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It’s Chrome vs. Arrogate, for horse racing’s richest prize

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — California Chrome and Arrogate both got trophies last weekend. For Chrome, it was Horse of the Year. For Arrogate, it was the title of World’s Greatest Racehorse.

Both of those awards were bestowed by humans.

Another crown awaits Saturday – and this time, the horses will decide.

The richest race ever contested, the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup, has arrived. Favored California Chrome, in his final race before retirement, drew the outside post. Arrogate, the second morning-line choice who beat California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, drew the inside post. Neither spot is ideal, and that only adds to the drama that will play out over 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park.

“What else would we be doing right now? Getting ready for the Super Bowl?” Arrogate trainer Bob Baffert asked. “Come on. This is our Super Bowl.”

California Chrome was installed as the early 6-5 favorite; Arrogate is at 7-5. Officials expect the handle just for the Pegasus race alone could exceed $20 million, simply because of all the buzz that surrounds the rematch of the top two dirt horses in the world.

There are 10 other horses entered – three are Grade 1 winners – but if anyone other than California Chrome or Arrogate wins it would be a major upset.

“I’ve been wanting a rematch for a long time,” California Chrome trainer Art Sherman said.

Without this concept, the rematch wouldn’t have happened. California Chrome is headed to the stud farm next week to begin breeding and retirement, and would likely be there already if not for this enormous carrot. The winner’s connections are assured at least $7 million, and if California Chrome prevails he will retire as the first $20 million on-track earner in the sport’s history.

Both horses look to be in top form, and Sherman appealed unsuccessfully to postpone California Chrome’s retirement. But the mares are waiting, some of their owners already paying $40,000 in advance to have a chance of being near the front of the California Chrome breeding line.

“We’re in the position where we have all these mares booked to him and we bought a lot mares to breed to him,” said Frank Taylor of Taylor Made Farm, Chrome’s new home as of next week. “It was kind of hard to turn back.”

In case $12 million in purse money didn’t provide enough drama, the post positions add plenty of intrigue.

Arrogate starting in the No. 1 hole puts pressure on jockey Mike Smith to break particularly well, or else their race could be lost in the first few steps. Starting out in the No. 12 position means California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza will have to be aggressive early, since it’s a short distance from the gate to the first turn.

So Chrome’s final race comes with a major challenge attached. Horses starting from the No. 12 spot or farther – the higher the number, the farther away they are from the rail to begin the race – are 1-for-18 in races at this distance at Gulfstream, track officials said.

“It’s not great. I’ll say that right off the bat,” Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey said. “But I think it’s less of a problem for a horse like Chrome than any other horse. First of all, he’s accomplished about anything a race horse could. Second of all, that’s his running style anyway. I think the 12 hurts him far less than potentially the 1 could hurt Arrogate if things don’t go well.”

Chrome has been at Gulfstream for the better part of a month, acclimating. He’s been getting visitors just about every day, and Sherman said his horse not only knows what the limelight is but basks in all the attention.

“He amazes me every time I watch him,” Sherman said. “He’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”

Arrogate might not be far behind, if at all. He exploded onto the scene when he won the Travers at Saratoga last August, and has been on a meteoric rise ever since.

A win on Saturday, especially with Chrome retiring, would cement Arrogate as the biggest star in the game right now.

“I’ll miss Chrome,” Smith said. “I’m a fan of his as well. I love watching him run. I love racing against him. I know what he’s capable of. Horses like him, they don’t come around very often.”

The same, obviously, can be said for races like this one.

Bob Baffert sweeps Futurity and Starlet at Los Alamitos

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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) Bob Baffert became the first trainer to win the $300,000 CashCall Futurity and $294,000 Starlet in the same year at Los Alamitos on Saturday.

McKinzie won the Futurity for 2-year-olds via disqualification after Solomini, Baffert’s other entry in the race, was cited by the stewards for interference in deep stretch and dropped from first to third.

In the next race, 2-5 favorite Dream Tree won the Starlet by 3 1/4 lengths to improve to 3-0 for the Hall of Fame trainer.

Baffert has won the Futurity a record 10 times, including the last four at Los Alamitos, where it was moved from now-closed Hollywood Park, where he won it six times.

McKinzie, named for Baffert’s late friend and Los Alamitos executive Brad McKinzie, was carried wide into the first turn and kept clear by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. McKinzie rallied approaching the stretch in tandem with Instilled Regard while Solomini started to gain outside of that pair.

