After wins in the Preakness and Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), California Chrome will head to New York for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 7 with the chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
With Victor Espinoza riding for trainer Art Sherman, California Chrome got a trip similar to that in the Kentucky Derby; he rated just off the early leaders, bid on the far turn, made the top and drew away to victory. At the finish the Lucky Pulpit colt had 1 1/2 lengths on fast-closing Ride On Curlin, who was 6 1/2 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Social Inclusion. General a Rod was fourth.
The time for 1 3/16 miles on a fast track was 1:54.84, best since Curlin was clocked in 1:53.46 in 2007.
California Chrome, the 1-2 favorite, paid $3, $3, and $2.40 across the board. Ride On Curlin returned $5.60 and $3.80, while 5-1 second choice Social Inclusion paid $3.40. The $2 exacta was worth $18.20 and the $2 trifecta paid $76.
The early pace was set by Pablo Del Monte and jockey Jeffrey Sanchez from post 9. Espinoza put California Chrome in the mix early from post 3 just outside of the leader heading into the first turn, but the filly Ria Antonia was sent up outside of the favorite by Calvin Borel. Espinoza then had to back off a bit and ended up stalking the top two through an opening quarter-mile in :23.56 and a half-mile in a lively :46.85.
When Ria Antonio backed off heading into the far turn, California Chrome made his move outside of Pablo Del Monte, who contined to lead after completing six furlongs in 1:11.06. But when Luis Contreras got Social Inclusion under way, California Chrome was sandwiched for a brief period before Espinoza and 'Chrome took over from between horses just past the three-eighths pole.
Social Inclusion, who acted up in the gate, couldn't keep pace with the winner as they entered the stretch and California Chrome was three lengths clear at the furlong mark. The only competitor with a shot in the final eighth of a mile was Ride On Curlin, who rallied from ninth early under Joel Rosario in a quality effort.
Social Inclusion finished a head in front of General a Rod, as three of the first four Preakness finishers also competed in the Kentucky Derby. They were followed by Ring Weekend, Pablo Del Monte, Dynamic Impact, Kid Cruz, Bayern, and Ria Antonia.
California Chrome trained very well at Pimlico the week leading up to the Preakness. His connections were confident going in to the race, though they expected the colt would have a target on his back.
"It's an awesome feeling," said Espinoza, who in 2002 won the first two legs of the Triple Crown with War Emblem but lost the Belmont. "It was a crazy race. I got more tired mentally than physically. It worked out well and he's an amazing horse. I saw a horse go to the front (Pablo Del Monte) and I said, 'I'll sit behind him.' Then I saw another one come (Ria Antonia), and I had to use my breaks. But as soon as the other horse got clear of me, it worked out perfectly."
Sherman, who plans to keep California Chrome at Pimlico for a few days, earlier said he wasn't thrilled with running the horse again after just two weeks following the rigorous Derby.
"To me, this race was even a little tougher knowing that I'm coming back in a little shorter distance than I normally ever run them, and the time I give them to rest between races," Sherman said. "I was a little concerned about that, but he has big heart this horse—big.
"It's quite a thrill. I knew we had to run harder to win this race. He's a real racehorse, and I hope a mile and a half is up his alley, too."
California Chrome was bred in California by his owners out of the Not For Love mare Love the Chase, her first foal. He is the first California-bred to win the Preakness since Snow Chief in 1986, and the fifth Cal-bred to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown overall.
Coburn was in tears after the Preakness, and showed his emotions at the post-race press conference.
"I don't know how to explain how I feel within my heart and soul," Coburn said. "It's hard for me because I get very emotional about it. I honestly believe this horse is America's horse. He's giving everybody that little light bulb, and when it clicks on, you know what? We can do this.
"I don't know what it is, but we're going to stay in the game to make sure this colt gets to be the best he can be. I've been a firm believer in that ever since (he was born), and he hasn't proven me wrong. This is a nice horse."
Trainer William Gowan was thrilled with the effort turned in by Daniel Dougherty's Ride On Curlin. He said if the Curlin colt comes out of the Preakness in good shape, he most likely will compete in the Belmont.
"I thought it was awesome," Gowan said. "California Chrome ran a great race and he's a great horse, but my horse ran a great race. He was in a good spot down the backstretch. Joel (Rosario) said he got shut off for a second, but he came running in the stretch and gave me a heck of a thrill. I'm really proud."
Contreras said Social Inclusion, who was washy in the post parade, wasn't affected by his gate antics.
"He acted up a little bit in the gate, but it was no big deal at all," Contreras said. "The horse ran a really big race today. I can't tell you how happy I am with this horse. We'll get them next time."
Owner Ron Sanchez said he expected Social Inclusion to be on the lead in the Preakness as he was in his first three starts. That didn't materialize as the Pioneerof the Nile colt got away in fifth, but Sanchez said he liked the effort.
"He ran well," Sanchez said. "Right now, we're going to the Belmont."
The New York Racing Association released an early list of probable starters for the $1.5 million Belmont, including Commanding Curve, Commissioner, Danza, Intense Holiday, Samraat, Tonalist, and Wicked Strong. So it appears a field of least 10 will compete in the final leg of the Triple Crown.