05/14/2014 6:31PM

Beyer: California Chrome still the one to beat

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BALTIMORE – When California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby, racing fans loved the story: down-to-earth owners, an old-school trainer, and a humbly bred colt. The saga could get even better as California Chrome attempts to win Saturday’s Preakness and move closer to a sweep of the Triple Crown.

But there is some detail that doesn’t fit well with this hopeful story line. The slow final time of the Derby, 2:03.66, suggested that the winner is no superstar. Speed figures – which take into account the condition of the track and the final time – confirmed the weakness of the race. The Beyer Speed Figure of 97 was the lowest for any Derby win since the ratings first appeared in Daily Racing Form in 1992. This was not a unique assessment. The Ragozin sheets gave California Chrome the poorest winning Derby number since 1974.

In the media and the blogosphere, there have been howls that something must be wrong. How could the colt be so much slower than he was in his earlier victories at Santa Anita? How could so many horses behind him in the Derby earn below-normal figures, too? Many people speculated that the track had been maintained and watered insufficiently before the Derby, accounting for the slow time.

“The track seemed dry,” wrote Byron King in DRF . “That was reflected in the significant dirt kickback. I say forget the time. I see no reason why ... California Chrome isn’t as good as – if not better than – other recent Derby winners.”

This is not an academic issue; the quality of California Chrome’s Derby performance is a key issue in analyzing Saturday’s Preakness.

I believe there was no change in the Churchill Downs track during the day; the track superintendent insisted that the surface was watered sufficiently before the Derby. The Derby was slow because most of the horses were ill-suited to the 1 1/4-mile distance. After spurting to a clear lead on the final turn, California Chrome decelerated in the last furlong, even though jockey Victor Espinoza was urging him until the final strides. He scored by less than two lengths over a rival who had never won anything but a maiden race. Ten horses finished within 8 1/2 lengths of the winner. This was no dominant performance.

Under ordinary circumstances, I would be eager to bet against California Chrome. Not only did he record a poor speed figure, but he did so after benefiting from an easy trip in the Derby. He sat behind two front-runners who were setting an honest (but not destructive) pace and shot past them when they tired. He never had a straw in his path.

Yet it is difficult to make a solid case for any of his challengers at Pimlico. If California Chrome only runs slightly better than he did in the Derby (which he ought to do at the shorter distance), he’s apt to win as an odds-on favorite. This makes the Preakness an unattractive betting race, but I nevertheless have a plan for playing the trifecta.

The Preakness is filled with quick horses who regularly seize the early lead or fight for it – Social Inclusion, Bayern, Pablo Del Monte, General a Rod, and California Chrome. The favorite surely will be sitting just behind the leaders, but any or all of the other four could get involved in a torrid pace that compromises them.

Accordingly, I am eliminating Pablo Del Monte, Social Inclusion, and Bayern. The latter two probably will be the second and third choices in the wagering, and throwing them out will create some betting value.

Social Inclusion may possess more raw talent than any horse in the field; he scored a victory at Gulfstream Park so impressively that owner Ron Sanchez received – and rejected – an $8 million offer for the colt. But Social Inclusion hasn’t raced since tiring to finish third in the Wood Memorial six weeks ago. In the interim, he sustained a minor foot injury. With only three career starts, he doesn’t have the seasoning for a race as demanding as the Preakness.

Bayern will get plenty of support because he is trained by Bob Baffert. But all of the colt’s successes have come in races at a mile or shorter; he faded to third place in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby. The pace and the distance of the Preakness will work against him.

Dynamic Impact and Ride On Curlin are the most credible Preakness challengers. Dynamic Impact won the Illinois Derby on April 19 in a good effort, earning a Beyer of 102. Ride On Curlin endured an absurd trip in the Derby, as jockey Calvin Borel tried to come from last place in the field of 19. He rallied belatedly to finish seventh – not a bad effort under the circumstances. He could be helped by a hot Preakness pace.

General a Rod and Kid Cruz are marginal contenders. The former might be vying for the lead, but he is a seasoned and tenacious runner, and he won’t give up easily. Kid Cruz has only won a couple of minor stakes at Pimlico, but he has a strong late kick, and he will be rallying past some of the tired pacesetters.

My Preakness play is to use California Chrome, Dynamic Impact, and Ride On Curlin in the top two positions in a trifecta, adding Kid Cruz and General a Rod in the third spot. A trifecta combination with a $1 unit will cost $18: The numbers are 1-3-10 with 1-3-10 with 1-2-3-7-10. If California Chrome wins as the favorite, the play should return a modest profit. But it could turn out to be lucrative if California Chrome’s low Derby speed figure portends a big surprise in the Preakness.

