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Kentucky Derby Preview: California Chrome is the horse to beat

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The most popular question after the Kentucky Derby is, “Can [Kentucky Derby winner] win the Triple Crown?” The answer to that question will definitely depend on who wins the roses. You’re more likely to get a “yes” answer if it’s favored California Chrome than if it’s a long shot like We Miss Artie or Harry’s Holiday.

The Wynn Las Vegas, a leader annually in producing future odds as early as eight months before the Derby, has released odds to win this year’s Triple Crown. California Chrome opened at 14-to-1 but as of Saturday morning had been bet down to 8-to-1. Wicked Strong is next at 35-to-1, and everyone else is at least 70-to-1. The odds that any horse will do it is 13-to-2, meaning the chance that anyone besides California Chrome will do it is 19-to-1.

It’s more of a fun bet than anything considering a Triple Crown winner hasn’t happened since Affirmed in 1978, and while some say that if horses like Spectacular Bid, Point Given, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, and Big Brown (five of the more prominent dual classic winners since Affirmed) couldn’t do it then nobody can, my feeling is that a bunch of close calls means it can be done.

Is this the year, though? Probably not, but it’s understandable that California Chrome is the favorite considering he’s the only horse in the Derby field who won multiple Kentucky Derby Championship Series (i.e. points) races. If he’s as dominating Saturday at Churchill as he was this winter and spring in his native California then he will undoubtedly be odds on in the Preakness.

But don’t get too excited. Orb was odds on in the Preakness, too.

Should California Chrome win the Derby, he will undoubtedly trigger Triple Crown talk, and some media types will assert that “racing needs a Triple Crown winner.” It needs a lot of things—some of which have been discussed in the media in the two months leading up to this year’s Derby—but a Triple Crown winner is not one of them. A safe Triple Crown certainly is.

Beyond that, a dual classic winner is just gravy. The fun is in the pursuit of the Triple Crown: those three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont when racing actually stays in the limelight past the Derby instead of the shadows.

A horse going for the Triple Crown gets a police escort while major media outlets actually discuss his training, and Churchill Downs Senior Director of Communications Darren Rogers gets to wear white gloves while accompanying the Triple Crown trophy to New York.

A horse going for the Triple Crown means three weeks of coverage; a horse winning the Triple Crown would mean three months of everyone asking if the horse will ever race again and how much it is worth.

The Derby is the race everyone wants to win, the Triple Crown has become the series people have begun to doubt can be swept. Until shortly after 6:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, 20 horses from a foal crop of tens of thousands have a chance. After that, we’re down to one.

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