California Chrome wins Preakness

Two legs to stand on: Victor Espinoza rises after guiding California Chrome to the second jewel in the Triple Crown. That sets up the possibility of a huge celebration June 7 at the Belmont Stakes.
Two legs to stand on: Victor Espinoza rises after guiding California Chrome to the second jewel in the Triple Crown. That sets up the possibility of a huge celebration June 7 at the Belmont Stakes. (   Getty Images)
Posted: May 19, 2014

BALTIMORE - On a lightning-quick track, California Chrome was provoking roars from the record 123,469 fans at Pimlico as he gamely batted aside one premature challenge after another, bursting to the front long before jockey Victor Espinoza had planned.

From his clubhouse vantage point, 5-foot-2 trainer Art Sherman didn't know if his horse, the 1-2 favorite, was first or last.

"Everybody was jumping up and down in front of me, and I had a camera point-blank in my face," said Sherman, who until his horse's remarkable emergence this spring had been training claimers. "But when I looked up [at the giant infield video board] I could see him starting to move away. I felt really good."

California Chrome, an appealing plebeian in the Sport of Kings, made a lot of people feel good Saturday, following up his Kentucky Derby triumph with an impressive Preakness victory that, for a 13th time in a historic 36-year drought, sets up the possibility of a Triple Crown celebration at the Belmont Stakes on June 7.

The previous 12 horses who won both races, as everyone in this troubled sport desperate for a super-horse savior knows all too well, failed.

This sixth straight victory for the California-bred horse, against a field filled with the same kind of rested opponents he'll need to fend off in New York, wasn't as easy as the previous five, in which his average winning margin was five lengths.

California Chrome led the last five-sixteenths and finished 11/2 lengths ahead of hard-charging Ride On Curlin. Social Inclusion was a distant third.

As the light softened on a gorgeous Baltimore afternoon, the winner broke cleanly and swiftly from the gate. Espinoza was settling in for another smooth trip, just off the lead, when long shots Pablo Del Monte and Ria Antonia moved alongside.

That challenge met, Espinoza, his mount third near the half-mile pole, said he thought he "was perfect." But just then, he was stunned again when Social Inclusion, a fresh speed horse that had been expected to move sooner, roared up to test the leaders.

"Wow," thought the jockey, who won the first two Triple Crown legs with War Emblem in 2002. "This is crazy."

California Chrome answered again, this time with an acceleration that would have doomed a more one-dimensional runner. He rushed to the lead and held it to the wire, despite Ride On Curlin's late run, as the crowd erupted with a joyful bellow that shook this 144-year-old track.

"I've never won at million-dollar races," said Sherman, 77, an ex-jockey. "I was always a claimer-type trainer. It's just an honor being blessed with a horse like him."

Both Sherman and Steve Coburn, who owns California Chrome with Perry Martin, indicated that, as excited as they were about the history their bargain horse can make, they're dreading the attention and distractions that await in New York.

"My wife's already bugged me," said Sherman with a look of dread on his face. "She wants to see a play."

"So your wife's been talking to my wife, right?" guffawed the big, gregarious, and cowboy-hatted Coburn.

It won't be any easier for California Chrome. In the Belmont, he'll likely have to face newcomers, including Peter Pan Stakes winner Tonalist, who have been training solely for the Belmont, as well as Derby competitors like runner-up Commanding Curve, who skipped Pimlico to begin training for the 11/2-mile event.

"There are trainers out there that train horses just to upset the apple cart," Coburn said. "They need to change this sport to where those 20 horses that started in the Kentucky Derby are the only 20 eligible to run in all three races."

If he becomes the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win them all, the Dumb Ass Partners - as Coburn and Martin dubbed themselves - who own California Chrome will, in the end, be the smartest people in racing.

"I tell you," said Coburn when asked about his horse's Belmont chances, "I wouldn't want to be in anyone else's shoes right now."

Disappointed Dozen

Since 1978, when Affirmed won the last Triple Crown, 12 horses have won the first two legs only to fall short in the Belmont. California Chrome will take his shot on June 7.

Triple Crown winners

Sir Barton, 1919   Gallant Fox, 1930   

Omaha, 1935   War Admiral, 1937   

Whirlaway, 1941   Count Fleet, 1943   

Assault, 1946   Citation, 1948   

Secretariat, 1973   Seattle Slew, 1977   

Affirmed, 1978

Close calls since '78

Horse   Year   Belmont finish   

Spectacular Bid   1979   Third   

Pleasant Colony   1981   Third   

Alysheeba   1987   Fourth   

Sunday Silence   1989   Second   

Silver Charm   1997   Second

Real Quiet   1998   Second   

Charismatic   1999   Third   

War Emblem   2002   Eighth   

Funny Cide   2003   Third   

Smarty Jones   2004   Second   

Big Brown   2008   Ninth

I'll Have Another   2012   Scratched   

California Chrome   2014   ?


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