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Breeders’ Cup becomes showcase for two old friends

California Chrome, shown winning the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 20, 2016, is expected to win the $6 million Classic at the Breeders’ Cup on Saturday.
California Chrome, shown winning the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 20, 2016, is expected to win the $6 million Classic at the Breeders’ Cup on Saturday. The Associated Press

What are the odds? Amid the best horses in the world gathered at Santa Anita Park, the two biggest stars for Breeders’ Cup weekend both have Northern California roots.

California Chrome, America’s richest racehorse, is the projected even-money favorite to add Saturday’s $6 million Classic to his record bankroll. With more than $13.4 million in earnings, the California-bred dynamo is co-owned by Yuba City’s Perry and Denise Martin.

Songbird, who trained much of the year at Golden Gate Fields, will try to keep her undefeated record intact in Friday’s $2 million Distaff, the highlight of Day One of the two-day Breeders’ Cup. Now 11 for 11, Songbird won the 2015 Juvenile Fillies and will be among 10 returning or former champions competing in Breeders’ Cup XXXIII.

Longtime friends Art Sherman and Jerry Hollendorfer, who met on the Bay Meadows backstretch four decades ago, train California Chrome and Songbird, respectively. The two NorCal trainers both like each other’s chances in the world thoroughbred championships. After all, their two top horses are undefeated this year.

“I love Jerry’s filly,” said Sherman, 79. “She’s really special.”

As for his own horse, Sherman has total confidence. “There aren’t too many horses out there that have done what he has and keep on running at his age,” he said. “(He’s) one of the all-time great horses in this era.”

Hollendorfer, 70, is equally impressed by California Chrome.

“I’ve been looking at every race that he’s ever run and I’ve watched him work a lot of times, too,” Hollendorfer said. “I’ve really never seen the horse better than he is right now.”

Sherman has done a “pretty terrific” job with Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Hollendorfer said. At age 5, Chrome is 6 for 6 in 2016.

Having the right horses make their jobs easier, Hollendorfer said. “Art would tell you – and I would tell you, too, about Songbird – that’s plenty of horse to work with and that’s quite important in these endeavors.”

Songbird, who will face older horses for the first time, gets the toughest test of her career. In the Distaff, the 3-year-old filly faces two former champions, Stellar Wind and two-time Cup winner Beholder.

“As a trainer, you get lucky to have a filly like this, so you’ve just got to take it in stride and enjoy it while you can,” Hollendorfer said.

Songbird has one big advantage: Jockey Mike Smith. He’s ridden 22 Cup winners, more than any jockey in Cup history.

“He’s known as a big-time-money rider and he gets the job done,” Hollendorfer said of why he uses the Hall of Fame jockey.

Smith is best known for piloting another star filly, Zenyatta. He rode that champion in 17 of her 19 victories including the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“I’ve been very blessed to have ridden so many great horses during my career,” Smith said. “No question, Songbird is such a special filly. So was Zenyatta. It’s always difficult – and sometimes unfair – to make comparisons between them. But, I can say that for a horse at her age, Songbird has the fastest cruising speed of any of them.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Breeders’ Cup world thoroughbred championships

When: Today and Saturday

Where: Santa Anita Park, Arcadia

TV: Today at 2 p.m., NBCSN (Distaff post time 4:35 p.m.); Saturday at 11:30 a.m., NBCSN; Saturday at 5 p.m., Ch. 3 (Classic post time 5:35 p.m.)

Watch and wager: Cal Expo will host simulcast wagering and offer Breeders’ Cup giveaways.