The first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs turned out to be a celebration of California Chrome.
The popular horse with the ultimate underdog story won the Kentucky Derby by 1 3/4 lengths over surprise place-finisher Commanding Curve. His victory was easier than the margin suggested.
Jockey Victory Espinoza and Chrome coasted across the finish line. Beth Harris of The Associated Press passed along a quote from trainer Art Sherman on that subject:
[Espinoza] said he didn't ask him for too much thinking about saving something for the next one, for the Preakness," Sherman said, adding that his colt is "peaking now. He's full of himself.
Here are the full results for the race.
|1||5||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman|
|2||17||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||Dallas Stewart|
|3||4||Danza||Joe Bravo||Todd Pletcher|
|4||20||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||Jimmy Jerkens|
|5||6||Samraat||Jose Ortiz||Rick Violette Jr.|
|6||12||Dance With Fate||Corey Nakatani||Peter Eurton|
|7||19||Ride On Curlin||Calvin Borel||Billy Gowan|
|8||14||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||Dale Romans|
|9||13||Chitu||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert|
|10||7||We Miss Artie||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher|
|11||8||General A Rod||Joel Rosario||Mike Maker|
|12||16||Intense Holiday||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher|
|13||18||Candy Boy||Gary Stevens||John Sadler|
|14||3||Uncle Sigh||Irad Ortiz Jr.||Gary Contessa|
|15||15||Tapiture||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen|
|16||2||Harry's Holiday||Corey Lanerie||Mike Maker|
|17||9||Vinceremos||Joe Rocco Jr.||Todd Pletcher|
|18||10||Wildcat Red||Luis Saez||Jose Garoffalo|
|19||1||Vicar's In Trouble||Rosie Napravnik||Mike Maker|
via NBC broadcast
Having won four starts in a row by over a combined 24 lengths heading into the Derby, California Chrome left the gate as a heavy favorite, and his charge for the win was not unexpected.
The race got off to a slow early pace. California Chrome had a slight stumble but was able to keep up with the lead pack. With no horse pushing the pace, Chrome hung back in third behind Uncle Sigh and Chitu.
Chrome made his burst on the turn for the homestretch and quickly left the pack behind.
Daily Racing Form's Barbara Livingston tweeted a photo by John Bambury that captures Chrome's dominance over the field:
That lead is why Espinoza was able to let up on Chrome and start his celebration a few gallops before the finish line. The only other horse who impressed down the stretch was Dallas Stewart trainee Commanding Curve.
Daily Racing Form's Marcus Hersh helps highlight this:
26.16-second final quarter-mile. 51.84 final half. Gotta say - Commanding Curve was really the only one that finished. #KyDerby— Marcus Hersh (@DRFHersh) May 3, 2014
Leaving the gate at 50-1, per NBC Sports' Josh Elliott, not much was expected out of Curve. Instead, with the slow pace, jockey Shaun Bridgmohan was able to sit back and then show a surprising finishing kick to grab second.
Meanwhile, Danza and Wicked Strong came in third and fourth, respectively. Both were among the pre-race favorites and had a solid run. Danza lined up in the fourth gate, which was right next to Chrome in No. 5. He stuck right behind Chrome but lacked the same finishing speed.
Will California Chrome win the Triple Crown?
Wicked Strong started on the extreme outside in No. 20. He avoided traffic and made a decent late charge but still finished almost three full lengths behind Danza.
Of course, now all eyes turn toward California Chrome's bid at becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. The Preakness is up next on May 17 and the Belmont on June 7.
Chrome will likely face fields where the majority of the horses are far fresher in both races. That is especially problematic in the Belmont, which is the longest of the Triple Crown races. That fact has derailed the Triple Crown hopes of five horses since 2002.
Chrome has been consistently dominant enough that the feat is a possibility, but it is going to take a special run.