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May 23, 2014

Up the Backstretch: Preakness benefited California Chrome

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 Philadelphia, PA ( - The difference between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes this year was noticeable and should benefit California Chrome in his pursuit of the Triple Crown on June 7 in the 1 1/2- mile Belmont Stakes.

The 140th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3 was a relatively easy performance by California Chrome. The 3-year-old chestnut colt, ridden by Victor Espinoza, had everything go his way during the 1 1/4-mile Run for the Roses and was allowed to coast the final yards to a 1 3/4-length victory.

The final time of 2:03.66 on a fast track is considered slow compared to more recent renewals of the opening leg of racing's Triple Crown. But, as mentioned previously, the idea is to win the race and save the winning horse for the quickly approaching Preakness Stakes two weeks later. That's exactly what Espinoza did.

"He got a little tired, but not too bad," winning trainer Art Sherman noted the day after winning the Kentucky Derby. "Victor (Espinoza) told me yesterday that he did get a bit tired on him at the end; that he eased him a bit that last 70 yards. He said he didn't ask him for too much thinking about saving something for the next one, for the Preakness."

Well, California Chrome did save something for the Preakness and he needed to as he was pressured through the Pimlico stretch by the late-running Ride On Curlin.

Much as his race in the Derby, California Chrome got a great start in the Preakness, allowing Espinoza to place the colt to the outside and away from trouble. He stalked the leaders and then pounced on the final turn.

California Chrome was challenged by Social Inclusion and then had to deal with Ride On Curlin. The 1-2 favorite needed to run all the way through the stretch, posting a 1 1/2-length victory in the 1 3/16-mile middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

"It was not easy, but we got it done. I'm excited and looking forward. I had to start early because the outside horse was pushing me. I thought I had the perfect position, but when the outside horse attacked me, I had to open it up at that point. It was tough today," Espinoza explained following the Preakness.

The hard stretch drive by California Chrome in the Preakness is exactly what the colt needed coming into the 1 1/2-mile "Test of the Champion."

The 3-year-old didn't need another easy final stretch like the one he had in the Run for the Roses. After being able to conserve himself down Churchill Downs' stretch, the pressured drive to victory in the Preakness should have refocused the colt's mind and on the task at hand. Two easy wins in a row would have done nothing to enable California Chrome to travel the unfamiliar Belmont Stakes distance.

"He knows what he's here for. He's an athlete, he's a professional. I don't see a problem with him getting a mile and a half, or winning it," said the colt's exercise rider Willie Delgado. "Come the day of the race, it's all up to him and God."

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