05/05/2014 2:29PM

Beyer: California Chrome's Derby was historically slow

John Bambury
California Chrome wins the Kentucky Derby as the 5-2 favorite Saturday.

In almost every respect but one, California Chrome’s victory in the Kentucky Derby was satisfying and heartwarming, a triumph for the little guy that fans and the media always relish.

The colt’s co-owners, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, are so self-effacing that they dubbed their modest racing operation “Dumb Ass Partners” and feature a donkey on their racing silks. Trainer Art Sherman, 77, was asked a thousand times to retell the story of how he rode to Louisville in a railroad boxcar with Swaps for the 1955 Derby. He had waited almost six decades for his chance to come to Churchill Downs as a trainer.

And while Derby winners are frequently overhyped as rags-to-riches stories, no colt in decades has been such an improbable winner as California Chrome. His sire stood at stud for a $2,500 fee; his dam’s only victory came in a maiden $8,000 claiming race; his dam’s dam scored her lone career win at Charles Town. Based on pedigree, California Chrome was more likely to wind up at a track like Charles Town than on the biggest stage in American racing.

Most racing fans love this saga, and they may be unfazed by a winning time of 2:03.66, which was the slowest Derby over a track labeled “fast” since 1974. This slow time is not merely an indication that the current crop of 3-year-olds is subpar; it can be seen as an indictment of the modern American Thoroughbred.

The slowness of the Derby creates an intriguing story line for the Triple Crown series. The most impressive 3-year-old at Churchill Downs was neither California Chrome nor any of his 18 rivals in the Derby. It was the filly Untapable, who delivered a dazzling performance in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks. She would be a formidable entrant in the Preakness – except trainer Steve Asmussen is disinclined to run.

California Chrome looked like a bona-fide star when he came to Churchill Downs after winning four straight races in the West by big margins. He was clearly the most accomplished horse in the Derby field and was justifiably a solid favorite, though there were two legitimate questions about him. Because he typically races on or near the early lead, would the usual hot pace in the Derby compromise him? And would he be able to go 1 1/4 miles?

When the gates opened, none of the jockeys aboard front-running types were inclined to go on a suicide mission. Chitu and Uncle Sigh vied for the early lead, but they set a sensible pace. “Everybody slowed down,” said California Chrome’s jockey, Victor Espinoza. “I was [thinking], ‘This is going great.’ ” And from the stands, Sherman thought, “All right, Victor, you’re in a perfect spot; just cool it – wait.”

In the previous two Derbies, the first half-mile was run in 45.39 seconds and 45.33, and the sizzling pace took a toll on the leaders. On Saturday, Uncle Sigh covered the distance in 47.37 seconds, an honest pace, and California Chrome was indeed in the perfect spot, sitting just outside the leaders.

Meanwhile, a number of his rivals were having difficult trips. The field was not strung out the way it was in 2012 and 2013, enabling most of the runners to secure a decent position by the time they had reached the first turn. The field Saturday was more tightly bunched, creating problems for some of the main contenders behind California Chrome.

Intense Holiday was parked five wide much of the way. Wicked Strong, after breaking from post 19, could not get close to the rail at the first turn. Candy Boy had a disastrous trip, getting squeezed back sharply on the first turn.

As the field rounded the final turn, California Chrome shot to the lead and seized command. To the eye, this looked like the type of bold move with which great horses such as Unbridled and Spectacular Bid have captured the Derby. But it was an illusion. California Chrome wasn’t accelerating; his rivals were fading. The winner covered the final quarter-mile in a slow 26.21 seconds and crossed the finish line in a time that translated into a Beyer Speed Figure of 97 — the lowest ever for either a Derby or Preakness win.

In recent years, the speed figures for the Belmont Stakes have been low by historical standards, and the most logical explanation is that U.S. breeders don’t try to produce horses capable of running 1 1/2 miles. A similar explanation might now be offered for the Derby: Few horses are bred to run 1 1/4 miles. Certainly, California Chrome isn’t. His sire never won a race beyond 5 1/2 furlongs. California Chrome excelled at 1 1/8 miles in the Santa Anita Derby, but that extra furlong makes the Derby a whole different game.

The Derby runner-up, Commanding Curve, may have been one of the few in the field capable of going 1 1/4 miles effectively. He has never won anything but a slow maiden race, but the 37-1 shot rallied in the final furlong to finish only 1 3/4 lengths behind California Chrome.

The weakness of the Derby stood in sharp contrast to the Oaks. Untapable delivered a performance that was brilliant by any standard. She demolished a strong field of fillies to win by 4 1/2 lengths, and she ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.68, the second-fastest time in the race’s history, earning a 107 Beyer. Her effort was similar to the Oaks victory of the great Rachel Alexandra, who went on to be voted Horse of the Year in 2009.

Asmussen trained Rachel Alexandra, who went from the Oaks to the Preakness and scored a memorable victory over the best males of her generation. However, Asmussen says he is not going to take that path with Untapable. After speaking to owner Ron Winchell, he said, “We didn’t feel it was in her best interest to run back in two weeks.” If he examines the way the Derby was run, he ought to change his mind.

