California Chrome enters the 2014 Preakness Stakes as a massive favorite, and with good reason—no horse in the field is capable of seriously threatening the Kentucky Derby winner Saturday.
That's not to say there are no other capable winners among the field of 10 horses at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, but the gap between them and the Triple Crown contender is simply too wide.
California Chrome has proven this before, coming into Churchill Downs off a furious four-race win streak.
But it wasn't the amount of wins California Chrome had that most captivated the horse racing world, it was the margin of victory. Those four wins were so lopsided that California Chrome won them all by a combined 24 lengths.
The 140th Kentucky Derby was supposed to be the upgrade in talent and speed necessary to hold off California Chrome's late surge. It wasn't.
At Churchill Downs, California Chrome got exactly where he wanted to be—on the rail. Jockey Victor Espinoza kept him near the front of the pack and near the inside, a prime location to separate from the field down the stretch, which he did.
Speedy, trendy picks like Danza, Ride on Curlin, Wicked Strong and more were all gunning for California Chrome's lead. None were close, and the favorite was set to win the Run for the Roses by a large margin before Commanding Curve cut it to less than two lengths before reaching the finish line.
California Chrome is assured to see another tough set of competitors, but as he's shown before, they won't make the Derby winner break a sweat.
Ride on Curlin and General a Rod headline the list of Derby racers at Pimlico, but if they couldn't shine against California Chrome in that packed field, it's unlikely they will be a serious test to the favorite Saturday.
Social Inclusion is gaining steam with 5-1 odds released after the post position draw. However, a lack of quality competition—three career races, two at Gulfstream Park and one win at the Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes—and pulling out of Kentucky Derby contention raise questions.
Bayern is another trendy pick who is rested and opened his career with two victories at Santa Anita. But a second-place finish in the one-mile Grade 3 Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill Downs a week before the Derby doesn't jump off the page.
There are contenders in the mix, yes, but none prove to be a serious threat to California Chrome. A horse that comes in with nearly a 26-length advantage in his last five results and a resounding Derby victory is awfully hard to knock off.
California Chrome saw a bit of a scare in Thursday's preparations with a nagging cough, but trainer Art Sherman assured that his horse is still in great shape, per Preakness.com:
“The horse is completely fine,” he said in the statement. “His blood work came back perfect. He coughed about four times today and we got him checked out right away. The blister isn’t going to affect him at all; the vet said there were absolutely no other problems, nothing else going on.”
Bayern, Social Inclusion or one of the well-rested horses might run a perfect race. That still won't be enough to hold off California Chrome, as long as fatigue doesn't creep in.
Even if it does, the Preakness features the shortest track of each of the three Triple Crown races. If California Chrome does lose his pace late and one of the upset picks emerge, he's proven to have enough in the tank to still finish strong.
The best bet for Saturday, just like it was at Churchill Downs and just like it will be at Belmont in a few weeks, is on the resounding favorite.
Note: All information courtesy of Preakness.com unless otherwise noted