California Chrome earned an impressive victory at the Kentucky Derby, but his performance was far from the best we have seen in recent years at Churchill Downs.
Based on this year's event alone, the thoroughbred was quite impressive. Jockey Victor Espinoza got his horse out to a good start where he was able to stick with the leaders for the majority of the race. By the time he entered the straightaway, California Chrome was able to pull away from the pack and earn an easy victory.
Here is a replay of the race from start to finish:
A strong push from Commander Curve prevented a blowout win, but it was certainly a clean victory over the rest of the field:
|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 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|
via NBC Broadcast
The effort certainly impressed many horse racing fans watching along. Ray Paulick of the Paulick Report was convinced that California Chrome was for real:
Joe Quinn of ESPN 590 also had good things to say about the performance:
California Chrome looked dominant. Slow pace today in the Derby. Here's hopes for a Triple Crown!— Joe Quinn (@JoeESPN590) May 3, 2014
This type of showing was expected by many coming into the race after the horse won his last four starts, including the prestigious Santa Anita Derby. For this reason, he was the overwhelming favorite by post time.
Still, ESPN's Darren Rovell notes that being a favorite has not always led to success:
California Chrome is only the 2nd Derby favorite 5-2 or shorter since 1980 to win. Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 was other (H/T @chrisfallica)— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) May 3, 2014
Heading into the next leg of the Triple Crown, everyone is now expecting a repeat performance from California Chrome:
California Chrome EVEN MONEY to win Preakness. Entire rest of field -120 (via @WilliamHillUS)— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) May 4, 2014
If he can dominate the field like he did at Churchill Downs, there is no reason to expect anything less than another trip to the winner's circle.
Unfortunately, the performance at the Kentucky Derby was not as impressive as it originally looked. According to Eric Crawford of WDRB, his final time was quite slow:
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
Of course, this is not the horse's fault. The pace of the pack was extremely slow, and Espinoza was perfectly content sitting back and waiting to make a move later. However, the thoroughbred is still vulnerable to a faster pace in future races.
A quicker horse like Hoppertunity—who was scratched due to a foot injury—could mess things up at the Preakness or Belmont.
On the other hand, trainer Art Sherman is not afraid of this happening, as he explained prior to the start of the Kentucky Derby:
More Sherman on California Chrome: ”As for the pace scenario, “if someone wants to go, they can go. He doesn’t have to be on the lead.”— KY Derby Contenders (@DerbyContenders) April 3, 2014
In reality, all that California Chrome needs to do is finish ahead of those in the field. It does not matter how far in front or what the final time is compared to others in history. He proved that he is the real deal on Saturday and should remain a top contender for all races going forward.
If everything goes right, he even has the chance to win the first Triple Crown since 1978.
However, the horse is far from the best Kentucky Derby winner in recent years. He defeated a weak field and still has a lot more to prove before discussing his status in history.
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