Triple Crown buzz is the norm rather than the exception after the Kentucky Derby. Horse-racing fans—dedicated and casual alike—are always looking for the next special horse that can win all three races, but there was something different about the murmuring surrounding California Chrome. The conditions are right for the California-bred colt to make good on his incredibly short odds and win the Preakness Stakes—inching closer to the elusive sweep.
Early on Friday, it looked like the Pimlico track would be a muddy mess for Saturday’s race. Rain lashed down on the dirt track, resulting in horses getting work in on a track that looked like this (courtesy of Lamont Williams for ABC2 News):
Those muddy conditions did not bode well for the favorites, since the slippery track levels the playing field somewhat. Footing is hard to find, tumbles are more likely and it becomes a more random event when the ground underfoot is equal parts liquid and solid.
Fortunately for California Chrome, the sun made an appearance late on Friday and the conditions improved significantly.
Briana Lada of AccuWeather.com gives his meteorological two cents on the conditions at Pimlico for today’s race: "The rain-free weather and a breeze from the west will help to dry the track surface after nearly 2 inches of rain soaked the area on Friday."
The drier track bodes well for the favorites, and California Chrome should be able to generate his trademark closing speed to be a major factor at the end of the race.
A lot has been made about the health of the Triple Crown candidate since his Derby victory, with reports surfacing that a cough may impact his performance at the Preakness.
As it turns out, it all appears to be much ado about nothing. Here’s what assistant trainer Alan Sherman told Joe Drape of The New York Times about his horse:
The horse is completely fine. 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...He’s fine. He had it going into the Derby, and it went away. After he ran there, it came back a little bit, but it’s not a big deal at all.
It makes sense that any possible health issue that could affect California Chrome’s performance would be big news, but it has been blown out of proportion. The horse’s training staff have no concerns about his ability to perform up to his lofty standards tonight, and that’s trouble for the rest of the field.
Dominance in Recent Races
Critics have pointed to California Chrome’s unimpressive finishing time at Churchill Downs as an indication that he isn’t the next special horse capable of winning the Triple Crown. But Chrome has absolutely dominated the competition in his last five races—including a Derby win that wasn’t at all close at the end:
Furthermore, jockey Victor Espinoza claims that the Derby winner wasn’t all that comfortable on that track according to Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated:
I don't think he liked the track that day. He was working a lot harder than usual to get over the surface. It was not easy for him. He was tired after that race. Horses get tired after every race, but he used a lot of energy in the Derby.
California Chrome has looked so impressive in his last five races that there is no evidence to suggest a sudden dip in performance should be expected.
SI's Tim Layden broke down the relationship between the Derby and the Preakness in his preview for tonight’s action:
The Triple Crown comes to the Preakness for validation and truth. The Kentucky Derby is the most important and most watched horse race in the United States (and perhaps in the world), but with its 20-horse field, unfamiliar and grueling 1¼-mile distance and intense atmosphere, it can produce inexplicable results. In the parlance of the game, the wrong horse can win the Derby. But the wrong horse seldom comes back two weeks later and wins the Preakness. Lightning strikes once.
California Chrome didn’t win at Churchill Downs by a fluke. He’s not the wrong horse. With great conditions, good health and excellent form, the stage is set for California Chrome to thrive at Pimlico and keep the Triple Crown hopes alive.