Drawing the No. 3 post position at the 2014 Preakness Stakes has doomed starters at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, over the past two decades. However, No. 1 Preakness favorite California Chrome will buck the trend by winning the Run for the Black-Eyed Susans on Saturday and move within one victory of the Triple Crown.
It was revealed Wednesday that California Chrome would start in the third post as the 3-5 morning-line favorite, per WKYC's John Anderson:
The next closest contender is Social Inclusion, who's listed as a 5-1 shot to find the winner's circle, per Preakness.com. That disparity shows just how high expectations are for California Chrome to become the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978.
Beth Harris of the Associated Press pointed out how long it's been since someone has won the Preakness from the third post, though:
California Chrome has done nothing but win regardless of where he's started for five straight races, and all of them have been with jockey Victor Espinoza in the irons. Save for the Kentucky Derby, all the prior wins were dominant, runaway triumphs.
Even down the final stretch at Churchill Downs, Espinoza separated himself from the other 18 entrants and eased up at the finish.
That suggests California Chrome has more in the tank, and it was also a wise decision to preserve him for the quick turnaround to Pimlico. Assistant trainer Alan Sherman expressed gratitude that California Chrome finally broke through as the horse he and his team produced that has already raced into the record books.
"It’s pretty awesome," said Sherman, per the New York Daily News' Jerry Bossert. "Every year when you get the 2-year-olds in you’re saying, 'maybe this will be the one that will get us to the Derby,' but we’ve been saying that for a lot of years now and we finally made it. It’s really special."
And there's plenty of reason to believe California Chrome's winning ways will continue. There just isn't a lot of formidable competition in this field. Beyond Social Inclusion, who had two impressive wins that preceded a third-place effort at the Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes, only Bayern seems like a big threat. Jockey Rosie Napravnik knows Pimlico well, and Bayern also has the legendary Bob Baffert as his trainer.
Those horses have shown signs of brilliance this season, but none boast the resume California Chrome has. Espinoza has such an excellent feel for the talented colt and hasn't even pushed him to his maximum limit yet. If he does need to kick it into an extra gear to keep the dream of a Triple Crown alive, it can happen.
California Chrome's extended pedigree from A.P. Indy traces back to Triple Crown winners Seattle Slew and Secretariat, per Equineline.com. Those two preceded Affirmed as the most recent legends to achieve the premier accolade in horse racing. So not only are the results there, but California Chrome also has the heredity to suggest he can be an all-track superstar.
The pace of the Preakness is bound to be faster than the slow clip California Chrome cruised to victory in Louisville at, but he will be up to the challenge on a slightly shorter Pimlico track. Those who doubt him for beating a sluggish field at Churchill Downs should be near silence when California Chrome overcomes his adverse post position to still emerge with the top prize in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Any other outcome for the 139th Preakness Stakes will not suffice to maintain interest in the remainder of this golden stretch in horse racing. The Belmont Stakes needs a Triple Crown hopeful to keep the hype strong, and California Chrome has the goods to deliver.
Given the decades since Affirmed pulled off the ultimate trifecta, it seems appropriate that such a rare horse in California Chrome would break a decades-long drought from his Preakness post position to preserve his Triple Crown hopes.