The consensus favorite for the 2014 Preakness Stakes after winning the Kentucky Derby, California Chrome is seeking to complete the second leg of the Triple Crown on Saturday.
But will he do it?
Well, oddsmakers seem to think he will. He's currently the favorite with 3-5 odds, via the Preakness' official site on May 16, though there are other horses in the mix as well. Here's the full list of odds for all 10 horses in the field:
|2014 Preakness Stakes Final Odds|
|2||General A Rod||15-1|
|9||Pablo Del Monte||20-1|
|10||Ride On Curlin||10-1|
|HRTV, Official Preakness Odds|
There's a reason Chrome is the favorite, however. His versatility and ability to maintain a cruising speed make him tough to beat, even at a short spring track like Pimlico Race Course. Look for Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza to be in the winner's circle on Saturday.
Here are some predictions for how Chrome will go about his business at the 139th running of the Preakness.
California Chrome Will Start Behind the Pack
When the Kentucky Derby began, Chrome was not near the front of the pack. Espinoza kept him toward the back, conserving energy. He wasn't behind the pack, but just at the back of the main group.
Jeremy Pond of James Grant Sports was a big fan of Chrome's strategically slow start:
This will be important for Chrome, even on a shorter track. Sure, he faces some faster competition from the likes of Social Inclusion and Bayern. Neither horse is at Chrome's level, though.
Espinoza knows what the horse is capable of doing—hence why he kept Chrome behind the leaders early on in the derby. Ben Roberts of the Lexington-Herald Leader has why Espinoza does this:
While watching Chrome start slowly might be nerve-racking, you'll have to trust the talents of Espinoza and the gameplan in place. Chrome will be just fine.
Chrome Will Dominate the Middle Portion of the Race
After Chrome stretches his legs out, expect him to dominate the middle part of the race before maintaining his lead at the end.
This will all hinge on how effectively Espinoza can keep Chrome behind the leaders, but assuming he does, look for Chrome to turn on the jets and take over first place. Once at top speed, Chrome is capable of maintaining his speed—that's what makes him special.
Other horses will run out of energy after posting a faster start. Some will try to build up a large lead in the beginning in hopes of it being large enough to hold up over the course of the race. Jockeys need to plan for longevity, though, and that's what Espinoza does well when riding Chrome.
The middle part of the race will be all Chrome. He'll come from a position of fifth or sixth to first place within a matter of seconds and then maintain that position heading into the final part of the race.
Chrome Will Edge Social Inclusion by a Nose
This is where the competition strikes back.
After watching Chrome blast from the middle to first, the other jockeys will push their respective horses harder to make up ground. Social Inclusion, one of the better horses in the event, will make this race much closer than originally predicted.
Inclusion is extraordinarily fast, as noted by Tom Pedulla of the New York Times:
He [Social Inclusion] romped by seven-and-a-half lengths when he debuted Feb. 22 at Gulfstream Park in Florida. He then burst onto the national scene March 12, when he smashed the track record there with a time of 1 minute 40.97 second for a mile-and-a-sixteenth in a 10-length rout of Honor Code, a graded stakes winner. (The previous mark of 1:41 was set by Devil’s Cave less than a month earlier.)
Also working in Social Inclusion’s favor is that he earned a 110 Beyer Speed Figure during that record-setting performance; California Chrome, whose top Beyer is 108, posted a winning time of 2:03.66 in the Derby, the slowest winning mark on a Derby track labeled fast since 1974.
You can chalk that slow time in the Derby up to a lot of things—like the fact that the track hadn't been watered in hours before the race began—but it's really irrelevant. Chrome may not have posted a strong Beyer in the Derby, but he has posted very strong ones before—as noted by Pedulla.
It will be a two-horse race at the end, with Inclusion making a surprising push for the win. The talents of Espinoza and Chrome won't be upset, however, and the duo will win by a nose.