BALTIMORE — Nine of the 10 horses entered Wednesday for the 139th Preakness Stakes will carry with them a definitive wish list of circumstances if the 1 3⁄16-mile test is to land in their favor.
The respective connections of both the filly Ria Antonia and hard-trying colt Ride On Curlin are each rubbing the rabbit's foot, hoping for a hot pace and a trouble-free run. Speedsters Bayern and Social Inclusion need not to burn each other out, while the likes of General a Rod and Ring Weekend need to show that their recent disappointing runs weren't indicative of their current form.
Trainer Art Sherman's list of demands are pretty minimal by comparison. Such is the luxury of having the exceptional Kentucky Derby winner as one's representative in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
As was the case on the first Saturday in May, California Chrome will go into Saturday's Preakness Stakes as the favorite to remain tops in the sophomore division, having been installed as the overwhelming 3-to-5 choice on the morning line for the middle classic after drawing post No. 3.
The son of Lucky Pulpit was a 5-2 choice at Churchill Downs, but he blew away any hemming about his form when he coasted to a 1 3/4-length Derby win, geared down in the final 70 yards by jockey Victor Espinoza.
With just nine challengers set to face him in the Preakness and only two fellow Derby entrants willing to wheel back, California Chrome stands a strong chance to crush his way to the Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line.
"The three post is fine by me," Sherman said. "Most of the speed is outside of me, and if they go, they go, and I can tuck in right behind them. People don't know he's got enough lick that he can stay with any horse in the race.
"If I was a handicapper looking at the race, with five stakes wins in a row and the Beyer (speed) numbers are up and down ... I think you'd have to make him the favorite."
Sherman sees nothing outwardly from Steve Coburn and Perry Martin's homebred colt to suggest anything otherwise.
Sherman balks at running a horse back in two weeks, but he said California Chrome has gained about 35 pounds since the Derby, and his demeanor is as energetic as ever.
California Chrome's crew deduced that he only tolerated Churchill's surface, but he appears more at home at Pimlico, pulling exercise rider Willie Delgado through a strong 11/2-mile gallop Wednesday morning.
"I wouldn't want to be in anyone else's shoes right now," Sherman said, beaming. "It takes a horse a good 10 days to really bounce out of a race good. But he's holding his weight; that's a big factor. He seems to be thriving in this type of training, so I'm sure not changing anything.
"I don't have to do much with him. He's one of those horses who almost trains himself, to tell you the truth. He does what he has to do, and you see in the afternoon what he does."
All of the main expected speed in the Preakness indeed landed to the outside of California Chrome, putting him in position to rate off a pace that — on paper — figures to be more taxing that the Derby's half-mile fraction of 47.37.
Social Inclusion, the third-place finisher as the favorite in the Grade I Wood Memorial, was made the 5-to-1 second choice in the Preakness field and will be gunning for the front out of post No. 8. The Preakness will mark just the fourth career start for the son of Pioneerof the Nile, but owner Ron Sanchez has not held back in his level of confidence going into the race.
"He deserves (to be second choice); he has the best Beyer numbers (111) for a 3-year-old in the country," Sanchez said. "I like being outside of (California Chrome), he can follow us. My horse is much faster than California Chrome."
Bayern, the 10-to-1 co-third choice out of post No. 5, crossed the wire first in the Derby Trial but was disqualified to second for interference in the stretch. The Bob Baffert trainee showed brilliance by winning his first two starts by a combined 181/4 lengths before finishing third in the Grade I Arkansas Derby.
"He has a lot of speed and is going to be up close. We're not taking him back," said Baffert, who also said Bayern will run without blinkers in the Preakness. "This is time to find out. He's ready for it now and I feel good about him going in."
The outside No. 10 post was exactly what trainer Billy Gowan said he didn't want for Ride On Curlin, and that's exactly where the seventh-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby will break from on Saturday.
Ride On Curlin joins General a Rod, 11th in the Derby, as the only entrants from the first classic to face California Chrome in the Preakness.
"I'm an outsider anyhow," Gowan said of drawing post No. 10 and being the co-third choice at 10-to-1. "With the kind of pace in the field, I think it's fine. Hopefully there'll be something for him to run at. I'm just hoping we get a good trip this time."
When: Saturday May 17 | TV: NBC | Distance: 1 3/16 miles | Weight: 126 lbs.
|2||General a Rod||Maker||Castellano||15-1|
|9||Pablo Del Monte||Ward||Sanchez||20-1|
|10||Ride On Curlin||Gowan||Rosario||10-1|
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: Horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.