Saturday's Kentucky Derby marked the beginning of the 2014 horse racing season's pursuit of the Triple Crown. When the dust settled on the dirt track at Churchill Downs, the 5-2 favorite California Chrome lived up to his billing, ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza to victory in Louisville, Kentucky, by 1 3/4 lengths.
There are bound to be plenty of experts weighing in on the chances California Chrome has to replicate the feat last achieved by Affirmed in 1978—winning all three Triple Crown races.
ESPN's RJ Bell tweeted the odds of California Chrome triumphing in the Preakness Stakes on May 17 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland:
So the oddsmaking experts seem convinced that trainer Art Sherman's horse is in line to make history. What helps a lot is that Espinoza won the Preakness in 2002 with War Emblem after being in the irons for a Kentucky Derby triumph. The jockey talked about the ride and how it compared to his last win from the fifth post at Churchill Downs, per America's Best Racing:
Perhaps Espinoza will get a chance to redeem coming up short at the Belmont Stakes this time around, if the early, extremely favorable odds for California Chrome at Pimlico are any indication.
Thoroughbred racehorse owner Cecil Barber has a good eye for talent and has believed in California Chrome from the outset of his Triple Crown bid:
California Chrome also left an impression on CBS Sports' Dana Jacobson, who suggests that talk about the ultimate trifecta can begin after Espinoza's winning ride:
BloodHorse.com's Claire Novak implied that California Chrome and Espinoza may finally break a lengthy line of predecessors who were pretenders and didn't ultimately have the stuff of Triple Crown champions. Sandwiched between her analysis is a bold claim made by California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn, who says his horse will indeed win the Triple Crown:
In the midst of a tumultuous season, the feel-good story and down-to-earth connections of California Chrome gave a much-needed boost to racing—and figures to carry on down the line to Baltimore, where the second leg of the Triple Crown series awaits.
"I said, 'When this horse wins the Kentucky Derby, I believe this horse will win the Triple Crown,'" Coburn said. "I told people this colt will go down in history. When he wins the Triple Crown, he will be the first California-bred to ever win a Triple Crown. That's where we're going."
Before, people might have found that presumptuous. After California Chrome's win today, you start to think that maybe—just maybe—it might finally happen.
Not that it's anything for those who've fallen short before to be ashamed of, considering it hasn't happened in a matter of decades. The fact that Espinoza has been in such a position before is unique, though, and should give California Chrome a leg up on the competition.
It's also significant that Coburn has a winner, seems to know it and isn't shrinking from the spotlight in proclaiming California Chrome as the deserving, indomitable favorite.
Medal Count came in eighth place in the Run for the Roses, and his trainer, Dale Romans, was skeptical of California Chrome's status as the favorite but was convinced otherwise after seeing Saturday's race, per Courier-Journal's Jennie Rees:
I was the biggest critic out here of California Chrome. I thought he was the weakest Derby favorite we've had in a lot of years. I was wrong. He might be superhorse. [...] After the race, he has a new, huge fan, and so does his trainer. You don't train a horse like that, a California-bred, and get lucky and win the Kentucky Derby.
Other experts seem to be reserving their judgment, since the Preakness Stakes don't happen for another two weeks or so. However, it seems there is consensus among those who have weighed in right away that California Chrome has the makings of being a Triple Crown contender. After Saturday's run, it's difficult to question California Chrome's legitimacy and just how well Espinoza can ride him.
With five consecutive wins under their collective belt, Espinoza and California Chrome are an exceptional team. Espinoza hasn't really had to push him yet, and he showed the extra gear his horse had in the Kentucky Derby. On the 10-furlong track, California Chrome hung tough and showed his stamina, which bodes well for the Belmont Stakes, but he also flashed the speed necessary to win the Preakness.
A smaller field in Baltimore will inevitably shrink California Chrome's odds, and even if he gets off to his characteristic bad start in Belmont, Espinoza has to feel good about the endurance his colt displayed at Churchill Downs.
All the tools of a rare, all-track horse are evident, and Espinoza has the feel and experience to capitalize on them.
Espinoza only knows the winner's circle aboard California Chrome. His 2014 Kentucky Derby run, along with the prominent experts who have assessed the situation, are giving little reason to dismiss Espinoza and California Chrome in their chase of the Triple Crown.