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Preakness 2014: Obstacles for California Chrome

California Chrome win circle 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Alex Evers
With 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?
Looking Forward
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 Rachel Alexandra. 
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 setter, Oxbow.
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 the Preakness?
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 cakewalk.
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 the stretch.  
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.
Reviewing 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 Preakness.
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 scene.
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 Wood Memorial. 
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.


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Older Comments about Preakness 2014: Obstacles for California Chrome...

If only the rain had waited... Oh well, if we had known there would only be one more year to wait, it would've been less bitter. Riva really should've been champion 3yo.
hated the mud
I'm still annoyed over Riva's Preakness.
HAD A Ap Indy been around for all three, he had a good chance as did the very unlucky Riva, Swale and Smarty JOnes
I will never predict a Triple Crown winner regardless of how impressive a Derby winner is. Been around too long to expect it until it happens. I would not even have predicted Real Quiet as a TC winner at the Belmont 8th pole either. Every year folks seem to fall in love with the Derby winner. This one looks good so far I admit but I will take a shot as a contrarian for betting purposes.
No, the rest of the field slowed faster than he did. Get a shot of the Woodbine mile the time Court Vision won it if you want to see monstrous closing.
Chromes turn of foot displayed in his last three races at the top of the stretch are so akin to a champion turf horse! You just don't see that very often in dirt races. His tactical speed, great temperment, and raw ability to me are head and shoulders above the competition. He reminds me of one of my favorite horses, John Henry. The sky's the limit for this guy and I don't really see any obstacles, other than bad racing luck, to compromise his way of racing.
To be honest, the only obstacle I see would be a muddy track on Belmont day. There is no stopping CC from winning the Preakness, and the odds will reflect that. He will go off 1:9!
The Preakness has been won by a horse other than the Derby winner in 9 of the last 15 years. When I combine that with the soft fractions and poor draw of horses like Wicked Strong and Ride on Curlin in the Derby, I’m looking for an upset. California Chrome has been impressive but I think the Preakness will be a harder race than the Derby not only because he’s running back in 2 weeks but because the speed will be better and there won’t be as many Uncle Sighs and Wildcat Red’s for Danza, ROC, and Dynamic Impact to dodge while attempting to run him down.
To be honest, the only obstacle I see would be a muddy track on Belmont day. There is no stopping CC from winning the Preakness, and the odds will reflect that. He will go off 1:9!
The only true competitor for California Chrome was Constitution, and with CC's fractions, there is no beating him. Not even Constitution can run 1:47 in 9 furlongs! Or how about 1:40 in 1 1/16?! Get real Obstacle!
number wise his best race was the one before the SA Derby
  • amdaman · That may be true, but I think both him and Hoppertunity were saving some for the KD. · 1750 days ago
All the stars aligned in the Kentucky Derby for California Chrome. His main competitors were either scratched, drew the widest posts, and/or had troublesome trips. I think he may have peaked in the Santa Anita Derby, and ran a deceptively bad race in the Kentucky Derby. Whereas Danza may not have yet reached his full potential. I think he could beat California Chrome with a clean trip. Ride On Curlin is much better than his 7th placing in the Kentucky Derby. Kid Cruz has an impressive closing kick, and the pace looks to set up well for him. It still remains to be seen how California Chrome will react when challenged in the stretch, and I think he will in the Preakness.
Greatness is a retrospective label ONCE enough of a historical perspective is available. There are tons of flashes in the pan....This one needs to do A LOT more to move from competent to even exceptional let alone GREAT
Unlike the Derby, the best horse usually wins the Preakness, this is why, as Matt Shifman pointed out in his blog, the Preakness winner has been the Eclipse Award winner 13 of the last 17 years and if you include Rachel who was Horse of the Year it is 14 Eclipse Awards wins in the last 17 years. California Chrome is the best 3 year old at this point and I expect him to win.
We are looking at a great horse here...just pray he keeps sound and surely he will bring the sport back to life...I always worry about the Belmont distance and how it can hurt a horse if he does do the Triple give him alot of time off
I expect that CC and Espinoza will continue to get the kind of trip that they want. It is the rigors of his 2014 campaign that concern me more.
Bee Bee Bee was the best, the hooded wonder Gate Dancer was the BEST?, Pince Bluff?, Deputed Testimony?, Little Current?, Greek Money Tank's Prospect?
California Chrome dosen't know it's not royalty just like horse's dont know their odds from what i've seen so far unless a bad start or bad move by Victor this will be a Triple Crown Horse!!!

Meet Laurie Ross

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Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait and temperament and later worked with Throughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

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