Hard to Go Against Chrome

If you’ve been on the California Chrome bandwagon, there’s no reason to jump off now. If you’re still looking for a way to beat him, there are some new faces and a few old ones who are coming into the Preakness Stakes the right way and could offer good value.

We’re all aware by now about the colt’s throat blister and the few coughs it triggered, which in turn set off a wave of panic that the Kentucky Derby winner had some issue that could potentially knock him out of the race. That panic was calmed by the assurance by Alan Sherman that the colt was checked out thoroughly and all was well. It was something he had before the Derby that had returned.

So, make of that what you wish. Until anything further is discovered or announced, we’ll just ignore it in terms of the horse’s performance on Saturday.

There is no way I can go off him at this point. We all know how talk escalates about now that this is the chosen one to finally “reach that unreachable star” known as the Triple Crown and how divine forces are guiding him toward immortality. And we all hear what we’ve heard in the past – how racing desperately needs a Triple Crown winner. This one comes complete with the entire package – a great story and great people.

So, all we can do now is look at the race and try to figure out how to make money on it. Remember how everyone felt Orb was as close to a lock as we’ve had in the Preakness in years, and remember that the $1 trifecta paid over $1,000.

History has shown us that horses exiting the Kentucky Derby are much more successful in the Preakness than the new shooters. So, this year, we’re having it handed to us on the proverbial silver platter with only three such horses. Therefore, boxing California Chrome, Ride On Curlin, and General a Rod is a no brainer. The last two fit the profile of horses who rebound either in the Preakness or Belmont Stakes. They both had less than ideal trips, especially Ride On Curlin, who actually ran a deceptively good race, and the Derby didn’t take much out of them. From a physical standpoint, all three of these horses have put on weight since the Derby, and General a Rod looked like a powerhouse out on the track Thursday morning. Also, the fact that co-owner Jack Wolf of Starlight Partners was assuming they would wait for the Belmont Stakes, but that trainer Mike Maker was the one who wanted to bring him back in two weeks, bodes well for the colt’s chances.

Maker’s other two horses in the Derby – Vicar’s in Trouble and Harry’s Holiday – didn’t eat for three days following the race, but General a Rod cleaned up his feed that night.

So, there is your first trifecta box – three strong colts who were not affected by the rigors of the Derby and three proven horses in grade I company.

That leaves us with the new shooters, and all we can go by is what kind of impression they’ve made at Pimlico. Unfortunately, unlike the Derby, you usually don’t get to see much of the Preakness horses, most of whom ship in three to five days before the race.

But I have to say, that while several of the horses I have seen are looking well and handling the track well, there have been two “Wow” moments and they both came Thursday. Social Inclusion is an absolute beast who exudes power from every pore. He is massive and looks like a man among boys. He pounds the ground with those enormous strides and is always on the muscle once he hits the track.

At the barn he seems pretty laid back and bright and alert. He did wash out a bit before the Wood Memorial and there was a spot of lather on his neck this morning coming off the track following his spirited gallop. But that’s just him. With all the speed in the Preakness, he could be the speed of the speed, but there would be no need to panic if he didn’t get the lead and wound up sitting behind horses. He also drew well in post 8, but does have the speedy Pablo Del Monte directly outside of him, so it will be cat and mouse in the beginning, with the rest of the speed in the inside five posts.

His race in the Wood Memorial was much better than many people think, as he was making only his third career start over a totally different surface than he was used to in Florida. He was under pressure throughout and ran his third quarter in a testing :23 3/5. Although he was no match for the victorious Wicked Strong, who he never saw, he held on tenaciously and was just nosed right on the wire by the previously unbeaten Samraat. There is no reason why he should not improve dramatically off that race.

In contrast to Social Inclusion, the more refined and athletic Bayern just floated over the track Thursday morning and barely made a sound as he glided by at a strong clip. This colt has been playing catch-up all year and had the misfortune to miss a race with a foot bruise and two weeks of training. He still ran an excellent third in the Arkansas Derby over a deepish track and was just nailed for second at the wire, much like Social Inclusion. He then ran a gutsy race in the Derby Trial under constant pressure and dug in to finish first, but was disqualified for interference in the final sixteenth. What is most important about that race is the DRF Track Variant of 26. That is about two to three points from being considered quicksand. That was not Bayern’s type of track, but it should give him plenty of bottom and fitness.

He bounced out of that race with a sensational five-furlong breeze in :58 1/5. Bob Baffert removed the blinkers and gave him an easy five-furlong breeze in 1:02 3/5. So, with blinkers off and a slow breeze, look for Bayern to settle back this time and stalk. And look for a big step forward from him as well. And having Rosie Napravnik aboard at her old stomping grounds doesn’t hurt.

Those are the two new faces who have caught my eye, combined with their room for improvement.

As for the others, I thought Kid Cruz looked great galloping Thursday morning, and that was not unexpected, considering he won the Federico Tesio Stakes over this track last time out. He likely will be running last and would benefit if the projected speed duel develops. But you never know about those things. He carries good flesh and is the one everyone will be looking for in the final furlong.

Getting back to Ride On Curlin, I loved the fact that a Derby starter actually had a work between races and that he looked great doing it. I particularly like the way he hugged these sharp turns at the head of the stretch and also galloping out. It shows off his athleticism, and I expect Joel Rosario to be sitting right off California Chrome’s flank and attempting to match strides with the Derby winner when the real running starts.

Dynamic Impact is a tenacious fighter, and I like the huge gaps between second and third in his last two starts. He also handled the track well Thursday morning. It’s just a question whether he’s up to this task against this kind of competition. He has improved his Beyer Speed Figures with every race.

I haven’t seen Ria Antonia train, but she appears to be in over her head coming off a poor effort in the Kentucky Oaks. She is now in the hands of Tom Amoss, her fourth trainer. She’s good on her best day, but not so good on her off days and hasn’t been running against fillies who are on this level.

I also haven’t seen Ring Weekend, who has been training at Fair Hill, but I did love this horse after his Tampa Bay Derby victory and am throwing out that bizarre race in the Calder Derby run over a beach. He has a longshot chance in here, but is one of a number of tactical speed horses, as is Pablo Del Monte, who ran huge in the Blue Grass Stakes, in which he was the only pace horse anywhere near at the finish, hanging in there gamely for third. But he’s run his best races on Polytrack, so we’ll see how far he can last. Ring Weekend does intrigue me.

Again, it’s California Chrome, Ride On Curlin, and General a Rod for the obvious Derby trifecta, and California Chrome, Social Inclusion, and Bayern from a visual standpoint.

You can dig deeper if you wish to add any others to your exotics. Several of them have a decent shot of hitting the board.

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