California Chrome Odds to Win the 2014 Kentucky Derby with Picks and Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 4/9/2014
It took much longer than it does in most years, but the Triple Crown trail has its first true superstar. California Chrome had more buzz than any horse heading into his final prep race, the Santa Anita Derby. He more than justified that hype with a truly dominating performance to win California's biggest three year old test. Now he is the runaway favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. In futures betting,Sportsbook.ag has installed him at +300. No other horse is at less than +1000. So, can he justify the hype and deliver on Derby day?
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Here are six factors for Kentucky Derby handicappers to consider:
Experience: We have seen a trend towards horses with fewer and fewer career starts heading into the Derby, but that certainly isn't the case with this horse. The Derby will be his 11th career start, and he will have been racing for more than a year by Derby day - a real rarity these days. He was undistinguished as a two year old, and he only really came into his own last December. He has won his last four races, and he has looked increasingly impressive each time. Winning races is a learned skill, and California Chrome has put in the time required to learn that. In a duel that will give him a big edge.
Trainer: Art Sherman is as old school as they get. He is 77 years old and taking his first horse to the Derby. As a trainer, at least. Way back in 1955 he was the exercise rider for Swaps, the California-bred who won the Derby. That horse traveled to Kentucky by train, and Sherman went with him - sleeping in the same box car. He trains out of the spotlight at Los Alamitos, and he does things like they used to be done. With this horse that approach is clearly working. While he is entering a whole new level of attention and chaos, his age and experience should have him better prepared than some other greenhorns have been in the past. Sherman has the advantage of loyal and enthusiastic owners on his side - they turned down $6 million for the horse before the Santa Anita Derby because the ride was what mattered for them, so they will support Sherman entirely.
Jockey: Victor Espinoza has ridden the horse for his last four outings, and he is likely a big factor in the turnaround the horse has made. He's a very solid rider and has won the Derby and Preakness before -- in 2002 aboard War Emblem. I wouldn't put him among the very top tier of riders, but he is more than solid, and he clearly clicks with the horse. He is an asset.
California: California Chrome is a California-bred, and that's not really an asset heading into this race. He's looking to become just the fourth California-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby and the first since Decidedly way back in 1962. That's a lot of history to overcome. Winning the Santa Anita Derby sets him up better for the Kentucky Derby than his breeding, but only slightly so. In recent years we have seen about one winner per decade from this race win in Kentucky - I'll Have Another in 2012, Point Given in 2001, A.P. Indy in 1992. That's not the best record of success. That means that California Chrome certainly could win after winning at Santa Anita, but it doesn't give him a real boost. Despite the California connections, though, his breeding is solid. His grandsire, Pulpit, was fourth in the 1997 Derby, and he is a son of A.P. Indy and therefore a grandson of Seattle Slew. This horse has distance in his blood.
The Santa Anita Derby: His win in the Santa Anita Derby was impressive. He pulled away and won by 5 1/4 lengths under a hand ride. It's hard to believe that he was going to get beat on that day regardless of what happened. There is an asterisk to it all, though. There were really only two horses of a top-level caliber in the race besides the winner - Candy Boy and Hoppertunity. Candy Boy was coming off a long layoff, and he had a whole lot of rust to shake off. Hoppertunity had run a lot already this spring and likely had enough points already to get into the Derby, so he was essentially using the Santa Anita Derby as a timed workout. While California Chrome deserves a whole lot of respect, it would still be easy to overvalue his win last time out given the circumstances.
Derby favorites: California Chrome is on track to be the Derby favorite. That's not good news for him. Typically, favorites win about a third of all races. In the last 34 years, though, favorites have come out on top just five times at the Derby. While the longer-term trend has not been positive, though, favorites have fared much better recently. Orb won as the lukewarm favorite last year, and he became the fourth favorite in the last 10 years to win - just about what we would expect.
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