© 2014 The Washington Post

Ken Rick More than 1 year ago
I hope Mr. Beyer and all his "elite" turf writing colleagues will rise up and join the growing league of horseracing fans who have had it with the CD elitists, who caused a well deserved rant by the owner of CC at the Preakness post race ceremony. (If you missed it) DAP honcho & front man taking the Woodlawn Vase trophy lashed out at the CD "suits" for being far inferior to the top notch hospitality given at PIM. Looks like Bob Costas was caught off guard, surrendering the microphone to others. Bye bye Bob, if this gets any bigger . . . You left your post, and permitted an overdue and great moment for live television to prevail. For those of you who may not be aware of the Ron Turcotte incident, wheelchair bound Turcotte (A triple crown jockey) was DENIED a handicapped parking spot at CD, and further, CD management also denied Turcotte paddock access, because building a ramp for his needs was deemed excessive. SHAMEFUL way to treat someone who has given his life for this sport! I hope other bloggers come in behind this writing to share more of CD horror stories. Does Kentucky not have ADA handicapped laws that were violated here? Hello attorneys, reading this: What recourse do we have against CD managememt? I expect distinguished names like Beyer, Privman, Crist, and, of course the NYRA boys to expose and take down CD in every way they can, without putting their own careers at stake. At the very least, you owe it to Ron Turcotte and every other handicapped racing fan who has suffered with the CD arrogance. You owe it to all horse racing nation fans who support this sport. Please say something in the days ahead. Thank you for reading this.
Declan More than 1 year ago
Beyer needs to publicly explain why his Derby and Preakness numbers for CC were so vastly inconsistent. Beyer has already dug his own grave a little deeper by discounting factors such as a dried out CD track. Since he can't explain away his Derby number as erroneous or anomalous, there can be but one sustainable conclusion: his system is deeply flawed as a means of extrapolating the performance of a horse in a single race to other races. Simply put, there are horses at all levels who basically do what needs to be done, and no more. CC did what he needed to do in the Derby and got a 97. He needed to do more at Pimlico and notched a 105. Of course, the 105 was of no surprise to Beyer because CC had run similar figures twice before at Santa Anita. Which raises a second issue: why would Beyer essentially ignore those SA numbers? Because they were from races at SA, a "speed favoring" track? If he believes that his own numbers generated at that track are to be discounted as predictors of performance outside California, then why should handicappers give a crap abut Beyer Speed Figures in the first place? Andy? You out there?
Joe Seba More than 1 year ago
With all due respect to Andy (and do I mean that with all sincerity) his speed figures are pretty much meaningless. California Chrome broke alertly, found position near the front, tracked the front runners then kicked clear when it was appropriate. His only competition came from Ride On Curlin who he easily kept at bay. It didn't matter how fast he was running at that point. All he had to do was stay in front. Which he did with ease. CC is simply the best three-year-old on the planet. He's fast, he's rateable, and his jockey knows exactly how to ride him. Time and ratings mean nothing. Chrome is a useful race horse who does what's expected of him. Nothing more, nothing less. Clearly there was no real exertion for him. Whether he wins the Belmont by a length or two or by 31, he's the best of his generation. Maybe he doesn't need to be much to dominate this crop of three-year-olds, but he does dominate them. The acid test comes when he faces older horses. With his style and class he may turn out to be quite formidable regardless of what anybody's numbers may say.
Phil Johnwell More than 1 year ago
The American Story....The 9..11 museum opened in New York and now CC s Headed to New York..Seabisket rallie the country during world 2...Calionia Chrome Baby !
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
I was actually afraid Beyer was going to jinx the horse by picking him to win. But after reading the article realized the piece was more a criticism of CALIFORNIA CHROME than an endorsement. and was relieved. Read my pre Preakness post here below.
Phil Johnwell More than 1 year ago
Sometimes things happen in life and you just have to accept it...This horse has the right to the Belmont.........Why not ? Commentators are paid employees and are wrong 80 per cent of the time...The CC story bottom line should be.....Only in America !
eagle river More than 1 year ago
Tough crowd ! Beyer does not understand many things, including the "efficacy of numbers" problem. My home-made speed figs beat his, and I'm sure many other handicappers also have better figs than his. Anyway, CC was three lengths better than the field, according to my numbers. Any rube who bets the "best Beyer" can get an equivalent ROI by just taking the favorite to place.
Jack Nichols More than 1 year ago
I always thought others had much better numbers than the Beyers. Mine, too, are much better. Beyer was the fellow in one of his first books, claimed that pace had nothing to do with final times. Check it out, that's what he wrote. I remember that book being sailed across the room into the fireplace....
Bill Keating More than 1 year ago
Andy will always have my admiration and respect. In summer of 1978 I first read his book "My $50,000 year at the Races" which began my life long affair with handicapping. But when I followed the first book up with "Picking Winners," I was astonished to read that, after spending something like five or eight years just being a horseplayer, he asserted that pace had nothing to do with the outcome of a race. Only the final time mattered. Only a thought experiment would be enough to debunk that. Two humans line up to run a quarter mile race around a track. One runs as fast as he can for as long as he can; the other runs a moderate pace. The first is going to be bent over trying to catch his breath after three sixteenths, while the other friend will waltz past. I was wondering why he didn't take the book out of print instead of exposing himself to all the others to follow who would laugh
eagle river More than 1 year ago
dd
arroyoracing More than 1 year ago
Well you got one more race to try and beat him so you can tell everyone you were right. Good luck curmudgeon!
John McEvoy More than 1 year ago
" John McEvoy1 day ago If you go back decades, the top few finishers of the Preakness are generally horses coming back from the Derby. This will be no different. California Chrome is tons the best in here, barring some sort of medical condition/physical setback... Ride On Curlin will continue the trend of Derby horses making up the top finishing order of the Preakness, and will run second with the jockey switch, and the torrid pace that will compromise most front runners, with the exception of the talented CC. I will be playing a big exacta, with a small reverse in case CC gets run down for some odd reason." I wish I bet more than $20 on it. :(