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May 16, 2014

Up the Backstretch: Don't let times affect your decisions

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 Philadelphia, PA ( - There are two items from the Kentucky Derby that contradict each other.

The first item is the visual brilliance of watching California Chrome easily win the 140th Kentucky Derby. Had jockey Victor Espinoza not backed off during the final yards, California Chrome could have won by five lengths instead of 1 3/4 lengths.

That commanding victory, however, has been slightly diminished by the relatively slow time of 2:03.66 done over the fast track at Churchill Downs. Critics have pointed out that the final time for the 1 1/4 miles was the slowest since Super Saver in 2010 stopped the timer at 2:04.45.

That final time has brought forth criticism of not only California Chrome but the entire 2014 class of 3-year-olds. As if the object of thoroughbred racing is to consistently break records and not win races.

"He ran the second-fastest Santa Anita Derby ever (1;47.52), and do you realize how many good horses come out of the Santa Anita Derby that went on to win the Kentucky Derby?" California Chrome's trainer Art Sherman said last week in a conference call. "You know, it's, you can't go by tracks. Every surface is different, you know what I mean? You might have 105 Beyer in one race and 97 in another. That doesn't mean your horse can't run. On a different surface and the right kind of scenario up-front and a bouncy track, he's going to run. You know, I know the figure guys get all bummed out about different things, but I never pay attention to that."

California Chrome dominated the Santa Anita Derby, winning by 5 1/4 lengths after claiming his three previous starts by an average margin of six lengths. One should consider margins of victory a more important gauge of ability than final times in racing.

The idea of thoroughbred racing is winning, not setting track or world records. In fact, track or stakes records are rarely broken, although in the United States breeding racehorses has been geared toward speed, not endurance. Speed is relative. Are the racehorses really faster than they were in previous decades or are they bred to be sprinters and not stayers?

Breeding was the big question concerning California Chrome this year, but the chestnut colt has answered that question and any others people may have had.

The Kentucky Derby champ is the odds-on 3-5 morning line favorite for Saturday's Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course and has very questionable competition.

None of the other three Derby finishers who hit the board are entered in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown and no winners of the major Derby prep races are set to try the 1 3/16-mile Classic.

Social Inclusion is the 5-1 second pick in spite of having just one prior stakes start, a third in the Wood Memorial. Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Ria Antonia is the longest shot in the program at 30-1 off a sixth in the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Derby.

The only horse in the field with a start over Pimlico's track is Kid Cruz, trained by Linda Rice. The colt won the Federico Tesio Stakes on April 19 after claiming the Private Terms Stakes at nearby Laurel Park on March 8. Kid Cruz is 20-1 in the morning line and might be worth a look in the betting.

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