The horse racing Triple Crown remains one of the most difficult feats in sports to accomplish. However, given his heavily favored status and subsequent dominating victory at the Kentucky Derby, California Chrome looks like a legitimate contender to snap the 35-year drought.
Victor Espinoza helped the colt pull away down the stretch, for the 1 3/4 length victory did not fully illustrate how dominating California Chrome was in the final stretch. As SI.com's Tim Layden illustrates, the Derby illustrated how unbeatable California Chrome looks when he and Espinoza run the perfect race:
It was an utterly dominant performance not accurately measured by the final margin; California Chrome drew out to a five-length lead with less than an eighth of a mile to run before jockey Victory Espinoza geared him down, rising in the irons two strides before the wire and waving his crop in the air, much as he had done aboard War Emblem 12 years ago.
Piled on top of the colt's four laughably easy wins in California, the victory was they type that steered post-race interviews in a familiar direction. "I believe this horse will win the Triple Crown," said co-owner Steve Coburn, who shies from neither guarantees nor dreams.
California Chrome has earned much attention for his seemingly anonymous background. Small-time horse owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin purchased the mother for $8,000 and paid another $2,000 to breed her to a 10-year-old stallion. The resulting offspring has turned into a breathtaking specimen, one who has truly outgrown his underdog status:
Examining California Chrome's pedigree further, it does seem surprising that he has the stamina to win the Kentucky Derby. His sire was Lucky Pulpit, who never won anything beyond a sprint. In fact, none of his other offspring have won beyond 1 1/16 miles, with Rousing Sermon finishing eighth in the 2012 Kentucky Derby.
However, going back a few generations, one name on California Chrome's pedigree does stand out. He is related to 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, the only horse to win the Triple Crown while being undefeated at the time.
Now 37 years later, California Chrome has an opportunity to add to his family's Triple Crown legacy. The Derby winner, already an overwhelming favorite at Churchill Downs, holds even better early odds at the Preakness:
Though California Chrome has clearly outgrown his pedigree's sprinter stigma, it's still asking a lot for any horse to run three long difficult races over a five-week span. According to Jerry Bossert of the New York Daily News, trainer Art Sherman noted that there is certainly concern about the quick turnaround:
“I’m not a two-week kind of guy,” said 77-year-old trainer Art Sherman. “I’m a guy who likes to go seven to eight weeks between races. It kind of gets me a little shook up sometimes when I think about it.”
“I’m always concerned because I never run a horse back in two weeks even when I’m running cheap claimers,” Sherman said. “I just wish there was a little more time. I always thought, ‘My God, how do these guys do it on the Triple Crown’ and then they’re sitting in the wings with fresh horses waiting for me. It’s going to be another different group of horses.”
The Preakness Stakes is actually a slightly shorter race, at 9.5 furlongs compared to 10 furlongs at the Derby. Pimlico's challenge will be the lack of recovery time for California Chrome, who, if victorious, would then presumably go on to the grueling 12-furlong Belmont Stakes.
His pedigree suggests that such a stretch is infeasible. Espinoza, who rode War Emblem to wins in the first two legs before a disastrous Belmont Stakes appearance, has ridden a potential Triple Crown winner before. While his experience figures to aid the cause, the key will be California Chrome's ability to handle the stress of running three consecutive long races.
And yet, the colt has already defied the odds throughout his racing career. A Triple Crown remains more unlikely than the odds would indicate, but after such an astounding Derby run, it is impossible to totally discount the historic possibility.
*Pedigree information via Horse Racing Nation.