Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Alex Evers
the 140 Kentucky Derby recorded in the history books, attention shifts to
Maryland and the 2014 Preakness Stakes. The question on everyone's lips is “Does he
have what it takes to win the Triple Crown?” I'm talking, of course, about the
sensational California Chrome, the Derby
favorite who didn't disappoint.
We've seen how California Chrome, brilliantly
piloted by Victor Espinoza, rated just off of the pace set by Uncle Sigh and Chitu.
The sparkling Chestnut took over after a mile and opened up by five lengths at
one point in the stretch. He coasted
under the wire 1 ¾ lengths in front of the late-charging Commanding Curve. I’ll
have Another, the last horse to come out of California to win the Kentucky
Derby also won the Preakness. He maintained a three race win-streak entering
the Preakness. California Chrome, like last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Orb, carries
a five race win streak into the Preakness. Will all of those victories finally
catch up to California Chrome?
According to the early speculation, only
two of the Kentucky Derby contenders will tangle with California Chrome in the Preakness Stakes. California Chrome’s greatest challenger in
the second leg of the Triple Crown may come from Danza, the quickly improving
third place finisher in the Kentucky Derby.
Perhaps a newcomer will try to upset the race. Good luck with that. Since 1984, only three horses that didn't
compete in the Kentucky Derby won the Preakness – Red Bullet, Bernardini and
At this point, California Chrome is the
likely favorite for the Preakness Stakes. That doesn't bode well for the Derby
hero. Since 1984, only four favorites
have won the race. Last year, Orb was
highly regarded and on paper, he out-classed the Preakness field. In reality,
although the Derby winner sat a little closer to the pace than usual, he could
muster no better than a fourth place finish behind the little-respected pace
In 2012, front-running Bodemeister was
favored over the Derby champ I'll Have Another, but was beaten by a
heartbreaking neck. The year before
that, Animal Kingdom was rightfully made the Preakness favorite after his
dominating Derby win. While Animal Kingdom dawdled at the back of the pack
during the opening quarters, the swift, tenacious Shackleford used his tactical
speed to sit a couple of lengths off of the leader. Turning for home, Animal
Kingdom cut into Shackleford's lead with every stride, but he was left with too
much to do. Shack spoiled the Animal's
Triple Crown quest by a dwindling ½ length.
Does California Chrome’s running style fit
That brings us to running styles in the
Preakness. There's a wildly held theory that inside speed rules at
Pimlico. Speed defined as a horse that
runs on or within two lengths of the lead.
Since 2000, this has been true half of the time, and only two horses,
the pronominal Rachel Alexandra, and last year’s winner, Oxbow, have wired the
field. Six Preakness champs since 2000 proved that they could sit between
fourth and tenth place and still get the job done. Remember, the 1 3/16 mile race distance is
only half a furlong shorter (330 feet) than the Kentucky Derby, so a horse that
is suspect to navigate the nine to ten furlong range won't find the Preakness a
What about the tight turns? The turns at
Pimlico aren't any tighter than those at Churchill. Both tracks are a mile
oval, but Pimlico is 50 feet narrower and the stretch is 1,152 feet compared to
Churchill’s 1,234. Our Derby champ is
extremely athletic and has proven that he can cut corners, and gun them down in
Tactical speed is beneficial at
Pimlico. Since California Chrome
naturally likes to be close to the lead, he should be able to track the front
running speed and unleash his powerful kick as they hit the stretch. He runs his own race and isn't hampered by
what is going on around him. The good
horses do that.
What about the jock?
Victor Espinoza has been down the Triple
Crown trial before. In 2000, he piloted
War Emblem to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. A year later, he finished third with Congaree
in the Kentucky Derby and finished second with A.P. Valentine the same year in
the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Since starting his racing career in Mexico
in 1992, Victor Espinoza has finished in the money on almost half of his 20,423
mounts and earned over $162 million dollars.
Currently Espinoza is ranked sixth in the national jockey standings,
with a 19% win rate and he hustles 46% of his mounts into the money. Considering
that Victor has piloted half the number of horses than five of the six riders ahead
of him in the rankings, that’s an excellent rate of performance.
the Trainers and Challengers
Although trainer Art Sherman was the exercise
rider for 1955 Kentucky Derby winner Swaps, the 2014 Triple Crown trail is his
first rodeo as a trainer. Sherman keeps a small barn and applies classic,
time-honored training methods to his charges. Along with California Chrome’s
talent, Art Sherman’s ability to put a bottom, or foundation into the horse was
likely the key to the Derby Champ’s ability to win at 1 ¼ miles.
Among the early Preakness entries, only one
trainer, Bob Baffert has entered the
Preakness winners’ circle. Baffert has won the race five times, twice
back-to-back. His last winner was Lookin At Lucky in 2010. This year, he’s entered the front-running Bayern, who held on
desperately to win the Derby Trial by a nose. Bayern may have the skilful Rosie Napravnik on board. She will become only the third woman jockey to ride in the Preakness.
Graham Motion returns to Pimlico
with Calder Derby runner-up Ring Weekend. He trained the 2011 Kentucky Derby champ
Animal Kingdom to a second place finish in the Preakness and in 2012 his charge
Went The Day Well was tenth.
Todd Pletcher may have the
strongest challenger to California Chrome with his entry, Derby third place
finisher Danza. Pletcher hasn’t entered a horse in the
Preakness since 2011, when Dance City finished fifth.
Last year, Tom Amoss’ Mylute was third
in the Preakness. This year, Amoss will send Rita Antonia to follow in Rachel
Alexandra’s hoof prints. The filly has
big horse shoes to fill. Ria Antonia owns only a maiden
win to her name and was sixth in the Kentucky Oaks.
Wesley Ward withdrew Pablo Del Monte from Kentucky
Derby contention and instead is targeting the Preakness. Ward’s charges
Pleasant Prince was eleventh and Flashpoint was fourteenth in the 2011
William Gowan’s Ride On Curlin was a
disappointing seventh in the Derby after a poor ride by Calvin Borel. The son of Preakness hero Curlin gets a
jockey switch to Joel Rosario, who won last year’s Derby on Orb and in 2012
finish third in the Preakness aboard Creative Cause. Nine Preakness heroes
have sired Preakness winners. If Ride On Curlin wins, his Champion sire will add this distinction to his list of accomplishments.
Three trainers are new to the Preakness
Florida-based Manny Azpurua will saddle his
first horse in the Preakness. The pace setting Social Inclusion will attempt to
regain his spectacular winning ways in the Preakness. He tired to third in the
Fresh from his Illinois Derby victory, Dynamite Impact will try to score
the hat trick in the Preakness. Trainer Mark Casse is Canada’s answer to Todd
Pletcher. Casse has won the Outstanding
Trainer Sovereign Award for three years straight.
Kid Cruz is the only
Preakness entrant with a start over the Pimlico surface. The 3 ½ length victor
of the Federico Tesio Stakes is the only confirmed stalker in the race. His trainer Linda Rice can often be found having her photo taken in
the winners’ circle at Belmont and Saratoga. Rice will be looking to become the first woman trainer to win the Preakness.
At this point there doesn't appear to be
chinks in California Chrome’s armor or a rival that comes close to flashing the talent that
he's shown. We won’t know until the gate opens if California Chrome’s five race
win streak or effort in the Kentucky Derby will reverse his form. I didn’t give
much credence to the colt entering the Kentucky Derby based upon his
pedigree. I’m a believer now.