As Saturday nears, the focus of racing enthusiasts’ attention rests on California Chrome, the winner of the 140th Kentucky Derby (gr. I), as he seeks to keep Triple Crown hopes alive in the second leg of the prestigious series, the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). No horse has swept the three races since Affirmed in 1978, leaving fans to yearn for the special horse that is capable of accomplishing a feat that has seemed to become nearly impossible. Could California Chrome be that horse? Before he can chase this coveted achievement at Belmont, he must first conquer his rivals in the Preakness this Saturday at Pimlico.
Listed below in post position order are all of the horses entered to run in the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes, along with my analysis of each horse.
1. DYNAMIC IMPACT: Dynamic Impact did not break his maiden until March in his fifth outing, gamely taking a maiden special weight at Oaklawn Park. Facing graded stakes company next out in the Illinois Derby (gr. III), Dynamic Impact defeated seven other rivals to take the race by a nose. Although this colt seems to be coming into his own, the Preakness appears to be too difficult of a task for him.
2. GENERAL A ROD: Among the three Derby runners that have continued their Triple Crown run in the Preakness, General A Rod’s eleventh-place effort in the Derby was the first off-the-board finish in his six-race career. After a strong Derby prep season spent at Gulfstream Park that included a win in the Gulfstream Park Derby, General A Rod finished far back in the Kentucky Derby. However, on the first Saturday of May, he was far off the pace, which is unusual for him. Should he have a trip more to his liking and be able to join the pacesetters, he could rebound with a stronger performance, but it is unlikely that he will be capable of defeating the best in the Preakness.
3. CALIFORNIA CHROME: The Derby winner is one of only three horses that competed in the Run for the Roses that have moved on to the Preakness. He has been unbeatable since December, winning his past five starts by a combined 26 lengths. Much criticism has surrounded his slow Derby time of 2:03.66. Although that time was slow, it was faster than the times of any of the horses that faced him that day. However, it is worrisome that he finished up the Derby so slowly – indicating that he was getting tired. This makes the quick two-week turnaround between the first two legs of the Triple Crown a concern for the colt, but he does have the benefit of his running style. He can set the pace or stalk the leaders, and four of the past five Preakness winners were never worse than fourth during the running of the race. Perhaps his greatest advantage is that he appears to tower over the remainder of the three-year-olds.
4. RING WEEKEND: It took Ring Weekend five attempts to break his maiden, but once he found the winner’s circle, he became a different horse. In his first race against winners, he led from start to finish in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II), drawing off to win by three lengths. A month later he was left 9 ¾ lengths behind when he finished second in the Calder Derby. He missed the Kentucky Derby due to illness, but trainer Graham Motion has this colt in great shape. However, Ring Weekend would need to run the race of a lifetime in order to secure a victory.
5. BAYERN: Beginning his career with a 3 ¼-length victory in a maiden special weight at Santa Anita in January, Bayern then dominated an allowance at the same track by an eye-catching 15 lengths. His connections then sent him to the Arkansas Derby, in which he finished third to Danza and Ride On Curlin. Last out, he crossed the wire a nose in front but was demoted to second due to interference in the stretch. While a win seems unlikely for Bayern, I expect a good performance from him.
6. RIA ANTONIA: The last filly to win the Preakness was Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in 2009. Ria Antonia is no Rachel Alexandra. She has not won since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and even in that race, she did not cross the wire first, as she was promoted to the win after the disqualification of the original winner. She has not been a legitimate winner since she broke her maiden at Woodbine last July. Last out, she was beaten by 15 ¾ lengths when finishing sixth in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). A win by Ria Antonia would be a huge surprise.
7. KID CRUZ: Kid Cruz broke his maiden at the maiden claiming level and after finishing second in an allowance in January, Kid Cruz was an easy winner of the Private Term Stakes at Laurel Park and the local Pimlico prep for the Preakness, the Federico Tesio Stakes. Although he does own an all-important win over the track, Kid Cruz will need to step it up in order to win the Preakness.
8. SOCIAL INCLUSION: Known as the horse whose owners turned down colossal offers after he effortlessly defeated the highly regarded Honor Code, Social Inclusion has only raced twice. After winning his first two starts – both at Gulfstream – by a combined 17 ½ lengths, Social Inclusion shipped north for the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I). Sent off as the favorite, Social Inclusion contested the pace but could not hold on in the nine-furlong contest and could only manage to finish third. While he is certainly brilliant and one of California Chrome’s biggest threats, the mile and three-sixteenths distance could be an issue for Social Inclusion.
9. PABLO DEL MONTE: Pablo Del Monte has not won since last October, when he took the second start of his career – an allowance at Keeneland. After concluding his two-year-old season with a fifth in the Generous Stakes (gr. III) at Hollywood Park, Pablo Del Monte began 2014 with a fourth-place effort in the Gulfstream Park Derby before finishing third in both the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III) and Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). Not only has he never won on dirt, but he has failed to win against the highest level of competition. He appears to be in over his head here.
10. RIDE ON CURLIN: One of three horses exiting the Kentucky Derby, Ride On Curlin has not won since taking an allowance at Oaklawn Park in January. However, he has turned in top efforts all year, finishing third in both the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) and Rebel Stakes (gr. II) before finishing 4 ¾ lengths behind Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Danza in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I). Ride On Curlin suffered a horrid trip in the Run for the Roses. Calvin Borel, known for his three rail-skimming Derby victories, immediately took the colt to the inside rail, but around the final turn, took Ride On Curlin nine-wide when he found no room on the rail. Racing so far outside damaged Ride On Curlin’s chances, but the son of 2007 Preakness winner Curlin managed to rally well for seventh. A better trip should result in a better performance from Ride On Curlin in the Preakness, but he will have to show serious improvement to defeat California Chrome.
It is difficult to go against California Chrome, both from a betting and a fan standpoint. He appears to be the standout in this race and only a handful of circumstances would result in a loss on his part. The rest of the field is running for second money. I expect California Chrome to win but also foresee good finishes from Ride On Curlin, Bayern, and Social Inclusion.