BALTIMORE, (Reuters) – California Chrome has won all four of his races this year in dominating fashion and strolls into tomorrow’s Preakness Stakes as an overwhelming 3-5 favorite amid an adoring public hungry for a Triple Crown opportunity.
The Kentucky Derby champion appears to be a safe bet to win the 10-horse race that his closest challengers, odds-wise, are Social Inclusion at 5-1 and Ride On Curlin and Bayern at 10-1.
Not so fast, says 51-year-old Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, who pulled off an upset in last year’s Preakness, winning aboard Oxbow in a jaw-dropping wire-to-wire effort.
While he acknowledges that California Chrome is the deserving favorite, he said the seven horses in tomorrow’s race that skipped the Kentucky Derby are fresh. And, he said, it’s not always the best horse that wins. “The Derby winner has a target on his back,” Stevens told Reuters via telephone from his home in Sierra Madre, California. “Everybody’s going to be looking for him if he gets away from the gate slow.
“They’re all going to try to block him in. It’s not illegal. If I get position on somebody going into the turn I hold that position. I’m not giving you a shot. That’s what we get paid to do.”
Blocking California Chrome might be easier said than done. Trained by Art Sherman, the 3-year-old chestnut won the Derby by 1 3/4 lengths but, as Stevens said, “could have won by seven” if jockey Victor Espinoza didn’t cruise across the wire. Before the Derby, the modestly bred colt won the Grade I Santa Anita Derby last month by 5 1/4 lengths and the Grade II San Felipe Stakes in March by 7 1/4 lengths.
Social Inclusion, his closest challenger on the tote board, has raced only three times in his career and faded to third in the Wood Memorial last month.
Ride On Curlin finished seventh in the Derby and Bayern, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, finished second last time out in the Derby Trial after winning but being dropped down after the colt made contact with Embellishing Bob in the final furlong.