By Jay Privman
DEL MAR, Calif. – Twice before in his 22-race career, California Chrome has drawn the rail. He finished sixth both times.
So it was no surprise that when California Chrome landed the inside post Tuesday during the draw for the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic on Saturday at Del Mar, trainer Art Sherman sat back in his chair and looked skyward.
“Like I told you the other day, I’d like to be outside, and I’ll probably draw the rail,” Sherman said. “The two speeds are outside. We’ll see if they go.”
The two speeds are Dortmund and Beholder, considered California Chrome’s primary rivals in what is shaping up as the best race so far this year. Beholder, last year’s Pacific Classic winner, drew post 7 in the field of nine, with Dortmund just to her outside.
In California Chrome’s favor is that he clearly is a better horse now than when he ran in the Golden State Juvenile at age 2 or in the Pennsylvania Derby at age 3 in his first start since the Triple Crown. Those are the two prior times he drew the rail. Now age 5, California Chrome comes into this race riding a four-race win streak, including a half-length victory over Dortmund in last month’s San Diego Handicap here, and, of course, the Dubai World Cup in March.
“You can place him just about anywhere you want,” Sherman said. “He’s coming in as good as I’ve seen him.”
It will be up to jockey Victor Espinoza to work out a trip for California Chrome. Gary Stevens rides Beholder, with Rafael Bejarano on Dortmund.
“It’s going to be a jockeys’ race,” said Sherman, a former jockey.
The draw was held Tuesday night at The Brigantine, a popular local restaurant that overlooks the racetrack. The field swelled to nine Tuesday when Bob Baffert, who trains Dortmund, decided to also run Hoppertunity, who finished third to California Chrome in Dubai.
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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).
Russell Hudak, who makes the morning line at Del Mar, made California Chrome the 8-5 favorite, with Dortmund next at 5-2 and Beholder the third choice at 3-1. Hoppertunity, at 8-1, is the only other horse lower than 15-1 on the morning line.
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 time. The card will be streamed live on DRF.com.