.

The Classic is the last and richest of the 13 Breeders’ Cup races, worth $26.5 million, that will be run at Santa Anita on Nov. 4-5. This will be the 33rd Breeders’ Cup, and the ninth at Santa Anita, which will be playing host for the fourth time in five years and the sixth time in the last nine years.

Of the 13 Breeders’ Cup races, nine – the Juvenile Fillies, Turf Sprint, Filly and Mare Sprint, Filly and Mare Turf, Sprint, Mile, Juvenile, Turf, and Classic – are on Nov. 5, with the other four – the Juvenile Turf, Dirt Mile, Juvenile Fillies Turf, and Distaff – on Nov. 4.

In addition to California Chrome, Watchmaker’s other ante-post favorites for the Nov. 5 races are Union Strike, 4-1 in the Juvenile Fillies; Lady Shipman, 7-2 in the Turf Sprint; Cathryn Sophia, 4-1 in the Filly and Mare Sprint; Seventh Heaven, 4-1 in the Filly and Mare Turf; Masochistic, 7-2 in the Sprint; Tepin, 3-1 in the Mile; Klimt, 7-2 in the Juvenile; and Flintshire, 2-1 in the Turf.

Brad Free, DRF’s Southern California handicapper, has set the early prices for the Nov. 4 card and has tabbed as current favorites Good Samaritan (4-1) in the Juvenile Turf, Frosted (8-5) in the Dirt Mile, Lady Aurelia (4-1) in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and Songbird (5-2) in the Distaff.

Tom Franklin is a senior contributor at US Racing.
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