When the 139th Preakness Stakes commences on May 17, Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome will make good on his favorite status and set himself up for a shot at the Triple Crown.
Not only was California Chrome a fan favorite—a horse born and bred from working class roots, per Jay Privman of Daily Racing Form, competing on the highest level of the sport—but he was the odds-on favorite heading into Churchill Downs.
This colt came from humble origins and drew 2-1 odds in the most prestigious event in horse racing. And Chrome delivered, running out to a victory by 1 3/4 lengths.
In fact, the race wasn't as close as that margin indicates. Chrome held a comfortable lead on the field down the stretch, and jockey Victor Espinoza eased up as they glided their way across the finish line. Of the other horses, only Commanding Curve, a 50-1 long shot, made any real push late to cut into the lead.
Espinoza managed the race to perfection, keeping California Chrome just behind the leaders early before bursting into the lead at the top of the stretch. By the time Chrome reached the final furlong, his lead had ballooned to five lengths.
With a dominant performance like that, the only thing holding California Chrome back is the horse himself.
Art Sherman, Chrome's trainer, is fond of giving the horse a cushion between races. Per Preakness.com, the resounding victory at Churchill Downs inspires confidence in Sherman that Chrome will be up to the task on such short rest.
'Two weeks, I’ve never run him back that quick,' Sherman said. 'I’m not that kind of guy. I thought even a month after the Santa Anita Derby to the Kentucky Derby was kind of quick. but he seems to respond and come back.'
The major variable in the field will be the new shooters, who skipped Churchill Downs in favor of being fresher for Pimlico. In theory, the rested competitors would hold some advantage over a horse not used to having just two weeks between races, but Derby horses usually have an edge in the second Triple Crown race; they have won 10 of the past 12 Preakness Stakes.
Speedier Derby winners are usually even more comfortable at Pimlico. The track is a half furlong shorter than Churchill Downs, and the field contains 14 horses as opposed to 20. That means more room to get out and run, and less need for significant endurance.
Chrome fits that billing. Espinoza and he charged out ahead of the field with strength to spare at the Derby—a strategy that should work even more effectively in a shorter race with less crowding at the head of the pack.
Victor Espinoza is now 2-0 riding the favorite in Triple Crown races -- won as favorite with War Emblem in 2002 Preakness.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 3, 2014
A newcomer like the talented Social Inclusion or a familiar foe like third-place Derby finisher Danza could push Chrome, but they would be racing the favorite's preferred style. Espinoza's mount has earned that distinction, and another Derby-caliber performance would be too much for the field to match.
If California Chrome is indeed at full strength, history says the black-eyed Susans will be his to lose.