You'd be forgiven if you thought the 2014 Preakness Stakes was less a race and more a coronation ceremony for Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome.
According to the Preakness' official website, the three-year-old is a heavy favorite heading into Saturday. He was sitting on 3-5 odds in the morning line. The next-best odds belonged to Social Inclusion, at 5-1.
If California Chrome does prevail at Pimlico, he'll be one step closer to becoming the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
Trainer Art Sherman, though, commented that a win at Churchill Downs was all the horse needed to prove his worth, per Claire Novak of The Blood-Horse:
Still, that Triple Crown might feel pretty good.
When: Saturday, May 17, at 6:18 p.m. ET
Where: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore, Maryland
Watch: NBC (coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. ET)
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra
On Thursday, the Associated Press (via ESPN.com) reported that California Chrome had a blister in his throat, which led to some coughing fits in the stables. Novak, though, believed that it was all much ado about nothing:
Don't think there's much truth to rumors of California Chrome getting sick. "Cough" was more like throat clearing after am training.— Claire Novak (@BH_CNovak) May 15, 2014
At this point, the only thing that could stop California Chrome is California Chrome. Between his strong run at the Derby and a generally weakened Preakness field, it would take a major surprise to see any result other than the colt winning.
If California Chrome is suffering from some sort health problem, that would level the playing field a bit. In the absence of that, nobody else has much of a shot.
Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde wrote that the Triple Crown schedule is such that few horses are able to make the quick turnaround from the Kentucky Derby to the Preakness Stakes, watering down the latter:
The bleakness of this Preakness field emphasizes a fundamental flaw in thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown. It is run on an outdated calendar. The turnaround from the first Saturday in May to the third Saturday in May is not something most thoroughbred owners and trainers are interested in trying.
Almost nobody races their horses on two weeks' rest anymore, which is the time between the Derby and this race. The only horse in this year's Preakness field to have run on a two-week layoff is Bayern, who contested the Arkansas Derby April 12 and then came back to run in the Derby Trial April 26 to open Churchill Downs' spring meet. Trainer Bob Baffert is so excited about Bayern's chances that he hadn't even shown up at Pimlico as of Thursday morning, letting an assistant handle pre-race prep.
Even Sherman is in favor of adding some time between the two races, as he told Forde.
I would love to see at least three [weeks between the Derby and Preakness]. It takes a horse about 11 days to completely recover out of a race. … It's pushing the envelope a little bit [to run again in 14]. … But here I am trying it, so I'm hoping the racing gods are looking down on me.
Maybe two weeks will be too little time for California Chrome to recover from his Derby win and prepare for the Preakness Stakes.
This is the shortest race on the Triple Crown circuit, so it does add some unpredictability to Saturday's race.
Both Social Inclusion and Bayern have speed in abundance. On a longer track, they might have a little more trouble battling with California Chrome. Over 1 3/16 miles, though, they'll thrive. Those two represent by far the strongest contenders to dethrone California Chrome before he heads into Belmont two-thirds of the way to a Triple Crown.
They did stumble a bit in their most high-profile races to date, with Social Inclusion finishing third at the Wood Memorial and Bayern likewise at the Arkansas Derby. Both of those races were run at 1 1/8 miles, though.
Bayern will give California Chrome a great run. USA Today's Jennie Rees reported that trainer Bob Baffert is taking the horse's blinders off, which will only speed him up that much more.
You cannot look past the Derby winner, though, to make it 2-for-2 in his Triple Crown pursuit.
Winner: California Chrome