San Diego Handicap Preview: California Chrome is Back!

California Chrome winning Grade II, $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes - Photo Credit: Melanie Martines
Melanie Martines

Six rivals were entered Wednesday to take on California Chrome in Saturday’s $200,000 Grade II San Diego Handicap.

With the draw for post positions scheduled early Wednesday afternoon, Del Mar racing office stakes coordinator Chris Merz listed the following horses (in alphabetical order) as having entered:

California Chrome, Crittenden, Dortmund, Follow Me Crev, Hard Aces, Soi Phet and Win The Space.

Hard Aces and Soi Phet are nominated for Sunday’s $100,000 Grade III Cougar II Handicap should their connections choose to exercise that option. John Sadler, trainer of Hard Aces, said Wednesday that he is “leaning more towards Saturday (San Diego Handicap) right now.”

A quick look at the possible Chrome challengers:

Crittenden, a 4-year-old Distorted Humor gelding owned by Godolphin Racing and trained by Eoin Harty, enters off a runner-up finish on the Northern California fair circuit. His career record of 15 4-2-1 with earnings of $183,340 includes a victory in the Let It Ride stakes here last October.

Dortmund has been off since winning the Grade III Native Diver here last November 28. The 4-year-old Big Brown colt owned by Kaleem Shah and trained by Bob Baffert won the Santa Anita Derby and was third to stablemate American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby in compiling earnings of more than $1.3 million as a 3-year-old en route to his current $1,712,480.

Follow Me Crev, a 4-year-old Quality Road gelding trained by Vladimir Cerin for Holly and David Wilson, had a four-race winning streak – started here last fall – snapped with a fifth-place finish in the Grade II Californian on May 22 at Santa Anita.

Hard Aces, a 6-year-old son of Hard Spun, is winless since the 2015 Gold Cup at Santa Anita but comes in off a runner-up to Second Summer in the Californian and third behind Melatonin in the Gold Cup title defense on June 25. Trained by John Sadler for Hronis Racing LLC, Hard Aces is slightly more than $60,000 away from becoming a $1 million earner.

Soi Phet, an 8-year-old Tizbud gelding trained and partly owned by Leonard Powell, comes in off a victory in the McCann’s Mojave Stakes at Santa Anita on June 26 and has three wins in seven career starts at Del Mar.

Win the Space, a 4-year-old Pulpit colt trained by George Papaprodromou for Kretz Racing LLC, was second in the Gold Cup following an allowance level victory in his 2016 debut. Win the Space broke his maiden here in his sixth career start in August of last year.

California Chrome continued his training routine Wednesday morning, “schooling” in the paddock and standing in the gate before his morning jog around the track.

Likely Winners

#6 California Chrome – The most popular horse in America is back today, and you can bet everyone is excited for his return!  Last time we saw California Chrome he was busy winning the world’s richest race by open lengths.  That race of course was the Dubai World Cup where he dominated a tough international field so obvious this race today isn’t one his fans should be scared about losing.  He’ll need to get in a good race here that sets him up for what we all hope is a big showdown in the Pacific Classic against defending champion Beholder.  That race will be ultra tough…but today Chrome is an easy single.

Exotic Plays

#2 Dortmund – It’s really great to see Dortmund back today as this is a very popular horse as well.  His massive size (1380 pounds) makes him a fun one to follow and watch.  However, his task is very tall today as he’s being asked to tackle the best horse in America while also coming off of a layoff.  I have no doubts that Dortmund can be a serious if he can stay healthy, but it’s going to be really tough to match up with Chrome in this spot.  Believe he can be well clear of the rest in here though which will be a good way to start back and hopefully progress toward the Breeders’ Cup.

#7 Win the Space – Certainly put it all together last time out in the Gold Cup as he gave Melatonin a run for his money in the stretch of that race, but couldn’t get past him and had to settle for second.  The effort was easily the best of his career, and I believe he could put that kind of race up again today with a similar trip which I believe he will get.  He could turn into a pretty nice handicap horse, but he’s just not as good as the top two in this race talent wise.

Party Crashers

NONE – If an upset is pulled here its not going to be one that can be predicted.  If California Chrome doesn’t run well then the obvious choice is Dortmund and he doesn’t qualify as a party crasher.  Any horse other than those two winning would completely shock me.

Throw Outs

#1 Hard Aces – It’s probably a little harsh to call him a throw out, but I just don’t think he has any chance to get it done today.  More of a grinder than anything else as he’s showed us over and over again.  Maybe he’ll get up for third, but others excite me more.

#3 Soi Phet – Pretty decent state bred runner tries much tougher today, but I don’t blame them for giving it a shot.  Believe him to be outclassed though…will need things to really fall his way to make an impact.

#4 Crittenden – Totally outclassed and does most of his running on the turf.  This entry left me scratching my head a bit…would really be shocked.

#5 Follow Me Crev – Has turned into a pretty nice allowance winner, but tried easier stakes company last time out and didn’t fair well.  It won’t get easier today.

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