Photo: Benoit Photos / Eclipse Sportswire
Anyone who has been at least casually following the Derby Trail, undoubtedly sees California Chrome as the one to beat in the 2014 Kentucky Derby (G1). He’s won 6 of 10 lifetime starts, including a perfect 4 for 4 as a 3-year-old, with a combined winning margin of 24¼ lengths.
Horse racing geeks who like to spew their knowledge on social media have been posting such lunacy as “… we’ll be lucky to get 6-5 on him” and “best 3-year-old since Seattle Slew”. Last weekend after the final Derby two prep races, the Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, oddsmaker Mike Battaglia said he’d put California Chrome at odds of 4-1 or 5-1 right now.
“I think he’s a pretty solid favorite right now,” he said. “The Santa Anita (Derby) was kind of a romp.”
Interesting word choice… romp. Often used by horseplayers to describe a decisive victory. The margin in the Santa Anita Derby was 5¼ lengths. I’d say that qualifies as a “romp”, wouldn’t you?!
Therein lies the problem for California Chrome. A romp in a 3-year-olds final Derby prep race has not translated into a blanket of roses on the first Saturday in May. Over the past quarter century, not one Kentucky Derby winner had won his previous race in a “romp” (more than 5 lengths), yet there have been plenty who ran.
You won’t find the above stats on the worldwide web, at least not in one location. They were compiled by my research staff… me, myself and I. Results from the AR Derby, FL Derby, LA Derby, SA Derby, Wood Memorial and Blue Grass Stakes were perused. The cutoff date was 1991 as Equibase.com only offers free historical results charts back to that year for major stakes races.
A concerted effort was made to obtain the margin of victory for all six Derby preps listed above, but not all of the media guides included “margin of victory” among the stats for that tracks signature race. Of those who did provide this stat, many more “winners in a romp” were found who failed to win the Kentucky Derby. In the 80’s alone there was Snow Chief (1986), Chief’s Crown (1985) and Althea (1984), all Kentucky Derby Post Time favorites.
That’s the fascinating fact about this Derby “angle”. It’s not as if these Derby Disappointers were longshots. On the contrary, many were among the top 3 betting choices.
For the record, Sunday Silence was the last Kentucky Derby winner to have romped in his final prep, by 11 lengths in the 1989 Santa Anita Derby. Is California Chrome as good as or better than Sunday Silence? That’s for you decide as you make your Kentucky Derby wagers.