© 2014 The Washington Post

Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
Gosh... there must still be a lot of venom or animosity for A.B.'s viewpoint to have been to the woodshed 561 times. Someone pointed out that we wouldn't pay for this privilege (having to pay for DRF+ and that's pretty much true. One of the things you have to have with their new model is to be able point to "how many views" a site is visited or "pages viewed" to determine advertising availability, spacing, rotation, and of course, pricing of said advertisement. I occurred to me that maybe the heart attack suffered by Steve (we know that at least a 1000 people "wished him well" finally woke of the rest of the troops. This could just be more clever tripe where A.B. already has the answers to the questions he posed and is just looking to supplement his income by writing a 1000 words for the Washington Post. It is exactly 998 words and that's how they pay. Let's face it, Andy's royalties for his licensing agreement has to be tied to the number of actual Racing Form's sold (whether in electronic or paper form) and this industry is down at least 10-12% from last year. This is just good business for DRF because they know that many neither envy or despise him enough to say anything really "mean" about Andy and thus, he is out there to stir of "views" for advertisers. Good job, A.B.
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Andy is no genius, neither is Bill Gates, who "stole" the original DOS, and changed the GUI, he wasn't a genius but he was smart enough to get a patent, and charge IBM (at that time) "Royalties for every PC sold with "his" GUI interface, a damn good salesman, just like buyer
Chuck Harper More than 1 year ago
I see CC winning the Preakness as a paid workout. The trap is the Belmont. However...this is the year where there's such a gap between CC's talent and the next best horse, ala Smarty Jones and Big Brown that he could win the Belmont with a better ride than both of those horses got and not at all be suited for the distance. I thnk it happens by defualt this year, not because CC's a superhorse, it will be because he so far ahead of his generation. It will happen this year. Finally!
mikey More than 1 year ago
CC is a decent horse but not a superhorse......the proof of that is if Japan bids on him....which I doubt....IHA had that kick at the end of these classic distance races....while CC wins because the rest of his comp are milers.....Now the Belmont could present some problem because a horse with stamina with no graded speed could overhaul him at the end just like Persistent overhauled Rachel.....
tim More than 1 year ago
Bailey beat Smarty in the Belmont. He didn't want another jockey winning the TC if it wasnt going to be him. And Big Brown wouldn't have won the Belmont if the race was 7 furlongs. Something was "just not right" that day with him. Both tremendous horses. Both far better than CC. But CC has an excellent chance of getting this done and I hope he does!
Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
Tim... wasn't it Edgar Prado who rode Mary Lou Whitney's horse trained by Zito who beat Smarty Jones? I agree with one point, it (the East Coast bias) is already starting from the King of Figures, Andy Beyer himself. It is just a matter of time and convenience to fill the entry box of the Belmont with horses intent on making CC look as pathetic as WTC in the Alysheba. The East will not let a Cal bred win a triple crown and are embarrassed enough as it is. In Andy's defense, he is calling it right. The breeding industry is getting what it has invested in: Speed type Milers who cannot go a Classic Distance. What makes no sense is that I've watch the race 11 times and not once do I see Victor panic (or CC) to where they both knew what the pace was and how much exertion would be required for victory. I don't care if the time was 2:05.64, CC had so much more in the tank that didn't have to be used. If there ever was a hope for a 3C winner, it's CC. Why can't great things come from humble beginnings? The horse's DNA suggests more than what Andy will give him credit for and mentions nothing about his 107 or 106 BSF in CA preps. Untapable HAD to run fast from the 13 hole because the track was playing like I-75 speed and she had to stay close to whatever pace went out. Does anyone actually think if CC were in the Oaks he would have lost to Untapable? Andy please, accept the fact that greatness (athleticism and brains) can go a long way if there is something left in the tank for 3 races in 5 weeks. Using Big Brown as an example is insulting to Mr. Sherman. Dutrow admitted that he was full of "roids" and took him off his supplements at least two weeks before the Belmont.
tim blake More than 1 year ago
why would Victor or CC have ever panicked when they weren't going that fast? he couldn't have had it any easier up with the leaders. I agree he maybe could have run faster but why does it not make sense to you that they never panicked when they never had any reason to and the race was pretty much over at the halfway point?
Hail No More than 1 year ago
According to VE, he did have an anxious moment when has sandwiched between 2 horses, he didn't panic, and neither did Chrome, Chrome get's Kickback and it still didn't phase him, I'm sure it might have bothered him a little, but he act's well beyond a 3yo, and it seems nothing phases him. He's a "man" amongst boys...
tim More than 1 year ago
Bailey was on Eddington, but clearly his mission, knowing Eddington had no shot of winning, was to ensure Smarty didn't win. This is pretty obvious. Here is a story from ESPN....http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=forde_pat&id=3425486&sportCat=horse
Forego137 More than 1 year ago
They don't run Untapable because they know she is good but not that good bottom line. Time's don't mean a thing it's the W that counts in any race and I'm pretty sure C.C. can take it to Untapable. Rasmussen knows to keep her in the barn let everybody think she can beat C.C. instead of letting the cat out of the bag and losing. Best to keep everyone believing instead of bursting the bubble. Wise move keep her in the barn and let the debates roll on.
