There were few anxious moments on Saturday as hometown hero California Chrome made his first ever start at Los Alamitos, trouncing the field in the $180,000 Winter Challenge, his prep race for the final start of his career coming in next month’s $12 million World Cup invitational at Gulfstream Park.
Jockey Victor Espinoza kept the five-year-old out of trouble with a wide trip and he accelerated through the stretch to draw off and win by a dozen lengths, returning his backers $2.10 and creating a un heard of minus win pool of $58,000.
“I was pretty nervous before the race,” said trainer Art Sherman. “You know your horse is better than the others running in the race, but it is a horse race and anything can happen. (Jockey) Victor (Espinoza) rode him with a lot of confidence. You could see he was much the best. I told Victor keep him in the clear and don’t get him in any trouble.”
Winter Challenge Replay
The winner earned a 104 Beyer Speed Figure for his victory.
Sherman wants revenge after losing the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) to Arrogate. “I want Arrogate bad. I have something in my heart that says Chrome can beat him,” he said after the race.
California Chrome will remain at Los Al a couple of more weeks, then will ship to Gulfstream Park on Jan. 6 to begin preparation for the first running of the Pegasus, which will become the world’s richest race.
A dozen stakeholders each put up $1 million for a starting spot in the field, and there will be a $7 million payday to the winner.
The Pegasus will be California Chrome’s final race. He is slated to begin stud duty at Taylor Made Farm next spring.
Two horses that raced at Gulfstream Park from the Todd Pletcher barn may join California Chrome in the Pegasus.
Stanford took the field gate to wire to win the $100,000 Harlan’s Holiday (G3) by three lengths, earning a 103 Beyer Speed Figure.
The colt was making his first start since running eighth in the Met Mile (G1) in June. He won the Charles Town Classic (G2) in his previous outing.
The runner up in the Harlan’s Holiday was Keen Ice, who was making his first start since running a non-threatening third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Keen Ice has now lost eight in a row since upsetting American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers (G1) at Saratoga.
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