04/09/2014 10:44AM

Dick Jerardi: Time to complete Derby superfecta after California Chrome claims top spot

Benoit & Associates
California Chrome won the Santa Anita Derby on April 5 at Santa Anita.

California Chrome just made my Kentucky Derby superfecta play much less complicated.

After the San Felipe Stakes, when I went back and reviewed California Chrome’s entire record, looked at his recent races, and wrote about it, I decided, two months out, that California Chrome was my Derby horse. It was not just the 108 Beyer Speed Figure in the San Felipe, although that certainly got my attention. It was the way the horse was winning – speed on command, powerful strides, and wide margins.

I was hoping to see confirmation of my opinion last Saturday as I was sitting courtside at the Jerry Jones Dome, aka AT&T Stadium, in Texas. The first NCAA men’s basketball semifinal game between Connecticut and Florida was in the first half. Naturally, I was watching the Santa Anita Derby on my laptop.

The opinion was not just confirmed, it was cemented. Even though California Chrome broke a bit behind the field, the colt was up in the race instantly. I ignored the horse in front. I kept watching California Chrome in second and Candy Boy in third. That was the race. Victor Espinoza on California Chrome knew it. So did Gary Stevens on Candy Boy. So did everybody watching.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Who was going to move first? Could Candy Boy put pressure on California Chrome? Did Stevens want to try?

If Espinoza was concerned about any of these questions, he never let on. He was riding his colt with complete confidence. It was almost like he was tracking Stevens instead of the other way.

As the field was nearing the top of the stretch, the mathematics behind the Beyers and what I was seeing strongly suggested that California Chrome was about to pull away from a very good horse. After all, Candy Boy was second (if not very close) to Shared Belief in the CashCall Futurity and a solid winner of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, getting Beyers of 95 and 96.

Then, just as I expected, the moment came. The separation was instantaneous. And it was over.

The official margin was 5 1/4 lengths. It felt like more. Candy Boy yielded second to Hoppertunity. Those two are talented. California Chrome is different. The Beyer was 107.

Go back six years. Other than the experience factor (it’s hard to believe that California Chrome has run 10 times – a career these days), I see Big Brown all over again, a really good horse against a far less talented and inconsistent group. If you remember, the 2008 Derby and Preakness were blowouts. I am looking for something that suggests that won’t happen again. I am not seeing it.

After a horse wins his last four races by a combined 24 1/4 lengths and earns big figures, I am not exactly breaking any news here. Barring some physical setback, California Chrome is going to be a huge Derby favorite. But I look at this equation like I look at a pick six. Any winner is a good winner, especially if you find some longshots in the sequence.

I could do without a sloppy track on Derby Day. I also would like to see California Chrome nearer the outside than the inside of the starting gate. Beyond that, I don’t have many concerns.

The Derby superfecta and the Breeders’ Cup pick six are my twin Holy Grails. I’ve been close to some giant scores in both. My only hit was the 2008 Derby superfecta, a nice score but no life-changer.

I will bet this super like I bet that 2008 super, a free space on top, subbing California Chrome for Big Brown. So, the super has now become a trifecta, much more manageable, even if trying to find the right three among 19 is still no bargain.

I have no concept yet how I will form my super play beyond the horse on top.

Last year, I used 11 horses in the second, third, and fourth spots, a $990 outlay for a $1 bet. I got three of those 11 home, including the crazy longshot I was hoping for, 34-1 Golden Soul, in second. The problem is I used the wrong horse on top. If I had doubled the bet and used Orb, my second choice, on top, I would have strolled out of Churchill Downs with $28,542. Instead, I walked out with zip.

In other years, I have taken one, two, or three key horses who have to run second, third, or fourth behind my winner. If I feel especially good about my winner and my key, I may use the other 18 horses with that key. I played a variation of that in 2004, 2005, and 2006 with Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, and Barbaro. I had the wrong key horses in 2004 and 2006, and the right key in 2005. Only Giacomo was not supposed to win.

My next three weeks will be spent looking for a key horse and longshots or some combination. I really think I have the winner.