Rail draw complicates matters for California Chrome in Pacific Classic

DEL MAR, Calif. – One day after she turned in her final work for a defense of her title in the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic on Saturday, Beholder went right back to the track Wednesday morning here at Del Mar, an indication that she’s coming up to the race as good as trainer Richard Mandella could desire.

“She was a little bit fresh,” Mandella said at his barn, marveling at Beholder’s fortitude. “She’s tough.”

She will need to be on Saturday, for this Pacific Classic field is a cut above the runners Beholder embarrassed last year. Nine were entered Tuesday evening, headed by California Chrome – who has a Kentucky Derby, Horse of the Year title, and Dubai World Cup on his résumé – and Dortmund, who returned from an eight-month layoff and finished just a half-length behind California Chrome in last month’s Grade 2 San Diego Handicap, the local prep for the Pacific Classic.

Bob Baffert, the trainer of Dortmund, also entered Hoppertunity, who was third in the Dubai World Cup in March behind California Chrome.

California Chrome was installed as the 8-5 favorite on the line set by Russell Hudak of Del Mar, with Dortmund the second choice at 5-2 and Beholder at 3-1. The draw provided a bit of drama, as California Chrome, who is known to prefer racing outside of horses, landed the rail. Art Sherman, California Chrome’s trainer, tossed his head back and looked skyward when the post was announced.

“I think there were a lot of happy faces when he drew the rail,” Sherman said Wednesday, referring to his opponents. “But there’s an eternity to get into the turn here.”

Sherman is counting on jockey Victor Espinoza being able to secure a decent position in the five-sixteenths of a mile the field will run before entering the clubhouse turn. Gary Stevens rides Beholder, who drew post 7, while Rafael Bejarano is on Dortmund, who drew post 8.

“It’s going to be a jockeys’ race,” said Sherman, a former jockey.

“The two speeds,” he said, referring to Beholder and Dortmund, “are outside. We’ll see if they go.”

California Chrome has drawn the rail twice before in this country. He finished sixth both times, in the Golden State Juvenile at 2 and the Pennsylvania Derby at 3 when making his first start since the Triple Crown. He’s clearly a better horse now. He comes into the Pacific Classic riding a four-race win streak, including the San Diego and the Dubai World Cup

“You can place him just about anywhere you want,” Sherman said. “He’s coming in as good as I’ve seen him.”

So, too, it appears, is Beholder, who has trained strongly since she was upset by Stellar Wind in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch three weeks ago. She breezed a half-mile Tuesday in 47 seconds under exercise rider Janeen Painter.

“Oh, boy, oh, man,” Painter said, breaking into a wide grin as she greeted Mandella back at the barn.

After observing the way Beholder came back from the drill, Mandella remarked, “She’s pretty content with herself.”

“She looked good to me,” Mandella said. “She didn’t need to do much. The one thing I told Janeen was to make sure no one was buzzing off around her. If she started the work at the half, or the three-eighths, or the quarter, I didn’t care. It all worked out. She found a spot by herself. She had her serious work the other day. She didn’t need anything more serious than this.

“The last four or five days leading to the race, we just want her mellowed out, into that groove we had before,” Mandella said.

The field, from the rail out, for the 1 1/4-mile race, is California Chrome (Espinoza the rider), Hoppertunity (Flavien Prat), War Story (Ricardo Mejias), Hard Aces (Santiago Gonzalez), Win the Space (Joe Talamo), Imperative (Norberto Arroyo Jr.), Beholder (Stevens), Dortmund (Bejarano), and Dalmore (Kent Desormeaux).

The Pacific Classic is run under weight-for-age conditions, so all older males carry 124 pounds. Beholder, the lone female, gets a five-pound break, so she carries 119. Dalmore, the lone 3-year-old, gets a six-pound break, so he carries 118.

The Pacific Classic is scheduled to be the ninth race on an 11-race card that will begin at 2 p.m. Pacific. Advance betting on the Pacific Classic will be offered beginning Friday.

Tom Franklin is a senior contributor at US Racing.
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