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California Chrome, Dortmund Hard to Separate in San Diego Handicap

California Chrome, Dortmund Hard to Separate in San Diego Handicap by Reinier Macatangay: What a match race on tap this Saturday in the $200,000 San Diego Handicap (GII), run at 1 1/16 miles, for older horses at Del Mar Racetrack. California Chrome, the reigning Dubai World Cup (GI) champion, meets Dortmund, a high-class Bob Baffert-trained runner, in what promises to be a tightly-contested race.

California Chrome

California Chrome, the reigning Dubai World Cup (GI) champion, meets Dortmund, a high-class Bob Baffert-trained runner, in what promises to be a tightly-contested race in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.
Photo: Chelsea Durand, Coglianese/NYRA

Owned by a partnership aptly named the California Chrome Llc., which includes the well-known Perry Martin and Taylor Made Farm, California Chrome heads into this weekend’s race with three wins out of three starts this year.

After a significant layoff, the popular 5-year-old horse returned to action in January, when California Chrome won the San Pasqual Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita Park by a little more than a length. While the small winning margin concerned fans, he was not 100-percent fit for the race and did not really need to win either, but his class showed.

Martin had his eyes set on another Dubai attempt, and so California Chrome went overseas again. The son of Lucky Pulpit first won his February prep race in the 2,000 metres handicap, and moved forward the next month by taking the $10 million Dubai World Cup (GI) against the best horses in the world.

When California Chrome finished second in Dubai last year, people laughed and suggested he did not belong. He left no doubters this time, and quickly the “overrated” talk died down.

To prepare for his Del Mar return, California Chrome “breezed” a blazing five furlongs in 59.20 seconds last Saturday, which was ranked the best time out of 85 works at the distance.

The official Del Mar Stable Notes glowingly describes the work:

“(Dihigi) Gladney never pushed on his charge and stood up in the saddle as they went past the finish line. The clocking crew noted that to that point in the morning (7:45), no other horses had worked quicker than 1:01 for the five-furlong distance.”

As it stands now, California Chrome is the leader in the clubhouse for Horse of the Year honors, and will keep the momentum towards that award going if he can win this week against the talented Dortmund. Once more, Victor Espinoza takes the call and will pilot the 2014 Horse of the Year, and they drew a favorable post six.

Defeating Dortmund will not prove easy though, as the Kaleem Shah-owned runner almost stole the 2015 Kentucky Derby (GI) from eventual Triple Crown hero American Pharoah.

A wet surface hindered Dortmund’s chances at Pimlico two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes (GI), and then he went on the shelf until October when he won the ungraded Big Bear and Native Diver Handicap (GIII).

Then, after initially pointing towards the San Pasqual for a showdown with California Chrome, Dortmund’s 2016 debut kept getting pushed back and he went on the shelf once more.

Well, the showdown happens now.

Dortmund drew post position two and, in all likelihood, will be sent to the lead under Gary Stevens. A big horse like this one will always accelerate better on the straightaway, so except Dortmund to fight regardless of whether he fades on the far turn. Most horses need a race off the layoff, but Baffert-trained runners normally come ready to fire.

Other horses are in this race, but they require a miracle to win.

Hard Aces or Win the Space might clunk up for third. Soi Phet, Crittenden and Follow Me Crev will lose by double-digit lengths. None of them seem remotely close to matching the top two contenders.

In election terms, this is a binary choice. Either California Chrome or Dortmund will win, and no matter what happens, fans will get to enjoy a fantastic edition of the San Diego Handicap.

San Diego Handicap 2016 Post Positions & Odds
Race 9 6:10 p.m.
1 Hard Aces Gonzalez/Sadler
2 Dortmund Stevens/Baffert
3 Soi Phet Desormeaux/Powell
4 Crittenden Garcia/Harty
5 Follow Me Crev Quinonez/Cerin
6 California Chrome Espinoza/Sherman
7 Win the Space Smith/Papaprodromou

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