California Chrome is the morning line favorite for Saturday's $1 million TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar in a field also including the champion mare Beholder and Dortmund, the third-place finisher in last year's Kentucky Derby.
Oddsmaker Russ Hudak made the 2014 Horse of the Year and North American earnings champion the 8-5 morning line favorite after he drew post position No. 1 in the field of nine Wednesday for the 26th edition of Del Mar's richest and most prestigious race.
Dortmund is the second choice at 5-2 and will start at post No. 8 for the 1 1/4-mile race. Beholder is the 3-1 third choice.
"This is a world-class race with one of the all-time great field of horses," Beholder's Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella said.
Beholder's Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens likened the race to a world heavyweight championship fight.
"I think we're all looking for a very competitive race that leads to a Breeders' Cup Classic for all three of them," Stevens said.
The winner will be 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.
Mandella called it "good to be outside, away from the action inside early," starting from the No. 7 post.
"Our intention is to get her back (off the pace) and go back to our game that works," Mandella said.
California Chrome is on a four-race winning streak, including a 3 3/4-length victory in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 26, in the world's richest race.
"I think he's coming into the race as good as I've ever seen him and I think he's even better than he was in the Dubai race, which was awesome," trainer Art Sherman said.
California Chrome is seeking to become the race's third winner coming out of the No. 1 post and first since General Challenge in 1999.
"The No. 1 post is never good at any track, but being a former jockey, I know that if (jockey Victor Espinoza) rides the right race, the No. 1 post isn't going to be a problem," Sherman said.
"It depends on how the early fractions are and then you just go from there. It's going to be a jockey's race."
Dortmund was second, a half-length behind California Chrome in Del Mar's San Diego Handicap July 23, the 4-year-old colt's only start of 2016.
Beholder became the race's first female winner in 2015, winning by 8 1/4 lengths, the second-largest margin in the race's history. Her time of one minute, 59.77 was the fastest run by a female on dirt for the 1 1/4-mile
Beholder has 17 wins in 23 career starts. The six-year-old mare's eight-race winning streak was snapped in her last start, the Grade 1 Clement L.
Hirsch Stakes July 30 at Del Mar, when she finished second, a half-length behind Stellar Wind.
"There was no speed in the last one," Beholder's exercise rider Janeen Painter said. "When she was younger, it was just `Boom, go for it,' with her. But her preferred running style, now that she's older, is to sit off the pace. And there's speed in this one that I think she'll be able to do that."
Beholder won Eclipse Awards as the top 2-year-old filly of 2012, the top 3-year-old filly of 2013 and top older mare of 2015.
Beholder will carry 119 pounds. Dalmore, the field's lone 3-year-old and the co-seventh choice at 20-1, will carry 118, and the rest of the field 124.
The winner will earn $600,000, the runner-up $200,000 and third-place finisher $120,000.
The Pacific Classic will be the ninth race on an 11-race card with an approximate post time of 6:15 p.m. The race will be televised by TVG.