2014 Preakness Results: The Biggest Lessons Learned at Pimlico
California Chrome held off a late-charging Ride On Curlin to win the 139th Preakness Stakes and become the 13th horse since Affirmed to keep the Triple Crown dream alive entering the Belmont Stakes. Chrome coasted to win the longer Kentucky Derby, but he had to earn the Preakness.
Chrome had to move earlier than he wanted. Social Inclusion, a bit fractious in the gate and lathered in the walkover, pressed Chrome with a half-mile to run. It forced his hand and Chrome ran away from him. Social Inclusion is a fine horse.
But what are the major takeaways in the immediate aftermath of the Preakness? These are things worth exploring while the blood is still pulsing like it was us running 1 3/16th miles at Pimlico.
Before we turn our attention to the Belmont Stakes in three weeks, let's examine what we learned from Preakness 139 and the perfect trip California Chrome gave us.
Lesson No. 1: Slow Kentucky Derby? Big Deal
So much manure was heaped on California Chrome for his pedestrian Kentucky Derby time. He won that race in 2:03.66, the slowest fast-track time since 1974. Many thought that maybe Chrome wasn't that fast, hence all the new shooters that thought the Woodlawn Vase was theirs for the taking.
How wrong they were.
Chrome hit the wire, running away from a game Ride On Curlin, with a final running time of 1:54.84 seconds. That. Is. Fast.
Oxbow won this race a year ago in a time of 1:57.54. Chrome's final time was as fast as the great Big Brown in 2008, the last horse to make it to Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown (In 2012, I'll Have Another won the Derby and Preakness, but scratched before the Belmont with an injury.)
Chrome showed he can run as fast as he needs to win a race and the Preakness proved that in spades.
Lesson No. 2: Derby Horses Run Well in the Preakness
Only three horses came out of the Kentucky Derby to run in the Preakness: California Chrome, Ride On Curlin and General a Rod.
Here's their order of finish:
Ride On Curlin, second
General a Rod, fourth
Sounds like two weeks' rest being too short is a myth. The Washington Post's Andrew Beyer thinks so:
Kentucky Derby winners regularly come back to deliver smashing performances in Baltimore: Funny Cide (2003) won by nearly 10 lengths, Smarty Jones (2004) won by 111/2 Big Brown (2008) by 51/2. In 2012 I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister finished 1-2 in the Derby, then ran much faster in the Preakness and finished 1-2 again. None of them bounced. When Derby winners have flopped in Baltimore — such as Orb in 2013■ and Super Saver in 2010 — the explanation may be that they benefited from perfect trips at Churchill and didn’t get such an easy setup at Pimlico.
All the new shooters, with the exception of Social Inclusion (third), finished far back of the "too tired" Derby runners.
Lesson 3: Talent Wins the Preakness
Gary West of ESPN.com said it best that the conditions or circumstances of the Kentucky Derby often yield the winner. Hence the saying "the luckiest horse wins the Derby." The field is huge and post position and trip can neutralize many good, viable horses.
The Preakness, on the other hand, is reserved for the fastest horse and the most talented in the field. Some thought that because of the perfect trip Chrome got in the Derby (thanks in part to his jockey, Victor Espinoza) and his final time of 2:03.66, the horse was merely lucky and perhaps not the most gifted.
Then, Chrome went toe-to-toe with the horse many felt was the most talented in the field: Social Inclusion. Social Inclusion earned the fastest Beyer Speed Figure of any horse in the Preakness field heading into the race, a 110. But the Preakness was only his fourth start and Chrome's 12th. Seasoning and ability won out.
West wrote, "But in Baltimore, the Preakness peels away the pomp, minimizes the excuses and takes the sport to the center of things, where there's a pure horse race and the best horse wins."
In this case, the lucky horse from the Derby was also the fastest in the Preakness.
Lesson No. 4: Jockey Changes Can Work
Billy Gowan, trainer to Ride On Curlin, made a bold move by changing jockeys after the Kentucky Derby. He went from Calvin Borel to Joel Rosario. Rosario almost came through aboard the son of Curlin.
One of the reasons Gowan went with Rosario was how hard he finishes.
"All these jockeys are trying to win," Gowan told the Maryland Jockey Club. "They want to win races just like I do. It’s just racing luck and circumstances. He’s (Rosario) a really strong finisher on a horse, and it’s going to take a really strong finisher to beat California Chrome and all these horses. They’re all nice horses."
With Social Inclusion, Pablo Del Monte and the inexplicable early move of Ria Antonia to the front in the Preakness, Rosario and Ride On Curlin got the hot pace a deep closer needs. Ride On Curlin wasn't catching Chrome, but just like Gowan said, Rosario finished strong.
Second in the Preakness is reason to party hard in Baltimore on Saturday night.
Lesson No. 5: If You're Skipping a Race, Skip the Belmont
The second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth horses from the Derby all skipped the Preakness and are likely heading to the Belmont Stakes. After watching how well Derby runners tend to perform in the Preakness, why wait? Strike while the horse is hot.
Chrome, Ride On Curlin and General a Rod were one, two and four, respectively, in a race worth $1.5 million. Sure, it's only two weeks after the Derby but it's a half-furlong shorter at 1 3/16 miles. The Belmont is 1 1/2 miles. Trainers like the five weeks' rest between the Derby and Belmont, but no horse these days is bred for 12 furlongs. Many would argue they're not bred for 10.
No horse "gets" 12 furlongs anymore. Someone has to win, but it doesn't mean they "get" the distance. The Belmont is a war of attrition and five weeks allow more time to race for arms.
A trainer barely has to tend to the horse after the Derby. So long as the horse is sound, there's very little training involved. They just ran 10 furlongs. They're dead fit. Run them in a shorter race worth just as much money.
So, Commanding Curve. Danza, Wicked Strong, Samraat and Dance With Fate could all be bound for Belmont, having skipped the Preakness (with the exception of Dance With Fate, who is running on grass soon). They better be ready. Chrome walked to the winner's circle with his ears pricked. With three weeks to rest up, and a perfect running style to boot, he's going to be scary against the Belmont new shooters.
Tom Hammond, NBC's lead anchor for horse-racing coverage, said after the Preakness, "The last horse to win the Preakness at [odds of] 1-2? Affirmed. Is that not an omen?"
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