California Chrome’s Preakness Worries: David PapadopoulosDavid Papadopoulos
OK, so you realized a few days ago you’ve come down with a bad case of California Chrome fever.
Don’t worry. It’s fine. You have plenty of company.
It feels like half of America has fallen in love with this rags-to-riches colt after he cruised to victory two weeks ago in the Kentucky Derby. Heck, I’m a big fan myself. He possesses brilliant speed and superior stamina, and he displayed both those traits when hitting the finish line well clear of his 18 rivals in Louisville.
But as we close in on today’s Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, Chrome’s value to bettors is vanishing. As Wall Street types like to say, the trade is getting crowded.
After going off as the 5-2 favorite in the Derby, the public seems poised to drive the big horse’s Preakness odds down to about 2-5. To be clear, that means you’ll be risking $5 for a shot at earning just $2. Before you blindly plunk down cash on him at those odds, here are three potential concerns to consider.
The first, and biggest, worry is the quick turnaround from the Derby to the Preakness. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the colt’s trainer, Art Sherman. When I caught up with him last week, he was fretting about not having more than 14 days between the two races, about half the time that modern-day trainers typically give elite thoroughbreds to recover from the stress and strain of competition.
“It’s a killer,” Sherman said in a May 9 telephone interview from his base track in Los Alamitos, California. “I wish I could have another week with him, but it’s not in the cards.”
If Art’s worried, I’m worried.
So while I’m inclined to think Chrome will run another big race, it won’t be shocking if he were to come out flat. Only two of his challengers today competed in the Derby. All the others have had more time off since their last start.
Sherman doesn’t share my second concern about his horse. After the runaway Derby victory, rival jockeys will be gunning for Chrome and will try to keep him pinned behind other horses to slow him down in the Preakness. For a colt to have success traveling behind front-runners, he needs to be able to withstand the storm of dirt that they will fire at his face and chest as their hooves tear up the ground.
Some handle it fine. Others hate it. I suspect Chrome is closer to the latter than he is the former. None of his seven victories have come in races where he’s been forced to spend prolonged periods behind other horses. (Sherman was unfazed by the question, telling me simply: “I’m not concerned about it at all.”)
The last potential problem I see is the emergence of a lightly raced speedball by the name of Social Inclusion.
The colt may have fallen short of the qualifying points needed to compete in the Derby, but he has plenty of raw talent. He’s the only three-year-old horse in America to run a faster race this year than California Chrome -- based on the industry standard Beyer speed figures -- and he’s a legitimate upset threat in the Preakness.
So here’s my advice to all you Chrome fans out there: Root for him with all your heart, but don’t touch your wallet.
It’ll be exciting enough just to watch him win and head to New York for the Belmont Stakes with a shot at becoming the first Triple Crown champion in 36 years. And if he were to lose, it’ll be disappointing enough. You don’t need to sulk over the $200 you blew trying to grind out a measly $80 profit.
Enjoy the moment.
(David Papadopoulos, the deputy managing editor for emerging markets coverage at Bloomberg News, has been following thoroughbred racing for more than two decades and was runner-up in 2008 Eclipse Award voting for feature writing on the sport.)