The Vegas oddsmakers have California Chrome as the 2014 Preakness favorite by a mile—a front-runner status well earned following his stellar Kentucky Derby.
Jockey Victor Espinoza managed Chrome's Churchill Downs run to perfection. He kept his horse just behind the leaders, biding his time until the top of the stretch. At that point, Chrome's charge seemed effortless: He flew out ahead of the pack and coasted into the finish with a sizable cushion behind him.
Chrome was the favorite heading into the Derby, and winning so comfortably only confirms his status as the best horse racing.
After all, the Derby was just a continuation of a trend for Chrome. In 11 career races, the horse has come away with seven victories, and he has picked up four of those wins in as many races this year. That track record of experience and excellence is unmatched amongst his competition.
In fact, Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden believes that Chrome might not actually be a great racehorse but rather greater than a worse-than-usual group of three-year-olds.
California Chrome's slow Derby may be indicator of weak class of 3yos or small chance at Triple Crown. But he still won the Derby.— Tim Layden (@SITimLayden) May 7, 2014
You can read that critique two different ways. If Layden is right, Chrome is still superior to the rest of the field. If he's not and Chrome really is something special, then the his would-be challengers at Pimlico will have an even tougher time upsetting him.
Per the pre-draw betting lines provided by Odds Shark, it doesn't look at all likely that any of them will.
|Ride On Curlin||12/1|
|General a Rod||25/1|
|Pablo Del Monte||25/1|
The field features some interesting, talented racers, but none of them can match California Chrome.
Danza is the highest-profile rival in the field, recently having raced to a third-place Derby finish behind Chrome and Commanding Curve.
That performance was good enough to earn Danza 7-1 odds, but it also was a good run by a horse that fell well short of the victor. The Preakness has a smaller field and a track half a furlong shorter than the Derby's, both of which will reward Chrome's ability to burst ahead when he gets open space in front of him. Under these circumstances, Danza isn't the most serious threat.
Out of this field, the truest rivals to Chrome would be Ride On Curlin and Social Inclusion.
Curlin also ran the Derby, and his disappointing sixth-place finish caused tension in the Curlin camp. As BloodHorse.com's Claire Novak reports (via ESPN.com), jockey Calvin Borel took his horse directly to the rail from the 19th position only to wind up blocked and unable to make a run at the lead. Trainer Billy Gowan had wanted Borel to make his way down more gradually so as to avoid that exact obstacle.
"I told him before the race that he had three-eighths of a mile to work his way over," Gowan said.
Since then, Curlin's team has ousted Borel, replacing him with Joel Rosario for the Preakness run. Even if that mount change does give Curlin some improvement—which isn't the most likely, since Borel is one of the better jockeys around—Chrome has familiarity on his side with Espinoza, who has thrived historically when riding the favorite.
With Chrome head and shoulders above his Derby competition, the only unaccounted factor would be a new shooter showing up fresh for the Preakness and outrunning him.
In that scenario, Social Inclusion would likely be the horse. He has impressed in three career races, all in 2014, resulting in two victories and a third-place finish.
But Inclusion's third came in his last race, at the Wood Memorial, where he finished behind Wicked Strong and Samraat despite being an 8-5 favorite; those two horses each raced the Derby, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively, neither threatening Chrome.
Even coming off a victory in a Triple Crown race, the 5-8 odds for California Chrome are undeniably heavy. But considering what he's done and whom he's facing, they're certainly fair. And don't be surprised if they tip even more for him.