California Chrome is going to be the clear favorite entering the 2014 Preakness Stakes. With the chance to be the first Triple Crown winner in decades, he will keep those dreams alive by cruising to victory at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland.
Jockey Victor Espinoza is the ideal candidate to continue the momentum for California Chrome. First of all, he's won five consecutive races in the irons. In the most recent Kentucky Derby triumph, Espinoza broke his horse at the perfect time, and even eased him up at the finish to still win by 1 3/4 lengths.
In the four triumphs prior to that victorious run at Churchill Downs, California Chrome had won by 24 1/4 lengths combined, then proved he could get it done on the biggest stage possible even as the unquestioned horse to beat.
There is reason to be a touch apprehensive about California Chrome making a quick turnaround. Never before has he had so little time to recover between races, but J.J. Hysell's analysis from Monday suggests that California Chrome isn't feeling unfit at all as he heads off to Pimlico:
Even though this is a Triple Crown race, the field just doesn't have that many formidable contenders to give California Chrome a massive challenge. While that somewhat increases the pressure to find the winner's circle, it's also not going to require as strong of a ride as it did in Louisville in all likelihood.
The Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman alluded to how Danza, who placed third in the Kentucky Derby, isn't a likely starter at the Preakness, leaving just Ride On Curlin as the only other competitor from the first leg of the Triple Crown:
At the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby before Churchill Downs, California Chrome proved to have the combination of stamina and speed required to travel the 1 1/8 miles on that track to run away from the field. Pimlico isn't too much further at 1 3/16 miles, and Espinoza really hasn't pushed California Chrome to his breaking point yet—and wisely so.
Espinoza was a bit fickle in his remarks to 97.1 The Fan Columbus' Anthony Rothman about how well California Chrome has fared:
Although some may criticize California Chrome's slower Kentucky Derby time, he still did enough to win and didn't explode through the finish like he's proved capable of doing in the past. Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden weighed in on that, along with the aforementioned notion that there isn't a lot of greatness for California Chrome to compete against:
As long as Espinoza is close to the rest of the pack entering the final turn at the Preakness Stakes, he should have no trouble steering a victorious ride for trainer Art Sherman.
There's no question that Sherman has the most talented horse in the Preakness field in his stable, so it's just a matter of executing a smooth ride. California Chrome isn't known for his great starts, which threatens to hamper his bid for Preakness glory.
However, the combination of his talent and Espinoza's opportunity to redeem a failed Triple Crown effort in 2002 aboard War Emblem make that tandem tough to bet against. Espinoza has come so close to Triple Crown glory before, and won the Preakness with War Emblem before falling short in the Belmont Stakes. With watered down competition and a sensational trip due following the slow pace at Churchill Downs, Espinoza won't let this opportunity slip for California Chrome.