There was never a doubt.
California Chrome, much to the delight of the more than 120,000 fans in attendance in Baltimore, held off the rest of the field to win the Preakness. The Triple Crown dream is alive and kicking, and the champion horse will certainly be put under the microscope in the coming weeks before the Belmont Stakes.
SportsCenter and ESPN Stats & Info put California Chrome’s victory into perspective by adding some context:
Lucky number 13? California Chrome is 13th horse to win both Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes since last Triple Crown in 1978.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 17, 2014
California Chrome joins Big Brown (2008) & Smarty Jones (2004) as the only odds-on favorites to win the Preakness since 1980.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 17, 2014
While California Chrome was clearly the headliner, here is a look at the entire chart of finishers at the Preakness:
|1||3||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||-|
|2||10||Ride On Curlin||Joel Rosario||William Gowan||1 1/2|
|3||8||Social Inclusion||Luis Contreras||Manny Azpurua||8|
|4||2||General a Rod||Javier Castellano||Mike Maker||8|
|5||4||Ring Weekend||Alan Garcia||H. Graham Motion||12 1/4|
|6||9||Pablo Del Monte||Jeffrey Sanchez||Wesley A. Ward||14|
|7||1||Dynamic Impact||Miguel Mena||Mark E. Casse||15 3/4|
|8||7||Kid Cruz||Julian Pimentel||Linda Rice||15 3/4|
|9||5||Bayern||Rosie Napravnik||Bob Baffert||20 3/4|
|10||6||Ria Antonia||Calvin Borel||Tom Amoss||30 3/4|
Jockey Victor Espinoza deserves plenty of credit for this victory. He got California Chrome off the rail immediately with a quick start from the No. 3 posting, settled in just off the pace for the middle of the race and then flashed that closing speed for the second straight time to capture the title.
Espinoza, who is now a perfect six-for-six atop California Chrome, couldn’t have scripted it any better.
The jockey discussed the race in the immediate aftermath, via Amanda Duckworth of ESPN.com:
It's an awesome feeling to have a horse like California Chrome. It was a crazy race. I got more tired mentally than physically. It worked out well, and he's an amazing horse. This Preakness was tough. It has to be a super horse to win the Triple Crown. Hopefully, California Chrome will come back good, and, hopefully, he can do it.
The roar of the crowd you heard when California Chrome broke free from the pack near the end of the race will only intensify as we head into the Belmont Stakes. Fair or not, the temporary popularity of the sport itself rests on this horse’s shoulders, and now all that stands in between him and history is a 1 1/2 mile race in New York.
However, since 1978, we have seen 12 horses enter the Belmont with the Triple Crown at stake, and all 12 of them failed. It’s far from easy to win three pressure-packed races in five weeks, especially when a nearly new crop of challengers pops up in between each competition.
Espinoza certainly knows this. He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2002 with War Emblem but failed to capture the Belmont after a rough start out of the gates.
While the 2014 Belmont Stakes field is yet to be finalized, we have a fairly good idea of what we will see, via Gary Mihoces of USA Today:
"contenders" for Belmont includes Derby horses sitting out #Preakness: Commanding Curve, Danza, Intense Holiday, Samraat & Wicked Strong.— Gary Mihoces (@ByGaryMihoces) May 17, 2014
Las Vegas doesn’t seem to be fazed by the other contenders, though, as RJ Bell of Grantland noted:
California Chrome is a favorite to win the Triple Crown (-130 at Sportsbook.ag) - rest of Belmont field +100— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) May 17, 2014
Despite what Vegas says, if we are to project ahead, California Chrome is far from a guarantee.
Commanding Curve hung with him down the final stretch in Churchill Downs, Social Inclusion finished in third place at the Preakness as one of the favorites behind California Chrome and the likes of Samraat, Danza and Wicked Strong should be plenty familiar to Kentucky Derby fans.
Who wins the Belmont Stakes?
What’s more, those horses who didn’t run in the Preakness should be fresher than California Chrome.
While it is certainly a strong early field, California Chrome has one thing going for him—he’s already beaten all of these horses. That closing speed we have seen on display the past couple of races isn’t just going to disappear between now and June 7. As long as Espinoza has him in contention through the early part of the lengthy Belmont run, we could finally see another Triple Crown.
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