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What you need to know for 08/21/2017

Preakness analysis: No reason to stop backing favorite

Preakness analysis: No reason to stop backing favorite

This is a no-brainer. I picked California Chrome in the Kentucky Derby, and, after his fifth consecu

This is a no-brainer. I picked California Chrome in the Kentucky Derby, and, after his fifth consecutive, convincing victory, I’m picking him again in today’s Preakness Stakes. He’ll be a fraction of his 5-2 Derby odds, but that doesn’t diminish his odds of taking the second leg of the Triple Crown in his attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

He’s just plain better than his nine opponents in the Preakness.

In the Derby, he was three-wide heading into the far turn with a fourth horse, Samraat, on his outside. Racing in between horses can be a dicey proposition, but, just as he had in his four previous victories, California Chrome used a burst of acceleration to open up five lengths on the field. He was geared down late, partially because his jockey, Victor Espinoza, foolishly stopped riding him before they hit the wire to celebrate.

But it didn’t matter. He was nearly two lengths clear of Commanding Curve in second. With Commanding Curve and the third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place Derby finishers skipping the Preakness, California Chrome’s task today is easier than it was in the Derby. He’ll have nine opponents this afternoon instead of 18 two weeks ago.

What about California Chrome’s slow winning time in the Derby? Why would that matter? He had extremely fast times in his previous two victories in the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby, producing the fastest two Beyer speed figures of any three-year-old this year on dirt.

When California Chrome showed up in the San Felipe seeking his third straight victory, I wasn’t impressed. When he used an incredible burst of late speed to win by daylight, I thought maybe I should reconsider that position. I was anxious to see what he would do in the Santa Anita Derby, and after he did it again, turning a close race into a runaway, I was convinced. Analyzing that race, California Chrome ran his final three furlongs in a much faster time than any other 3-year-old in the other mile-and-an-eighth Derby prep stakes around the country.

Today’s Preakness is his, and I believe he will head into the Belmont Stakes with the opportunity of becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years and just the fourth in 66 years. That’s right. Since Citation won the Triple Crown in 1948, only three horses have matched that accomplishment: Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978). Will California Chrome win the Belmont Stakes and join them?

I’ll have three weeks to think about that.

His Biggest Threats

Ride On Curlin — Despite traffic problems, he closed from far back to finish seventh, 63⁄4 lengths behind California Chrome, in the Kentucky Derby and will get a rider switch from Calvin Borel, who was criticized for keeping him on the rail, to Joel Rosario. Before the Derby, Ride On Curlin’s only finish out of the money in nine starts was a fourth in the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs last year. He was second by 4 3⁄4 lengths to Danza in the Arkansas Derby this year, but he’s won just two races, a maiden and a bottom-level allowance.

General a Rod — He, too, gets a rider switch, from Rosario to Javier Castellano, off a traffic-plagued trip in the Derby when he finished 11th, just a length behind Ride On Curlin. He had two wins, two seconds and a third in his five prior starts and should be aided a bit by shortening up from the Derby’s mile-and-a-quarter to today’s mile-and-three-sixteenths.

Social Inclusion — This speedy colt was 2-for-2 heading into the Wood Memorial, when he was hampered by an outside post and finished third to Wicked Strong. A foot bruise caused him to be scratched from a race at Gulfstream Park. However, he threw in a fast work for this. Drawing outside of California Chrome helps.

Kid Cruz — Trained by Linda Rice, this powerful closer won two consecutive stakes, the Private Terms at Laurel and the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico in his last two starts. He should have a good pace to close into.

The Others

Bayern — He’s a speedster trained by Bob Baffert who will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik, who attempts to become the first woman rider to win the Preakness. Bayern won his first two starts at Santa Anita, including a 15-length allowance victory, before finishing third, a half-length behind Ride On Curlin, in the Arkansas Derby. His chances would be a lot better this afternoon if Social Inclusion wasn’t in the race.

Dynamic Impact — After breaking his maiden in his fifth career start, he won the Illinois Derby by a nose. Good for him.

Pablo Del Monte — His connections declined to start him in the Derby after he drew in from the also-eligible list. He’s only raced twice on dirt, finishing fourth and a third in a pair of stakes.

Ring Weekend — The Tampa Bay Derby winner finished an extremely distant second in the Calder Derby before being scratched from the Kentucky Derby when he spiked a fever.

Ria Antonia — If a filly was going to impact the Preakness, it would be Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable, who’s skipping the race. Ria Antonia, a strong closer, was sixth in the Oaks before getting her third trainer change, from Baffert to Tom Amoss. She had only finished first once, in a maiden race on synthetic, though she was second by a nose and placed first in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly last year. Borel will ride today.

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