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Saturday, May 17 was a great day for Maryland racing–and a great day for Maryland-connected California Chrome. Two weeks after capturing the Kentucky Derby (G1) by 1¾ lengths, the California-bred three-year-old colt received yet another heads-up ride from jockey Victor Espinoza on his way to a 1½-length triumph over Ride On Curlin in the 139th running of the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes (G1) to the enthusiastic approval of a record crowd of 123,469.
A strong 1-2 favorite in a field of 10, the chestnut with lots of chrome broke alertly and gained stalking position behind early pacesetter Pablo Del Monte. After Ria Antonia, the lone filly in the field, made an early move to challenge the pacesetter heading into the first turn, California Chrome settled in third around the turn and on the backstretch. Social Inclusion, the 5-1 second betting choice ridden by Luis Contreras, made a move outside California Chrome heading into the far turn, prompting Espinoza to ask his horse for some run. The favorite swept past the pacesetter on the turn into the homestretch, engaged to his outside by Social Inclusion, and spurted away in early stretch, never to be challenged again.
California Chrome crossed the finish line clear of Ride On Curlin, who rallied from far back under Joel Rosario to finish second, 6½ lengths clear of Social Inclusion. The running time of 1:54.84 for the 1 3/16 miles of the Maryland Jockey Club’s signature race was the fastest since Big Brown was timed at 1:54.80 in 2008.
Chrome’s 77-year-old trainer Art Sherman: “He broke great and had a perfect trip. I was so happy when I saw where he was able to set him. Right now he’s really on his toes and doing good. He’s a remarkable horse to come back in two weeks and win. I know he’s not the only horse that ever did that, but it’s tough on a horse to come back in two weeks. I appreciate everyone involved in my team. They did a hell of a job. Both my sons are here. It’s very emotional.
“But I’ll tell you one thing: he’s a real race horse. I’m hoping that the mile and a half is up his alley, too, because he’s a very good horse.
“Oh, you’ve got to have a tear. I’ve got my whole family here. We worked hard all year and Victor [Espinoza] rode him perfect. It’s a dream for any trainer to do this.”
“It was not easy,” explained Espinoza, “but we got it done. I had to start early because the outside horse was pushing me. I thought I had the perfect position, but when the outside horse attacked me, I had to open it up at that point. It was tough today. This race was a little complicated. I saw another horse take the lead, I’m second, then [Ria Antonia] wants to go. I have to steady, steady and I have to hope and make the right decision and hope for the best. Then, I’m sitting third and I think it’s perfect.”
And apparently, Espinoza was right.
Yesterday morning, Wednesday, the 21st of May, Chrome dusted his hooves for the first time on the Belmont Park main track, leisurely jogging once around the 1½-mile course with exercise rider Willie Delgado aboard.
“He actually surprised me, how good he was feeling this morning,” said Alan Sherman, assistant trainer to his father, Art Sherman. “It’s amazing how quick this horse is bouncing back off these big races he’s running. He was dragging me around the shed row, he dragged Willie around the track today. He was really feeling good.”
Alan Sherman said California Chrome, who is owned by Steven Coburn and Perry Martin, will start galloping today, which will provide a better idea of how the colt handles the Belmont Park main track.
California Chrome could become the first Triple Crown horse since 1978 when he runs in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on June 7. The modestly bred California-bred colt would join the circle of Triple Crown champions: Affirmed (1978), Seattle Slew (1977), Secretariat (1973), Citation (1948), Assault (1946), Count Fleet (1943), Whirlaway (1941), War Admiral (1937), Omaha (1935), Gallant Fox (1930) and Sir Barton (1919).
“It is just an amazing experience,” said Sherman. “Every time I watch the Preakness replay I darn near cry. It has been a great experience. None of these horses have run a mile and a half so it is an unknown for everybody. This horse has a high cruising speed and I think he’ll be fine but the track at Belmont is completely different than it is at Pimlico or Churchill. I know one thing, he will try hard.”
Other “Home Town” Favorites from The Preakness
We always want a Triple Crown contender, so we always want to see the Derby winner take the Preakness. It is even better if there is the tiniest bit of a Maryland connection, as there is with Chrome (his dam is by the great Maryland sire Not For Love).
But our hearts were also riding with other Maryland connections in the Preakness, including Fair Hill-based trainer Graham Motion and former Maryland pony race rider Rosie Napravnik.
Graham’s horse Ring Weekend finished fifth: “He got a decent spot but he just didn’t have a real clean trip. A horse stopped in front of him. I don’t think it cost him a lot but it might have cost him a position. I was very pleased with him. I thought he was very game. I thought he ran very competitively. I just wish he’d had a clean trip and then you wouldn’t have any question. We’ll talk about it [Belmont Stakes], definitely. I was very pleased with how he ran today.”
Rosie, meanwhile, finished ninth on Bayern: “It was very rough. The horses on either side of us sandwiched us so tight we were practically off the ground. We got into a decent position and he still made a run to the quarter pole.”