Hometown Pegasus prep for California Chrome
Sunday 12.28am GMT
Los Alamitos: Winter Challenge | 1m½f | dirt | 3yo+
A $10,000 carrot in appearance money for his rivals means California Chrome (Art Sherman/Victor Espinoza) faces a maximum field – albeit of overmatched opponents – as he has his prep for next month's Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.
Formerly a purely quarterhorse venue, Los Alamitos is California Chrome's home track, and they have carded the Winter Challenge specifically to act as a prep race for America’s favourite horse before he contests the inaugural running of the $12 million Pegasus on January 28.
But although prize-money totals just $100,000 – with $50,000 for the winner's connections – any horse who finishes the race will receive $10,000, resulting in 11 horses being entered to take on California Chrome. Only ten horses can run – and the overwhelming favourite, narrowly beaten last month in an epic Breeders’ Cup clash with likely Pegasus rival Arrogate, has drawn the outside berth.
"I got to thinking about it and it's probably not that bad, because if somebody wants to go crazy inside and go for the lead, I'd rather be outside, safe and in the clear, instead of inside and checking," said trainer Art Sherman.
The only other Graded-stakes winner in the field is Longacres Mile victor Point Piper (Jerry Hollendorfer/Mario Gutierrez).
Gulfstream Park: Harlan’s Holiday Stakes (Grade 3) 1m½f | dirt | 3yo+ (Saturday, 8.01pm GMT)
This $100,000 event used to be a recognised prep race for the Donn Handicap, which has now been replaced by the Pegasus World Cup.
As such, it could well produce a runner for the world’s richest race, with Stanford (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez) the most likely contender given that his part-owners Coolmore have already paid the $1m fee to get a spot for one of their horses.
Highland Reel has been mentioned but that seems an extremely unlikely prospect.
Four-year-old Stanford, who won the $1.25m Charles Town Classic in April, is drawn on the inner in a seven-runner field also featuring Pletcher-trained stablemates Madefromlucky (Luis Saez) and Breeders’ Cup Classic third Keen Ice (Javier Castellano), who gained fame – or infamy – when he shocked American Pharoah in last year’s Travers Stakes.
"Somebody is going to have to fill those slots in the Pegasus, and I’m trying to put these horses in position for their owners to have some options by running this week," Pletcher said.