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Is there any horse better than California Chrome?

May 2, 2014 - Mitch Rupert
There was a sharp shooting pain coursing through my body last June at the end of the Belmont Stakes. It corresponded with a flurry of profanities echoing through the Sun-Gazette lunch room.

Revolutionary cost me thousands of dollars. If the horse could have only maintained his fourth-place spot down the stretch, I could have unabashedly done my happy dance throughout the newsroom without apology after hitting the superfecta. Instead, I muttered something inappropriate about glue factories knowing I had donated my fair share of cash to the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs yet again.

Then the phone rang, my mother, Darla, on the other end shrieking about how we had both won. I couldn't interrupt her excitement to explain that she had won. I was nothing more than a loser, with millions upon millions of loser friends. Mom had nearly quit playing the Triple Crown races prior to the Belmont last year and I had to talk her in to keeping with it after she hadn't picked up a win of any kind in the last three years.

Beyond my happiness of mom finally picking up a win, and a big one at that, I was hit with a hard dose of reality. I was now going to have to start taking her seriously when it came to her horse racing suggestions.

So when I woke up to a text the other morning about how she was really beginning to like Hoppertunity as her pick to win, I really began to dive into the colt's history beyond just past results. And more than anything, I realized mom was right, it was a pretty good horse. Thankfully, with Hoppertunity's scratch from today's 140th Kentucky Derby, I didn't have to admit to mom she was right.

The Hoppertunity suggestion opened my eyes a little bit as to how I look at Kentucky Derby contenders. Often, my research is just watching past races, finding strengths and weaknesses of every horse, looking for any reason to potentially like a horse and looking for a reason to potentially completely disregard a horse.

There aren't a whole lot of reasons to fall in love with horses not named California Chrome in today's Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately, there aren't a whole lot of reasons to completely disregard those horses, either. What it makes for is for a headache to try and handicap the Run for the Roses.

The consensus among the experts is that California Chrome is clearly the best horse in the field, especially with Hoppertunity scratching out of the race earlier this week. But there are still questions about the Santa Anita Derby winner, and there is absolutely no consensus about who is the second-best horse in the field.

So looking into each of the 19 horses in the field has gone beyond just those past results. I've begun to dig into the pedigree of each horse. There's always a horse's name, maybe one, two or three generations back which can make you begin to think there's something in the bloodlines of a horse to help it win.

Take, for instance, Vinceremos, by himself a less-than-sparkling horse. But when you consider his sire is Pioneer of the Nile, a Kentucky Derby runner-up, his grandsire is Empire Maker, a Kentucky Derby runner-up and Belmont Stakes champion, and his great grandsire is Unbridled, the 1990 Kentucky Derby champion, all of a sudden he becomes an intriguing horse to keep an eye on.

This race was tough enough to handicap without adding the extra burden. But with the margin of difference being so slim, any information is good information.

That being said, there's still no horse as good as California Chrome in this field. He was the early favorite at 5-2, and since has fallen to 3-1, and I can see his odds falling even more before post time today just a bit after 6 p.m.

So latch on to whatever piece of information best rumbles your belly. Whether it's a name, the color of the jockey's silks, his pedigree or his past performance. Find that information which speaks to you and run with it. It'll make that 2 minutes in Louisville so much more enjoyable. Or so much more frustrating.

Here's a closer look at my some of my picks:

FAVORITE TO WIN

California Chrome

Similar to Orb a year ago, there's no horse in the field nearly as talented as California Chrome. His detractors will say his impressive wins in the Santa Anita Derby and the San Felipe Stakes came only because he got perfect trips around the track. Well rarely does a horse ever win without getting a great trip around the track, especially in a 19-horse field. He can handle the early speed and still have enough gusto left to pull away down the stretch. Even if he gets boxed in early, jockey Victor Espinoza has enough experience at Churchill Downs to find a winning lane. If he somehow gets to 4-1 tomorrow, jump on him.

FAVORITE TO BE WARY OF

Wicked Strong

There's a lot to like about the horse. A portion of his winnings are donated to the One Fund, which benefits those affected by the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. His father is 2007 Derby runner-up Hard Spun, and his mother is by 1999 Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic. He's coming off a brilliant run to win the Wood Memorial, but that win followed a disappointing winter in Florida where he finished ninth and fourth in races at Gulfstream Park. So the question is what is the anomaly? Is his win in the Wood Memorial the norm, or is his poor showing in Florida the norm?

LONGSHOT TO KEEP IN MIND

We Miss Artie

The Todd Pletcher-trained horse opened as a 50-1 shot. Watch the horse run and he's clearly not a 50-1 shot, as bettors proved Friday when the horse fell to 23-1. He's not a speed horse who is going to sprint to the front with the likes of Wildcat Red or Uncle Sigh. But he may be the best closer in the field behind California Chrome. In the Derby, if you can bide your time, leave yourself a lane, and stay in the vicinity of the lead pack, there's always a chance to win.

NON-FAVORITES WITH TOP 3 POTENTIAL

Samraat

The meanest thing you can say about Samraat is that he's a solid horse. He does nothing extraordinarily well, but he does everything well. He's not a great speed horse, but can run with the lead pack. He's not a great closer, but won't give up a lot of ground. He's won five of his six career races with his only loss coming to Wicked Strong in the Wood Memorial. His owners and trainer describe him as an adaptable horse who can be successful no matter the situation he's thrown into. But the fear is the early pace may be too much for him to handle. At 18-1, there's great value in a very good horse.

Danza

Another one of Todd Pletcher's four horses in the field, he's got a chance to prove he's the boss. I'm sorry, that was terrible, and way too expected. Named for actor Tony Danza, he's a horse who likes to jump out quick and settle into the front pack before making a strong, long push down the stretch. He's basically replaced Hoppertunity as maybe the biggest threat to California Chrome. His morning 8-1 odds are better by only California Chrome and matched by only Wicked Strong.

Ride on Curlin

There's two big things working against Ride on Curlin, the son of former Preakness winner Curlin, are he's never won a race as a 3-year old, and he's starting in the 18th post and his jockey Calvin Borel loves to work along the rail, hence his nickname Calvin Bo-rail. But the horse has true strength coming down the stretch. In a speedy field, he's not going to run with the leaders which may give Borel, who was the jockey on Mine That Bird, an opportunity to get to the rail and work his magic yet again.

SLEEPER PICK TO WIN

Candy Boy

This is one horse who may find a benefit from starting on the outside because he's had a knack in previous races for getting boxed in before fighting his way to an opening. But his final 1/8-mile push is as good as there is in the field, and if he's free to run down the stretch, track announcer Larry Collmus could be calling his name as a threat to finish in the top three.

My picks

To win: California Chrome

Exact: 1, California Chrome; 2, Danza.

Trifecta: 1, California Chrome; 2, Danza; 3, Samraat.

Superfecta: 1, California Chrome; 2, Danza; 3, Samraat; 4, We Miss Artie

Mitch Rupert can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.

 
 

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Blog Photos

Exercise rider William Delgado takes Kentucky Derby entrant California Chrome for a morning workout during a morning workout at Churchill Downs Friday, May 2, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)