California Chrome is assured of getting a second chance Nov. 5 to win the $6 million Breeder's Cup Classic thanks to his five-length victory over a stellar field in the 26th running of the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
Sent to the lead by jockey Victor Espinoza from his inside post position in the opening strides Saturday, California Chrome cruised along in front and opened up on his rivals after turning into the stretch.
"He won so easy," Espinoza said after California Chrome completed 1 1/4-mile race in two minutes, 13-hundreds of a second.
"I just wanted to get out there and see what was going to happen. He was going well the whole trip. He was in a perfect rhythm. The way he's running now he could beat anyone, anytime. He's run on dirt. He's won on grass. He has won all over the world. He's just so, so special."
Espinoza called California Chrome "the best horse I've ever ridden."
When asked if California Chrome was a better horse than American Pharoah, who Espinoza rode to the Triple Crown and Horse of the Year honors in 2015, he responded, "Yes, the way he's running now."
Beholder, who became the race's first female winner in 2015, finished second, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Dortmund, with Hoppertunity fourth in the field of nine.
Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, the jockey for Beholder, said "She ran a great race."
"I was hoping that she'd have that huge kick again like she did last year, but not this time," Stevens said. "But it was a gutsy performance for her. But Victor was playing with us. I don't think he really let him run. That's scary to think about. Hats off to California Chrome."
California Chrome was the 11-10 favorite and paid $4.20, $2.60 and $2.20. Beholder, who went off at 3-1, paid $3.20 and $2.60. Dortmund, the 2-1 second choice, returned $2.40 to show.
California Chrome added $600,000 to his North American record earnings, bringing his total to $13,252,650.
The Pacific Classic winner was guaranteed a spot in the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic, the nation's richest race, which will be run Nov. 5 at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia. California Chrome was third in the 2014 Breeders' Cup Classic, his only appearance in the race.
California Chrome's presence helped set a track record for total handle for all sources, $25,060,204, breaking the previous record of $24,667,351 established on Pacific Classic Day in 2007.
A track record was also set for most money bet in a Pick Four pool, $1,443,421. The previous record was $1,310,045 set on Aug. 22, 2015, also Pacific Classic Day.
The victory was Espinoza's first in Del Mar's richest and most prestigious race on his 16th attempt.
"I get a little nervous when I see I've ridden many, many horses in the race and the best I got was a second or third," Espinoza said. "It requires the right horse to win the Pacific Classic or any other big race. And today California Chrome was the right horse to win my first Pacific Classic."