Upon hearing about the number of nominations already in for the Winter Challenge, a week ahead of the race, trainer Art Sherman made a joke that Mishegas, a horse he intended on running in the 1 1/16-mile contest to help fill it, might get squeezed out of the field.
The bit of humor turned out to be prescient. The race that was specifically written for California Chrome to use as a prep for the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup (gr. I) drew 10 entries and two also eligibles. Mishegas wasn't one of them.
Los Alamitos Race Course's outside-the-box tactic of offering at least $10,000 to any horse that finishes the Winter Challenge accomplished its goal—to draw competition for California Chrome. The race's purse, first scheduled for $100,000, will be increased to $180,000 if 10 horses leave the gate Dec. 17.
California Chrome will be the overwhelming favorite in what will be his only race at the track where he has done the majority of his training. He drew the outside post 10, with regular jockey Victor Espinoza scheduled to ride.
Sherman isn't concerned with the outside draw, even considering the tight first turn at Los Alamitos, because he'd rather keep the son of Lucky Pulpit away from potential trouble inside.
"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," Sherman said.
From the remaining entries, there is only one other graded stakes winner—Point Piper. Owned by a partnership that includes Gatto Racing trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, the 6-year-old son of Giant's Causeway won the Aug. 14 Longacres Mile Handicap (gr. III) at Emerald Downs and followed that effort up with a fourth-place run in the Kelso Handicap (gr. I), a sixth-place finish in the Las Vegas Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I), and a runner-up in the Native Diver Stakes (gr. III).
Papacoolpapacool, a multiple stakes winner on grass in the early part of 2015, has not won in his last 10 starts. The 4-year-old Temple City gelding trained by Phil D'Amato took the Pasadena and La Puente stakes back-to-back in the spring of 2015 and only has one dirt start on his record, a fifth-place finish in the Sham (gr. III) in January of 2015.
Avanti Bello, a 4-year-old Include colt trained by Doug O'Neill, earned his stakes-winning credential in the May 28 Tiznow for California-breds at Santa Anita Park. He recently broke a five-race winless streak with an allowance score at Santa Anita Oct. 30.
Six others in the field top out at allowance wins and a lone entrant, Wrightwood, features only a maiden victory.
That aspect eased a concern of Sherman's—that the race might feature horses that don't belong in a stakes, but still leaves the concerns associated with running any horse in any race.
"I'm a little concerned any time you run a horse in a race," Sherman said. "You have mixed emotions—you want to get all you can out of a race and you want a good race, but you also want a safe race. I'm just glad Orange County gets a chance to watch him run."
Another eased concern is the weather. Earlier in California Chrome's training for the Winter Challenge, Sherman said a sloppy or sealed track would likely lead the trainer to scratch the seven-time group/grade I winner. Rain is in the Southern California forecast for Dec. 15-16, but is expected to clear up with plenty of time for Los Alamitos to ready the track for Saturday.
LOS ALAMITOS RACE COURSE, Saturday, December 17, 2016, Race 9
- 1 1/16m
- 3 yo's & up
- 4:28 PM (local)
|1||1Howdy (CA)||Chantal Sutherland||118||Peter Eurton||30/1|
|2||2Wrightwood (KY)||Jose L. Verenzuela||118||Brian J. Koriner||50/1|
|3||3Presidentsky (CA)||Brayan Pena||120||John Brocklebank||50/1|
|4||4Point Piper (KY)||Mario Gutierrez||124||Jerry Hollendorfer||6/1|
|5||5Ain't Misbehavin (CA)||Kent J. Desormeaux||118||Vladimir Cerin||20/1|
|6||6Lucky J Lane (CA)||Jamie Theriot||120||Brian J. Koriner||30/1|
|7||7Avanti Bello (CA)||Drayden Van Dyke||124||Doug F. O'Neill||10/1|
|8||8Unusual Meeting (CA)||Tiago Josue Pereira||118||Gary Stute||30/1|
|9||9Papacoolpapacool (KY)||Tyler Baze||120||Philip D'Amato||20/1|
|10||10California Chrome (CA)||Victor Espinoza||126||Art Sherman||1/5|
|11||11Air Pocket (KY)||Norberto Arroyo, Jr.||118||Rafael DeLeon||30/1|
|12||12Ground Rules (KY)||Norberto Arroyo, Jr.||118||Clifford W. Sise, Jr.||20/1|