On the surface, the 2014 Kentucky Derby was a boring affair. California Chrome, who entered the race as the horse to beat, pulled away down the stretch to capture the roses. Where's the drama when the favorite wins a race?
We know better than that. There's all sorts of stories to discuss coming out of this year's Derby. Churchill Downs was buzzing with anticipation for what might happen, giving way to what might happen at the Preakness Stakes.
While there are still two weeks before the second leg of the Triple Crown, these are the things that are on everyone's mind following the Kentucky Derby.
California Chrome Is a Triple Crown Horse
Every time a horse wins the Kentucky Derby, attention immediately turns to whether a Triple Crown is in store. Most of the time it's just hyperbole needed to drum up interest in a story that's not going anywhere.
That's not the case with California Chrome, who has been steamrolling the competition with five straight wins. Just as impressive as the winning streak is the way he's getting there. The California-bred stallion has won the races by more than five lengths on average.
There's also the story of California Chrome essentially coasting down the stretch at Churchill Downs, at least according to Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden.
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.
The Preakness Stakes is a different race than the Kentucky Derby, covering less ground and usually a smaller field that leaves more room to move around and separate. That is going to make it easier for contenders to find their footing early, but the dominance shown by California Chrome is not something we see every day.
Wicked Strong Will Be the No. 2 Horse at the Belmont Stakes
Unfortunately for racing fans, it doesn't sound like Wicked Strong is going to try running the Preakness Stakes.
Wicked Strong, which faced a challenge coming out of the No. 20 post position and was hung up in traffic down the stretch to finish fourth, is believed to be more suited for the longer distance and would benefit from more room.
What's the most likely outcome for this year's Triple Crown season?
That's good news for the June 7 race, as Wicked Strong proved his mettle at Churchill Downs. He had the unenviable task of starting on the outside gate, meaning he'd have to cover more ground moving to the inside and trying to get around the pack in order to win.
Unfortunately that was too much distance for Wicked Strong to make up, but he still finished a very respectable fourth in the race. Assuming he gets a better draw at the Belmont Stakes, which is the longest Triple Crown race at 12 furlongs, the only horse that will have better odds is California Chrome.
Hoppertunity Is the Great Wild Card
In the days leading up to the Kentucky Derby, Hoppertunity was starting to inch closer to California Chrome on the favorite line. Unfortunately a bruised foot forced Hoppertunity out of the race and opened the door even wider for California Chrome.
While it's not definite because the injury will take time to heal, Hoppertunity's trainer Bob Baffert will consider the Preakness if all goes well.
It would seem that the Preakness is a better fit for Hoppertunity than the Belmont Stakes because of the distance. He's never run a race longer than nine furlongs, which was a runner-up finish behind California Chrome at the Santa Anita Derby.
The Preakness Stakes is the shortest Triple Crown race at 9 and 1/2 furlongs. Hoppertunity has proven he can hang with the best horse in the world at that distance, so if he's able to make it, the stallion has a great chance to play the role of spoiler.
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