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Post Time: ‘Chrome’ faces stiff competition in Breeders’ Cup

California Chrome in the morning at Santa Anita

California Chrome in the morning at Santa Anita/Gene Kershner

The elite of the thoroughbred racing world will meet in the Breeders’ Cup Classic next Saturday night in a race that is sure to provide a thrilling ending to a solid season of racing. Winners of the Dubai World Cup, the Kentucky Derby, the Arc de Triomphe and the Travers all are scheduled to face off to lay claim to their share of the $6 million purse.

This star-studded cast of competitors is led by California Chrome, the winner of six straight races in 2016, including the $10 million Dubai World Cup. His last loss came in last year’s World Cup, a second-place finish in a season shortened by injury.

Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman wants the 2014 Derby-Preakness winner to finish his career with this race under his belt.

“He’s done about everything a horse could do, you know,” Sherman told the national racing media on Wednesday. “Should he win the Breeders’ Cup, it would be really a feather in his hat. It looks like a great resume for a stud going up for his first year as a sire, yes.”

The 5-year-old son of Lucky Pulpit finished third behind Bayern in the 2014 Classic, a race marred by a controversial start that damaged both Chrome’s and the late Shared Belief’s chances of winning. He remained the top-ranked horse in the weekly NTRA Top Thoroughbred poll this week, with career earnings exceeding $13 million. He will face some serious competition in North America’s richest horse race, both from here and abroad.

Bob Baffert, winner of the last two Classics and seeking a record third straight win, will send out Travers winner Arrogate in an attempt to derail California Chrome. Arrogate blazed to a track record at Saratoga in the Travers, the first graded stake race of his career.

Baffert is pinching himself that he’s in a position to set a record that may never be broken should he win his third consecutive Classic.

“I can’t believe I’m blessed to be going for a third trip, and after what we went through last year with American Pharoah,” said Baffert. “It’s going to be a long time between drinks before I get a horse of that caliber, and then Arrogate comes along.”

Sherman, when asked about Arrogate, is ready to take on all comers and made a Halloween joke out of the question.

“I heard from Santa Anita this morning that they call him the Chrome Buster over there at Santa Anita, so I’m waiting to see, because the Chrome Buster sounds pretty good,” said Sherman. “I know he’s a nice 3-year-old, but he’s never run against Chrome, either. He has to outrun me before he makes me a believer, I can tell you that.”

Adding to the Classic intrigue will be the arrival of Found, an Irish-bred filly who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf. Last year, at Keeneland, the filly bested last year’s Arc winner and heavy favorite Golden Horn in the Turf. This year she went on to actually win the Arc at Chantilly for trainer Aidan O’Brien. A daughter of Galileo, she’s bred to get the mile-and-a-quarter distance, but has never raced on dirt.

Credit the European connections for taking a shot at Chrome and the big purse.

Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist will also look to bounce back after three consecutivelosses after winning the roses. Trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez will try to pull off the elusive Derby-Classic double in the same year. Nyquist will look to join American Pharoah (2015), Unbridled (1990) and Sunday Silence (1989) as the only three to pull off that double in the 32-year history of the Classic.

Frosted, winner of both the Met Mile and Whitney, will represent the New York racing circuit and try and improve on last year’s disappointing seventh-place finish at Keeneland. Joel Rosario, who has 12 Breeders’ Cup mounts, will ride for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

The other horse to watch due to all of the speed in the race will be 2015 Queen’s Plate winner Shaman Ghost. The Woodward and Brooklyn winner could relish a hot pace with his late closing style and could steal the Classic at a big price.

The two day racing festival features 13 championship races at Santa Anita Park in the 33rd Breeders’ Cup. This year’s Breeders’ Cup races attracted 185 pre-entries, including 38 horses from overseas, seeking purses and awards totaling $28 million.

The two-day event in Arcadia, Calif. commences on Friday afternoon with four championship races followed up by nine Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday, culminating with the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic which will be televised in prime time on NBC (8:35 p.m. ET post time). All of Friday and Saturday’s races, other than the Classic will be televised on the NBC Sports Network.

This year’s Championships feature 11 returning or former champions and will prove to be one of the best opportunities to make a big score due to the big fields and highly talented horse flesh.

For instance, last year’s late Pick-4 paid $750 for $0.50 and included Nyquist (Juvenile), Tepin (Mile), Found (Turf) and American Pharoah (Classic). All logical plays based on past performances.

Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff looks to be highly competitive with the undefeated Songbird facing older females for the first time including former champion Beholder, last year’s runner-up Stellar Wind and top contenders I’m a Chatterbox and Curalina.

The likely 3-year-old female champion has won all 11 of her career starts, including last year’s Juvenile Fillies. She rolled through the 3-year-old competition this year, including sweeping the two big Saratoga races this summer.

Her trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is not concerned taking on older fillies and mares next Friday.

“You know, there’s a lot of statistics that can be thrown around about 3-year-olds running against older at this time of year,” said Hollendorfer. “I think if horses are going to make the transition, then they’re already going to be making it at this time of the year. I don’t think many of the trainers are afraid to run 3-year-olds against older at this time of year.”

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association and tweets @EquiSpace.

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