04/06/2014 1:04PM

California Chrome, and Other Notes


Clarity. It’s a word you see invoked often during every Triple Crown prep season, more as a plea than anything else.

Well, in the 1:47.52 it took him to dominate Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby, California Chrome provided all the Triple Crown prep clarity anyone could reasonably ask for.

With all due respect to the other final Kentucky Derby prep winners we have seen already, and to those still to come next Saturday, there is absolutely no question that California Chrome is the best horse going into this Kentucky Derby, and the one to beat. His 5 1/4-length tour de force Saturday along with his 7 1/4-length romp in the San Felipe last month, both of which were accomplished with him having to do less than his best, make for a combination that none of California Chrome’s contemporaries can, or will, be able to match in this Derby.

That said, even if California Chrome is certainly the most likely winner of the Kentucky Derby, that doesn’t mean he has to win. His edge on pure ability, his sharpness of current form, and his versatility in terms of running style give him a greater margin for error than anyone else, meaning that if he encounters adversity, he has a better chance than anyone to overcome it.

Unfortunately, 20-horse (or close to it) Kentucky Derby fields create a wildcard factor not befitting North America’s most popular horse race. If California Chrome breaks a half-step slow like he did in the Santa Anita Derby, he might suddenly find, unlike on Saturday, the door slammed shut on him. In about the time it takes to say “mint juleps taste like cough syrup,” California Chrome might find himself in the completely unfamiliar position of about 12th, and about 10 lengths off the lead. Or if California Chrome breaks like a rocket at Churchill like he did in the San Felipe, with all the other speed eyeing this Derby, he could find himself carried along on a pace much too fast for his own good. As we know all too well, the best horse doesn’t always win.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves here. We ask for clarity, so when it comes, we should acknowledge it. California Chrome is THE horse going into this Kentucky Derby. It’s as clear as day.

Other Saturday notes:

I liked Wicked Strong’s victory in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. A lot. You could see Wicked Strong was on his game Saturday as early as into the backstretch as he was closer up than usual, and I was taken with how strongly he ran though the wire. Wicked Strong has gotten good at the right time, and he seems like a lock to handle the additional furlong in Louisville, and a hot, contested Derby pace will only play to his strength.

Samraat and Social Inclusion were both game finishing second and third in the Wood, and Uncle Sigh’s fifth in the Wood was better than it looks on paper as he missed the break and had no kind of trip. I’m not sure any of these three are true 10-furlong horses, but they are nice colts.

It might be the best thing that ever could happen to Social Inclusion if he was excluded from the Derby on points. With now only three career starts, the first of which came in late February, Social Inclusion is just not ready for something like the Derby. Saturday was nice but cool at Aqueduct, and yet Social Inclusion was washed out going into the gate. If he can get rattled in front of 12,000 people at Aqueduct, what will happen to him in front of 150,000 people at Churchill?

As noted, California Chrome didn’t have to do his best Saturday. And though I don’t think he’s a match for California Chrome, at least right now, I do think Hoppertunity has more to him than his second in the Santa Anita Derby might say at face value. Hoppertunity was already safely in the Kentucky Derby on points, and after shipping out of town twice already this year, it does seem he stayed home and used the Santa Anita Derby as a prep in the purest sense of the term.

Yes, he hesitated a bit at the start, and he was wrapped up on when it was clear he wasn’t going to win, but Ring Weekend’s distant second in the ungraded Calder Derby isn’t the way you would want to go on to the Kentucky Derby. But Ring Weekend is safely in the Derby field on the points he earned winning the Tampa Bay Derby.

I picked against Fashion Plate in the Santa Anita Oaks because I thought she would be 4-5. I thought Fashion Plate would be odds-on due to the fact that she was going to be in complete control of an uncontested pace, and was 2 for 2 since moving to dirt, and I try to avoid picking odds-on horses except in special circumstances. I could not believe it when Fashion Plate instead went off at 2-1, and Ria Antonia was bet down for some reason to favorite at 6-5. Fashion Plate, now a totally unexpected and huge overlay, parlayed her expected easy lead into victory.

My Miss Sophia, stepping up off of only a maiden victory, albeit an impressive one, figured to get loose early in Aqueduct’s Gazelle and command an easy lead. She did, and turned the Gazelle into a rout. And in contrast to Fashion Plate, My Miss Sophia was hammered down to 4-5.

Nice race between Room Service and Rosalind in Keeneland’s Ashland, so nice that even the photo finish camera couldn’t separate them. But both were assisted by an anticipated pace meltdown. And as a prep for the Kentucky Oaks, it looks like Rosalind is the one best prepared to carry the torch. Room Service has never raced on dirt. Rosalind finished third in all three of her dirt outings, including a half-length loss in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, another race that had a pace collapse.

Much is being made of the slow pace Dads Caps got away with in his upset of the Carter at Aqueduct. As one who needed Dads Caps in easier, shorter races in his last two starts, and saw him surrender late both times, I can tell you the slow pace he set Saturday didn’t feel at the time like it would be nearly enough of an advantage for him. But of course, Dads Caps didn’t surrender this time. And to say the sprint division is unsettled right now would be an understatement.

