What should we expect when Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome makes his attempt at taking the second leg of the Triple Crown? Racing editor Heather Benson weighs in on this year’s field, post positions and odds.
California Chrome, this year’s Kentucky Derby winner, is good… make that scary good. Scary good enough that only two of the 18 horses who faced in him at Churchill Downs were willing to try for a rematch at Pimlico. So good that his morning line odds (the odds initially set by the track handicapper) are some of the lowest ever for a Preakness starter, 3-5. But that is no surprise when we look at his powerhouse Kentucky Derby:
California Chrome ended up with the three hole in the starting gate, which should suit his just off the pace running style perfectly. With only 10 horses in the race (as compared to 19 in the Derby), traffic issues should be less of a problem in the run to the first turn.
The only two horses seeking a rematch from the Derby didn’t even place in the top 5 in that race: Ride on Curlin finished 7th after going wide and General A Rod was even worse, in 11th, after a traffic-filled trip. Neither of these horses were considered much of a threat before the Derby (going of at odds of 17-1 and 30-1 respectively) and don’t appear to be major factors in the Preakness either.
Speed and how it is used in the race will probably be the biggest factor in determining how hard or easy the race is for the Kentucky Derby victor. While California Chrome has proven he is highly ratable (able to mentally adjust when horses pressure him), he does prefer to run on or near the lead and if that lead is blisteringly hot, it will take its toll. Just to his outside in the starting gate is Graham Motion’s Ring Weekend, a horse that has plenty of early speed and knows how to use it. Having him on the outside of the Derby winner may mean he is able to pressure ‘Chrome into running a faster race in the beginning than is ideal.
Will Ring Weekend use his speed to tire out the Derby winner?
Another speed horse that will be a factor is Social Inclusion. While lightly raced, when he gets the lead, he runs big. While he doesn’t necessarily appear to have the stamina to take it all the way (he led for most of the race in the 1 1/8 mile Wood Memorial before fading in the last 1/16), he will put pressure on the leaders to set a fast pace. But then again, look at the way he got faster and better in this track record-setting run at Gulfstream in March.
Two other lightly raced horses, Bayern and Kid Cruz, are coming into the Preakness looking to pad their resume with at least a placing. Bayern, a trainee of Bob Baffert (who has won the Preakness five times), has just four starts under his belt and last three weeks ago when he got a nose win the Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill Downs. He does have his rider from that race returning, Rosie Napravnik, and you can never count Rosie out on the biggest days.
Kid Cruz is the “local boy” looking to run big on his home track. He won the traditional Pimlico prep for the Preakness, the Federico Tesio Stakes, by 3 1/2 lengths and obviously likes the surface there. But he has never met top company and the Preakness will be a true test of his class.
The presence of the filly, Ria Antonia, remains a bit of a mystery. Unlike in 2009, when Rachel Alexandra took on the boys in the Preakness (and won), she isn’t not coming off any particularly good performances as of late. Her last win was clear back in July of 2013 on the artificial surface at Woodbine and her run in the Kentucky Oaks two weeks ago was less than impressive when she pulled on her rider for most of the way and finished a dismal 6th. She is on her fourth trainer (Tom Amoss) in less than a year, which may tell us something about the whimsy of her owners.
Is Ria Antonia good enough to beat the boys like Rachel Alexandra did in 2009?
Another mystery horse is Pablo Del Monte. He too has not won since last year (again on an artificial surface, this time at Keeneland) and his last performance, a third in the Bluegrass Stakes, was merely okay. He has had some sharp works since that race, but they have all been on the polytrack and quite often good form on poly does not indicate good form on real dirt.
The one new shooter that might have a real chance is Dynamic Impact. He took the April 19th Illinois Derby by a nose, and has a fair versatility of running style to work with. If he can stay off the potentially hot pace and close in the last 1/8th, he should make a good showing. He has the pedigree (by Tiznow out of a Smart Strike mare) to get the job done and good connections besides.
Full list of Preakness post positions and odds. The Preakness will be televised on your local NBC affiliate on Saturday, May 17. Post time for the race is 6:18pm EST.