Upset Alert! 2016 San Diego Handicap Preview and Analysis

July 22nd 2016 – Updated July 23rd 2016 1 PM CST

When trainer Art Sherman pointed California Chrome for the San Diego Handicap a few months ago, he probably never envisioned the competition he would face for a prep race with a $200,000 purse. Not that $200,000 isn’t a nice chunk of change, but I don’t think California Chrome has raced for a smaller purse since early in his 3 year-old campaign in 2014. But this race isn’t about the dough, it’s about beating the best. The disheartening thing is, I feel rather strongly that the #1 ranked horse in the world on dirt will be upset in the San Diego Handicap this evening.

And before I delve into why, I want to use a slightly worn Obamaism and say LET ME BE CLEAR–California Chrome is the best horse in the world in active training on any surface. Longines came out with their most recent World’s Best Racehorse Rankings a few weeks back which you can see by clicking HERE.

Surprisingly in these rankings, a Japanese turf horse named “A Shin Hikari” (Gesundheit!) still ranked above California Chrome–the Dubai World Cup winner–after throwing a clunker 6th place finish in his last race in June at Ascot in the Prince of Wales Stakes. When I saw this, it was a true WTF moment as in What The Frankel? You’ve gotta be kidding me, were the voters heavy into their summer vacation and distracted when they cast their vote?

The San Diego Handicap will also feature the three Hall of Fame jockeys–Victor Espinoza, Mike Smith, Gary Stevens–and a future Hall of Famer in Martin Garcia on mounts in the same race. Specifically, Victor on Chrome,  Gary on Dortmund, Mike on Win the Space and Martin on Crittenden.

But as Clint Eastwood said in a scene from A Fistful of Dollars “Get three coffins ready.” <insert Vibraslap sound here> One is coming out on top in this shootout at the Turf by the Surf. And I don’t think it will be California Chrome.

So who are the real contenders? First, this race is 8 1/2 furlongs (1 1/16th mile). Here are the three best times at this distance for horses in this field: California Chrome-1:40.59 (March 2014 in the San Felipe Stakes), Dortmund-1:40.86 (December 2014 in the Los Alamitos Futurity) and Win the Space-1:41.55 (May 2016 at Santa Anita).

Hard Aces and Soi Phet were scratched in favor of racing in Del Mar races on Sunday.

So here is my projected order of finish: 1) Dortmund (by a nose), 2) California Chrome, 3) Win the Space, 4) Follow Me Crev and 5) Crittenden.

Why do I think Dortmund will emerge victorious?

  1. Dortmund has never lost a race that was 1 1/8th mile or less. He’s 8 for 8.
  2. Dortmund drew the more favorable starting spot on the inside with post #2. Hard Aces (who drew the rail) was scratched in favor of running in the Cougar II. Now Dortmund will have plenty of room to work with along the rail and have to travel the least distance for the win. Not that it will be a huge advantage in a five horse field but every little bit helps.
  3. Dortmund will be carrying 5 pounds less than the California Chrome in this handicapped field. In theory, this is good for at least a one length advantage on Chrome. I am not a huge believer in the weight theory, but when you are trying to beat the World’s best, once again, every little bit helps.
  4. California Chrome is coming off a 4 month layoff vs Dortmund’s nearly 8 month layoff. Not much of a difference in the grand scheme.
  5. Dortmund was originally supposed to come back in late spring after suffering a slight quarter crack that kept him out of the Clark Handicap last December. However, trainer Bob Baffert said Dortmund wasn’t training well and so gave him more rest and pushed back his return date. Baffert is a great trainer and he knows what is a stake with this outstanding progeny of Big Brown. So if Baffert has entered Dortmund in the San Diego Handicap, be assured–he’s ready.
  6. Dortmund is a fighter, go back and review his battles with Firing Line in the Los Alamitos Futurity and Robert B. Lewis Stakes. And remember that Dortmund set a track record at Los Alamitos at this same 1 1/16th mile distance as a 2 year-old in the Los Al (see video below). He is now a well rested 4 year old with low miles. Do I have to remind you what Frosted did at the Met Mile last month? Dortmund finished ahead of Frosted in the 2015 Kentucky Derby.

This is Dortmund’s distance and time to shine. Too bad this race won’t be viewed by a larger audience on NBC than on TVG. It will be an absolute shootout and must-see TV.

Below are the post-positions and morning line odds. Note that the morning line odds were changed due to the two scratches. California Chrome went from 4-5 to 3-5, Dortmund went from 2-1 to 7-5 and Win the Space went from 8-1 to 6-1.


San Diego Handicap – 1 1/16th Mile – Race #9 at Del Mar – Post-Time: Saturday July 23rd 8:03 PM CST

Post Position/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Hard Aces (118) – Gonzalez/Sadler – 8-1  SCRATCHED
2. Dortmund (121) – Stevens/Baffert – 7-5
3. Soi Phet (115) – Desormeaux/Powell – 12-1    SCRATCHED
4. Crittenden (114) – Garcia/Harty – 20-1
5. Follow Me Crev (116) – Quinonez/Cerin – 20-1
6. California Chrome (126) – Espinoza/Sherman – 3-5
7. Win the Space (116) – Smith/Papaprodromou – 6-1

–Michael

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