Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but California Chrome is both and will win Saturday’s 140th Kentucky Derby.
The early 5-2 favorite has his top rivals stuck far down the starting gate and enough nearby early speedsters to gas out one another. California Chrome’s jockey has a Derby win, plus the horse’s trainer is remindful of the late Charlie Whittingham.
A good horse with a good post position, jockey and trainer is awfully hard to beat. The Derby is often about winning big money on long shots since the age of champions ended with Spectacular Bid in 1979, but the smart money will be using Medal Count (20-1) as the exacta and Ride On Curlin (15-1) in the triple — which would pay out nicely.
The Derby is often won by those that stay a few lengths off the blistering early pace until the final turn. While speedballs occasionally win, only Chitu seems capable of stealing the race from the start. But he’s stuck in the 12th post and won’t ever see the front.
California Chrome won his last four races in Derby style, taking the lead on the final turn. Jockey Victor Espinoza may have to hurry him a little earlier at the start of the turn, but come the stretch California Chrome should be first. Espinoza stole the 2002 Derby aboard 20-1 War Emblem by leading every step, so he knows how to properly pace in the roughly run 20-horse field.
The gods of racing often reward old trainers, and California Chrome’s Art Sherman at 77 is slightly older than fellow Californian Whittingham was when he led Ferdinand to the 1986 Derby win. Sherman was even the exercise rider aboard 1955 Derby winner Swaps. Seriously, a direct connection to a great champion of 59 years ago? It’s almost like saying he was a private at Gettysburg.
Medal Count is among a handful of long shots. He’ll be at least eighth on the final turn, but Medal Count showed a late kick in the Blue Grass Stakes that he can use to rally for second under underrated jockey Robby Albarado.
If Ride On Curlin drew anywhere inside the first 14 post positions, he’d be the long-shot winner. But being stuck at No. 18 is a killer. The son of 2007 Preakness Stakes-winner Curlin has a strong late move, but there just isn’t room in a 20-horse field to close 10 lengths on a legit horse like California Chrome.
Long-shot players could try Chitu to steal the race at 20-1. But this Derby likely belongs to its best runner — California Chrome.