The 2014 Preakness presents a glimmer of hope that California Chrome will bring home a Triple Crown title, but the most dominant horse in the sport comes from rather humble beginnings.
That's certainly not the case for most who will be in attendance at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland on May 17.
In a sport where big-money families flaunt their cash by grooming and racing horses with elaborate lineage, California Chrome sticks out as a sore thumb. Let's take a look at those humble beginnings while listing the integral info for each horse that has already committed to the race.
|California Chrome||Colt||Lucky Pulpit||Love the Chase||Victor Espinoza|
|Pablo Del Monte||Colt||Giant's Causeway||One Hot Wish||Jeffrey Sanchez|
|Kid Cruz||Colt||Lemon Drop Kid||Layreebelle||Julian Pimentel|
|Social Inclusion||Colt||Pioneerof The Nile||Saint Bernadette||Luis Contreras|
|Ride on Curlin||Colt||Curlin||Magical Ride||Joel Rosario|
|Dynamic Impact||Colt||Tiznow||Featherbed||Miguel Mena|
|Bayern||Colt||Offlee Wild||Alittlebitearly||Rosie Napravnik|
|Ring Weekend||Colt||Tapit||Free the Magic||Alan Garcia|
|Ria Antonia||Filly||Rockport Harbor||Beer Barones||Calvin Borel|
|General A Rod||Colt||Roman Ruler||Dynamite Eyes||Javier Castellano|
California Chrome's Improbable Journey
Where exactly did California come from?
Sire Lucky Pulpit never went beyond 5 1/2 furlongs. Dam Love the Chase was a tad more successful, but it's not like either came from wildly successful beginnings that, in tandem, were intended to create some sort of Triple Crown monster.
But that's where we are. California Chrome has won five races in a row, with the first four coming by more than a combined 24 lengths. It was an easy victory at the Kentucky Derby, so much so that jockey Victor Espinoza was able to relax and coast through the finish line.
As for Espinoza, he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes atop War Emblem in 2002. That said, he has finished outside of the top 20 in earnings in five of the last six years and holds no notable wins in recent memory outside of those atop California Chrome as of late.
Even trainer Art Sherman, a 77-year-old veteran who has never trained a Derby horse before this year, is about as average as it gets. He's also agitated with the process of Triple Crown races, as captured by Beth Harris of The Sacramento Bee:
I know it's tradition, but it's grueling. You got three different tracks and you got to travel. It's pushing the envelope a little bit. It takes a horse 11 days to really recover out of a race.
Do you realize how many good horses come out of the Santa Anita Derby and go on to win the Kentucky Derby? You can't go by tracks, every surface is different. They don't pay any more to break track records.
So no, this isn't some perfect storm of finances, legends and the like. It's a horse on a mission, and one that has even surprised those who came together and supported it from the beginning. It's an unlikely story that will only grow if California Chrome continues to win, beginning at the Preakness on Saturday.
Ria Antonia as a Bigger Underdog
The lone female horse confirmed for the proceedings on Saturday so far has a major hill to climb for a wealth of reasons.
For one, Ria Antonia was a rather small investment who is paying off in a big way, primarily thanks to a disqualification, as Preakness.com illustrates:
Ria Antonia was purchased for $9,000 as a yearling by Kyle Griffith and made her first three career starts at Woodbine in Canada. Trained by Ricky Griffith and ridden by Chris Griffith, she beat males to break her maiden by six lengths in her second lifetime start, and was fourth against the boys in the Swynford Stakes.
Purchased privately by Ron Paolucci of Loooch Racing Stable, she was transferred to trainer Jeremiah Englehart and finished fifth in the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont Park. A month later, she lost the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies by a nose but was promoted to the win following the disqualification of She’s a Tiger.
There is not a ton to profile when it comes to sire Rockport Harbor and dam Beer Barones, and to make matters worse, Ria Antonia has yet to win a race in 2014 after looking strong in 2013.
So why is Ria Antonia notable and instantly a favorite? Jockey Calvin Borel. He has only rode in the Preakness twice, with his best finish coming in 2007 atop Street Sense for second place. But Borel is an absolute legend who has taken home three out of the last five Kentucky Derby trophies.
Rick Snider of the Washington Post Express put it best:
Still vetting through the Preakness field, but watch the filly that's now getting jockey Calvin Borel. Major contender.— Rick Snider (@Snide_Remarks) May 12, 2014
It is impossible to overlook Ria Antonia now. Sometimes an elite jockey is what makes the difference between a lackluster performance and a horse having its best race to date and stealing the show.
On Saturday, Borel is that elite jockey.