BALTIMORE — It gets even harder from here on out for California Chrome. He won easily in his home state of California, he dazzled in the Kentucky Derby and he dug deep to win the Preakness on Saturday.
Now comes the toughest test of all, the Belmont Stakes in three weeks.
The chestnut colt with four white feet will attempt to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont, something that hasn't been done since Affirmed in 1978. Since then, 12 horses have won the first two legs and failed to complete the sweep in the 11/2-mile Belmont; the last was I'll Have Another, who was scratched on the eve of the Belmont two years ago.
"You have to have a very good horse to win these three races," said Art Sherman, the winning 77-year-old trainer. "I'm hoping I've got one right now."
California Chrome defeated Ride On Curlin by 11/2 lengths, covering 13/16 miles in 1:54.84 on a sunny and cool day at Pimlico.
He's won six straight races. The streak started with four in a row in California by a combined 241/4 lengths. Then California Chrome coasted home in the Derby by 13/4 lengths after opening a big lead in the stretch. The margin dwindled in the Preakness as he fought off multiple challengers.
Co-owner Steve Coburn shed tears after his colt crossed the finish, dabbing them away with a blue-and-white bandanna.
"I don't mean to be bold or cocky or arrogant," Coburn said. "I saw this baby when he was a day old, I told my wife, 'Carolyn, this horse is going to do something big. I don't know what it is, but we're going to stay in the game to make sure this colt gets to be the best that he can be.' "
Sent off as the 1-2 favorite, California Chrome bounced out of the gate running, with jockey Victor Espinoza moving the colt into the clear. Pablo Del Monte, a 34-1 shot, charged to the lead and was soon joined by filly Ria Antonia. Espinoza tucked California Chrome into third, an ideal spot behind the leaders. They stayed there until making their move approaching the final turn.
"I had to move early today," Espinoza said. "I had to start moving at the half-mile pole, which is tough for a horse to start moving early and keep going all the way to the end. California Chrome proved he can move."
California Chrome went for the lead, catching Pablo Del Monte while Social Inclusion joined the chase. Pablo Del Monte soon dropped back along the rail, and California Chrome sprinted away from Social Inclusion at the top of the stretch. Ride On Curlin, next-to-last in the 10-horse field, ranged up and briefly appeared ready to overtake California Chrome. Once again showing his class, California Chrome denied the threat.
"New York, here we come," Sherman said.
139th Preakness Stakes
13⁄16 miles dirt. Purse $1.5 million. 3-year-olds
Stakes value of race $1.5 million. Value to winner $900,000. Second $300,000. Third $165,000. Fourth $90,000. Fifth $45,000.
Horse Wgt PP ST 1/4 1/2 3/4 Str Fin Jockey Odds
California Chrome 126 3 2 3-½ 3-½ 2-½ 1-3 1-1½ V. Espinoza 0.50
Ride On Curlin 126 10 10 9-6 9-8 8-½ 2-1½ 2-6½ J. Rosario 10.30
Social Inclusion 126 8 5 5-hd 5-½ 3-hd 3-4 3-hd L. Contreras 5.30
General a Rod 126 2 3 4-1½ 4-1 6-hd 6-6 4-4¼ J. Castellano 20.10
Ring Weekend 126 4 7 7-hd 8-3 5-½ 4-½ 5-1¾ A. Garcia 30.10
Pablo Del Monte 126 9 1 1-½ 1-hd 1-1 5-1½ 6-1¾ J. Sanchez 34.30
Dynamic Impact 126 1 4 6-1½ 6-1½ 9-7 8-2 7-no M. Mena 22.20
Kid Cruz 126 7 9 10 10 10 9-6 8-5 J. Pimentel 12.30
Bayern 126 5 8 8-2½ 7-hd 7-1½ 7-hd 9-10 R. Napravnik 12.90
Ria Antonia 121 6 6 2-2 2-2 4-1 10 10 C. Borel 18.90
Time 23.560 46.850 1:11.060 1:35.650 1:54.840.
© 2014 Equibase Company LLC, all rights reserved.
California Chrome $3 $3 $2.40
Ride On Curlin $5.60 $3.80
Social Inclusion $3.40
Payouts: $2 exacta $18.20, $2 trifecta $76, $1 superfecta $173.80