Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome 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, the colt held off a hard-charging Ride On Curlin to take the second jewel in the Triple Crown. Social Inclusion finished third.
Now, with the Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories, if California Chrome wins the Belmont Stakes next month in New York, he’ll be the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to achieve the ultimate feat in thoroughbred racing.
A former bus driver in his native Mexico City, Espinoza, 41, has ridden in the Preakness six times, including on War Emblem in 2002. After winning both the Derby and Preakness that year, War Emblem 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.”
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.”
Of the 38 horses that won both the Derby and Preakness, only 11 went on to victory in the Belmont Stakes, which covers a greater distance than either of the preceding Triple Crown races.
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!”
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.
California Chrome is being compared by some to Seabiscuit, the beloved, undersized bay who — though he never competed in a Triple Crown race — 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.”
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.”