Can California Chrome be ‘Awesome Again’?

Santa Anita plays host to a slew of graded stakes this Saturday; chief among them the Grade I, $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes for Breeders’ Cup Classic-minded competitors. They’ll go a mile and an eighth for the program’s seventh race; post time is 6:30 p.m. EST. This will be CALIFORNIA CHROME’s final tune-up before a presumptive start in the $6 million Classic. He’ll face six salty rivals including DORTMUND, who gave him a scare in July’s San Diego Handicap. Keep in mind that Santa Anita’s card will also offer plenty of points for FanXT’s Daily Fantasy Jockey game!

#1 CALIFORNIA CHROME (2-5, morning-line favorite) and jockey Victor Espinoza are a perfect five-for-five this year, including an easy win in Santa Anita’s San Pasqual Stakes in January. ‘CHROME was last seen winning the Grade I Pacific Classic, which was supposed to be his toughest test of the year, with relative ease over Beholder (who opted for the Grade I Zenyatta later on in the card) and DORTMUND on Aug. 20. There were doubts as to whether or not ‘CHROME would be comfortable breaking from the rail in the Pacific Classic, but he had no problems.

What might be different about CALIFORNIA CHROME’s rail draw in the Awesome Again is that Bob Baffert’s #2 DORTMUND (odds) will break right next to him. DORTMUND will wear blinkers for the first time since his juvenile campaign, so he should show improved speed. Rafael Bejarano may attempt to keep CALIFORNIA CHROME locked in at the rail, which he’s never really acclimated to. If that strategy works, an uncomfortable ‘CHROME could be beaten by the top-notch DORTMUND. It’s worth noting DORTMUND is a perfect two-for-two at the nine-furlong distance, and has never lost in five tries at Santa Anita.

#7 HARD ACES (15-1) should secure a minor award. He had the saddle slip and never really got comfortable in the Pacific Classic last time out, so draw a line through that effort. He showed improved speed in the San Diego, where he checked in third, and the Santa Anita Gold Cup, where he ran second under Gary Stevens (who has the mount once more), in his prior two starts. ‘ACES has a good chance to atone for his Pacific Classic debacle.

The play: $7 trifecta 1/2/7 $3 trifecta 2/1/7 ($10)

DFJ analysis: Victor Espinoza is an incredible bargain at $7,000, as he is virtually assured an in-the-money finish on CALIFORNIA CHROME, if not a win, in the Awesome Again. He also has a great shot in the Grade I Rodeo Drive aboard Elektrum (5-1). Finally, Stellar Wind looks like a cinch to hit the exacta in the Grade I Zenyatta.

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