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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.

Baffert hoping Arrogate gives him third Dubai World Cup win

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Having taken over the mantle as the world’s best racehorse from California Chrome, Arrogate will attempt on Saturday to wear another crown that last fitted his illustrious American compatriot, the Dubai World Cup.

All eyes are on the 4-year-old Arrogate, who lost on debut 11 months ago but hasn’t lost since.

He’s won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup this year to stretch his unbeaten streak to six. In both races, Arrogate defeated Chrome, who won the Dubai World Cup last year at Meydan Racecourse by five lengths despite jockey Victor Espinoza hanging on to a loose saddle for most of it.

Under jockey Mike Smith, Arrogate has forged a winning combination in his last three Group 1 races: Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup.

In Dubai, they have drawn stall nine among 14 contenders, a position which fails to douse the confidence of his trainer Bob Baffert.

“Nine is fine,” said Baffert, who also trained 2015 U.S. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

“He’s settled in pretty well. As long as he shows up, that’s the key. If he runs his race, we know what he can do.”

Smith was all praise for his mount, ranked the No. 1 racehorse in the world.

“I have been blessed with some really, really good horses, but I am not sure I have ever sit on one like this,” Smith said.

“Everything about him, his disposition, his mechanics, the way he gets over the ground … at times you feel as if you are running downhill instead of a level ground. What amazes me most is when the race is over, it looks as if he did not put much effort into it. His recovery time is so quick.”

Arrogate’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup wins came over 2,000 meters on dirt, the same distance and conditions as the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Baffert hopes Arrogate can give him a third Dubai World Cup victory after Silver Charm (1998) and Captain Steve (2001).

He suffered a heart attack during his last visit to Dubai in 2012, and watched the World Cup five nights later with stents in two of his blocked arteries. He also watched from even farther afield last year as his other horse, Hoppertunity, finished third behind Chrome and Mike de Kock’s Mubtaahij.

He’s giving Hoppertunity another chance.

“Both my horses are happy and healthy,” Baffert said. “He (Hoppertunity) should be collecting a check again. That is what he does, picks up the pieces in these big races. He reminds me of Pac-Man, he just keeps going. A Dubai World Cup 1-2, that would be something.”

Mubtaahij is also back, although he will start under Christophe Soumillon from the widest of stalls.

“Like everyone, we wanted low,” the Belgian jockey said. “I will have to … hope for some luck.”

The Dubai World Cup features a nine-race card offering $30 million across six Group 1 and three Group 2 races on turf and dirt.

Six three-year-olds nominated late to Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thunder Snow, winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas, is among six 3-year-olds made eligible to compete in the Triple Crown series during the late nomination period.

The late nominees, which required a payment of $6,000 each, raise the total nominations to 425 for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The late nomination period closed Monday. The early nomination window closed in January and required a payment of $600.

Ireland-bred Thunder Snow, owned by Godolphin Racing, is set to run Saturday in the $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai. The colt has three wins in seven career starts for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

The other late nominees are Hollywood Handsome, trained by Dallas Stewart; More Than Words, trained by Charlie LoPresti; Parlor, trained by Eddie Kenneally; Rapid Dial, trained by Ingrid Mason; and Stretch’s Stone, trained by Bruce Levine.

Thoroughbreds that weren’t nominated to the Triple Crown have one final chance by paying a supplemental fee. The fee for the Derby is $200,000; $150,000 for the Preakness; and $75,000 for the Belmont.