The 2014 Kentucky Derby saw California Chrome roar to victory after a strong burst beginning in the final turn at Churchill Downs. Trainer Art Sherman's horse is being hyped as a Triple Crown candidate, but the Preakness Stakes takes place just two weeks after his triumph in Louisville, Kentucky.
That requires a quick adjustment for those who ran for the maiden jewel in the Triple Crown, so it will be interesting to see how California Chrome handles it. There are several contenders who ran at Churchill Downs and should be at Pimlico Race Course to give chase to the prohibitive favorite.
Some speculation as to who will be in the Preakness field is required at this point—still almost two weeks out from the May 17 start in Baltimore. That said, it's rather safe to say the following horses will be in the starting gates.
Here is a closer look at California Chrome and his chances to keep his Triple Crown dream alive, along with the other prospective entrants who could dash such aspirations for Sherman and Co.
Any doubts lingering about California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza have been put to rest after their winning ride at Churchill Downs. Although it wasn't as commanding of a victory as the previous four wins by 24 1/4 lengths, California Chrome still lived up to the hype as the No. 1 favorite.
Longtime CNN personality Larry King was sold after seeing the 140th annual Kentucky Derby:
Oddsmakers seem eager to tab California Chrome as a Triple Crown possibility, making his odds extremely short to jaunt to the winner's circle, per the Daily Racing Form's Marcus Hersh:
Espinoza has yet to really have to push his horse yet. Even if California Chrome gets off to a difficult start in the Preakness, as he's been reputed to do, it likely won't be enough to knock him back far enough to get out of contention.
The last time he won the Kentucky Derby, a triumph at The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans followed for Espinoza aboard War Emblem. That past success should translate well, since he clearly has the best horse in the field.
Although his winning time of 2:03.66 has drawn criticism for being slow, California Chrome has proven capable of adjusting to any type of race. The track at Pimlico is slightly shorter, so perhaps Espinoza will turn him loose and get a more dominant victory than the 1 3/4 lengths he had at Churchill Downs over Commanding Curve.
Joe Bravo is a decorated jockey who is missing a Triple Crown win on his otherwise sturdy resume. Perhaps he can rectify that with a triumph at the Preakness aboard Danza, whose meteoric rise has been among the most compelling recent developments in horse racing.
Danza was a 40-1 shot at the Grade I Arkansas Derby, but he kicked it into another gear at the end and wound up winning a spot in the Kentucky Derby field with a victory. DRF Derby reports that Danza's connections have not ruled out the Preakness Stakes:
With only five career starts and three graded stakes appearances in his young career, there isn't a lot of mileage on Danza's horseshoes. Bravo has a great feel for when to break Danza, evident in his finishing in the money at Churchill Downs.
Traffic was going to be an issue in the Derby, and given Danza's inexperience, it made him a bit of a red flag. Now he'll have even more room to operate amid a smaller Preakness field, and he's proven to have the stamina necessary to go 10 furlongs, compared to the 9.5 required at Pimlico.
Since he finished just three lengths off of California Chrome's winning pace and ran alongside him for much of the race, Danza can't be discounted in his bid to capture the second jewel.
Ride On Curlin
A seventh-place finish in the Run for the Roses may not look so good on the surface, especially since three-time Derby winner Calvin Borel was in the irons at Churchill Downs.
However, trainer Billy Gowan discussed how pleased he was with Ride On Curlin with how he bounced back from a bad start in the Kentucky Derby, along with his Preakness prospects, per the Preakness.com staff:
That's pretty good after racing a mile and a quarter. He looks good. It was just bad racing luck, bad post position. But he's one tough horse. You've got to be proud of him. When he did get clear, he did come running, so that's all you can ask, really. [...] ...If he bounces out of these races like he has been, I’m going to the Preakness. We'll just see. He's tough, so I expect him to bounce out of it good. We'll definitely consider it.
Borel will not get the mount in Baltimore, even though he seemed to be an ideal fit to push to the rail as he likes to against a smaller Preakness field. Instead, the Daily Racing Form's David Grening reports that Joel Rosario will be aboard:
Rosario won the Kentucky Derby with Orb in 2013 but fell short in his own Triple Crown bid. Perhaps he can play spoiler to California Chrome's hopes by applying a bit of a different strategy and getting Ride On Curlin off to a better break from the starting gates.
Few jockeys have been as accomplished as Rosario in recent years, as he backed up his triumph in Louisville last season by winning the Dubai World Cup. An 11th-place trip aboard General A Rod at this year's Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports has evidently left him longing for more out of his Triple Crown campaign.
Ride On Curlin ran second in the Arkansas Derby to Danza, so he's proven to be at least somewhere near his level. With Rosario in the saddle, there's reason for Gowan to hope for a finish in the top three—or perhaps a victorious celebration at the end of this historic race.
Other entrants may come along and boast better odds than Danza and Ride On Curlin, but based on their race histories and runs in the Kentucky Derby, it's hard to envision any others challenging California Chrome more.
No. 2 Churchill Downs favorite Wicked Strong settled for fourth in Louisville, and is likely to compete next in the Belmont Stakes, as reported by the Boston Globe's John Powers. That leaves literally no odds-on favorite better than Danza to take California Chrome to task, and barring a bad stumble, Ride On Curlin should be in the mix down the final stretch at Pimlico, too.