Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Kentucky Derby time was slow and the speed figures were low, but California Chrome still is the heavy choice to win the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown.
California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby in the slowest time (2:03 3/5) on a fast track since Cannonade crossed the finish line in 2:04 back in 1974. Was it California Chrome's fault or Churchill Downs' fault that the winner's Beyer Speed Figure came back a 97?
One could easily argue the track surface and the wind caused the sluggish time because it is hard to imagine California Chrome running the first mile of the Kentucky Derby in 1:37 2/5 seconds just four weeks after accomplishing the same distance in 1:35 in the Santa Anita Derby. The horse did not suddenly get approximately 10 lengths slower in less than a month.
California Chrome had another two furlongs to race in the Kentucky Derby as compared to the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby, but the fact he opened up five lengths on the second-place horse in the ninth furlong at Churchill Downs shows he was on top of his game and it wasn't his fault the fractional and final times were extremely slow.
With the Derby behind him, it is on to Baltimore and the Preakness Stakes. Just two Kentucky Derby also-rans, Ride On Curlin and General a Rod, made the trip to Maryland. Seven other horses are entered besides California Chrome, Ride On Curlin and General a Rod. Four of those seven - Pablo Del Monte, Social Inclusion, Bayern and Ring Weekend - were pointed for the Derby but were pulled for different reasons.
Let's take a closer look at California Chrome's rivals.
Ride On Curlin had a rail trip early in the Run for the Roses after breaking from the No. 19 post position. Nevertheless, the son of Preakness winner Curlin was uncharacteristically in last place, 18 lengths off the early lead after the first quarter-mile. He remained in back of 17 other horses, 11 1/2 lengths behind, while trapped on the rail approaching the far turn.
As the field moved into the stretch, jockey Calvin Borel had nowhere to go on the inside so he swung Ride On Curlin about 10 wide down the lane. The colt gained 8 1/4 lengths on California Chrome over the final furlong - the most of any horse in the race.
Another plus for Ride On Curlin is how well he ran given the trip, especially over a Churchill Downs surface that produced his two-lowest career Beyer Speed Figures. Furthermore, it appears he is loving Pimlico much more than he did Churchill Downs.
Look for Ride On Curlin to be much closer to the pace on Saturday, which could mean a much-improved effort.
General a Rod also ran an uncharacteristic race in the Kentucky Derby. Instead of being first or second and a length off the lead as he usually runs, he was 16th, 8 1/2 lengths behind Chitu after the first quarter-mile. Still, he had every chance to move forward around the turn but could not keep up with Dance With Fate and Commanding Curve when those passed him with ease.
On the other hand, once Joel Rosario snuck General a Rod to the rail inside the final furlong, the colt picked up the pace only to be impeded by a tiring Chitu in the final strides.
Expect more speed from him in the Preakness, but that might not be a good thing because he will have to tangle with the likes of Social Inclusion and Bayern.
THE NEW SHOOTERS
Pablo Del Monte was the lone also-eligible in the Derby, but trainer Wesley Ward scratched the horse to await the Preakness. The colt is a hard one to figure considering he has shown speed in all three of his synthetic starts but was in the sixth position, more than two lengths off the lead, in his two dirt races. Whether Pablo Del Monte challenges for the lead or comes from mid-pack, it would be a stretch to think he has a chance to win or even hit the board.
Social Inclusion was the talk of the racing world after defeating Honor Code in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on March 12. The colt then went to New York for the Wood Memorial in hopes of gaining enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
After leading for much of that race, Social Inclusion flattened out inside the final furlong and finished third, beaten 3 1/2 lengths by Wicked Strong for the win and a nose by Samraat for the place.
One thing in his favor is how well those two horses ran in the Kentucky Derby. Wicked Strong finished fourth with Samraat a nose behind the Wood winner in fifth.
On the negative side, he failed to make the Sir Bear Stakes at Gulfstream Park on May 3 due to a bruised hoof and now comes to Baltimore with just three lifetime starts.
Social Inclusion will be on the lead and only two horses (Rachel Alexandra and Oxbow) have won gate-to-wire the last 17 runnings of the Preakness.
Bayern, as the case with Social Inclusion, is another lightly-raced colt with a ton of early speed. Trained by Bob Baffert, the son of Offlee Wild had the lead for most of the Arkansas Derby but could not hold the top spot down the stretch. Danza sprinted his way to the 4 3/4-length score while Ride On Curlin rallied to pass Bayern by a half-length for second.
Baffert then sent the colt to the one-mile Derby Trial at Churchill Downs and the 3-year-old defeated Embellishing Bob by a nose but was disqualified and placed second for interference. It is apparent Bayern has not relished a distance of ground despite a pedigree well-suited for one.
Ring Weekend failed to make the Kentucky Derby due to a fever the week of the race. The gelding would have been one of the longer-priced horses in the race after losing his final prep to Our Caravan by almost 10 lengths. Our Caravan came back to finish sixth in the Peter Pan, losing by over 20 lengths to Tonalist.
THE REST OF THE FIELD
Dynamic Impact makes his second straight stakes appearance after winning the Illinois Derby by a nose over Midnight Hawk. The two horses were 8 1/2 lengths clear of Irish You Well, the third-place finisher. Irish You Well also ran in the Peter Pan, finishing third, 6 1/4 lengths behind Tonalist.
Dynamic Impact should be well-placed in the Preakness, sitting a few lengths off the early lead. However, the rise in class from the likes of Midnight Hawk and Knock Em Flat to California Chrome, Ride On Curlin, Social Inclusion and Bayern will be too much for the son of Tiznow.
The same can be said for Kid Cruz. The former claimer also has won his last two starts but against much weaker company. On the positive side, he does have a win over the track, and if there is a pace meltdown, he has the ability to clog up for second the way Commanding Curve did in the Kentucky Derby.
Ria Antonia, the lone filly in the race, finished sixth, beaten 15 lengths in the Kentucky Oaks. She won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies race through disqualification last November, but the daughter of Rockport Harbor has not crossed the wire first since last July.
HOW THE RACE WILL BE RUN
Look for Social Inclusion to jump to the lead with Bayern right at his tail. California Chrome should sit a length or two behind. The No. 3 post position should not be an issue as he is fast enough to clear the other seven horses and get a good stalking trip in the three-path outside the top two speeds.
As the field hits the top of the stretch, Social Inclusion and Bayern will be pressed by the Kentucky Derby winner, as Ride On Curlin gains ground on the outside.
Inside the final furlong, California Chrome puts away Social Inclusion, Bayern and the rest of the speed. He opens up three lengths on the field while Ride On Curlin passes everyone else. Kid Cruz and General a Rod make belated runs but to no avail.
At the wire, it will be California Chrome making it two-for-two in his Triple Crown quest with Ride On Curlin finishing second and Kid Cruz closing for third.
THE PREAKNESS WAGER
With an imaginary $100 bankroll, put $50 on a California Chrome-Ride On Curlin exacta and $20 the other way. In addition, throw $20 to win on Ride On Curlin. As for the remaining $10, bet a $5 exacta box of California Chrome and Kid Cruz.