The 2014 Preakness Stakes brings with it the hope that California Chrome can continue his journey to become horse racing's first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978.
Helping that cause is the fact that the field at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, will be considerably smaller than the 18 other rivals California Chrome topped at the Kentucky Derby. According to Preakness.com, only 10 entrants are slated to pursue the Triple Crown's second jewel on Saturday.
Richard Eng of the Las Vegas Journal-Review analyzed what could be a potentially fast field over the course of 9.5 furlongs but added a caveat:
The allusion there was to California Chrome's rather slow time to win at Churchill Downs. While the field figures to change somewhat during Wednesday's post position draw, California Chrome should remain the prohibitive favorite. The draw will commence at 6 p.m. ET at Pimlico's International Pavilion, per Preakness.com.
Continue on for some basic information regarding the Run for the Black-Eyed Susans, along with early predictions for the Preakness' top three.
139th Preakness Stakes
When: Saturday, May 17 (Post Time is 6:18 p.m. ET)
Where: Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland
TV: NBC (Broadcast begins at 4:30 p.m. ET)
|2014 Preakness Stakes TV Schedule for Saturday, May 17|
|Preakness Stakes Prep||1 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.||NBC Sports Network|
|139th Preakness Stakes||4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Preakness Post Show||6:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.||NBC Sports Network|
Win: California Chrome
It's easy to play the favorite, who has won his past five races, but the most exciting aspect of California Chrome's dominant run is that we don't know exactly how good he can be just yet.
There is concern to be had that this quick, two-week turnaround from Churchill Downs could impact how he runs. California Chrome has never had two starts so close together, causing trainer Art Sherman to have his own reservations.
"I know it’s tradition, but it’s grueling," said Sherman, per The Boston Globe's Beth Harris. "It’s pushing the envelope a little bit. It takes a horse 11 days to really recover out of a race."
Some are skeptical about California Chrome's legitimacy after he won the Kentucky Derby with a slow post time, which WDRB Louisville's Eric Crawford referenced after the Run for the Roses:
Sherman also expressed in Harris' piece how he felt California Chrome would burst to the finish and triumph as long as he hung around fourth place entering the final turn. There shouldn't be much traffic to navigate with the shrunken field, so he figures to have plenty of room to operate.
The little time California Chrome has to recoup from his run in Louisville is offset by the fact that he looks indomitable with jockey Victor Espinoza in the irons.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert had to feel robbed when Hoppertunity, his No. 2 morning-line favorite at the Kentucky Derby, had to be scratched due to health reasons. The ultimate silver lining could await at the Preakness Stakes in the form of Bayern, though.
Rosie Napravnik is among the most prolific jockeys in the modern era, and she will be aboard Bayern at Pimlico, giving the horse a legitimate shot at the winner's circle.
Not only would it be significant for her to win a Triple Crown race as a female jockey, but Napravnik also has local ties to Pimlico. She discussed how much a victory would mean in the Preakness Stakes in a recent report by Jennie Rees of the Courier-Journal:
It's a Triple Crown race. It's my home track with all my friends and family around. We'd have half the grandstand cheering for us — that's what would make it special. I would feel like — if I was able to ride the winner of the Preakness — that I was doing it for everybody who got me started in Maryland.
The Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman noted how well Bayern was working in preparation for the Preakness even during the Kentucky Derby:
Endurance isn't as much of a concern in the second jewel, because the Preakness covers 9.5 furlongs—a shorter distance than at Churchill Downs or in the Belmont Stakes. That makes Bayern an ideal fit to thrive, since he'll have Napravnik's experience on his side and her burning desire to win this race.
A disqualification at the Kentucky Derby Trial Stakes for interference would make this potential breakthrough for Napravnik and Bayern an even better, redemptive storyline.
Show: Ride On Curlin
Instead of rail-riding maverick Calvin Borel, trainer Billy Gowan is seeking a more well-rounded technician to man the saddle for Ride On Curlin at Pimlico in Joel Rosario.
Ride On Curlin got off to a horrendous start and was in the auxiliary gate at Churchill Downs, preventing Borel from being able to get as far inside as he would have liked. That led to a seventh-place finish and to Gowan making a jockey change.
Gowan noted how soon he could have Ride On Curlin ready to run again after the disappointing showing, per BloodHorse.com's Claire Novak:
That bodes well for such a quick trip back to such intense competition. Rosario won the 2013 Kentucky Derby aboard Orb and also seized victory at the Dubai World Cup, so he knows how to get it done in big races.
All indications are that Ride On Curlin has the chops to finish in the money at Pimlico, since he has strong connections and finished second only to Danza in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. Danza wound up third in the Kentucky Derby, so Ride On Curlin stands to fare just as well in this race with a far better start under Rosario's guidance.
Even with the discouraging slow time, Espinoza still hasn't pushed California Chrome to his limit—and he still may not have to at the Preakness Stakes. However, the colt was barely laboring after his victorious jaunt at Churchill Downs, so he has plenty on reserve to fly toward the finish if he enters the final turn outside the money.
The historical impact of Napravnik's prospective win would be the best story to get behind other than the obvious California Chrome Triple Crown narrative, yet it would also be somewhat of a letdown for horse racing. If Rosario could pull off a second Triple Crown win in as many years, he would have to be at least argued as the best working jockey in the modern era, even at age 29, and a surefire future Hall of Famer.
Plenty is on the line ahead of the 139th annual Preakness Stakes, but fans will no doubt be clamoring for California Chrome to dominate yet again and continue pursuing horse racing's elusive trifecta of triumphs.