The 2014 Preakness Stakes headlines will be dominated by California Chrome, whose status as the favorite will certainly be a storyline worth delving into. Trainer Art Sherman's talented horse has a shot at pulling off the first Triple Crown since 1978 after winning the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
But in Baltimore, at Maryland's Pimlico Race Course, which is the shortest track in the Triple Crown campaign, a bad trip out of the starting gates may harm California Chrome more than usual. There are at least a couple of favorites who figure to challenge him in the Run for the Black-Eyed Susans.
Just 10 contenders are listed in the current field at Preakness.com, making it a substantially smaller size than the Kentucky Derby's 19 starters. That will afford the jockeys more room to operate and fewer traffic issues, yet it will also be key to keep up with what should be a faster pace.
Here is a look at the complete field and their basic connections as they stand, along with more analysis on the top favorites just over a day before Wednesday's post position draw.
|California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman|
|Pablo Del Monte||Jeffrey Sanchez||Wesley A. Ward|
|Kid Cruz||Julian Pimentel||Linda Rice|
|Social Inclusion||Luis Contreras||Manny Azpurua|
|Ride On Curlin||Joel Rosario||William Gowan|
|Dynamic Impact||Miguel Mena||Mark E. Casse|
|Bayern||Rosie Napravnik||Bob Baffert|
|Ring Weekend||Alan Garcia||H. Graham Motion|
|Ria Antonia||Calvin Borel||Tom Amoss|
|General A Rod||Javier Castellano||Mike Maker|
There isn't much more to say about California Chrome other than the fact that he's now won five races in a row, and the gap between his odds and the rest of his peers will be determined by post position.
None of California Chrome's three closest challengers at the Kentucky Derby are even competing in the Preakness. And history was stacked against him prior to Churchill Downs, yet he still pulled through, per ESPN Stats & Info:
California Chome is the first California-bred Kentucky Derby winner since 1962 (Decidedly).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 3, 2014
But part of where California Chrome hailed from brought him a strong pedigree, as he is the great-grandson of 1991 Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy, whose lineage includes Secretariat, along with Seattle Slew as his sire.
The latter two horses account for the two most recent Triple Crown winners other than the last (Affirmed in 1978). That isn't bad company, as California Chrome has speed and endurance bloodlines to boast that his counterparts simply don't have.
Given that he's lived up to the hype already even as an initial modest investment of $10,000, there is reason to believe California Chrome will deliver the goods again. Jockey Victor Espinoza has done nothing but win in the irons, and he has a shot at the Triple Crown after falling one race short at the Belmont with War Emblem in 2002.
A third-place finish in the Wood Memorial Stakes suggests that Social Inclusion could be the biggest threat to knock off California Chrome on Saturday. However, it was discouraging that Social Inclusion fell off down the final stretch after looking like a safe bet to jaunt to the winner's circle.
With two wins in as many previous races, Social Inclusion shouldn't be discounted despite his fading at the Wood Memorial. That came at the hands of two Kentucky Derby contenders, including the champion Wicked Strong, who finished just outside the money in fourth at Churchill Downs.
Jockey Luis Contreras expressed confidence about the work his horse put in on Monday, per the Daily Racing Form's Marcus Hersh:
Social Inclusion jock Contreras said mount felt 'very light' working over PIM surface. 'He felt like he was flying.' #preakness— Marcus Hersh (@DRFHersh) May 12, 2014
Also worth considering is that the other favorites in California Chrome and Bayern have raced more recently than Social Inclusion has. His longer layoff from competition could translate to a better run, and that gives him some favor on a faster track.
The Preakness is a swifter race by nature, so if Contreras can get Social Inclusion to run as well as he did amid his early work at Pimlico, signs suggest that the horse could crush California Chrome's Triple Crown dreams.
The X-factor here is jockey Rosie Napravnik, who got her start in graded stakes racing at Pimlico by getting her license at the race track in 2005.
Napravnik is excited about how well Bayern has run. She doesn't seem to be down despite being disqualified in their last start together at the Kentucky Derby Trial Stakes, the circumstances of which she discussed in a report by The Baltimore Sun, via the Maryland Jockey Club:
Coming out of the 1 hole, we had to play a forced hand and go to the lead and it was deeper on the inside of the track. He still ran a good race. He was a game horse. The DQ, I don't have much to say about that. He won the race and had to be very gritty to do it.
[...] His work was absolutely incredible. He really impresses me in the morning. I was super-excited about him for the Derby Trial and if we're able to have a little more options in positioning, I think he'll be better around two turns than the one-turn mile.
Who will win the Preakness Stakes?
Having a Hall of Fame trainer in Bob Baffert helps the cause a lot for Bayern, who ran third at the Grade I Arkansas Derby behind only Danza—a third-place finisher at Churchill Downs—and Ride On Curlin. That is some rather elite company, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Bayern bounce back after the Trial Stakes disappointment.
Already one of the more decorated American jockeys at age 26, all that's really missing from Napravnik's resume is a Triple Crown triumph. While her potential Preakness win may not be welcomed by those hoping California Chrome pulls off the mega trifecta, the friendly crowds in Baltimore will certainly be thrilled.
It would be a landmark achievement for women in the horse racing industry, too. That would be even more of a rarity than a Triple Crown, but given the hype California Chrome has generated, his dominance after modest beginnings and Sherman finally breaking through at age 77, it's hard to root against him.
Any other victor would be an attention-commanding upset, so all of those elements figure to create a ton of excitement for the 139th annual running of the Preakness Stakes.