From staff and wire reports
BALTIMORE – Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome turned away all challengers Saturday to win the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes, leaving him just three weeks and one win away from thoroughbred racing’s historic Triple Crown.
The California-bred 3-year-old, who has become “America’s horse” with a six-race winning streak and a blue-collar background conjuring up memories of the legendary champion Seabiscuit, can become the 12th winner of the Triple Crown – and the first since Affirmed in 1978 – by prevailing in the June 7 Belmont Stakes at New York’s Belmont Park.
California Chrome was the overwhelming betting favorite in the mile-and-three-sixteenths Preakness at Pimlico Race Course. At odds of 1-2, the winner returned $3 on a $2 wager. Long-shot Ride on Curlin finished second and the second betting favorite, 5-1 Social Inclusion, finished third.
California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza erased concerns about the horse’s tendency to start poorly by grabbing a perfect position leaving the starting gate, then charging to the lead entering the final turn. Chrome fought off a challenge by Social Inclusion in the stretch and held off Ride on Curlin at the finish to post a winning time of 1 minute, 54.84 seconds, the fastest since Ride on Curlin’s sire, Curlin, won the race in 2007.
A former bus driver in his native Mexico City, Espinoza, 41, has ridden in the Preakness six times, including a wining mount on War Emblem in 2002. After winning both the Derby and Preakness that year, War Emblem finished eighth in the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes.
“It is an awesome feeling to be able to have a horse like California Chrome,” Espinoza told NBC Sports after the race. “It was just a crazy race … I got more tired mentally than physically riding him. But it worked out well, and he’s just an amazing horse.”
California Chrome is trained by 77-year-old California horseman Art Sherman, who had never had a Derby or Preakness starter before this year. The horse is owned by Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, who named their partnership Dumbass Partners after being ridiculed for buying an $8,000 broodmare and mating her with an inexpensive sire named Lucky Pulpit to produce California Chrome.
Sherman says California Chrome is a “rock star” who loves posing for pictures and thrives on the buzz of the track.
The winning colt even has his own official Twitter handle: @calchrome. After the race came this tweet: “Start spreading the news #Chromies we are going to New York!”
After the race, Sherman had tears rolling from his eyes under his dark sunglasses.
“I knew we had to run harder this race,” he told NBC, which televised the race. “He’s a real racehorse and I’m hoping that the mile and half is up his alley, too… It’s a dream for any trainer to do this.”
California Chrome’s humble origins have been a major factor in fueling his nationwide popularity and comparisons with Seabiscuit, the undersized bay that energized the country in the 1930s and became the subject of a 2001 best-sellling book, which in turn generated a hit movie in 2003. Although Seabiscuit never competed in a Triple Crown race, he outran Triple Crown winner War Admiral in a match race at Pimlico in 1938 and became a symbol of hope and determination.
“I do believe he’s that, like Seabiscuit,” Coburn said. “He became the people’s horse in the Depression because he was the little guy kicking the big guy. We’re doing that in the same kind of way. No one ever gave it any credence, and we shouldn’t be where we are now.”
If California Chrome is able to win the Belmont Stakes, he will succeed where 12 other horse since 1978 have failed after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Among them: Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones.
Can Chrome achieve what these others could not – win the Triple Crown?
“You know what?” Espinoza said, “we’ll get it done.”
This story includes material from CNN.