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In a memorable renewal of the Grade II $200,000 San Diego Handicap, fan favorite California Chrome outfinished a stubborn Dortmund after a prolonged duel to score a half-length victory Saturday in the mile and one-sixteenth prep for the Grade I $1 million TVG Pacific Classic on August 20.
Dortmund, piloted by Gary Stevens, went to the front shortly after the break, but was hounded by California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza, who never allowed their rival to take a breather. California Chrome, the 2014 Horse of the Year and the all-time richest horse in North American racing history with earnings of more than $12.5 million, engaged Dortmund on the far turn, took a narrow lead entering the stretch and never relented while holding Dortmund safe under intermittent urging by Espinoza.
California Chrome, the California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit owned by California Chrome LLC and trained by Art Sherman, was making his first start since winning the world’s most lucrative race, the $10 million World Cup in Dubai March 26.
California Chrome, packing highweight of 126 pounds, went postward at 4-5, while Dortmund, packing 121 pounds, was 13-10 in his first race since winning the Native Diver last November at Del Mar.
Win the Space was third, seven and one-quarter lengths behind Dortmund and nine and one-half lengths ahead of fourth-place Follow Me Crev in the field of five horses. Withdrawn from the original line-up were Hard Aces and Soi Phet.
California Chrome ran the distance in 1:40.84 and returned $3.60, $2.20 and $2.10. Dortmund paid $2.40 and $2.10, while Win the Space returned $2.10 to show. Because of heavy wagering on the winner to show, there was a minus pool of $86,339.
Victory was California Chrome’s 13th in 22 lifetime starts and first money of $120,000 increased the five-year-old’s earnings to $12,652,650
In the afternoon’s supporting feature, the $201,725 San Clemente Handicap for three-year-old fillies, Mokat and jockey Kent Desormeaux collaborated to score a decisive victory, by almost four lengths, in 1:35.23 for the mile over the infield Jimmy Durante Turf Course.
Desormeaux took advantage of an opening entering the stretch to send Mokat to the lead with a burst of speed and the daughter of Uncle Mo proved clearly best in the field of ten fillies. Longshot Lady Valeur held on well to be second, three-quarters of a length in front of Stays in Vegas, with 5-2 favorite Be Mine fourth. Sweet Queen was withdrawn.
Mokat, owned by John Manni of Henderson, Nevada and trained by Richard Baltas, went to the gate at 7-1 and returned $16.40, $7.20 and $4.80. Lady Valeur paid $9.60 and $5.60, while Stays In Vegas returned $3.80
The victory was Mokat’s second in nine starts and first money of $120,000 increased her earnings to $285,040.
There were no perfect tickets in Saturday’s Pick Six so Sunday’s program will have a carryover of $157,938. Post time for the first race is 2 p.m.
Attendance Saturday was 21,336.
VICTOR ESPINOZA (California Chrome, winner) – “I saved something for the end. I knew I’d have to. I have a lot of respect for Dortmund and he made me run hard. I could see he (Dortmund) was running so hard. When we came down the stretch, I was concerned. This horse was carrying a lot of weight; that was the challenge. But he was a runner all the way today. What a terrific comeback race for him. He’s back. He’s such a special horse. This was exciting; an exciting race. He showed everyone today just how special he is. Now maybe he and Dortmund and Beholder (in the $1-million TVG Pacific Classic on August 20). That will really be exciting.”
GARY STEVENS (Dortmund, second) – “He was a little funky with me in the gate and we didn’t get away the best. But he got rolling and we were doing good. We had the slow fractions I was hoping for and he was going along fine. Then from about the 3/8th (pole) or the 5/16th (pole), it was on. I thought maybe we were going to run out of gas, but he kept digging. He ran that last quarter mile on heart. I looked over and saw Victor was scrubbing (on California Chrome) and I thought maybe I had a chance. My horse gave it a great try. A terrific comeback race from him. He’s some horse.”
MIKE SMITH (Win the Space, third) – “What a fun race to ride in. Really cool. My horse ran good. When I could see we had third (place) locked up, I just started watching those two up front. I wanted to see who would win it. Heckuva race.”
ART SHERMAN (California Chrome, winner) –“They both ran terrific. I tell you, Dortmund made him work for it. It’s going to be an interesting few races coming up. I told Victor the track has been playing to speed all day long and you can’t let a horse like Dortmund get away. So press him as much as you can He (Dortmund) is a really game horse. I think both horses needed a race and you’ll see two stronger horses coming back in the Pacific Classic. (Chrome) is that kind of horse, he loves to grind it out and he shows a lot of determination. What can I say — he’s just Chrome, a wonderful horse to be around. (Were you worried?) “I’m always worried. I’ve never seen one race where I wasn’t worried.”
JIM BARNES (Assistant trainer, Dortmund, second) – “Excellent race for him. Very good comeback race. We’re glad. He ran hard and gave that other horse all he wanted.”
FRACTIONS: :23.47 :47.02 1:10.51 1:34.49 1:40.84
The stakes win was the first of the meet for rider Espinoza, but his fifth in the San Diego. He now has 87 stakes wins at Del Mar, eighth best all time.
The stakes win was the first of the meet for trainer Sherman and his first in the San Diego. He now has 11 stakes wins at Del Mar.
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