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Racing against California Chrome in the Winter Challenge term "also-ran," like so much racetrack parlance, is firmly entrenched in the American lexicon. Taken literally, the term describes any horse in a race that did not finish in the top three, but it has taken on a pejorative connotation. Also-rans—in politics, sports, or anything vaguely considered a "race"—aren't just losers. They're hopelessly behind.
For the $180,000 Winter Challenge Nov. 17 at Los Alamitos Race Course, a race written entirely to serve as a prep for California Chrome  's final race in the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup (gr. I), it is at least perceived—despite the literal meaning—that the field is largely a collection of also-rans in the shadow of the big horse.
So why would trainers enter nine horses (and two also-eligibles) to take on a horse that they, to a man, feel they have almost no chance of beating?
A $10,000 purse share to any horse that finishes—an outside-the-box tactic employed by Los Alamitos to fill the race—surely encouraged several, if not most to enter the race.
"Everyone was kinda kidding me, because they thought I might nominate my whole barn with the $10,000 out there," said trainer Gary Stute, who has Unusual Meeting in the Winter Challenge, a horse he claimed out of a Golden Gate Fields turf race Dec. 3. "I claimed him for $20,000 for Santa Anita. So, instead of working him, I can race and pay for half the horse."
Stute isn't alone in his primary motivations for entering the 1 1/16-mile race against the 2014 Horse of the Year, but there is also a tinge of hesitation from some involved, regarding the race and how it reflects on the integrity of racing.
"You think about the integrity of racing and (you'd like to) know you're putting the horse in a spot where you can win," said Brian Koriner, the only trainer with two entrants in the Winter Challenge—Wrightwood, who won his lone race in 20 starts back in August of 2014, and Lucky J Lane, a gelding who has competed in stakes and won an allowance at Los Alamitos in September. "You never want to look up at the tote board and see your horse at 100-1, but you also want to pay your bills. Christmas is coming and I've got a family. That's a big part of why I'm running—no doubt about it—and it is part of a lot of people's decisions to run."


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