Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Sports

Social Inclusion a speedy threat to California Chrome in Preakness

BALTIMORE — One of the most documented story lines for one of the leading Preakness Stakes contenders goes as follows: A brilliant victory on the Kentucky Derby trail sparks seven-figure offers his owner brazenly rejects, in part because he doesn't want someone pulling the colt from the venerable trainer who deserves to finally condition a classic contender.

That scenario most famously applies to Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome, whom many expect to have his way with his nine challengers in Saturday's Preakness Stakes.

Social Inclusion happens to share the same yarn. And owner Ron Sanchez is telling all who will listen that if California Chrome wants to head to the Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown in the balance, he's going to have to go through his horse.

Of the "new shooters" scheduled to face California Chrome in the 13/16-mile Preakness Stakes, Social Inclusion arguably presents the biggest fear factor for racing's reigning rock star. Installed as the 5-1 second choice on the morning line, the front-running Social Inclusion has garnered a boatload of hype in just three career starts. His early brilliance had some ready to deem him a divisional favorite a little more than a month ago.

On April 5 — the same day California Chrome stamped himself the favorite for the first Saturday in May with his 51/4-length win in the Santa Anita Derby — Social Inclusion was in position to steal thunder for himself when he went into the Grade I Wood Memorial as the 7-5 favorite after defeating Remsen Stakes winner Honor Code by 10 lengths in track-record time in a 11/16-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park March 12.

With his colt winning his first two starts by a combined 171/2 lengths, Sanchez rejected multiple high-dollar offers for Social Inclusion.

It's a move he maintains he had no regret over after the bay colt finished third in the Wood Memorial, missing out on a guaranteed spot in the Kentucky Derby — especially when Social Inclusion developed a foot bruise in his right front that forced him to scratch from the Sir Bear Stakes on May 3.

"It was very disappointing not to be in the Derby, but I think it was better for the horse, because running the horse in the 20-horse field is not what you want for the horse if you want to keep them healthy," said Sanchez, who races under the name Rontos Racing Stable. "That day (in the Wood) we learned that sometimes things happen for a reason and our main goal was coming to the Preakness.

"He has more experience now. He is showing us he deserves this chance."

Similar to California Chrome's connections, who turned down an offer of $6 million for 51 percent of the horse after the Santa Anita Derby, Sanchez says he did not want a new owner coming in and moving Social Inclusion out of the barn of his 85-year-old trainer, Manny Azpurua.

The soft-spoken Azpurua has saddled more than 3,500 winners in his native Venezuela and nearly 950 since 1979 in the United States. And where California Chrome's Art Sherman became the oldest trainer to win the Derby at 77, Azpurua would become the oldest to saddle a Preakness victor if Social Inclusion runs to his early form Saturday.

"Let me tell you, I believe this horse is special," Azpurua said. "He's a very smart horse, I believe the rider can do with him whatever he wants to. He likes to go to the lead and … he likes this track, the way he's moving, the way he is galloping."

Sanchez said of Azpurua: "I owe everything to him. He knows the horses, he loves the horses. On Saturday everybody will start feeling more respect about him."

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