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May 09, 2014

California Chrome makes a statement with Derby win

By: By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst

 Philadelphia, PA ( - After a few years with high-priced Kentucky Derby winners such as Mine That Bird, Animal Kingdom and I'll Have Another, California Chrome became the second consecutive favorite to win the Run for the Roses.

Following in the footsteps of Orb, favored California Chrome (5-2) mowed down the competition with authority to win the 140th running of the Derby by 1 3/4 lengths Saturday.

And just like last year, a Dallas Stewart-trained horse rallied for second as Commanding Curve completed the $340 exacta. Danza finished third while Wicked Strong ran fourth.

California Chrome has now won five straight races going back to the end of last year.

The 1 3/4-length final margin of victory was not indicative of how dominant California Chrome was in defeating his 18 rivals. The chestnut colt opened up a five-length lead from the top of the stretch to the eighth pole before Commanding Curve made his late run inside the final sixteenth.

The race shaped up almost exactly as the Santa Anita Derby as California Chrome sat a length or two off the early pace set. In fact, the first half-mile was run just one-fifth slower (47 1/5 seconds) than the Santa Anita Derby.

As the field moved into the backstretch, jockey Victor Espinoza guided California Chrome outside the two leaders (Uncle Sigh and Chitu), and the son of Lucky Pulpit continued to sit a length off that pair after six furlongs went by in a dawdling 1:11 4/5.

To show how slow the early fractions were, the half-mile and three-quarter times for the last two Kentucky Derbies were a full two seconds faster (45 1/5 and 1:09 4/5). And it wasn't as if this year's track surface was on the heavy side as Central Banker missed the seven-furlong track record by only three- fifths of a second two races earlier.

Once the field moved around the final turn, it was apparent California Chrome was going to be tough to beat. He joined the two pacesetters just as Samraat was making it four across the track. But Samraat proved no match for the Santa Anita Derby winner.

California Chrome roared into the stretch the same way he has all year - pulling a disappearing act on his rivals. Not only did he put away Samraat, but he also blew the doors off the rest of the field, opening up the aforementioned five-length lead inside the final furlong before Commanding Curve cut into that insurmountable advantage.

The final time for the 1 1/4-mile race was 2:03 3/5, which meant California Chrome's final quarter was just under 26 1/5 seconds. Two years ago, I'll Have Another finished his final quarter-mile in 26 1/5, but he ran the first eight furlongs almost two full seconds faster than California Chrome.

It is obvious this crop of 3-year-olds cannot hold a candle to the likes of I'll Have Another and Bodemeister. The only horse worthy of any accolades is the winner and he will be heavily favored once again two weeks from now in the Preakness Stakes. Unless of course, the Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable gets thrown into the mix.


Right after the Kentucky Oaks, Untapable's trainer, Steve Asmussen said he will wait to see how well his colt, Tapiture, fares in the Derby before deciding what to do with his prized filly. After Tapiture's 15th-place finish in the Derby, there is a chance Untapable could run in the Preakness.

It definitely will be a tall order, but Asmussen once brought a filly into the second leg of the Triple Crown and won. Back in 2009, Rachel Alexandra completed the Oaks-Preakness double with a one-length victory over the Derby winner, Mine That Bird.

It is important to note that Untapable completed the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks in 1:48.64, just missing the stakes record by 0.04 seconds, while Rachel, despite her 20 1/4-length tour de force, needed 1:48.87 seconds to win the Oaks.

It is not known at this time if Asmussen will run his filly on two weeks rest. If he does not, don't be shocked if California Chrome wins the Preakness just as easy as he did the Kentucky Derby.

Second-place finisher Commanding Curve will be no match for the Derby winner and it is doubtful Todd Pletcher will bring back Danza, especially because the Preakness would be his third race in five weeks. The only colt with a realistic chance to upset the champ is Wicked Strong, who ran a gallant fourth from the No. 20 post position.

Two other horses, Social Inclusion and Hoppertunity, are unknowns at this time as both had to scratch from their races this weekend due to slight injuries.

If those two colts, as well as the filly, fail to enter the Preakness, the horse racing world will have its eyes glued firmly on Belmont Park come the first Saturday in June to see if California Chrome can join the coveted list of 11 Triple Crown winners.

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