No day at beach: California Chrome faces Classic challenge

In his bid for another Horse of the Year title, California Chrome faces eight rivals in Saturday’s $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

Among the eight are champion mare Beholder and top handicap horses Dortmund and Hoppertunity.

“Those are tough horses,” said Art Sherman, California Chrome’s trainer. “But I think what everybody wants to see is Chrome and Beholder, the battle of the sexes.”

California Chrome, co-owned and bred by Yuba City’s Perry and Denise Martin, is undefeated in four races in 2016.

“I think he’s coming into the race as good as I’ve ever seen him,” Sherman said, “and I think he’s even better than he was in the Dubai (World Cup), which was awesome.”

Jockey Victor Espinoza will be back aboard Chrome, the 2014 Horse of the Year and North America’s all-time richest horse with a $12.65 million bankroll.

Chrome will break from the rail, which may force Espinoza to press the pace in the 1 1/4 -mile stakes.

“The No. 1 post is never good at any track but being a former jockey, I know that if (Espinoza) rides the right race, the No. 1 post isn’t going to be a problem.,” Sherman said. “It’s going to be a jockey’s race.”

Beholder, the defending champion in the Pacific Classic, has won 17 of 23 starts and more than $4.79 million. The 6-year-old mare won eight consecutive stakes before losing July 30 at Del Mar.

“This is a world-class race with one of the all-time great fields of horses,” said Richard Mandella, Beholder’s trainer.

“It’s like the heavyweight championship of the world,” added Gary Stevens, Beholder’s jockey.

Winner of 8 of 11 lifetime starts, Dortmund lost to California Chrome in the San Diego Handicap on July 23. His only other losses were to stablemate American Pharaoh in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, both in 2015.

Dortmund, trained by Bob Baffert, will be joined in the Classic by stablemate Hoppertunity, who finished third behind Chrome in the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March.

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Pacific Classic

  • Purse: $1 million
  • Where: Del Mar Race Course
  • When: Saturday, 6:15 p.m.
  • TV: TVG Network
  • Watch and wager: Cal Expo