California Chrome entered the 140th Kentucky Derby as the heavy favorite and had little trouble living up to expectations with an impressive victory at Churchill Downs.
In a race that was slow for Kentucky Derby standards, jockey Victor Espinoza was able to get near the front of the pack early and hang around there for the majority of the first mile. He was then able to pull away from the rest of the field in the final straightaway and come home with an easy win.
Here is a look at the full race of the Run for the Roses:
Commanding Curve also had a strong finish securing second place by less than two lengths, but the victory was never in doubt for California Chrome, who has now won five races in a row since pairing with Espinoza.
Also notable was Danza, who was considered a top sleeper coming in and should be satisfied with a third-place finish in a loaded field.
Here is a complete look at the final order from Saturday:
|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 race went exactly according to plan for the California Chrome team.
The one concern heading into the day was that the pace would be too fast, and the horse would not be able to conserve energy for the closing stretch.
Luckily this never happened, as noted by Jeremy Pond of James Grant Sports:
Absolute perfect setup for California Chrome. What was supposed to be a super-hot pace never happened. First half/three quarters a crawl.— Jeremy Pond (@JeremyPond) May 3, 2014
As a result, the favorite was able to simply hang around the leaders before making his move to win.
Espinoza did a great job on top of the horse to earn his second career win at the Kentucky Derby, but he did not want to take the credit. The jockey explained why to Ben Roberts of the Lexington-Herald Leader:
Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Victor Espinoza's strategy: "I just stretch his legs a little bit and then let him do his thing.”— Ben Roberts (@NextCats) May 4, 2014
Meanwhile, trainer Art Sherman had quite an eventful trip to Churchill Downs considering these statistics:
77 year-old Art Sherman becomes the oldest trainer ever to win the Kentucky Derby...and it is his first time there!— Adam Housley (@adamhousley) May 3, 2014
Everyone involved did their part to make sure that California Chrome reached his potential. The only question is whether he can keep this up over the next month.
Although there has not been a Triple Crown winner since 1978, the dominance in the first leg gives fans reason to be hopeful that California Chrome can break that trend.
According to RJ Bell of Grantland, the odds are pretty good at this point:
California Chrome now paying +180 to win Triple Crown (at Sportsbook.ag)— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) May 3, 2014
It all starts with the Preakness Stakes two weeks after the Derby.
Of course, it will not be an easy win in Maryland. Commanding Curve had an impressive finish creating a serious challenge in the closing seconds. Danza and Wicked Strong also have great speed but were just short on Saturday.
Any of these competitors—or Hoppertunity, a horse that missed the Kentucky Derby—can knock the Derby winner out of the running for the Triple Crown.
Still, California Chrome is the big winner for the day after a convincing win at Churchill Downs. He was clearly the best in the field and had little trouble earning the win.
If things go well in his next two races, the sky is the limit for this thoroughbred.
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