Six months ago, California Chrome crossed the finish line sixth at the one-mile Golden State Juvenile at Santa Anita Park. He looked exactly like a horse whose dam was small, slow and worth a mere $8,000.
Then Victor Espinoza climbed aboard.
Since that transition, California Chrome has reeled off five consecutive wins, looking faster and more dominant with each subsequent victory, culminating with a transcendent performance in the 140th Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
Here's a look at the win for Espinoza and the three-year-old colt, who lived up to every bit of the hype after entering the post as a 5-2 favorite, per KentuckyDerby.com:
Art Sherman, who became the oldest trainer ever to win the Derby was understandably emotional after the win:
Trainer Art Sherman: "Words can't describe how I feel. It's like a dream come true." #KyDerby— Americas Best Racing (@ABRLive) May 3, 2014
Easily the fastest horse in the field, California Chrome appeared set to replicate his previous four wins, which totaled over 24 lengths in margin of victory, via bloodhorse.com, but a tremendous ride from Shaun Bridgmohan atop 50-1 longshot Commanding Curve narrowed the gap during the final stretch.
Here's a look at the final order of finish, including California Chrome's winning time and the length of victory over each horse:
|1||5||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||2:03.66|
|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 Rocco 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|
While California Chrome's win was thoroughly impressive, the final time of 2:03.66 certainly was not, especially on a fast track.
As ESPN's Lane Gold noted, via The Courier-Journal's Gregory Hall, it was the slowest such winning run in four decades:
Overall, only two winners since 1989 have had a time slower than California Chrome's, and if you want to make a comparison to Secretariat, the Triple Crown winner would have come out an astounding 12 lengths in front, per PocketFullOfLiberty.com's Jay Caruso:
For comparisons sake, Secretariat would have beaten California Chrome by more than 12 lengths.— Jay Caruso (@JayCaruso) May 3, 2014
Of course, just stating those numbers without any context isn't exactly fair. The pace at this year's Run for the Roses was supposed to be blazing, but that simply never happened. The first three-quarters of the 10-furlong race were essentially a crawl, and Espinoza, who won the Derby in 2002 as well, used that to his advantage, staying close before turning it on to break away down the final stretch.
So, don't blame California Chrome for the slow time. Credit Espinoza for running a smart race and playing to his amazing horse's strengths.
Todd Pletcher's horse Danza, who was just 10-1, came in third, completing an obtainable and profitable trifecta if you were willing to go out on a limb with Commanding Curve.
Here's a look at the complete payout:
Attention now immediately turns to the Preakness Stakes, and with a small field likely and a shorter track, California Chrome will undoubtedly be the strong favorite, no matter what kind of pace plays out at Pimlico.
Belmont's longer track—Trakus revealed California Chrome wasn't actually the fastest in the final fourth—may ultimately prove difficult in a quest for the Triple Crown, but it's clear we're witnessing a special horse with the perfect team.