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Zipse At The Track

California Chrome edges Dortmund in the San Diego Handicap

California Chrome_San Diego Handicap_615 X 400
Photo: Melanie Martines

There are times when races expected to be big ones end in disappointment. This was not one of those occasions. In what was billed as a showdown between two of the best horses in the United States, the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap more than lived up to its billing. In the end, it was the richest racehorse in North American history, California Chrome getting the best of his talented new rival, Dortmund.


Sent off as the 4-5 favorite in a field shortened to five starters by a pair of scratches, Victor Espinoza broke on top with California Chrome. He soon let Dortmund, just to his inside, take the early lead as the San Diego five raced to the first turn at Del Mar. With the three other starters falling behind the two stars, the stage was quickly set for a battle that fans across the country will not soon forget.


Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens tried to get his big horse to relax on the lead, but the 2014 Horse of the Year was not about to let the 6-5 second choice get away with an easy advantage. Through sensible fractions of :23.47 and :47.02, Dortmund, who was getting five pounds from the champion, continued to lead down the backstretch, with the menacing presence of California Chrome parked just to his flank. The 2016 San Diego Handicap had turned into a virtual match race, much to the delight of a capacity crowd at Del Mar.


This is what they had all hoped to see when they walked through the turnstiles, and now the showdown was on. When the real running began, it was the fan favorite California Chrome, trained by Art Sherman, who was moving the better of the two. Pouncing like he loves to do, California Chrome edged in front of Dortmund as the field of five came spinning out of the far turn. Of the rest, only Win the Space was within shouting distance. The Gold Cup runner-up actually ran another strong race, but make no mistake, this was all about California Chrome and Dortmund.


With California Chrome a full neck in front, and seemingly running best of the two, the race appeared to be a done deal at the eighth pole, but Dortmund, as he has shown before, has a heart as big as his 1,400-pound frame. He came right back at the champion, and the two chestnuts battled it out to the wire. Despite his gutsy, refuse to lose performance, the Bob Baffert trained Dortmund could never quite get back to even terms with California Chrome. In the last few strides it was clear that Chrome was just a little bit better than his younger challenger on this day, and hit the wire a tough half-length in front. 

They both ran terrific’” said a jubilant Art Sherman. “I tell you, Dortmund made him work for it. It’s going to be an interesting few races coming up. I told Victor the track has been playing to speed all day long and you can’t let a horse like Dortmund get away. So press him as much as you can   He (Dortmund) is a really game horse. I think both horses needed a race and you’ll see two stronger horses coming back in the Pacific Classic.


Final time for the 8 ½ furlongs over the fast main track at Del Mar was racehorse time of 1:40.84. Win the Space was well back in third, but far ahead of the rest, with Follow Me Crev outrunning Crittenden for fourth position.


With the victory, California Chrome raised his impressive lifetime record to 22-13-3-1. Owned by Perry Martin and Taylor Made Farm, he also pushed his record breaking earnings total ever closer to a staggering $13 million. Not bad for a homebred with only modest breeding.


The San Diego Handicap serves as the main prep for the signature race at Del Mar, the $1,000,000 TVG Pacific Classic, to be run on August 20. The last horse to parlay San Diego Handicap victory into Pacific Classic success was Skimming, who actually turned the trick in back-to-back years back in 2000 and 2001.


Considering what we saw today from California Chrome and Dortmund, who were both coming in off layoffs, you would have to think both will be ready to fire another big shot in the meet’s big one, but keep in mind, there is a certain defending champion named Beholder out there, and she does not want to give up her Pacific Classic crown without a fight. It should be fantastic!


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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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