The three horses came together and with a sixteenth of a mile to go, Solomini came in and bumped Instilled Regard before going on to finish three-quarters of a length in front of McKinzie, who was a head in front of Instilled Regard.

Baffert was surprised when the three stewards voted 2-1 to disqualify Solomini.

“It’s really too bad they took him down,” he said. “He was the better horse today.”

McKinzie returned $3 and $2.40. Instilled Regard paid $6.80. There was no show wagering because of the small field.

The final time for the Futurity was 1:42.57. McKinzie earned $180,000, increasing his career earnings to $210,000.

In the Starlet for 2-year-old fillies, Dream Tree and jockey Drayden Van Dyke covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.87 and paid $2.80 to win. It was Baffert’s fourth career win in the race.

Yesterday’s News was second and Piedi Bianchi was third.

Trainers rushed to save terrified horses as flames closed in

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BONSALL, Calif. — A routine day at an elite training center for racehorses transformed into terror and chaos in minutes, with hundreds of thoroughbreds stampeding out of their stalls in a desperate attempt to flee a Southern California wildfire that set their barns ablaze.

Turned loose by their trainers in a last-ditch effort to save their lives, the huge, muscular animals, their eyes wide with fear, charged through thick smoke and past dancing flames.

While hundreds made it to the safety of a nearby racetrack, others galloped in circles, unsure which way to run. Still others, too frightened to leave their paddocks, stayed there and died.

Workers at San Luis Rey Downs said an estimated 30 to 40 horses perished Thursday in the wildfire still raging out of control north of San Diego on Friday. At least two stable workers were injured, and their conditions were not immediately known.

Trainers described a terrifying scene that erupted at the facility Thursday afternoon, recalling how only minutes after smelling smoke, they saw flames roaring down a nearby hillside.

“I was heading to my barn to drop my equipment off and I smell smoke,” trainer Kim Marrs said Friday as she stood outside the still-smoldering facility. “Within two minutes, I look up the hill and you could just see it come up over the ridge.”

She and others tried to turn back the flames with hoses and fire extinguishers before firefighters arrived. But when embers from burning palm trees began igniting the roofs of barns, they realized they had no other alternative than to turn loose the approximately 450 horses stabled there.

“The next thing, there’s a stampede of 100 horses coming through here,” said Marrs, who was trying to lead one of the horses she trains, a 5-year-old named Spirit World, through a tunnel. “We almost got trampled to death.”

At one of the center’s many barns, video showed a group of trainers frantically tearing down a wooden fence and shouting at their horses to run.

One large black horse, its forelocks wrapped in white leggings, bolted toward safety but then spooked by the burning palm trees, turned and fled back toward its stable. Scores of others charged through thick smoke to safety.

Trainer Cliff Sise suffered burns on his chest and arm trying to get a 2-year-old filly named Scat Home Lady out of her stable. She wouldn’t budge, and he said she burned to death there.

“She was one of my favorites,” Sise said as he sat outside the facility.

Trainer Jerry Contreras said one of his best friends, a fellow trainer, was hospitalized.

“He was trying to get his horses out and was burned,” Contreras said.

At San Luis Rey Downs, the phone rang unanswered and the owners quickly barred outsiders from the sprawling facility.

It is Southern California’s premier training center for thoroughbreds, with a competition-sized racetrack, a smaller one for training, numerous trails for horses to relax on and even a swimming pool for them to work out in.

The center can house as many as 500 horses and states proudly on a sign out front that it is the “Home of Azeri,” racing’s U.S. Horse of the Year in 2002.

Other thoroughbreds that have trained there include Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand.

The facility sits among rolling hills, picturesque vineyards and farms down a winding, two-lane road just a few miles off busy Interstate 15, the main thoroughfare connecting Southern California to Las Vegas.

The horses that fled were quickly rounded up, and many were taken to the nearby Del Mar racetrack, where a veterinary center was set up for the injured.

The tragedy resulted in an outpouring of support from the racing community, with Southern California’s Los Alamitos Race Course canceling its daytime thoroughbred program Friday out of respect.

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and the Stronach Group, owners of San Luis Rey Downs, have set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for hospital and rehab costs.

Santa Anita racetrack officials in the Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia collected clothes and other items for stable workers who lost their possessions.

“I lost everything. Forty years. I lost all my tack, all my machines, my webbings. It was all burned. My whole livelihood. I feel like quitting,” the 66-year-old Sise said.