California Chrome cruised in Saturday's 140th annual Kentucky Derby, living up to the hype as the 5-2 pre-race favorite in winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Commanding Curve. There is thus reason to believe that trainer Art Sherman's new champion can pull off the horse racing Triple Crown.
The last time that happened was in 1978, when Affirmed accomplished the elusive feat. Whichever horse emerges victorious at Churchill Downs in any year tends to inspire thoughts of pulling off the ultimate three-race winning streak.
|1||5||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||-|
|2||17||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||Dallas Stewart||1 3/4|
|3||4||Danza||Joe Bravo||Todd Pletcher||3|
|4||20||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||Jimmy Jerkens||5 3/4|
|5||6||Samraat||Jose Ortiz||Rick Violette Jr.||5 3/4|
|6||12||Dance With Fate||Corey Nakatani||Peter Eurton||6 1/4|
|7||19||Ride On Curlin||Calvin Borel||Billy Gowan||6 3/4|
|8||14||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||Dale Romans||7 1/2|
|9||13||Chitu||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||8|
|10||7||We Miss Artie||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher||8 1/4|
|11||8||General A Rod||Joel Rosario||Mike Maker||8 1/4|
|12||16||Intense Holiday||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||9|
|13||18||Candy Boy||Gary Stevens||John Sadler||11 3/4|
|14||3||Uncle Sigh||Irad Ortiz Jr.||Gary Contessa||15|
|15||15||Tapiture||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||16 1/4|
|16||2||Harry's Holiday||Corey Lanerie||Mike Maker||22 1/2|
|17||9||Vinceremos||Joe Rococo Jr.||Todd Pletcher||28|
|18||10||Wildcat Red||Luis Saez||Jose Garoffalo||28 1/4|
|19||1||Vicar's In Trouble||Rosie Napravnik||Mike Maker||38 1/4|
|11||Hoppertunity||Mike Smith||Bob Baffert||SCR|
Source: NBC broadcast
In this instance, though, the hype is well deserved with California Chrome.
Baltimore sportscaster Gerry Sandusky feels he is the big favorite for the Preakness Stakes on May 17 at Pimlico Race Course—and could discourage other prospective competitors from entering the field:
California Chrome looks like a heavy favorite now for Preakness and could scare off competition leading to a small field two weeks from now.— Gerry Sandusky (@GerrySandusky) May 3, 2014
To be fair, the Kentucky Derby winner is often the favorite by default in Maryland. But Pimlico is a shorter track than Churchill Downs, measuring just 1 3/16 miles to Louisville's 1 1/4 miles. According to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com, California Chrome's winning time on Saturday was two minutes and 3.66 seconds.
That is a rather slow time, and the fast track and nice race day suggest that California Chrome should have run at quicker pace if he were really a legitimate threat to notch all three Triple Crown jewels.
WDRB 41 Louisville News sports columnist Eric Crawford provided some historical context for the time:
California Chrome’s winning time of 2:03.66 was the slowest on a fast track in the Derby since Cannonade in 1974.— Eric Crawford (@ericcrawford) May 3, 2014
It is worth noting that California Chrome wasn't expected to set the pace out of the gates. To the surprise of some detractors, jockey Victor Espinoza got California Chrome out to a better start than anticipated at the Kentucky Derby, which put him near the front of the field from the start.
Since those circumstances were unique to the previous four races that Espinoza dominated, California Chrome was in an unfamiliar position. The pace of the race was slower than expected, but when it counted most, Espinoza broke his premium specimen at the top of the backstretch and pulled away from the other 18 horses.
Based on their testimony from after the race, California Chrome's connections have the proper, almost happy-to-be-here mindset, per Claire Novak of BloodHorse.com and DRF Derby:
"I'm just the same old Art Sherman, except I won the Kentucky Derby." #KyDerby— Claire Novak (@BH_CNovak) May 3, 2014
Espinoza: "I was a young guy and never knew I was going to be a jockey, and look at me now. It is an awesome feeling." #KyDerby— DRF Derby (@DRFDerby) May 3, 2014
Now that he's proved capable of winning the biggest races starting slow and fast, there's little doubt that California Chrome's all-around prowess will translate to the Preakness and the ultimate test of endurance in the Belmont Stakes.
If there's added pressure on Espinoza to confirm the dominance of his pairing with California Chrome, he at least has past success to draw on in that regard at Pimlico, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Victor Espinoza is the jockey for California Chrome. It's Espinoza's 2nd Kentucky Derby win -- he won on War Emblem in 2002.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 3, 2014
Morning-line No. 2 favorite Hoppertunity was scratched before Saturday's race, but he could be around at the Preakness to wreak havoc. With a Hall of Fame jockey-trainer tandem of Mike Smith and Bob Baffert, Hoppertunity could be dangerous. Tim Wilkin of the Albany Times Union reports that Baffert his hoping to enter him in the second leg of the Triple Crown:
Trainer Bob Baffert talks about Hoppertunity's scratch from Derby Thursday. He hopes to run him in Preakness. pic.twitter.com/9OKgANXyEC— Tim Wilkin (@tjwilkin) May 1, 2014
Some of the harshest critics will argue that California Chrome doesn't have Triple Crown chops based on his slow Kentucky Derby time in ideal conditions. All that matters are results, and the thought that California Chrome has room for massive improvement should indeed intimidate his peers.
How will California Chrome fare in the Preakness Stakes?
Danza settled for Show in Louisville, but in the process confirmed that his win at the Arkansas Derby wasn't a fluke. Barring an unprecedentedly strong run and a slip out of the gates from California Chrome, it isn't likely Danza will have enough in the tank to win at Pimlico, either.
By both traditional default, a lack of certainty about the other potential entries and by merit—a la wins in the last five races—California Chrome looks the part of a future Triple Crown champion.
Note: Odds and race information are courtesy of KentuckyDerby.com.