05/07/2014 12:32PM

Hovdey: There's no such thing as a sure thing

Tom Keyser
California Chrome silenced the last remaining skeptics with his powerful Derby win.

California Chrome was greeted last week in Kentucky with a misspelled saddle towel (“Califorina”) and a Churchill Downs media bio that referred to him as a “bay colt by Lucky Pulpit.”

He will arrive in Maryland next week as the toast of the racing world, a white-stockinged California superstar every bit as chestnut as the day he was born.

The ripples from a race like the 140th Kentucky Derby spread far and wide. In Kentucky, State Representative David Osborne is busy shipping a case of Woodford Reserve to pay up on a bet he made with California State Senator Andy Vidak. Vidak gave Osborne every Kentucky-bred in the field, all 12 of them, and put up a supply California cherries from his Central Valley farm.

“I don’t mind winning the booze, but I’m more excited about California Chrome,” Vidak said Tuesday from his Sacramento office. “This is a very big deal for our industry. He was born, bred, and trained early in my district, maybe 18 minutes down the road at John Harris’s farm.”

Vidak said he’d send Osborne a case of freshly harvested California cherries anyway, as a gesture of good will. He was asked if he is hustling a similar challenge for the Preakness.

“I’d like to hook up with someone back there,” Vidak replied. “I haven’t been to Maryland very often. What have they got? Crab?”

This time he may have to give more than 12-1.

Now that California Chrome has validated his West Coast form and silenced all but the most stubborn skeptics, there will be a tendency lean too far in the other direction. A word of warning, though. The foregone conclusions drawn in the immediate wake of California Chrome’s Derby are not to be trusted. Those include:

◗ “California Chrome can’t lose the Preakness.” Of course he can lose the Preakness. If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it’s that any Derby winner can lose the Preakness (thank you, Michael Corleone). Remember Orb? Fusaichi Pegasus? Unbridled? Swale? Riva Ridge? They all left Louisville with fellow 3-year-olds scattered in their wake and nothing of comparable substance on the horizon. Then came Baltimore, and heartbreak.

◗ “California Chrome’s victory will spark a resurgence of the California breeding business.” Sorry, but nothing short of the relocation of Tapit and War Front to Harris Farms could give rise to the idling industry out West, unless the catchphrase “Come Breed a Derby Winner for Practically Nothing!” is someone’s idea of a selling point. There is an ongoing program of bonus money in the state for the most accomplished local runners, which eventually could raise the pulse of investment. But one horse – even a horse like California Chrome – can’t do it by himself.

◗ “The California Chrome bubble will burst when he faces Untapable.” The filly was impressive in winning the Kentucky Oaks, no doubt. And perhaps she would be competitive with California Chrome down the line. Those planted firmly in the Untapable camp should tie on for a long, frustrating ride, however. The chances of Steve Asmussen – the man with the PETA bullseye on his back – running a beloved filly against big, bad colts on a national stage lie somewhere south of slim and none. The mob cries for the instant gratification of another Rachel Alexandra when Untapable, allowed to evolve in her own time, could be another Royal Delta.

◗ “A colt like California Chrome will bring fans back to the track.” This conclusion will take a while to prove, one way or another. But whether or not he brings new faces to the sport, California Chrome is certainly enriching the experience of the existing audience. I witnessed the running of the Derby in the Santa Anita Park clubhouse mezzanine last Saturday, in the company of my 8-year-old daughter, and left the track with a buzz that had nothing to do with one of Nola’s special California Chrome cocktails (blue vodka, curacao, soda or 7, and a lime) served at her horseshoe bar.

Among those in the crowd at one of the HD big screens was Michael “Whitey” McCarthy, who looked seriously out of place in work clothes straight from the barn. McCarthy, respected far and wide as Todd Pletcher’s top assistant for the past decade, went on his own earlier this year with a public stable based at Santa Anita. One year ago, McCarthy was on the track at Churchill Downs with the Pletcher Derby runners, having won the Oaks the previous day with Princess of Sylmar. He knows what it’s like to win the big one as well.

“When we won the Derby with Super Saver in 2010, I guess I ran out onto the track farther than the security people preferred,” McCarthy said. “They asked if I could restrain myself a little more next time. I said I’d try.”

The Derby went off and the noise inside the mezz reached Zenyatta levels as California Chrome burst away from the pack and cruised to victory. It was like standing next to a 747 at takeoff. I covered my daughter’s ears and joined in the chorus.

McCarthy has horses for Eclipse Thoroughbreds, and he was rightfully pleased with the third-place performance of the stable’s lightly raced Danza. Still, like every trainer worth his day money, McCarthy couldn’t help wondering what it was like at that moment to be walking in the shoes of Art Sherman, who at 77 had become the oldest trainer to win the Derby. McCarthy is 42.

“For a feeling like that,” McCarthy said, “I wouldn’t care if I had to wait till I was 78.”


Andy Dean 12 months ago
I've been doing more research on the Pedigree query website and have to say he's got royalty through and through his lineage. For cryin' out loud he's got Teddy, the sire of that great influential broodmare La Troienne, back 5 generations. Then there's Fair Play (sire of Man O'War!), Nashua (who won from 5f to TWO miles), Fortino (AKA Fortino II) sire of the great Caro (look up the champions HE sired!). It's kinda like a version of "how soon they forget" (by they I mean those that malign the breeding of this horse), blinded, it seems, by the bias of the location of his birth. Martin Perry must've known something when he bred those two, just like Steve said in the post race interview. Indeed. And we are all the better to be able to watch this special horse bloom at just the right time!
Marc Strews More than 1 year ago
Since most everyone has focused on CC and crowning him a winner? I am going to throw this horse out their if he runs. I love ring weekend he loves 1 1/16 races always gives his all.If the pace is hot up front and it will .we will is a whole new dynamic race and do feel Alan Garcia and Ring Weekend has a major. Decent beyers figs on the improve should be on the move on top of the lane.That the spoiler of the Preakness in my book.We all have our opinion just lets see them run
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ummm...the Preakness is 1 3/16th's...
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
barbaro was a given lock and remember what happened to him,that is why they run the race,and was there a bigger lock than big brown? desormoux had his fill of qualudes that day. will the racing gods let this horse win the triple crown?
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Big Brown and O'Neil's horse were casualties of the dysfunctional system that exists in North America, where every state has different thresholds. For them, the bar in New York was too high....it has also brought down many others... FYI, there has been no Triple Crown winner since Lasix was allowed by NYRA...interesting?
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
i loved barbaro that day too,but did you check bernardinis beyer after the race,what a shame that could have been the best preakness ever. like a line in my fav horse racing movie(let it ride)" even when you know you don't know"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If Barbaro doesn't break thru the gate & in turn breaks down, he coasts in the Preakness. I think everybody know in horse racing, there is no such thing as a lock. But, Barbaro would not have lost that day. Period.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Good points, Jay. Talking about sure things, you should read 'Doped ' by Jamie Reid (best sports book for 2013 in the UK), and the Royal Forest saga, when Noel Murless' 1-25 shot got beat at Ascot in a 4-horse race, and one punter layed out 25K for what, he thought, was an easy grand! Back in 1959, that was a serious punt! Anyway, speculating about California Chrome to win the Triple Crown, I would suggest the following reasons why he's more likely to win it than any other horse since Affirmed in 1978. 1) He never turned a hair, winning The Derby, and Espinoza put down his stick at the 16th. pole...so he's fresh. 2) His style of running, he can sit anywhere 3) His trainer: like Billy Turner, with Seattle Slew, Art Sherman is unlikely to have already tapped every joint multiple times and squeezed every bit of juice out of his charge, just to get to The Derby, like Messrs. Lukas, Baffert and Pletcher. (IMHO Silver Charm , Real Quiet, Charismatic etc. were all cooked long before they got to Belmont) and 4) there really aren't any good horses on the horizon, which is a very sad reflection of a) North American bloodstock today, and b) supposed horsemanship in 2014. So its CC's to lose...
will More than 1 year ago
In a strange way---- it might be good for bettors, if CC wins the Preakness... this is ensure crazy low odds in the Belmont, which given the distance, and likely better competitors will actually be a challenge for CC (or any horse).... Winning the first 2 legs, will bring thousands of people to the track (mostly inexperienced bettors), which will likely bet CC, bot to win, and in pick 3's 4's....... From a betting standpoint, it might good to have the favorite win in the preakness
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
IF CC wins it would have been a sure thing if he loses he was beatable. Lets enjoy the Preakness and see what happens on the Track.
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
That Maryland blue crab is a delicacy ( enjoyed it for years ) Maryland Bred. Jay is very accurate nothing is a sure thing until its OFFICIAL. We were just here last year with a sure thing ( how did that work out ?) Many others have also been a winner on paper but the race will be run. I think its very likely the winner is California Chrome But some contenders exist . As far as the Belmont goes all bets are off IMO- That's a different story all together. Everyone enjoys Maryland Pimlico ( OLD HILLTOP ) the Infield, Its a Party Babe. Enjoy and BOL to all the Triple Crown is underway and a possibility
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
I think drf handicappers are still reeling from the fact that they completely failed to see the brilliance in CALIFORNIA CHROME. Some of the derby handicapping was simply pathetic. I will exclude MIKE WATCHMAKER AND PRIVMAN who were actually spot on. But some of the others were basically telling people to bet against the most logical horses. So there are no sure things in racing we all know that. These are living creatures not machines even the great SECRETARIAT lost. More than once actually. But although not a 100 % certainty to win the Preakness C.C. comes about as close as you will get. As for this nonsense that UNTAPABLE will burst CALIFORNIA CHROME"S bubble its just pure wishful thinking by comparing apples to oranges. First UNTAPABLE won at 1 1/8 mile and got a 107 beyer on a different day Friday.So C.C. got a lower beyer going 1 1/4 miles on saturday and that's supposed to be the proof that she's faster.so what beyer did he get when winning the Santa anita derby at 1 1/8 mile ?.108 is the answer so according to the figures he ran faster at the same distance while being eased and never seeing the whip.so until UNTAPABLE runs against 19 horses at a mile and a quarter and wins in a faster time it is ridiculous to state that she can beat CALIFORNIA CHROME or burst his bubble. I personally think the oaks was a much easier race to win than the derby. Another myth that's being perpetuated by ANDY BEYER and others is that were somehow breeding slower more fragile colts by inbreeding .yet the fillies are so much better. This defies logic. We are breeding more speed oriented racehorses who are very inbred and more fragile than their ancestors but this is true for both sexes.
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
Agree with your race scenarios but think UNTAPABLE was faster and is a formidable challenger. I think she should have been entered in the Preakness even a Placing ( would she lose any credibility ) it was all win scenario. CC is the cream of the very weak crop , no doubt. Greatness is yet undetermined.
Andy Dean More than 1 year ago
Well, greatness can be said to be criteria dependent. One can use time, like Dr. Fager & Secretariat; Weight like the great Forego; Grade 1 wins (Forego again!), progeny like Northern Dancer; you get the picture. To me there's another component; what I like to call "the visual". It's more a gut thing combined with what one sees at the moment. What I see in CC is maturity beyond a 3 year old. He seems to know what is expected of him in the actual race, at least for the last 5 of them! Not just winning them easily (which in an of itself says something), but positioning himself (except in the San Felipe where it's like he said, "I'm gonna show 'em I can beat the gate, win on the front end, and demoralize them trying to catch me"), waiting for the jockey cue, cantering inside of other horses with nary a raised hair or semblance of rankness like he did down the backstretch when Samraat and Intense Holiday ranged up in the 3 & 4 path. M-A-T-U-R-I-T-Y is the only word for it. Finally what I also see is a devastating turn of foot from about the quarter pole to the 8th pole that you just don't see every year, especially on a dirt surface, thereby distancing his competition and allowing him to canter home b/c the race is over at the eighth pole. I've been playing since Seattle Slew and seldom seen anything like it. Not even John Henry was like this b/c he liked to "play" with his competition sometimes. California Chrome is very very special. They've harnessed lightning in a bottle for all of us to see and enjoy. I just watched his 4 races on calracing dot com leading up to the derby again. Amazing. You should watch them too!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
100% agree, Sometime you wonder if some people are just trying to see things. CC's turn of foot from the head of the stretch to to the 8th pole is breathtaking. And, it disn't just happen in the KD, it's happened his last 4 races. Truly a very special horse. Enjoy the ride people. It doesn't come around very often. And, it is what this sport sorely needs.
Ray Sousa 12 months ago
can argue with you analysis. Perhaps maturity is his best asset. But there's no denying there is talent too
Lawrence More than 1 year ago
Untappable will be a nice targer for Rockstar Junior. Right now it is the Triple Crown for Junior. Outcome from the match race? I hate to break Untappable and your heart.
Lawrence More than 1 year ago
I couldn't have said it much better :) Rockstar Junior is special. He can rock your world.
Boyd Cord More than 1 year ago
I'd rather untappable be another Royal Delta then burn out after running against the likes of a CC,WTC,MMM.
will More than 1 year ago
is it sad I knew what all of those abbreviations stood for instantly?
Boyd Cord More than 1 year ago
you bettors out there. YOU want CC to win the Preakness so that everyone pounds him down at the Belmont stakes. shhh keep it a secret.