California Chrome Targets Triple Crown After Winning Preakness

California Chrome heads to New York one win and 1 1/2 miles away from becoming horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 36 years.

The 3-year-old chestnut colt won the Preakness Stakes by a length and a half yesterday, moving into the lead on the final turn at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and holding off a stretch run by Ride on Curlin for his sixth straight victory.

California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier and now can become thoroughbred racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner, and first since Affirmed in 1978, with a victory in the Belmont Stakes on June 7 in Elmont, New York. Co-owner Steve Coburn said he expects his horse to join the short list of Triple Crown winners that includes Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Citation, War Admiral and Sir Barton.

“I don’t mean to be bold or cocky or arrogant because I’ve said this a hundred times if I’ve said it once,” Coburn said at a news conference. “When I saw this colt, when I saw this baby when he was a day old, I told my wife, Carolyn, this horse is going to do something big.”

In the past 35 years, 12 other horses won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before their Triple Crown bid came up short. The most recent -- I’ll Have Another in 2012 -- was scratched from the Belmont a day before the race because of a leg injury, while in 2008 Big Brown was pulled up in the homestretch at the Belmont and didn’t finish.

Since Seattle Slew and Affirmed won back-to-back Triple Crowns in 1977 and 1978, four horses won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before finishing second in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont: Sunday Silence (1989), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and Smarty Jones (2004). Four others -- Spectacular Bid (1979), Pleasant Colony (1981), Charismatic (1999) and Funny Cide (2003) -- placed third in the final Triple Crown race.

Second Chance

Alysheba was fourth in 1987 and War Emblem finished eighth in 2002. California Chrome’s jockey, Victor Espinoza, also rode War Emblem in the Triple Crown bid 12 years ago.

“Hopefully California Chrome comes back good,” Espinoza said after yesterday’s race. “In a million years I didn’t think I was going to have a second chance.”

Espinoza kept California Chrome near the front of the field in the 10-horse Preakness and moved into the lead coming off the backstretch. He extended his lead off the final turn before holding off Ride on Curlin’s strong finish.

Ride on Curlin finished in second place and Social Inclusion -- the second betting favorite -- finished third, eight lengths back. California Chrome, which went off at 3-5 odds, was the 75th winning favorite in the 139 runnings of the Preakness.

California Chrome paid $3 to win, $3 to place and $2.40 to show on a $2 bet. Ride on Curlin paid $5.60 and $3.80, while Social Inclusion returned $3.40.

Big Return

While the breeding of many elite thoroughbreds is a multimillion dollar business, California Chrome is a product of a mare that cost Coburn and fellow owner Perry Martin $8,000 and a stallion that cost them $2,500. He’s earned his owners more than $2.2 million in winnings with his victories at the Preakness and Kentucky Derby.

Coburn and Martin had been called “dumb asses” by a past trainer for attempting to get into the thoroughbred business, leading them to adopt the name Dumb Ass Partners.

Just before the Kentucky Derby, they turned down a $6 million offer for a 51 percent stake in California Chrome, who in November 2013 had 350-1 odds of winning the Triple Crown’s first race at online sports book Bovada. The colt’s 77-year-old trainer, Art Sherman, said yesterday that California Chrome is now worth $30 million.

“This is a nice horse, he loves people, he loves what he does and that’s why he’s America’s horse,” Coburn said. “This horse, what he’s doing for two guys that work their butts off every day just to put beans and bacon on the table, this horse has given everybody else out there the incentive to say, ‘You know what, we can do it too.’”

Longest Race

Sherman said he had been concerned how California Chrome would perform off the short two-week window between the Preakness and Kentucky Derby. His horse will now have three weeks before chasing history at the Belmont, the longest of the Triple Crown races.

“After watching him run today, I really think he can go a mile and a half,” Sherman said yesterday.

Rested Contenders

California Chrome will face several well-rested contenders, including Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve, who skipped the Preakness to focus on the Belmont. Danza, Wicked Strong and Samraat, the third, fourth and fifth-place finishers in the Kentucky Derby, are also set to run the Belmont after opting not to make the trip to Pimlico.

“He has plenty of challengers waiting for him,” NBC horse racing analyst and Hall of Fame Jockey Jerry Bailey said.

Few modern day thoroughbreds run three races in a five-week span and California Chrome was one of only three horses from the Kentucky Derby’s field of 20 to race the Preakness. Coburn said that strategy to rest horses for the Belmont is the only thing that might derail California Chrome’s run at the Triple Crown.

“They need to change this sport to where those 20 horses that start in the Kentucky Derby are the only 20 eligible to run in all three races,” Coburn said. “If you bow out in the Preakness, you don’t come back for the Belmont. I honestly believe that if the Triple Crown is not won this year by California Chrome, I will never see it in my lifetime because there are people out there trying to upset the apple cart.”

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