We are a mere two weeks away from the first Saturday in May which brings with it the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby as well as the start of the Triple Crown series. Make no mistake about it, California Chrome will enter the starting gate as the favorite and if it was any other race than the Kentucky Derby he would be entering at 3-5 or better. However, it is the Derby and there are 20 expected starters so a number around 2-1 or 7-2 might just be right. But what makes the California horse so great? Why is he such a favorite? What might go wrong? Let’s take a look.
While California Chrome was always destined to be the favorite, the defections of the number two and number three horses in Constitution and Cairo Prince helped drop his destined gate price. But one thing that should always be remembered is there are 19 other horses in this field and to say it is chaos at the break is the understatement of the year. One misstep can doom a horse in the Derby and if California Chrome breaks like he did in the Santa Anita Derby he could find himself behind a wall of 10 or more horses heading to the first turn.
Assume for a second that he works the gate in his more traditional manner. California Chrome has a few things going for him that no other horse in the field can say. While many do not see a benefit of running at a track like Los Alamitos, there is a blessing in disguise for California Chrome. When California Chrome is training at Los Alamitos he turns for home and traverses a total of 1,350 feet before he crosses the line. When California Chrome crosses the line at the Kentucky Derby he would have traveled 1,235 feet during the stretch run. Think about that for a minute. It might not seem like a big change but when a horse is trained to push for 100 feet farther than required on the day of the big race that equates to a higher rev as he closes. That will matter. Let’s not forget about the tight turn at Los Alamitos compared to the turns at Santa Anita or Churchill Downs. He will be able to carry speed more efficiently and effectively than his peers around each of the two turns. That will matter.
Victor Espinoza climbed aboard California Chrome on the 22nd of December 2013 for the running of the King Glorious Stakes at Hollywood Park. The result was an over six length victory against 10 others. Since then the duo has combined for victories at the California Cup Derby (5 1/2 length victory), the Grade 2 San Felipe (7 1/4 lengths) and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby (5 1/4 lengths). The twosome are riding a four race winning streak and only getting better. As California Chrome pulled away down the stretch at the Santa Anita Derby I saw two things. First, he was hand ridden down the stretch and secondly, he has ALOT left in the tank. California Chrome rode out strong. Victor Espinoza knows how to race at Churchill, he knows how to handle California Chrome and more importantly has experience in the Kentucky Derby where he won aboard War Emblem in 2002.
While evaluating the probable horses for the 140th Run for the Roses I have latched on to something of interest to me. It is all about the shoulder, more specifically the front left shoulder of California Chrome compared to his rivals. Below are a few videos to show what I mean. While not obvious, pay attention to the left shoulder and how California Chrome lowers it into and coming out of the turn. Compare that to a horse like Wicked Strong (video 3). You can see that his natural ability coupled with Los Alamitos sharp turns has allowed California Chrome to handle turns in a way that the rest of the field cannot or has not. If California Chrome has any running room in the turns at Churchill Downs, he will have a leg up on the competition.
California Chrome in the King Glorious (Video Courtesy of Hollywoodracetrack)
California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby (Video Courtesy of Santa Anita Park)
Wicked Strong in the Wood Memorial (Video Courtesy of NYRA Inc)
California Chrome has the unique ability to adapt to the race as it unfolds. If he is given the lead he can take it and utilize his high cruising speed. He also has the ability to press the pace as he showed in the San Felipe and the Santa Anita Derby. The Art Sherman horse can also sit 3-5 lengths off the lead and wait for a moment to pounce on the leaders. The reality is that California Chrome has the ability to let any race unfold and adapt to his surroundings. If you look back through the pedigree of California Chrome you can see it. Okay not really, the reality of it all is that California Chrome was not a $400,000 purchase and he did not come from a long line of sensational horses. In fact a horse by Lucky Pulpit out of Love the Chase (Not for Love) should not be in line to run in the Derby and shouldn’t even be considered a favorite in any upper echelon field. But that is what we have, the stars aligned, the clouds cleared and the world is seeing what happens when a good horseman gets a freak horse.
California Chrome will get his chance on May 2nd to prove to the world how good he really is. If he wins he will earn it beating 19 other horses in the first mile and a quarter test of their careers. Can he do it? Absolutely. Is it smart to take a horse that will give you 2/1 or 7/2 at the gate when he will face the craziest race in the world? That will be up to you. Will I back him as my win choice? You will have to check back in a week to see. Regardless of how the Kentucky Derby unfolds, California Chrome is a deserving favorite and proof that, although rare, you do not need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a horse to end up with a real chance to chase history. Enjoy the 2014 edition of the Kentucky Derby, you just might witness the first of three victories en route to a Triple Crown. Is it likely? No. Is it plausible? Probably not. Can it happen? Anything is possible before the Kentucky Derby but if I was picking one horse to do it, it would be California Chrome.
Will California Chrome win the 2014 Kentucky Derby?
- Yes (58%, 19 Votes)
- No (42%, 14 Votes)
Total Voters: 33