The Emotional Value of California Chrome

Sometime between the Santa Anita Derby and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, I decided that California Chrome was no longer worth betting.

And it’s cost me, but more in terms of prestige than in my wallet. The $7 he paid winning the Derby was OK, but I have no regrets about missing out on $3 in the Preakness (though if you loved him, $3 to place wasn’t bad).

But he could have paid $2.10 in both races, and all my friends would still be impressed if I had picked him (maybe my colleagues less so), and the reason they’d be impressed isn’t because of the money but because I recognized who the best horse in the races was before the fact, and as the Derby and Preakness played out, there’s no doubt who the best horse is.

Indeed, California Chrome was much the best in both races because of what I prefer to call “clean trips” rather than “perfect trips.” Clean because he stayed out of trouble but not perfect because—especially in the Preakness—he was fighting every step of the race and turned back all challengers.

Jockey Victor Espinoza’s move early to push Social Inclusion wide and get tactical position on his biggest threat (especially at that part of the race) was brilliant as it played out, but if California Chrome had been caught late by Ride On Curlin, would we now be talking about how the Derby winner was needlessly wide from post 3 or shouldn’t have been so close to a no hoper like Ria Antonia?

Social Inclusion—my pick—took a BIG run at California Chrome and was dispatched easily, and while Ride On Curlin was the only one closing late, there appeared to be no real threat.

California Chrome’s Preakness trip reminded me of the 2004 Belmont Stakes, which featured Smarty Jones tracking the pace before taking the lead and turning back Eddington and Rock Hard Ten before giving way to Birdstone late.

So I didn’t bet California Chrome at 5-to-2 or 1-to-2, and I probably won’t be betting him at 2-to-5 in the Belmont Stakes, but I’m happy to congratulate those who did—not because of the money but because they were right: This horse is a star.

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