Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome, hailed as a modern-day Seabiscuit, won the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore on Saturday with a burst at the homestretch — moving a step closer to the illustrious and elusive Triple Crown.
California Chrome was heavily favored in the 10-horse field.
With Victor Espinoza riding, California Chrome held off a hard-charging Ride On Curlin to take the second jewel in the Triple Crown. Social Inclusion finished third.
The colt won the Kentucky Derby on May 3, and if he wins at the Belmont Stakes in New York, he’ll be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
A former bus driver in his native Mexico City, Espinoza, 41, has ridden in the Preakness six times, including War Emblem, who followed his Derby victory with a win at Pimlico Race Course in 2002, but finished eighth in the 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.”
Of the 38 horses that took both the Derby and Preakness, only 11 went on to win in the Belmont.
Art Sherman describes California Chrome in no uncertain terms: “Pure and simple, he’s a rock star.” The 77-year-old trainer says the horse loves posing for pictures, loves the buzz of the track.
After the race, Sherman had tears rolling under his dark sunglasses.
“I knew we had to run harder this race,” he told NBC. “He’s a real racehorse and I’m hoping that the mile and half [in Belmont] is up his alley too… It’s a dream for any trainer to do this.”
California Chrome was delivered by a mare named Love the Chase that Steve Coburn and co-owner Perry Martin bought for $8,000 with a view to breeding. She was bred to the stallion Lucky Pulpit for a reduced fee of $2,000, the first breeding the novice pair had ever undertaken. Their offspring had earned Coburn and Perry more than $2.3 million in prize money before the Preakness, also chalking up wins at the Santa Anita Derby, San Felipe Stakes and California Cup Derby.
The only filly in the 10-horse field was Ria Antonia. The ladies have managed to win the Preakness five times, the last being Rachel Alexandra in 2009.
Still, all eyes were on California Chrome, who is being compared by many race lovers to Seabiscuit, the legendary underdog of the 1930s.
“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.”
California Chrome will try to win that final jewel at Belmont Park in Hempstead, New York, on June 7.
“You know what,” Espinoza said, “we’ll get it done.”
Matt Majendie contributed to this report.