The biggest question mark heading into the 2014 Preakness Stakes is whether there's a horse capable of challenging California Chrome if the Kentucky Derby winner is at his best. The Triple Crown hopeful has been nothing short of dominant over his past five races.
California Chrome leads a field of 10 into the 139th running of the showcase race at Pimlico Race Course. His status as the clear favorite is both deserved and unsurprising, but all it takes is one mistake to open the door for the other contenders.
With that in mind, let's check out a complete list of the horses hoping to capture the second jewel of the Triple Crown. It's followed by a breakdown of the top three contenders in Saturday's marquee race.
2014 Preakness Stakes Field
|1||Dynamic Impact||Miguel Mena||Mark E. Casse||12-1|
|2||General a Rod||Javier Castellano||Mike Maker||15-1|
|3||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||3-5|
|4||Ring Weekend||Alan Garcia||H. Graham Motion||20-1|
|5||Bayern||Rosie Napravnik||Bob Baffert||10-1|
|6||Ria Antonia||Calvin Borel||Tom Amoss||30-1|
|7||Kid Cruz||Julian Pimentel||Linda Rice||20-1|
|8||Social Inclusion||Luis Contreras||Manny Azpurua||5-1|
|9||Pablo Del Monte||Jeffrey Sanchez||Wesley A. Ward||20-1|
|10||Ride on Curlin||Joel Rosario||William Gowan||10-1|
Odds via Odds Shark (May 16 at 2:45 p.m.)
1. California Chrome (Victor Espinoza)
The Kentucky Derby standout can take another step toward history by winning the Preakness. His last two starts, both against elite Grade I competition, were outstanding. And he's looked virtually unstoppable since a win in the King Glorious Stakes last December.
As California Chrome showed as he made the turn for home in the Derby, he's discovered another gear that no other horse has been able to match. Trainer Art Sherman is confident his talented colt will put it on display again this week, as noted by Jay Privman of Daily Racing Form:
Art Sherman says "my horse will run his race...they better have their running shoes on." #Preakness— Jay Privman (@DRFPrivman) May 16, 2014
Quite simply, if California Chrome gets a clean trip around Pimlico, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which he doesn't win the race. Only if something goes wrong for Victor Espinoza during the ride will another horse have a serious shot to pull off the upset.
2. Social Inclusion (Luis Contreras)
Should California Chrome fail to put together another strong showing, Social Inclusion is the horse most likely to capitalize. The only concern with him is a lack of experience, which makes it tough to predict what he's going to do from race to race.
Which horse will win the Preakness?
For example, he shined with awe-inspiring display during an allowance race at Gulfstream Park two months ago. Unfortunately, he couldn't back it up in the Wood Memorial—his first major test—the next time out and fell short of making the Kentucky Derby field.
He arrives to the Preakness Stakes fresh but with just three career starts and only one against top-end competition. Luis Contreras must try to capitalize on Social Inclusion's early speed by pushing to the front and then setting a fair pace to save some energy to outrun California Chrome down the stretch.
3. Ride On Curlin (Joel Rosario)
Ride On Curlin finished a distant seventh in the Kentucky Derby. While that would normally be enough to write off a horse in a rematch situation, the way he finished at least gives his connections hope for a better result this time around.
He fell way off the pace in the early going at Churchill Downs, and the early deficit was too much to overcome given California Chrome's strong finishing kick. That said, Ride On Curlin did make up a lot of ground during the final quarter of the race to move up into seventh.
Along with the solid finish, Donna Brothers of NBC Sports was impressed with how he's performed ahead of the Preakness:
Ride On Curlin looked GREAT breezing. Don't know the time but he did it EASY & under wraps.— Donna Brothers (@donnabbrothers) May 14, 2014
Switching to Rosario should also help. The 29-year-old jockey has ranked inside the top five in earnings for five straight years. If he can keep Ride On Curlin within striking distance and replicate the late surge from the Derby, the horse will be in the mix.