UPDATE, Sunday, 5:08, pm - What a terrific 4-year-old debut from Princess of Sylmar in Sunday's Cat Cay Stakes at Aqueduct. She decisively split horses into the stretch and drew off stylishly to win in fast raw time in her first start since her miscue in the Breeders' Cup Distaff last fall.

With Princess of Sylmar back in full force, now we just need two-time champion Beholder, impressive winner of that Distaff last fall, to make her way back in good order to set up a summit meeting between these two in the $1 million Ogden Phipps on the Belmont Stakes undercard on June 7.

CC More than 1 year ago
I dont know about all of you, but California Chrome reminds me alot of SNOW CHIEF CC simply looked amazing in the S A Derby
Ann More than 1 year ago
Snow Chief fizzled in the Derby, but came back to win the Preakness and Jersey Derby (the old style one). Like his dad, Reflected Glory (Everglades and Flamingo winner, both 9f, in 1967), Snow Chief didn't quite get 10f.
Jackson Jackson More than 1 year ago
Snow Chief won the Gr. I Strub stakes @ 10 f beating Ferdinand & Broad Brush at equal weight of 126 lbs. in 2:00 racehorse time. He won the Jersey Derby @ 10 f . He won the Preakness. I'd say he got 10 f.
William Brites More than 1 year ago
I am an East Coast horse guy who loved Wicked Strong going into the Wood and will like him much come Derby day, but my God if you can't see that right now CC is heads above all is to be blind. The only way he loses is if JJ Castallano is aboard and he gets a Normandy Invasion or Bobby's Kitten flashback
ted More than 1 year ago
While anything can happen in a 20-hourse Derby field, Rosie is WAY off base, if not irrational. Who has California Chrome beaten? How about beating Hopperrtunity by daylight while being eased at the 1/16 pole? If memory serves, Hoppertunity won the Rebel while barely edging out Tapiture. Barring a bad trip in the Debry, there is no one in the field that can warm CC up.
Rick Lamond More than 1 year ago
Keep on hating Rosie. you will be the one tearing up tickets after the Derby.
Ricardo Hernadez More than 1 year ago
This horse look like I'll have another. I know he going to winn
Ricardo Hernadez More than 1 year ago
Going to winn the triple Chrome
David Porco More than 1 year ago
Typically the horse that gets the great trip in the Derby wins it, it is not always the best horse. The 20 horse field can be too much to overcome, even for the best of horses. It is just difficult figuring who gets that trip. And remember, if you draw the 1 or 2 post, you are done before the race even starts.
Quite A Dude More than 1 year ago
CC is simply the best 3 year old in training. He is a freak. Very high cruising speed. I don't think anyone can warm him up at Churchill.. Serious Triple Crown threat..
Mike Cooper More than 1 year ago
Very good comment. Take a good look at CC'S last 4 races. Seems to be rating much better now. I'd be shocked if he doesn't break well in the Derby. Looks a lot like Sunny's Halo to me, very good early speed and can rate if needed. Looks like he's 5 lengths better than anything out there. As always the track at Churchill could beat him. Beat the great Holy Bull.
Jackson Jackson More than 1 year ago
Holy Bull's trainer said on his death bed that somebody ( presumably DR. Derby .. Alex Harthill ? ) poisoned him before the race. He recommended sleeping with the horse when @ CD.
Scott More than 1 year ago
Anxious to see Bayerns return in the Arkansas Derby before I make my Derby choice. He worked 7f in 1:23 4/5 hg and maybe a race short but we'll see. As for CC the Santa Anita Derby was nothing but a workout. CC could have gone 1:46 and changed if he was urged at all. Sometimes you don't need a 400k colt to win the derby. Hey Rosie remember Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. There sure aren't any Easy Goers from the East Coast this year but CC maybe even better than SS.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Please calm down. The hyperbole is just too much. Pun definitely intended.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
It just sticks in the craw, doesn't it, when some nobody horse, from nobody sire/dam beats the "bluebloods" bred by the "experts"
Ann More than 1 year ago
That sounds like Carry Back, who was by a stallion called Saggy out of a mare called Joppy. His sire's primary claim to fame was that he was the only horse to beat Citation during their common 3yo year - he won a 6f prep for the Chesapeake S at Havre de Grace, getting weight, of course, and in the mud. CB's dam was a non-winner by Star Blen, the epitome of the well-bred failure - he was by classic sire Blenheim II and a half-brother to some SWs, out of a blue-blood British import. Carry Back's second and third dam's were unraced and foaled no stakes horses. Yet Carry Back won 2/3rds of the Triple Crown.
James More than 1 year ago
Just remember everyone...all horses entering the derby must be kept in Quarantine.... I am absolutely certain that will make a lot of trainers very nervous! They realize their chances will be compromised!
Jackson Jackson More than 1 year ago
Yep they'll be compromised by KY. officials if they don't want the horse to win just like Holy Bull :)