The roses have been replaced by black-eyed Susans, but Saturday’s Preakness Stakes promises just as much intrigue as the Kentucky Derby as California Chrome looks to stay alive in his quest to win the first Triple Crown in horse racing since 1978. The race will take place at Pimlico Racetrack outside of Baltimore, MD over 1 3/16 miles, and California Chrome has been installed as the early 3-5 favorite.
If there was any doubt California Chrome is 2014’s premier 3-year-old, it was removed two weeks ago in the Kentucky Derby. Amid reports that the colt was unhappy, uninterested and unmotivated in the days leading up to the Derby, California Chrome broke from the gate at Churchill Downs near the front and stayed there until the top of the stretch. It was at that point that Jockey Victor Espinosa asked Chrome for more and the horse responded, stretching his lead to as much as five lengths before winning by less than two.
One of the reasons it is so hard to win the Triple Crown is that there are so many different aspects to each of the races. The Preakness is the shortest of the three races, and will include only two other Kentucky Derby entrants besides California Chrome; General A Rod and Ride On Curlin. The rest will be fresh horses who have had more than two weeks to prepare. One thing that will not be in Chrome’s favor on Saturday, according to Ted Whitley of horse handicapping service The Whitley Group, is his No. 3 post position: “He has two speed horses to his inside and two others to his outside. He’s going to be forced to go with them and…Pimlico does not favor the early-speed horses.”
According to the odds makers, the horse with the best chance to ruin Chrome’s Triple Crown aspirations is the No. 8 horse, Social Inclusion, who has two wins at Gulfstream Park and finished third to Derby horses Samraat and Wicked Strong in the Wood Memorial. Social Inclusion is a speed horse, and might benefit from the shorter distance if he can race out to a big early lead. Whitley, however, does not think so, “[Social Inclusion] is an early-speed horse that is a wise-guy horse we give absolutely no shot to.”
The next closest horses to challenge Chrome, odds-wise, are Bayern and Ride On Curlin, both at 10-1. Bayern, coming from gate No. 5, is another speed horse who will probably be in the lead early along with Social Inclusion. He is trained by the popular Bob Baffert, who has five Preakness Stakes winners under his belt.
Ride On Curlin, ridden in the Kentucky Derby by Calvin Borel, will undergo a jockey change for the Preakness. He will be ridden by Joel Rosario, who is the fourth jockey for this horse in his last four races. Curlin has not had the best of luck in post position draws, getting No. 19 in a 20-horse field at Churchill Downs and now drawing the farthest outside gate, No. 10, at Pimlico.
The real equalizer for the Preakness Stakes on Saturday may be the weather. Heavy rains are expected in the Baltimore area Thursday night through midday Friday, with the possibility of localized. Race day is expected to be sunny, but there is no way to tell how much water will linger on the track.
As for choosing the winner of the 2014 Preakness Stakes Whitley is, once again, going against the favorite: “We are going outside. We’re going to give Ride On Curlin another chance, and he can certainly improve [over his performance in the Derby). We are going 6, 7, 9, 10.” Putting names to the numbers, that translates to Ria Antonia (30-1), Kid Cruz (20-1), Pablo Del Monte (20-1) and Ride On Curlin (10-1). At those odds, any combination in a trifecta would certainly be worth the investment.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky