05/19/2014 9:00AM

Beyer: Espinoza masters Preakness chess game

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BALTIMORE – As soon as the gate opened, the 139th Preakness was a battle of tactics and wits as much as a test of raw speed. The field was loaded with potential front-runners, and the jockeys neither wanted to let a formidable rival steal away nor get involved in a suicidal early duel. “There were a lot of things going on,” said California Chrome’s jockey, Victor Espinoza. “I got more tired mentally than physically.”

After the field had traveled a little more than an eighth of a mile and the race had taken a shape that almost nobody could have anticipated, Espinoza and his mount were sitting in a perfect place. They were positioned just behind and outside two hopeless longshots with clear sailing, ready to make their move when circumstances demanded. Part of this was Espinoza’s doing, but California Chrome is a consummate pro, able to use his high speed as his jockey commands.

Like a chess player who sets the stage for a victory with the first few moves of a game, Espinoza was in position to ward off the challenges that were to come, and California Chrome went on to score a 1 1/2 -length victory that was more impressive than his triumph in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago. He had tired in the final furlong of the Derby, producing a slow final time, but his 1:54.84 seconds for the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles was excellent. It adds to his credibility as he aims to win the Belmont Stakes and become the first winner of the Triple Crown since 1978.

The Preakness was so tactical because of the presence of speedsters such as Pablo Del Monte and Social Inclusion. Bettors made the latter colt the second choice in the wagering, and his owner, Ron Sanchez, had been telling the world that Social Inclusion would get the lead from all of his other fast rivals. Espinoza says he never has a fixed plan going into a race, but before this one he was mulling what he would do if Social Inclusion raced to a clear lead. But Sanchez’s declarations about going to the lead had evidently been a bluff. Jockey Luis Contreras took hold of the colt at the start, while Jeffrey Sanchez allowed Pablo Del Monte to use his natural speed and take the lead. Then, unexpectedly, longshot filly Ria Antonia – who had never shown much quickness before – rushed up to engage in a duel.

Espinoza was delighted. California Chrome, he said, had “bounced out of [the gate] running,” and he settled behind the two leaders. The trio maintained their positions until midway on the backstretch, when Contreras launched his move, four wide, with Social Inclusion. This may have been an ill-judged, premature move, but as Social Inclusion loomed outside California Chrome, he forced the hand of Espinoza, who couldn’t permit his main rival to get past him. Now he asked his mount to move in earnest. “We started earlier than I wanted to,” Espinoza said, “but the outside horse was pushing me.”

The two of them were eye-to-eye on the final turn – the duel most people had expected to see in the early stages of the race. California Chrome quickly seized command, though Social Inclusion would not be discredited by his eventual third-place finish. He came into the Preakness with insufficient preparation for a race of this magnitude, having raced only three times in a career that did not begin until Feb. 22. Sanchez had been so obsessed by the Triple Crown races that he wasn’t willing to give the colt the time and experience he needed at the top level of the sport.

California Chrome, by contrast, had raced 11 times before the Preakness. These races constituted a learning experience – he didn’t emerge as a potential star until his seventh start – and gave him a foundation of experience and fitness that have benefited him as a 3-year-old.

After repulsing the challenge of Social Inclusion, Espinoza quickly realized his work wasn’t done. He thought: “Here comes the other one!” The other one was Ride On Curlin, who had had an impossibly difficult trip in the Derby but had managed to rally from 19th place to finish seventh. At Pimlico the race was setting up better for him, and he was obviously a strong horse when he launched his four-wide rally turning into the stretch. Ride On Curlin was running away from the other eight horses in the field, and California Chrome was under pressure to keep him from getting dangerously close. “It was a challenge for him,” Espinoza said admiringly, but the colt has met every challenge he has faced as a 3-year-old. Now the biggest challenge of all is three weeks away.

 

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The truth is ROC was never a threat to win, Andy. I hope you realize that; otherwise, suggest you keep writing; stop betting. Social Inclusion flat out doesn't want to run that far, seasoning had nothing to do with it. Lastly, it did not take 7 races for CC to emerge as a potential star, many of us saw this after watching him at DM. Other that these minor details, great job!
Kip Sudduth More than 1 year ago
we'll see
Jeff Wright More than 1 year ago
Embarrassing. If they're doing it to say FU to the KHRC fine, or to save Cal racing fine, but i wont stop until im given the respect and told why. I loved and followed the sport my entire life.. The "riddle" doesn't fool me... too smart and been around too long.
Gregory More than 1 year ago
You're fake.
Jeff Wright More than 1 year ago
Not exactly Al Pachino in his post race presss conference...
Jeff Wright More than 1 year ago
The races have been fixed. The entire 3 year old division was fixed. Guys i wont stop til im contacted and explained the whole situation. disliking this post and fake commenting by DRF employees won't make me go away. Rood and Riddle huh? I have the proof better wake up and get back to me. any fake comments will only piss me off
Crystal David More than 1 year ago
That is funny that you are still stating that he "tired" near the end! That evidently is how you defend the low figure given for the race. But it was clear to anyone paying attention, that he was eased to same some horse - NOT tired. That was confirmed by the outrider stating he was barely blowing when being led back - and MUCH lest than past winners he has walked with.....
Randy Perez More than 1 year ago
If you go back and watch the race over again, I think you will find that General A Rod might have been best in the peakness... not only did he get a horrible ride he had traffic swerving through the stretch. CC ran against second tier 3 year olds in the preakness..... He will not win The Belmont
Ed Greenberger More than 1 year ago
Man, I get tired of all the Beyer bashing. The guy's paid to give his opinion on horse racing. Every time he says a Derby champ got a great trip and wasn't quite as impressive as everyone invariably thinks a Derby winner is, people rip him. And you know what -- most of the time, he's been absolutely right. All he's said this year was CC's Derby was slow. And it was. Come on, people. He ran 2:03 and change on a day when the track was playing fast. What did you think the number was gonna be? He gave CC credit for the Preakness, calling him a "consummate pro" and saying his time was "excellent." This is a tired dynamic: Beyer picks a horse to win Derby, horse loses Derby, Beyer writes story about how Derby winner was good but benefited from a perfect trip and setup and questions his ability to win Triple Crown, people go nuts and call him names, horse usually fails to win Preakness and ALWAYS fails in the end.
Jack Nichols More than 1 year ago
Mr. Beyer shouldn't be "bashed", agreed. But he shouldn't be taken seriously, either. For one, way back when, in his first book on "speed", he made the pronoucement that "pace has nothing to do with final time." For real, he wrote that. I sailed the book across the room into the fireplace.... When The DRF obtained the figures, it was due to The Racing Times folding, and Crist coming to the DRF. Further review, for anyone with the patience and interest to delve into the accuracy of the Beyers, he or she should discover that Beyers are woefully inaccurate. If using any figure in the DRF, when push comes to shove, best to eschew the Beyers, go with the DRF own figures. They're not the best, but still much more accurate than the Beyers. (this opinion is based upon years and years and years of comparison/contrast)
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
To go as fast,as far was the only chance for that poor Filly. This Looch ought to be gelded.
Sean Ali More than 1 year ago
As Randy Moss pointed out on the NBC broadcast, Chrome ran in 6 and change when the jets fired from the 1/8th pole to the 1/16th pole in the Derby. After that it was clear that Victor stopped riding. It would seem that Andy still hasn't seen the overhead shot yet and still thinks Chrome's acceleration was an illusion. "tired in the final furlong"...BAH!!
Michael Castellano More than 1 year ago
CC was hand ridden to the finish line while Ride on Curlin was being furiously whipped and gained little and hung like a rug. Funny that wasn't mentioned by Mr. Byer.