Racing UK

Angus McNae

Espinoza has a tough choice on California Chrome in the Pacific Classic

20 August 2016

The Pacific Classic at Del Mar tonight represents the best ever renewal of this historic Grade one. The CVs of the main protagonists are extraordinary, and this race is the highlight of a stellar card at the seaside racecourse.  

California Chrome, the hero of American Racing, winner of the Kentucky Derby in 2014 and the Dubai World Cup in March will be taken on by Beholder, who has won 10 Grade One races and landed this $US1million (£764,000) race 12 months ago. Add in last year’s Santa Anita Derby winner to the mix in the form of Dortmund and you have a mouthwatering clash.

It could also be a forerunner to the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November, too. California Chrome is currently the 3-1 favourite for the Classic, while Beholder is 10-1 behind Frosted. The undefeated filly Songbird, who is 1-5 for tonight’s Grade One Alabama Stakes at Saratoga, is 12-1, while Dortmund is 16s.

As ever the outcome will depend on what kind of pace scenario develops and what kind of trip the main protagonists get. The most fascinating conundrum surrounds California Chrome, who is drawn on the inside in stall one.

Chrome likes to get a clear trip. He doesn't like to be crowded. His trainer Art Sherman has stated that he is best when allowed to race in the clear on the outside. From stall one Victor Espinoza, his jockey, has a big decision to make. Does he gun him out of the gates, go to the front and hope he can then gear him down in the lead? 

Alternatively he could take a pull out of the stalls, allow horses to pass him then angle round them so that Chrome is on the outside seeing the daylight that he craves. This is a very tough decision for Espinoza, and it is not one he can plan. He will have to make his mind up in the first 50 yards of the race because so much will depend on how the others jump from the stalls.

If he gets the start he wants then surely Dortmund cannot beat him. They met in the San Diego Handicap last time and after a titanic duel Chrome edged him out giving him 5lbs. Now off level weights and back up in trip to 10 furlongs Chrome should beat him again. However both of these horses had a hard fight in that race and there is a chance that they have taken the edge off each other. If that is the case then Beholder could be the beneficiary.

Trainers in America are reluctant to run fillies against colts so Beholder’s presence taking on the boys could be taken as a tip in itself. She had won eight races in a row before having her colours lowered by Stellar Wind in the Clement L. Hirsch at the course last time. Despite that defeat her work is reported to have been tremendous since then, and it must have been just that to persuade her trainer Richard Mandella to run her. Another important factor is that she gets a useful 5lb sex allowance. I also believe that Mandella has been persuaded to run here because this filly put up her career best Beyer figure in this race last year and thus she clearly likes the track.

Dortmund, although beaten by Chrome last time, is a big, strong imposing colt who is getting better. In defeat last time he fired a career best figure. A career best after winning eight of his eleven starts, and his three defeats were inflicted by none other than American Pharoah and California Chrome himself. Bob Baffert, his trainer, is happy with his condition and has fired three strong pieces of work into him since the San Diego. He may improve again, but he has to.

The start of races are always crucial, but this race could be decided at the break where Espinoza will have to translate his years of experience into quick-fire thinking. A massive prize awaits him and his popular mount if he gets it right. No pressure!

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