California Chrome Headlines Great Card at the Great Race Place

California Chrome storms home in the Pacific Classic, remaining undefeated in 2016.

California Chrome storms home in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

As expected, a compact but extremely talented field of seven of the best older horses based in California will race the nine furlongs in Saturday’s $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes (GI), the final local “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge race for horses headed toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic in five weeks.

The hot weather in Southern California is finally easing up and the blazing heat of the previous few weeks will finally dip down into the low- to mid-80s, so it’s “fast” and “firm” all day.

The Awesome Again, formerly known as the Goodwood Stakes (GI) when the Oak Tree Racing Association ran the fall meet at Santa Anita, has had the privilege of some amazing horses reaching the winner’s circle, from the late, great Ferdinand to two-time Horse of the Year TIznow, classic winner Silver Charm, champion Bertrando, Breeders’ Cup heroes Pleasantly Perfect (twice) and Mucho Macho Man, as well as fan favorite Game on Dude.

This year the good news is that the field is compact; the bad news for six runners is that they will be facing California Chrome. There’s not much to be said about North America’s richest runner of all time ($13,252,650) that hasn’t been said and he is clearly the one to beat.

Some may take issue with the rail post position, but that was hardly a problem as he demolished the Pacific Classic (GI) last out in wire-to-wire fashion from the same spot in the gate. His steady (and sometimes speedy) four works at Los Al signal he’s probably maintained optimum fitness and will be tough in what will be his last race before the Breeders’ Cup.

Dortmund leads the way early over eventual race winner California Chrome in the 2016 San Diego Handicap.

Dortmund leads the way early over eventual race winner California Chrome in the 2016 San Diego Handicap.

Grade 1 winner Dortmund gave all he had to California Chrome in his last two starts but was no match for his chief rival in the San Diego Stakes (GI) and Pacific Classic. The handsome chestnut had the unfortunately luck to be born in the same year as a Triple Crown winner and everyone was hopeful for a better 4-year-old year. But some small nagging foot issues kept him mostly on the shelf this year and while looking well and training great, he’d need all he has to finally turn the tables on California Chrome.

Win the Space was pulled up and vanned off in the Pacific Classic in his last start, but trainer George Papaprodromou said the son of Pulpit is in good shape and the truth is he’s looked amazing out on the Santa Anita track every morning. After winning an allowance in May after a long winter break, the Kretz Racing-owned gray impressed with a second in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (GI) and then a third in the San Diego. A repeat of those two makes him a contender for a share.

Soi Phet rides a two-race non-graded stakes skein into this race and returns to more difficult company. He’s a tough, tough competitor and his best may be worth a bigger piece of the pie.

Oh Hard Aces, you’re a winner at Santa Anita and at the distance, but when challenged by good horses you don’t seem competitive anymore. Your best makes you a threat to pick up a larger share of the purse, so get to running.

Pops to the connections of El Huerfano for giving it a shot, but he’d need his best to be better than the top choices here.

The Awesome Again has been set as the day’s seventh with a post time of 3:37 p.m. PT.