tim More than 1 year ago
They will never face each other in a race. Never. This isn't baseball where the 2 best teams face off at least a handful of times during the season. Never happen. Let the debates go on, because at the end of the day in this sport, all you have is debates.
William More than 1 year ago
Ride on Curlin, with Danza and Chrome battling it out for 2nd and 3rd.
tim More than 1 year ago
Danza isnt running in the Preakness.
Stephen Mercier More than 1 year ago
I think he will win the Triple crown
tim More than 1 year ago
Probably. But not because he is a spectacular horse, more of a function of the rest of the 3 year olds. But he is pretty good. An 8.5 out of 10. No Skip Away or even Smarty Jones. But pretty good.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
I hope you like your crow in a nice marsala sauce...it will be easier to swallow that way. Although me thinks thou hast already had to eat some after last Saturday, yes? ;-)
tim More than 1 year ago
#1- Yes, I guess ate crow because I bet against him last Sat. #2- I said, probably, meaning yes he will win the TC. How does that mean I eat crow. And the more I look at his competition, that probably changes to very likely. Not knocking Cal Chrome. Hes a very nice horse and would be good in a lot of years. Just think his competition does a lot to flatter him. And I hate crows, I love Budgies!
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
Dave C More than 1 year ago
7.25 rag for CC...and I doubt they ignored the wind...Untapable would deserve to be a HUGE favorite in Preakness....the colts are just historically slow to this point...(which means there is ALOT of room for one to emerge a la Bernardini....maybe the star of the division will be in the Peter Pan Saturday...
Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
Dave C. - you're right about the Peter Pan. Tonalist looked like a monster and has a great chance if his race wasn't aided by a speed biased/sealed/sloppy track. I will be using Tonalist w/CC together in any wager.
Phil Johnwell More than 1 year ago
Before the race they took their picks and Donna Brothers had Dansa, Jerry Bailey had Wicked Strong and 3 or 4 more gave their pick but not one of them picked California Chrome..The horse just won the Ketucky Derby ! Every owners dream, every trainners dream..People with something negative to say about CC betted on another horse.....
Stephen Mercier More than 1 year ago
Pincay junior picked CC
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Good post. Also, the "voting" that nbc took, had CC a clear fan fav, by ALOT
tim More than 1 year ago
That's WHY he won the Derby. Beyer also picked against him with a classic "last time was the time horse in Wicked Strong. Easier to win races when you don't have the knuckleheads touting you as their pick.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My response to Mikeys reply. No I'm not joking and yes I watched Rachels Personal Ensign. Ever think of this Mikey & guys who think like you. There are those of us who have been around for quite a while that actually watched races at the Classic Distances in North America which were filled with super talented horses & where 1 or 2 Lbs. of weight made a dramatic difference in the outcome of a race. These horses carried 130 lbs. a mile and a quarter. That being said when you retire race horses at 3-4 years of age the quality of the races run at the classic distances suffers dramatically therefore the Industry shortens the races accordingly. Zenyatta is a perfect example of what you should do with a sound horse as oppose to retiring it at an early age. Allowing a horse to run as a 4,5 or 6 year old gives you a better idea of what you actually have instead of retiring a Colt who did nothing other than beating other Colts as a 2 or 3 year old. And yes at a mile and one quarter Zenyatta would have eaten Rachel up and spit her out. Zenyattas win in the BC Classic at Santa Anita showed her running the last mile in around 1:33 give or take a few fifths. Yeah I know the track was concrete and we know how Beyer feels about concrete!
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Track was NOT concrete for Queen Z, it was a synth track..
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
I think all the CC deniers are the SAME crowd who STILL poo-poo's Zenyatta to this very day. You can shove a flashlight down some peoples' throats and STILL not make them see the light!
Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
Another great contribution... thanks Anonymous. It's just too bad that we must all re-use stories from several days ago to bring up points and topics where we would have to pay for the privilege of upping the stat's for DRF's hybrid model of charging customers and selling advertising to them. I am sympathetic and if I didn't I.T. so well (and vertical markets) I would complain. On the contrary, it is nice to still have a place to speak my mind on a Saturday AM from a story that is almost a whole week old.
Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
I meant to say... I am sympathetic and if I didn't know I.T. (information Technology) so well (and vertical markets)... blah, blah, blah.
Phil Johnwell More than 1 year ago
Of all of the 3 year olds in the world only one of them can win the Kentucky Derby ! The Derby is not about breaking records or how fast the race was run..Those were all grade 1 horses and any horse in the race had a chance to win..The jocky has to ride a good race and have some horse left for the strech run..In other sports if you win by 1 or by 20 it don't make a difference..Victor shut the horse down after he took a look back..watch the replay.
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
how come the drf+ doesn't get this many post on an article?
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Good question. I remember after GoD's win, there were 100's of posts, only ONE on the pay for ++++++++ abt GoD