With another win in what was the biggest race of his career, California Chrome has stamped himself as a formidable favorite going into the 2014 Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown. California Chrome appears to have everything he needs to take the second jewel and go into New York with the Crown on the line, and the feel good story of his connections certainly make him the kind of hero that most in racing would love to see come away with it.
However, no story can help a horse win, and we certainly have had our share of near misses and heartbreak since Affirmed was the last Triple Crown winner. While I still contend that the Belmont will prove to be California Chrome’s most difficult race of the three Triple Crown races, there is no guarantee he will win this weekend in Baltimore. Will he turn out to be another Orb, last years Kentucky Derby winner who faltered in the Preakness? Will he turn out to be a Smarty Jones, who captured the first two races, only to run out of gas in the third? Time, of course, will tell and with the Preakness post positions now set, it’s all over but the shouting.
I think there is a great chances for California Chrome to go into Belmont with both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness under his belt, but there are some things that make me pause in giving him the win at Pimlico just yet.
First, the post position draw. I know that most will think post three is just fine, but Pimlico has become known in recent years as dead the closer you get to the rail. Recent history has not been kind to the horses in post position 1-4 in the Preakness. The quicker California Chrome can move away from the rail and get to an easier path the better, but he will have all of those horses to the outside rushing in on him. The start is going to be very important. He has the tactical speed to push through the post position, but anything can happen.
Social Inclusion. Of all of the horses entering the gate against California Chrome, I feel he has the best shot at up-ending the Triple Crown bid by the favorite. In three career starts, he has never finished out of the money with 2 firsts and 1 show. He has been working well since finishing third in the Wood and should be expected to have a good race coming back here. Plus he drew a position more on the outside than the favorite.
Ride on Curlin. This is the race his sire won over a very good crop of horses. Additionally, he has been training very well over the Pimlico surface. Curlin’s foals are known to develop later than others, just as Curlin himself did, so you could be looking at a horse that is very much on the improve. He drew the far outside post, which means much less in the Preakness than in the Kentucky Derby. His only “bad” race has been the jam-packed Kentucky Derby where he had all sorts of traffic woes.
Ring Weekend. The only bad race this gelding has had was his debut over a sloppy Saratoga track that he never appeared comfortable on. He has to overcome post position 4, which is less than ideal given the recent history, but I believe it will have less of an impact on his race than California Chrome’s position. He races his best when he can get the lead or be close to it. If he can be kept close, he usually shows a determination to hang on.
In the end, I am torn between the winner, but will say that I feel that California Chrome will get nipped near the end by Social Inclusion for the upset.