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Summer racing heats up with California Chrome, Songbird

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Horse racing’s summer season kicks off in a big way this weekend at two of the sport’s most treasured racetracks, Del Mar and Saratoga.

And what a daily double it should be – Dubai World Cup winner California Chrome taking on six rivals in Saturday’s $200,000 San Diego Handicap and undefeated filly Songbird starring in Sunday’s $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks.

While the Del Mar meet began last week, Saratoga opens its 148th season on Friday and runs through Sept. 5.

Stakes races on opening day at the Spa are the Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies and the Lake George for 3-year-old turf fillies. On Saturday, it’s the Sanford for 2-year-olds.

California Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, comes into the 1 1/16-mile San Diego with a 3-0 record this year. The 5-year-old Chrome won the $10 million World Cup in March in his last start.

The field also includes 2015 Santa Anita Derby winner Dortmund, Hard Aces, Soi Phet, Crittenden, Follow Me Crev and Win the Space.

Chrome leaves from the No. 6 gate, and will have regular rider Victor Espinoza aboard. The race is a prep for the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 20.

“Outside is good for me,” Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman said. “(Espinoza) will be able to break and see what’s happening to his inside and go from there.”

Songbird arrived at Saratoga from California on Wednesday. A comfortable winner in all eight of her races, the 3-year-old filly will be ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith in her New York debut. The filly owned by Rick Porter went for jog around the track Thursday morning.

“She ate up (Thursday) morning and she was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” Porter said. “She went with the pony and jogged for a mile and an eighth. She wasn’t too happy to go back to the barn, she probably wanted to do a little more. She’s doing fantastic considering all the travel she’s had.”

In her last start, Songbird won the Summertime Oaks by 6 1/2 lengths.

Taking on the 2-year-old champion filly trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer is Carina Mia, Weep No More, Flora Dora and Mo d’Amour.

A week later, 3-year-olds are center stage after a Triple Crown break when Derby winner Nyquist returns for the $1 million Haskell Invitational on July 31 at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey. A day earlier, it’s Preakness winner Exaggerator and Belmont Stakes winner Creator hooking up in the $600,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga.

Others in the Haskell include Gun Runner (third in Derby), Blue Grass winner Brody’s Cause (seventh in Derby, sixth in Belmont) and Iowa Derby winner American Freedom, trained by eight-time Haskell winner Bob Baffert.

Last year, more than 60,000 fans showed up at Monmouth to watch Triple Crown champion American Pharoah blow away the field in his first race since sweeping the Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

Green Gratto by a head in Aqueduct’s Toboggan Stakes

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NEW YORK — Green Gratto held on to win the $125,000 Toboggan Stakes by a head on Monday at Aqueduct.

The 7-year-old set the pace under persistent pressure from Story to Tell. Green Gratto finally put away that rival in deep stretch, and had enough in reserve to fend off a final challenge from All Star Red.

The victory capped a big weekend at Aqueduct for jockey Kendrick Carmouche, who got three stakes wins in a four-day span.

The New Jersey-bred Green Gratto, owned and trained by Gaston Grant, earned his eighth win in 51 starts. The time was 1:10.74 for the six furlongs.

Green Gratto paid $7.30, $4.50 and $2.40 as the 5-2 second choice.

All Star Red returned $11 and $3.40, and Stallwalkin’ Dude, the 4-5 favorite, paid $2.10 to show.

Lockdown wins by 2 1/2 lengths in Aqueduct’s Busanda Stakes

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NEW YORK (AP) Lockdown won her stakes debut Sunday, beating Libby’s Tail by 2+ lengths in the $100,000 Busanda for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct.

Libby’s Tail, the 3-5 favorite, set the pace with Lockdown right behind before taking charge and turning for home.

Kendrick Carmouche rode for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott as Lockdown got her second win in three starts.

“She has such a long stride, you just have to time her run and she’ll take you home from there,” Carmouche said.

The time was 1:44.75 for the one mile, 70 yards.

Lockdown, the 2-1 second choice, paid $6.60, $2.50 and $2.10. Libby’s Tail returned $2.30 and $2.10 and No Sweat paid $3.20 to show.