California Chrome ready to put on a show in Awesome Again

ARCADIA, Calif. – The fall is when television networks roll out their new shows, but for trainer Art Sherman, he’s hoping the next episode of the California Chrome Show in the Awesome Again Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita is a rerun.

“I wish he’d run a race like in the Pacific Classic,” Sherman said, referring to California Chrome’s five-length romp on Aug. 20. “That would make my day.”

It no doubt would get high ratings. California Chrome is ranked as the best horse in the world, and he’s certainly the most popular runner here in his home state. A large crowd is expected to turn up in 86-degree weather for the Saturday card at Santa Anita, which has five Grade 1 races, each worth $300,000, all offering fees-paid berths to their respective Breeders’ Cup races through the Win and You’re In program.

The Awesome Again is the West’s major prep for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5, also at Santa Anita. The Awesome Again comes six weeks after the Pacific Classic and five weeks in front of the Breeders’ Cup, making it an ideal intermediate stop for California Chrome.

“This will set him up well for the Classic,” Sherman said. “He loves Santa Anita.”

California Chrome has won four times in seven starts here, including the Santa Anita Derby in 2014 and the San Pasqual earlier this year. His losses include a close third-place finish in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic and a second to Shared Belief in the 2015 San Antonio, both strong efforts.

A win in the Awesome Again would also keep California Chrome in line for a $1 million bonus to a horse who can sweep the Pacific Classic, Awesome Again, and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

California Chrome has won all five of his starts this year and is the acknowledged front-runner for Horse of the Year. He earned a 113 Beyer Speed Figure in the Pacific Classic, equaling his career best.

On paper, the Awesome Again has many similarities to the Pacific Classic. Once again, California Chrome has drawn the rail. Once again, Dortmund, Hard Aces, Hoppertunity, and Win the Space are entered against him. The differences are that this is Santa Anita, not Del Mar, and the distance is 1 1/8 miles as opposed to the Pacific Classic’s 1 1/4 miles.

In the Pacific Classic, jockey Victor Espinoza sent California Chrome aggressively from the rail, took the track from his rivals, and never looked back. That’s the rerun Sherman and his son and assistant, Alan, want to see in the Awesome Again.

“Get him out of there and see what happens after that,” Alan Sherman said Thursday at Santa Anita after California Chrome had a routine gallop.

California Chrome carries the top weight of 125 pounds and concedes four pounds to all his rivals.

Dortmund, third in the Pacific Classic, drew right next to California Chrome in post 2, and he is adding blinkers for the first time since his debut 23 months ago. In the Pacific Classic, he was ridden passively leaving the gate and conceded the lead to California Chrome. The shorter distance of the Awesome Again, the outcome of the Pacific Classic, and the addition of blinkers all point to him being more involved early this time.

Dortmund has won all five of his starts at Santa Anita, and he is 2 for 2 at 1 1/8 miles, including his victory in the 2015 Santa Anita Derby.

His trainer, Bob Baffert, also entered Hoppertunity, who was fourth in the Pacific Classic, but Baffert has been leaning all week toward sending him instead to the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Oct. 8 and said again on Thursday that that was his inclination. Baffert said he entered Hoppertunity in the Awesome Again “just in case something happened,” but barring something unforeseen by Saturday, Hoppertunity is likely to scratch.

A win by anyone else – Hard Aces, Soi Phet, Win the Space, or El Huerfano, who is also entered in the John Henry Turf Championship on Sunday – would be a major surprise.

The Awesome Again is race 7 on an 11-race card that begins at 12:30 p.m. Pacific. It is the second of five straight Grade 1 races on the card. Preceding it is the FrontRunner, for 2-year-olds, featuring Klimt and Straight Fire, the one-two finishers in the Del Mar Futurity.

Following the Awesome Again are the Rodeo Drive, a wide-open race for female grass runners, which includes Avenge and Sobradora Inc. among the field of 14; then the Zenyatta, in which champions Beholder and Stellar Wind meet for the third time; and, finally, the Chandelier, which drew 12 2-year-old fillies, including American Cleopatra, Champagne Room, Noted and Quoted, and With Honors.

The FrontRunner, Awesome Again, Rodeo Drive, and Zenyatta all will be shown live by NBCSN on a 2 1/2-hour program beginning at 2:30 p.m. Pacific.


Tom Franklin is a senior contributor at US Racing.
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