California Chrome has won the Preakness, and once again, horse racing has the possibility of its first Triple Crown since 1978.
At Pimlico in Baltimore, the Kentucky Derby winner faced challenges from Pablo Del Monte, Social Inclusion and Ride On Curlin, but met each challenge in turn, winning the Preakness by a length and a half.
Starting from the third position, California Chrome began the race as the overwhelming favorite at 3/5 odds, with Social Inclusion next at 5/1 and Ride On Curlin at 10/1.
The race could not have run any more smoothly for California Chrome, who started the race just off Pablo Del Monte's lead and kept pace throughout the back stretch. California Chrome and Social Inclusion both swarmed Pablo Del Monte, but it was Chrome who was able to gain and then stretch the lead, increasing the distance as Ride On Curlin made an ultimately failed challenge on the final straightaway.
The Kentucky Derby is the best-known horse race in America, but for historical purposes the Preakness is the most important. A Derby winner that falls short at the Preakness is a quickly-forgotten memory. A Derby winner that wins the Preakness is suddenly the most famous animal in the land, a horse with a chance to head to the Belmont Stakes with an opportunity to capture one of sports' most elusive achievements: the Triple Crown.
While 11 horses have won the Triple Crown since 1919, no horse has done so since Affirmed in 1978. Forty-seven horses, including Chrome, have won two of the three legs of the Triple Crown. Thirty-four horses have now won the Derby and the Preakness, but 22 of those fell short in the Belmont. Eight of those 22 have come in the previous 17 years, the most recent being I'll Have Another in 2012. After winning the first two legs, the horse was held out of the Belmont.
Where Chrome, the 34th horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, finishes up we'll find out on June 7.
California Chrome came into Pimlico riding both a five-race win streak, including the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, and a fascinating story involving an ownership group with the best name in horse racing. Dumb Ass Partners, the creation of California Chrome's owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, is the longest of long shots, an organization which took a horse from unheralded lineage to Derby roses, turning down what they termed "life-changing money" (reportedly $6 million) for the horse along the way.
[Slideshow: California Chrome wins the Preakness Stakes]
The Derby champion faced some weaker competition in Baltimore than in Louisville, with the second- through sixth-place finishers two weeks ago all declining to race this weekend and instead rest up for the Belmont. In fact, only three Derby horses made the trip to Pimlico; the short turnaround time between races scares off many trainers.
"I would love to see at least three [weeks between the Derby and Preakness]," California Chrome's trainer, Art Sherman, said earlier this week. "It takes a horse about 11 days to completely recover out of a race. … It's pushing the envelope a little bit [to run again in 14]. … But here I am trying it, so I'm hoping the racing gods are looking down on me."
The Preakness, like most horse races, features nobility and celebrity neck-and-neck, and everyone enjoys themselves. Case in point: Mike Tyson and Tom Brady:
— Mike Tyson (@MikeTyson) May 17, 2014
Perhaps Tyson and Brady will make their way to New York in three weeks for the Belmont Stakes. California Chrome will be there, as will a host of challengers seeking to keep the horse from racing's greatest prize and sports history.