Kentucky Derby 2014 Winner: Evaluating California Chrome's Triple Crown Odds

Alex BallentineFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2014

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03:  California Chrome #5, ridden by Victor Espinoza, comes out of the fourth turn enroute to winning the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

California Chrome emerged as a dominant winner of the 2014 Kentucky Derby on Saturday, so of course the question has already shifted to whether the horse is a Triple Crown winner. 

The question isn't shocking. It's one that's asked every year around this time. The elusive feat of winning the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes hasn't been accomplished since 1978, but the chase of the crown is what makes America shift its focus to horse racing every year. 

2014 Kentucky Derby Results
15California ChromeVictor EspinozaArt Sherman2:03.66
217Commanding CurveShaun BridgmohanDallas Stewart1 3/4
34DanzaJoe BravoTodd Pletcher3
420Wicked StrongRajiv MaraghJimmy Jerkens5 3/4
56SamraatJose OrtizRick Violette Jr.5 3/4
612Dance With FateCorey NakataniPeter Eurton6 1/4
719Ride On CurlinCalvin BorelBilly Gowan6 3/4
814Medal CountRobby AlbaradoDale Romans7 1/2
913ChituMartin GarciaBob Baffert8
107We Miss ArtieJavier CastellanoTodd Pletcher8 1/4
118General A RodJoel RosarioMike Maker8 1/4
1216Intense HolidayJohn VelazquezTodd Pletcher9
1318Candy BoyGary StevensJohn Sadler11 3/4
143Uncle SighIrad Ortiz Jr.Gary Contessa15
1515TapitureRicardo Santana Jr.Steve Asmussen16 1/4
162Harry's HolidayCorey LanerieMike Maker22 1/2
179VinceremosJoe Rococo Jr.Todd Pletcher28
1810Wildcat RedLuis SaezJose Garoffalo28 1/4
191Vicar's In TroubleRosie NapravnikMike Maker38 1/4

The shocking thing about asking the question this year is that the answer just might be yes. 

Given California Chrome's track record of winning races, favorite status in the Derby and incredible run, there's a palpable buzz that this could finally be the year. 

After all, he's already broken some trends, including a dry spell for big favorites come post time. 

It's no accident that the California-bred horse's odds were so high to win the race. He had established his dominance in the Santa Anita Derby as well as San Felipe in Santa Anita Park. With the endurance to keep up the pace in the beginning of the race and the closing kick to pull away from the pack down the final stretch, California Chrome was the easy winner on paper. 

However, it's rare to find that the most gifted horse is also the one that executes. And that was the biggest contributor to his success. While many of the contenders in the race were forced out of contention by rough run, California Chrome was able to make his move to the front unabated. 

Much of that can be attributed to jockey Victor Espinoza, who has been here before. He was able to lead War Emblem to victories in the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2002:

All of these factors have contributed to the relatively positive odds that the horse will make history. 

However, bettors buying too much into the hype should pump the brakes. There are a few reasons to be cautious when committing to a Triple Crown prediction, aside from the rare historical precedent of course. 

First, there are the highly favorable conditions under which California Chrome won the Derby. Not only was he able to avoid the rough start that several of the horses in the field suffered, but he also started in the most favorable position possible:

While it's tough to hold a horse's post position against him, it's unlikely that he'll continue to draw the most favorable position. 

Furthermore, the turnaround time that a horse must make to race these high-stakes races is an incredible challenge. And for California Chrome trainer Art Sherman, it's not one he's used to, per The Courier-Journal:

"Say if we get lucky enough to go to the Triple Crown and see what happens," Sherman said. "I'm a one-race-at-a-time kind of guy. … I just hope he can come back in two weeks, you know what I mean? This will be a first for me."

Some horses, like Untapable, will have the opportunity to skip the Preakness and take on the Belmont fully recuperated.

California Chrome won't get that opportunity. He's going to have to be the best horse on the track in all three races with very little rest between them. 

That's an extremely difficult thing to ask of a horse, especially when it hasn't been done since 1978 when Affirmed won all three races. 

Last year's Triple Crown showed us just how difficult this is. Orb won the Derby by more than two lengths before succumbing to exhaustion in the Preakness and finishing forth.

If California Chrome is able to blow by the field in the Preakness with the same effortless stride that won him the Derby, then the current odds he's receiving to make history will make sense. Until then, it seems as though he may be receiving just a bit too much credit with two jewels left to capture for the crown.