The 139th running of the Preakness Stakes features a colt with a realistic chance of ending horse racing's 36-year Triple Crown drought. That horse is California Chrome, who's won five straight marquee races, including the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago.
Social Inclusion, Ride On Curlin and Bayern headline the group of horses trying to put an end to the favorite's bid for history. While there are certainly some solid horses joining California Chrome in the Pimlico starting gate, it's certainly his race to lose.
With that in mind, let's take an at updated look at the entire field and their odds for the second jewel of the Triple Crown. It's followed by a projected finish chart for the 2014 Preakness and a complete breakdown of Saturday's featured race.
2014 Preakness Stakes Field and Odds
|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 17 at 11:45 a.m. ET)
|3rd||Ride On Curlin|
|4th||Pablo Del Monte|
|8th||General a Rod|
Social Inclusion and Pablo Del Monte are breaking from next to each other on the outside. Both horses prefer early speed, which means jockeys Luis Contreras and Jeffrey Sanchez will each make an immediate push toward the front.
The most important thing for both of those horses is avoiding an extended battle early on. They want to gain the early edge, but if they push too hard, they won't have nearly enough left in the tank to hold off California Chrome in the end.
Social Inclusion is the biggest threat to the favorite. Not only is he fresh after missing out on the Kentucky Derby due to a limited prep schedule, but he also flashed the top-end ability necessary to beat the Derby winner two starts ago.
Steve Sherack of the Thoroughbred Daily News has been impressed with the second choice's preparation work, as well:
California Chrome got a perfect ride two weeks ago. Victor Espinoza will attempt to replicate it by having the Triple Crown hopeful settle in just behind the lead pack. He just doesn't want to get caught up in an early speed duel.
There was some concern earlier in the week about his health. His connections quickly downplayed any of the speculation about his status. On Friday, Jennie Rees of USA Today passed along comments from assistant trainer Alan Sherman:
California Chrome is fine. His throat is fine. He's got a little tickle in his throat, that's why he coughed. He's not going to be scratched. It's not a problem. I don't know why it got blown out of proportion but it did. So we're just letting everybody know this horse is in perfect shape.
If California Chrome is healthy and gets a clean trip around Pimlico, there isn't a horse in the field capable of beating him. That's why even a minor illness became a big story in the days leading up to the Triple Crown's second leg.
The favorite will likely be joined by fellow closers Ride On Curlin and Dynamic Impact in the trailing pack. All three have shown great closing speed at times during their young careers, but California Chrome is a step better than the rest.
Which horse will win the Preakness?
Then there's the case of a couple middling contenders in Kid Cruz and General a Rod.
Kid Cruz hasn't shown the top-end speed of the favorite. That said, he's won two straight races, including at Pimlico last time out. At the Derby, Commanding Curve was seemingly a non-factor but had previous success at Churchill Downs and ended up finishing second. So experience at a track helps.
General a Rod finished a distant 11th in the Derby, but that lack of success was due in large part to the crowded field. He never found the space necessary to make a serious charge. With more open track, he has a better chance of getting into the mix.
Rounding out the field, it would take an extraordinary and unexpected effort for either Ring Weekend or Ria Antonia to contend.
In the end, no matter what angle you look at the race from, California Chrome is the best horse. Unless something happens, whether it be a very poor break or the illness is a bigger factor than expected, he should win the race.
It's a result horse racing would certainly welcome. The Belmont Stakes immediately becomes a must-see event if the Triple Crown will be on the line. Look for California Chrome to move one step closer to that goal on Saturday.