Can California Chrome win the Triple Crown? Odds and Betting Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 5/6/2014
A very interesting thing jumped out at me when I was perusing the horse racing props available at Sportsbook.ag. Not surprisingly, you can bet on whether we will see the Triple Crown drought, which stretches back to the last win in 1978, end this year. What is amazing, though, is that the odds for California Chrome to do so sit at just +210. That's remarkably low, which means that oddsmakers and the betting public are reasonably optimistic. But should they be? Can California Chrome win the Triple Crown? Let's look at both sides of the argument:
He can because:
This is a lousy class of horses: If there is one thing we have learned through the lead up to the Derby and the race itself it's that this is just not a very good group of horses this year. There was plenty of quality in the field earlier on, but injuries decimated the field. The Derby was a farce of a race. California Chrome was able to run exactly the race that he wanted to, and he was essentially unchallenged in doing so. When the best horse is the field is allowed to run his ideal race, he is going to win. It's as simple as that. There are a few interesting horses that could challenge the champ in the next two races, but there really isn't a superstar waiting in the wings. He will be the best horse in the field in both remaining Triple Crown races. If he makes it that far, or if that is good enough, remains to be seen.
The Preakness is particularly weak: There is time for things to change, but at this point there are just nine horses being pointed at the Preakness. Of those, only Ride On Curlin and Danza are coming to give it another shot after the Derby. Ride On Curlin was the victim of a truly horrible ride from Calvin Borel in the Derby, and Danza was a respectable third in that race. Beyond that, though, only Bayern and Social Inclusion are intriguing, and both have issues that left them out of the Derby field. The other potential entrants - Dynamic Impact, Kid Cruz, Pablo Del Monte and Ring Weekend - just aren't very good. This is a very manageable field, and there will be lots of room for horses to move and avoid trouble.
Other horses have come close: It has been far too long since we have had a Triple Crown winner, but we have come close several times. Real Quiet was the closest, and Silver Charm, Charismatic and others were more than respectable in their Belmont attempt. It is popular to say that we won't see a Triple Crown winner again, but there is really no reason it couldn't happen.
Espinoza has been here before: Victor Espinoza is far from the top of his game as a jockey, but he obviously has a strong bond with this horse. As significantly, in 2002 he won the first two legs of the Triple Crown aboard War Emblem before failing miserably in the Belmont. He knows what lies ahead, and he knows what he needs to do to focus on his horse and avoid all the distractions that could keep him from his best. That's a huge asset.
What's working against him:
History: While several horses have come close, we have also seen horses that are better than this one fail when given the chance. Smarty Jones was blown by in the Belmont stretch when he looked absolutely dominant. Big Brown was a super horse, but he barely showed up for the Belmont. Point Given was perhaps the best Triple Crown contender of the last 20 years, but his pursuit was over before it started - he lost the Derby before winning the final two legs. Being the best horse in the field - even by a wide margin - guarantees absolutely nothing in this sport. As I'll Have Another showed us, even making it to the starting gate for the Belmont isn't assured when you win the first two legs.
Distance concerns: I was skeptical, given his breeding, of his ability to get the distance in the Derby. That turned out to not be a factor, though the fact that he practically was able to walk the first half mile helped. The Belmont is a quarter mile longer than the Derby, though, so my concerns about the Derby distance will only be amplified here.
Fresh horses: While the horses in the Preakness and the Belmont that he will face may not be as good as he is, several of them will have the advantage of rest - something that will be in short supply for California Chrome. The Triple Crown trail is grueling, and that is even more the case now that horses are so lightly-raced. A fresh, rested horse should have a couple of lengths advantage on a race-weary one all things being equal. That could work against this horse here.
Better opposing strategy: There were barely any riders outside of Espinoza who shouldn't be embarrassed by their Derby ride. I especially don't get what happened early. Everyone knew that Chrome would want to be right near the lead in the early fractions, and there were several speed horses in the field. Those horses should have been pushing very hard early on, hoping to make the favorite blink and giving themselves - or someone else - the chance to win. Instead, Chitu settled on the lead in very slow fractions, and California Chrome was unchallenged in third. By running so slowly early on you ensured that Chrome would have plenty in reserve in the stretch and that the closers would unlikely be able to catch him as a result. It was ridiculous. Hopefully the opposing connections will have learned from that and will make the favorite run a more honest pace here. Horses like Bayern and Social Inclusion should be more rapid up front this time around, and Ride On Curlin should be much closer to the action as he pushes the pace from the second tier. That doesn't mean that Chrome can't win, but it should mean that he has to at least break a sweat to do so.
Pressure on his connections:
In the interviews after the race Art Sherman looked completely overwhelmed, and both owners were out of their minds. You can only imagine how much the
pressure on those three will intensify - especially if he wins the Preakness as easily as he could. If the owners, and especially the trainer, are shaken
leading up to the race then the horse can feel that and react negatively. You have to think that the circus surrounding Big Brown leading up to his Belmont
had something to do with his lousy race.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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