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Preview: California Chrome Headlines Preakness Stakes

The Kentucky Derby is among the world’s toughest races to win but California Chrome made it look easy. After his convincing win at Churchill, California Chrome will be a worthy and overwhelming favorite in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland on Saturday. He is one of only three colts exiting the Derby expected to run in the Preakness. The so-called “new shooters” -- those that didn't make the cut for the Kentucky Derby but will enter the Preakness -- includes a mixed-bag of 3-year-old colts and one filly who will take on the "boys."

Since last December, California Chrome has been untouchable in five races. Heading into the Preakness, skeptics are pointing to the finishing time of the 2014 Kentucky Derby -- the slowest Derby run on a dry racetrack since 1974 -- as a negative mark against California Chrome. However, he looked like a winner from the top of the stretch to the finish at Churchill Downs. His jockey Victor Espinoza began celebrating before they even crossed the finish line. Without a challenge from his eighteen rivals, California Chrome ran as fast as he needed to win, and it’s clear that Espinoza could have gotten more from his colt if necessary.

Anything can happen in a horse race but it’s likely that fans exiting Pimlico on Saturday evening will be talking about another pending Triple Crown try at Belmont Park in three weeks.

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Preakness Contenders Taking On Chrome

Social Inclusion has just three career races but is among the possible candidates for second betting choice behind California Chrome. He won his first two races by a combined seventeen lengths and, in his second career race, he dominated a highly touted stakes winner named Honor Code. He was the post-time favorite in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, the premier New York prep for the Kentucky Derby, but finished third behind a pair of talented colts in Wicked Strong and Samraat. In his three career starts, he has set a solid pace in every race. He is a talented colt but a contested early pace and his front running style will compromise his chances in the Preakness.

Ride On Curlin is one of three Preakness entries exiting the Derby. Among those three, he had the worst trip at Churchill but made a determined run, in spite of the trouble, to finish seventh. As he accelerated around the final turn of the Derby, he was forced to slow to a near gallop at the top of the stretch behind a tiring horse. He then had to be taken wide into the middle of the track where he ran hard through the finish line. While he has never won a graded stakes race, he has been consistent in races against solid competition in his ten race career. Ride On Curlin is a legitimate contender and will be in the mix at the finish of this year’s Preakness.

General a Rod’s owners and trainer initially balked at running in the Preakness but have since decided to let their colt run. Like Ride On Curlin, he has never won a graded stakes race but has run well against top flight competition. He has done his best running close to the lead and was taken out of his game in the Kentucky Derby when he found himself towards the back of the pack early. While he never got closer than eight lengths from the front at any point, he ran respectably in the Derby and is certain to have a more forwardly placed trip in the Preakness. While he’s not in the same class as California Chrome, he is a candidate to finish in the money.

Kid Cruz will make a huge jump in class in his graded stakes debut. He has three wins from five career starts including a win in the Frederick Tesio Stakes at Pimlico in his last start. Kid Cruz likes to race off the pace and make a late charge to the finish. The expected fast pace of this year’s Preakness will give him a chance to pass tiring horses in the stretch. A win seems unlikely but a third or fourth place finish at big odds is possible.

The filly Ria Antonia is a surprise entry into this year’s Preakness. She was last seen in the Kentucky Oaks, run a day before the Derby, where she finished sixteen lengths behind the super filly Untapable. All of her career races have come against fillies so this will be her first try against colts. Her lone career graded stakes win came in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies as the result of a disqualification. While a “girl” running against the “boys” in a big race always makes for a good story, Ria Antonia’s entry in the Preakness is hard to understand considering her current form.

The field will be rounded out by likely pace setters Bayern and Pablo Del Monte as well as graded stakes winners Dynamic Impact and Ring Weekend.

If you are looking for a primer on how to play the races, Hello Race Fans has a number of useful horse racing articles for beginners. An article titled "How To Play Favorites” at Hello Race Fan could come in handy while handicapping this year’s Preakness.

Kevin Martin is the founder of the thoroughbred racing history site Colin’s Ghost and a contributing editor at Hello Race Fans.

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