California Chrome and Victor Espinoza dominate the Pacific Classic

California Chrome and Victor Espinoza dominate the Pacific Classic

Benoit Photo

California Chrome Superior in Pacific Classic

Chestnut runner won by five lengths geared down ahead of Beholder and Dortmund.

The margin was insignificant, because the field never had a chance against California Chrome  Aug. 20 in the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I) at Del Mar

Video: $1 Million TVG Pacific Classic S. (G1)

In one of the most anticipated matchups outside of Breeders' Cup in recent memory, the 2014 Horse of the Year broke like a champ, took command immediately from his rail post under jockey Victor Espinoza, and was never threatened in his five-length, geared-down victory.

Three-time champion Beholder, who tracked California Chrome for every step of the 1 1/4 miles, finished a clear second, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of grade I winner Dortmund.

The Art Sherman-trained son of Lucky Pulpit  clicked off fractions of :23.20, :47.29, and 1:11.22 through six furlongs, employing an easy stride. The mile went in 1:35.69 and he hit the wire in 2:00.13.

"I saw the hold he had on him," Sherman said. "He was just cruising. It’s all over. Turning for home, (Beholder) was already under a drive trying to catch him. … That was the race. How can you say any more about him? That’s why he’s the best horse in the country.”

Espinoza appeared surprised in the final turn, after turning in relatively swift fractions, and looked around multiple times as if he expected a challenge to come, but no horse could get within striking distance.

"I wanted to see where everyone was, to see how far they were behind me," Espinoza said. "The pace was pretty decent. ... It's not like he was galloping on the front. I felt like he was running, but it was hard to see the other ones behind me."

For Beholder's connections, they felt the Henny Hughes mare ran well, but were more than impressed by California Chrome.

"She ran really good; just second best," said trainer Richard Mandella. "I went over and told Art he did a fabulous job with his horse. He's always been a great horseman, I'm just sorry it was at my expense."

"It was a gutty performance by her," said jockey Gary Stevens. "But Victor was playing with us. I don't think he really let him run. That's scary to think about."

Off as the even-money favorite in the field of nine, California Chrome delivered $4.20, $2.60, and $2.20 across the board. Beholder brought $3.20 and $2.60, and Dortmund delivered $2.40 to show.

Hoppertunity finished fourth, 8 1/2 lengths clear of Dalmore. Imperative, War Story, and Hard Aces completed the order of finish. Win the Space was pulled up in the stretch and did not finish.

It was California Chrome's fifth straight victory—all coming in 2016. He opened the season with a score in the San Pasqual (gr. II), won an allowance at Meydan in Dubai, impressively took the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), and last time out outlasted Dortmund in the San Diego Handicap (gr. II).

Now with $13,252,650 banked from 14 victories in 23 starts, talk from California Chrome's connections after the race turned to what the Pacific Classic victory meant to the chestnut's legacy.

"He's just Chrome," Sherman said. "I just can't believe that I'm lucky enough to have him. ... I'm almost sure he'll be in the Hall of Fame, with all the records and everything. It will be great to say, 'Hey, I trained a horse in the Hall of Fame.' It's a great privilege."

"When they ask about Chrome's legacy, I'm just hoping everybody can put everything in perspective," majority owner Perry Martin said, referencing runs the horse has made in which he lost ground. "If we were running him differently, he would own several records and people would think of him a little differently."