ARCADIA, Calif. — Breaking from the rail sure isn’t a problem for California Chrome.
Drawing the No. 1 post for the second straight race, Chrome led all the way in cruising to a 2 1/4-length victory in the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita, improving to 6-0 this year as the front-runner for Horse of the Year honors.
Three-time defending champion Beholder lost to Stellar Wind in the $300,000 Zenyatta Stakes, extending the longest skid of her career to three races. She also lost to Stellar Wind in the Clement L. Hirsch and to Chrome in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar this summer.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Chrome ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.07 and paid $2.80, $2.10 and $2.10 as the 2-5 favorite in one of five Grade 1 stakes on the card with Breeders’ Cup implications in front of 18,563.
“He’s a challenging horse to run against because he’s versatile on top of his talent,” Espinoza said. “He can run on the front end and can come from behind. If someone wants to try and run with us again, maybe I’ll take back the next time. That’s the best part, he doesn’t have to be up there on the lead.”
Espinoza was aboard Stellar Wind in the Zenyatta, winning by a neck to earn his third victory of the day. The 4-year-old filly claimed an automatic berth in the BC Distaff.
Chrome earned an all-fees paid berth in the $6 million BC Classic next month on the same track. The victory also kept alive the 5-year-old’s bid to earn a $1 million bonus for sweeping the Pacific Classic, Awesome Again and BC Classic.
Chrome won the Pacific Classic by five lengths from the inside post last month.
Two down, one to go.
“Each race seems a little bit better, it’s a little scary,” said Art Sherman, Chrome’s 79-year-old trainer. “I never had the ability to buy the most expensive horses. This is just like a gift from, I don’t know where.”
Dortmund returned $2.20 and $2.10, while Win the Space was another 4 1/2 lengths back in third and paid $2.80 to show.
It was nearly a match race between Chrome and Dortmund, who dueled at the front while the other three runners lagged behind. Chrome pulled away from Dortmund approaching the final turn. Espinoza didn’t use his whip in the stretch and eased Chrome nearing the finish line.
Hard Aces was fourth and Soi Phet last.
Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner, ran the opening quarter-mile in a speedy 22.76 seconds.
“I ran the first part fast yes, but then eased up on him,” Espinoza said. “I didn’t want to overuse him. We’ve got a big race coming up. It seemed like he was doing everything very easily. Hopefully he’ll run big in the Breeders’ Cup.”
As Chrome and Espinoza made their way past the grandstand, the jockey waved to cheering “Chromies,” the horse’s fans.
Wearing blinkers for the first time since his career debut, Dortmund lost for the first time in six starts at Santa Anita under trainer Bob Baffert.
The victory, worth $180,000, increased Chrome’s career earnings to $13,432,500 as North America’s career earnings leader.
In the Zenyatta, Stellar Wind ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:35.06 and paid $6 to win. Beholder was the 2-5 favorite in the field of five. Argentina-bred Vale Dori finished 11 3/4 lengths back in third.
Beholder went to the lead, which wasn’t the plan in the five-horse field.
“Nothing really went wrong except I was on the lead and a sitting duck once again,” her jockey Gary Stevens said. “I flat got out-run. Unfortunately, three losses in a row and it’s tough for a champion. Hopefully, we can bounce back and get some pace in the Breeders’ Cup.”
In other stakes:
— Espinoza rode Gormley to a three-length upset in the $300,000 FrontRunner Stakes, giving the 2-year-old colt a berth in the BC Juvenile.
Gormley ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.57 and paid $23.60, $9 and $3 at 11-1 odds. He’s owned by Jerry and Ann Moss and trained by John Shirreffs, the same group that campaigned superstar mare Zenyatta.
“I like that when he got into that big gear he has, he didn’t get too excited for a young horse and today he was all business,” Shirreffs said.
Gormley also won his career debut by 4 1/2 lengths at Del Mar on Sept. 4.
Klimt, the 1-5 favorite trained by Baffert, finished second. Straight Fire was third.
Secret House, a 60-1 shot, was rambunctious in the starting gate and jockey Santiago Gonzalez stepped off before the gate opened. That triggered an inquiry by the stewards, who ruled Secret House was a non-starter and the track refunded all money wagered on him. Gonzalez did something similar in a race last week at Los Alamitos.
Gonzalez was ordered to appear before the stewards on Sunday to discuss his actions.
— Avenge won the $300,000 Rodeo Drive Stakes by three-quarters of a length to earn a berth in the BC Filly & Mare Turf.
Ridden by Flavien Prat, Avenge ran 1 1/4 miles in 1:58.52 on turf and paid $12.40 to win.
Zipessa, the 2-1 favorite, was second and Britain-bred Frenzified took third.
— Noted and Quoted won the $300,000 Chandelier Stakes by a half-length to claim a berth in the BC Juvenile Fillies.
Ridden by Rafael Bejarano and trained by Baffert, the 2-year-old gray filly ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.88 and paid $16.80 to win.
With Honors finished second and 5-2 favorite Zapperkat was third.
American Cleopatra, a full sister to 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, finished eighth.