Saturday's Kentucky Derby saw 5-2 favorite California Chrome romp to victory by 1 3/4 lengths at the 140th annual Run for the Roses. Now it's a quick turnaround for the Preakness Stakes on May 17, which marks the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown.
California Chrome figures to enter a smaller field at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland as the horse to beat yet again, but there should be at least a few strong contenders to challenge him. At Churchill Downs, the No. 2 morning-line favorite was Hoppertunity, but he had to be scratched.
According to the Twitter account run by Hoppertunity's connections, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert won't enter him in the Preakness, either:
That eliminates at least one formidable adversary who could have thwarted California Chrome's bid for the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
Before diving into some preliminary Preakness predictions, here is a look at the results from the Kentucky Derby:
|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
Preakness Stakes Predictions
Danza Keeps Momentum Going
Winning his Grade I debut at the Arkansas Derby put the horse racing world on notice, but Danza was such a wild card entering Churchill Downs' field of 19 that few knew what to ultimately expect.
It's safe to say that Danza confirmed his promise by finishing in the money in third place at the Kentucky Derby, proving that a stronger field that presented unprecedented traffic issues didn't faze him.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners president Aron Wellman indicated that he was pleased with Danza's performance yet was undecided on a potential pursuit of the Triple Crown's second jewel, per Kentucky.com:
Aron Wellman of @EclipseTBP says they "couldn't be more proud of the effort" from Danza to run 3rd in KY Derby. Undecided on Preakness.— horseracinghl (@horseracinghl) May 4, 2014
As it stands, Danza has only run in five career races, so he doesn't have much mileage on him. That could work to his benefit, but the two-week turnaround is a red flag due to his lack of experience, especially if he plans to run in the Belmont Stakes, too.
However, this figures to be Danza's best bet in a Triple Crown race. A shorter track plays into his excellent speed, and Pete Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun feels that Danza will indeed be in the Preakness field:
This sets up for a three-horse Preakness showdown with Chrome, Danza and Wicked Strong. Three of top four finishers today.— Peter Schmuck (@SchmuckStop) May 3, 2014
Danza didn't display any distress while under duress in Kentucky, and he should keep his cool with jockey Joe Bravo likely returning to the saddle if Pimlico is indeed in the cards.
Dark Horses Likeliest to Finish in the Money
Calvin Borel may not be in the irons like he was at Churchill Downs, but whether he is or not, look for Ride On Curlin to be a big factor at Pimlico.
Borel won the Preakness Stakes in 2009 but rode to seventh in the Kentucky Derby. It was underwhelming for Borel, since he'd won in Louisville three times prior, but an awful start contributed to the lackluster result.
Ride On Curlin trainer Billy Gowan may seek a new jockey, per the Albany Times Union's Tim Wilkin:
Trainer Billy Gowan of Ride on Curlin (7th Derby) looking at Preakness. Good chance have new rider. He not happy with Calvin Borel's ride.— Tim Wilkin (@tjwilkin) May 4, 2014
Gowan seems to like his chances at the Preakness after being 6 3/4 lengths off of California Chrome's winning pace this last Saturday, per the Daily Racing Form's Marty McGee:
Ride On Curlin tr. Billy Gowan "definitely" leaning toward Preakness. "Didn't get beat that far with a horrible, horrible trip." #KyDerby— Marty McGee (@DRFMcGee) May 4, 2014
Scaling the rail is Borel's specialty, so even if he draws a post near the outside as he did in the Kentucky Derby, he'll have far more room to make his patented move—albeit with a bit less time on a slightly shorter track. It remains to be seen if Gowan has the patience to retain Borel, but Ride On Curlin was runner-up only to Danza in the Arkansas Derby, proving he can get it done against elite competition.
Another likely entrant who may not garner favorable odds but shouldn't be discounted is Bayern. After jockey Rosie Napravnik committed a violation at the end of the Kentucky Derby Trial Stakes, his win in that marquee race was taken away, given to Embellishing Bob instead.
Hoppertunity's Twitter account suggests that Baffert will enter Bayern in Baltimore in the hopes of securing his sixth Preakness winner:
Bayern is the likely @PreaknessStakes runner from Baffert.— Hoppertunity (@Hopper_Colt) May 4, 2014
The fact that Baffert has such a strong track record suggests that he'll let Bayern start this one, and that the horse will fare rather well. It wouldn't be wise to bet against him in a smaller field.
Winner: California Chrome
The only other time jockey Victor Espinoza won the Kentucky Derby was in 2002 aboard War Emblem, and he was able to back that up with a triumph at the Preakness Stakes. Don't expect anything different this time around, as he is on a roll with California Chrome, having claimed victory in five consecutive starts.
ESPN's RJ Bell notes how favorable the early odds are for California Chrome to romp to the winner's circle again:
California Chrome EVEN MONEY to win Preakness. Entire rest of field -120 (via @WilliamHillUS)— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) May 4, 2014
It did appear as though Espinoza laid off California Chrome after he initially pulled away down the final stretch, and Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve surged to the finish not terribly far behind.
Espinoza confirmed that after the race to trainer Art Sherman, per the Courier-Journal's Jennie Rees:
I talked it over with Victor even last night I said, "What do you think?" He said, "He just got a little tired. A mile and a quarter, coming off of shipping and everything, but he's fine." He says he kind of eased him up the last 70 yards. He said he could have gone on and opened up, but he did the right thing. Because if we’re going to the Preakness two weeks later, I’m just going to freshen him up and hope everything is all right with him leg-wise and everything. He looked fine this morning.
There is a slight undercurrent of apprehension from Sherman about California Chrome's health, but that's to be expected. Wilkin recorded more comments by Sherman that reflected a protective sentiment:
Art Sherman on2 weeks to Preakness for @CalChrome: "I am a guy who likes to go 7-8 weeks between races. I'm not a 2-week kind of guy, MORE— Tim Wilkin (@tjwilkin) May 4, 2014
Trainer Art Sherman: "It gets me a little shook up sometimes when I think about it ... I hope I'm doing the right thing."— Tim Wilkin (@tjwilkin) May 4, 2014
When will California Chrome's Triple Crown dreams be dashed?
Sherman hit the lottery with this horse and has shown evident appreciation for him. What stands out most is that Espinoza really hasn't pushed California Chrome to his limit, suggesting the best is yet to come.
While a conservative approach may be deployed again to protect him for a prospective Triple Crown chance in Belmont, California Chrome has to be turned loose enough to get the job done at the Preakness. One weakness for California Chrome is his ability to get off to a fast start, which could be more of a factor at Pimlico than anywhere else on the Triple Crown slate.
All reservations aside, the combination of Espinoza and California Chrome has proven to be unbeatable to date. There just aren't enough strong horses left—or many that will likely want to run in the Preakness—for California Chrome to be challenged by.
More decorated jockeys than Espinoza may be in the saddle, but there's little doubt even after an admittedly slow Kentucky Derby pace that he has the best Triple Crown horse.