California Chrome and Dortmund staged what will arguably go down as the best horse race of the year to date in Saturday's San Diego Handicap.
The crowd at the Del Mar race track erupted as the two titans hooked up for the entire stretch run. California Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, prevailed by a hard-earned half-length at the wire.
The time for the 1 1/6 miles was 1:40.84.
"I'm just glad I came out on top this time," Chrome's trainer Art Sherman said. "My horse is just Chrome. He gives you all he got all the time."
Chrome rocketed out of the starting gate before assuming a stalking position behind Dortmund, who was coming off a year layoff after chasing American Pharoah in the 2015 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Before those races, Dortmund had won his first eight career starts.
Dortmund controlled the pace of the race under Gary Stevens. Victor Espinoza and California Chrome were content to sit off the leader before engaging him as the field turned into the top of the stretch.
California Chrome, the 4-5 betting favorite, looked like he was going to blow right by Dortmund, the 6-5 second choice in the wagering.
However, there was no give up in Dortmund and California Chrome was challenged to the wire, holding off his challenger by a head.
"It was just an amazing race," Espinoza said. "California Chrome is California Chrome. He is one of the best horses I have ever rode.
Heady words from a jockey who last year guided American Pharoah to the Triple Crown.
California Chrome, who opened in the betting at 1-9, wound up paying $3.60 for a $2 win bet as the late money came in on Dortmund. The $2 exacta of Chrome and Dortmund returned $5.40.
Likely next up for California Chrome and Dortmund will be the $1,000,000 TVG Pacific Classic. Expected to also be in that field is champion mare Beholder.
Beholder will run her prep race next Saturday at Del Mar in the Clement Hirsch.