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Horse racing: California Chrome prepares for Saturday’s $300,000 Hollywood Derby

With Horse of the Year honors still up for grabs, California Chrome will try to cap his 2014 campaign with an unusual encore – his debut on turf in an international showdown.

On Saturday at Del Mar in the $300,000 Hollywood Derby, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner is expected to face Queen’s Plate heroine Lexie Lou, the 3-year-old filly who won Canada’s most famous race.

Like several other stakes, the Hollywood Derby relocated to Del Mar this fall after Hollywood Park’s 2013 closure. It will be the seventh time that a Kentucky Derby winner has competed at the 75-year-old seaside track.

In preparation for his first grass race, California Chrome worked a half-mile in a leisurely 52 seconds Sunday morning on Del Mar’s turf course. With regular rider Victor Espinoza aboard, the chestnut colt seemed more curious than focused, looking around and pricking his ears.

“I was satisfied with the work,” trainer Art Sherman said. “Victor said he didn’t know if (California Chrome) was going to work or gallop. He felt smooth underneath him. That was my main concern.”

Co-owner Perry Martin of Yuba City has wanted to try California Chrome on turf, and the timing of this grass test could pay dividends. In the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 1, California Chrome finished a close third to Bayern, Chrome’s primary rival for Horse of the Year. A victory in a major turf stakes after the Classic could tip the vote back to Chrome, Sherman said.

“God, I hope so,” Sherman said. “I know it’s going to be close. ... I’m a little biased about it, but I think he deserves it.”

Debbie Arrington