Whoever built Pimlico Race Course’s grandstand did a fine job of securing the roof. If only a few bolts had been left a little suspect, the Herculean roar that accompanied California Chrome as he passed the post first in the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes, would have blown it halfway across Maryland. Who knows what kind of damage it could have caused – arguably a lot less than the kind of toll California Chrome inflicted on his vanquished foes as they finished a tired and sorry bunch in the wake of another stunning victory.
California Chrome, the 1-2 odds on favourite and a horse reaching iconic status at a feverish pace, covered the one and three sixteenth miles of the Preakness in 1:54.84 – just under two seconds outside of the track record of 1:53.00 held by another national treasure, Secretariat. Ride on Curlin stayed on for a one and a half length second place finish while Social Inclusion finished eight lengths away in third. General A Rod was fourth.
“It is an awesome feeling to feel the kind of horse like California Chrome,” said jockey Victor Espinoza, immediately after the race. “Today it was just a crazy race. I got more tired mentally than physically riding him. But it worked out well and he’s just an amazing horse.”
With the winning trophy in hand, Steve Coburn — co-owner with Perry Martin — was quick to bring attention to the less visible of the California Chrome crew: “Thank you to our groom Raul, thank you so much for being in this game with us. He sleeps with this horse every night, his wife’s a little upset, but he don’t care. Thank you people, I don’t what else to say, but thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
The race unravelled in an almost faultless manner not too dissimilar to the Kentucky Derby. Espinoza jumped California Chrome smart out of the gates, positioning him on the heels of the leaders Pablo Del Monte and the sole filly of the race Rio Antonia, who took the field along at a generous gallop. There he stayed until Luis Contreras on Social Inclusion made a bold move on the home turn, sweeping up California Chrome in the process.
As the two entered the home stretch, it looked as though the race was theirs between them. But under a strong Espinoza drive and in a move that is becoming something of a hallmark, California Chrome treated Social Inclusion as one would an impudent child: he dismissed him with the cold authoritative swat of a devastating finishing kick.
Ride on Curlin, who had only one behind him for a good portion of the race, plugged on in resolute fashion to make the gap between them its smallest at the wire. But never was one left with a feeling that an upset was poised to happen.
With the Triple Crown dream still very much alive — at least until three weeks time when the jamboree tents will next be pitched at Belmont Park in New York for the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown — the talk in the aftermath of the race quickly turned to California Chrome’s chances of emulating Affirmed, who in 1978 became the last winner of the Triple Crown.
Trainer Art Sherman, never one for sugar-coating, was nevertheless sweet on California Chrome’s chances at Belmont: “Wow, I’ll tell you, it’s quite a thrill. I knew he had to run harder in this race, just watching him perform. Coming back in two weeks, I was a little concerned, but I’ll tell you one thing: he’s a real racehorse, and I’m hoping that the mile and a half [of the Belmont Stakes] is up his alley too, because he’s a very good horse.”
Three weeks is a long time in racing – but if California Chrome can do what so many desire him to do and lift the Triple Crown, those three weeks will look like chicken feed next to the agelessness of his legacy.
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