The Derby is the most famous of races, but the Preakness the most revealing … saying that the Preakness distance is more reflective of today’s racing than the Belmont’s doesn’t imply that the 1 3/16 miles at Pimlico, still very long by quotidian standards, is any less testing. Bold Forbes, who won both the Derby and Belmont, couldn’t last in the 1976 Preakness after taking a clear advantage into the stretch. In the Triple Crown, the Preakness, quite simply, is most likely to be a truly run race, and its outcome most likely to reverberate with significance. That’s why 60 percent of its winners since 1964 have been champions and why Saturday’s 139th will define both this year’s Triple Crown and California Chrome.
[Exercise rider Willie] Delgado said California Chrome seemed to prefer the dirt at Pimlico to that at Churchill Downs. “Churchill wasn’t one of his favorite tracks,” he said. “He just tolerated it.”
California Chrome wasn’t drawing raves for the way he went over Churchill’s surface before the Derby — “not the prettiest mover,” observed Mike Welsch, “Jay Privman said he’s certainly looked better back west” — so it’s interesting to see him praised for how he’s handling Pimlico.
Apparently, he’s also feeling fresh (PDF):
California Chrome … didn’t seem to appreciate being shut down for the day after passing a “Sunrise at Old Hilltop” group near the wire after jogging an easy mile. “Settle down … settle down … settle down,” Delgado calmly asked of his charge as he began applying the brakes.
And holding his weight: Trainer Art Sherman estimates that California Chrome “has put on about 35 pounds since winning the Derby,” tweets Claire Novak.
It’s all looking good for Saturday …
5/15/14 Addendum: What’s this? Chrome coughs; his people say he’s fine.
“You know, they’ve all gotten beat,” he said. “People are gonna have to realize [California Chrome] is coming off five victories straight and a lot of [these other] horses are still eligible for conditions. There are no bona fide stakes horses in there.
“If you’ve been in the game as long as I have, you’ve got to prove yourself. You’re not going to get away with an easy-go just because you’re fresh coming into this race. [Chrome] is a seasoned, veteran horse right now coming into these races and I think that’s going to be a big help for him.”
Lukas responded: “When you get so close to one of these Triple Crown races with a good horse you do everything you can to make the race.”
The reporter countered with this remark that ended the press conference: “That sounds great Mr. Lukas, but isn’t it the horse that’s going to have to run around the track on Saturday; not you?”
The way the Preakness Stakes is shaping up, California Chrome won’t meet many of those he beat in the Kentucky Derby again until the Belmont Stakes. That’s the race the Derby winner is most vulnerable, writes Sam Walker:
It is hard to be positive about the Belmont after [his Derby] run. Off such an ideal pace it would have been nice to see that margin of superiority extend ever further to the line, or at least hold true. But the fact is it diminished and over another furlong he might not have won.
The last Belmont quarter can be a killer. Just look at the recent sectional times: