04/23/2014 12:42PM

Jerardi: California Chrome looks best - by a lot

Scott Martinez/Los Alamitos
As the numbers reflect, California Chrome outshines the rest of the Kentucky Derby field by a long way.

If we just looked at that race the first Saturday in May as a horse race and not the Kentucky Derby, the 2014 outcome would appear rather obvious. One horse’s last two Beyer Speed Figures are better than any figure any of the likely other 19 starters has ever had.

This, however, is not just a horse race. It is different – the field size, the preparation, the pressure, all of it. It is often about the horse that is doing best in the final days, not the horse that has performed the best in the final races.

Still, the fundamentals do apply. I wrote this two weeks ago, but each time I look at this race, I see California Chrome playing the role of Big Brown. He just looks better than this group – and not by a little.

We know all about California Chrome, his 108 in the San Felipe Stakes, his 107 in the Santa Anita Derby. And forget those people who say he is a speed horse who could get caught up in a hot pace. Watch the videos closely. This colt runs relaxed. If they are going too fast, he will find a position and make his run. If he gets a flyer like he did in the San Felipe, there is a chance he could be the speed of the speed and run the entire field off its feet.

Is California Chrome a lock? If this were a six-horse race on a Wednesday with similar spreads in quantifiable ability, I would say yes. It is not that, of course, so the horse is no lock. But California Chrome is certainly the most likely winner based on what we know.

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

What we don’t know is what happens if California Chrome gets an inside post, breaks poorly, gets behind a wall of horses, and suddenly is in the midst of a desert sandstorm in the first few hundred yards. For my purposes, I can’t worry about that. It is like the basketball coach who takes his star player out in the first half with two fouls because he is worried about what might happen. The player actually may never get another foul, so the coach never had anything to be concerned about anyway. Why worry about what you can’t foresee?

I have liked California Chrome for two months. I still like California Chrome. Yes, he will be a solid favorite, but even winning favorites can yield big payoffs in the right pools with the correct wager.

So, what about the competition? There are exactly 13 other 3-year-olds who have hit triple digits on the Beyer scale. Only one beside California Chrome has done it twice. That would be Untapable, a filly being pointed for the Kentucky Oaks.

Only five of the other 12 are likely Derby runners at the moment.

General a Rod and Wildcat Red certainly will be prominent in the running, but I really don’t see them lasting 10 furlongs under the kind of heat they will face.

I have no particular explanation for Danza in the Arkansas Derby. I do know it was a powerhouse performance. I do not have any great faith that he can reproduce that form.

If you asked me for the two horses who give me the most concern, I would say Hoppertunity and Wicked Strong.

It was obvious the Santa Anita Derby was just a prep race for Hoppertunity. The horse came hard in the stretch as if the extra 220 yards in the Derby might be welcomed.

Wicked Strong won the Wood Memorial like a very good horse, beating a very solid and consistent Samraat with ease. It was visually inspiring. And the horse certainly ran fast, getting a 104 Beyer Speed Figure. A very slight move forward certainly puts him right there in the Derby.

Still, I head for Kentucky with California Chrome on my mind. Last week, I watched all 10 of his races over and over. When he got beat, I understood why he got beat. And when he ran his best, nobody was going to beat him.

California Chrome’s best race so far is better than any of these other horses’ best races. And there is a chance we have not yet seen his very best race. If we see it May 3, get ready to see something very special.