Posted On 30 Apr 2014
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The Kentucky Derby countdown is in serious mode with just weeks left until the May 3 extravaganza at Churchill Downs and he’s a little insight on some legitimate contenders with an early pick to boot.


Recent important preps were concluded and both the Wood Memorial and the Santa Anita Derby appear to be powerful races. California Chrome looked like a winner as soon as the gates opened in the Santa Anita Derby Saturday and online sports betting site players now have a legit reference point as the Kentucky Derby approaches.


The son of Lucky Pulpit broke a tad slowly, was a head off the lead after a half-mile in :47.02 and was the same margin back after three-quarters of a mile in 1:10.81.


And then the race was over. California Chrome quickly ignited to open up a 5-length lead at the top of the lane and stretched it another quarter of a length getting the 9 furlongs in 1:47.52 under a strong hold while not being asked for his best. This was the fastest Santa Anita Derby since Indian Charlie went 1:47 flat in 1998 and California Chrome final time was also quicker than Sunday Silence and Winning Colors, who both went on to win in Kentucky the first Saturday in May.


And to consider that California Chrome was geared down makes his victory even more impressive. Chrome looks to be the early favorite America’s most famous race. Art Sherman trains California Chrome and he has been around the block and back. He was the exercise rider for the 1955 Kentucky Derby winner Swaps, who was also a California-bred.

Sherman: “He’s my Swaps, let’s put it that way. If all goes well, we’ll ship to Kentucky probably a week before the Derby. It was awesome. That’s all I can say. I got a little spooked leaving the gate. He got banged around pretty good but I really think he’s a better horse stalking. Right now, he’s kind of freaky and I’m enjoying it. I can’t believe the races I’ve been seeing.”


California Chrome has won his last 4 races by a total of 24 and a quarter lengths.


A total of 7 runners have accomplished the SA Derby /KY Derby double including the 2012 hero I’ll Have Another.


Wicked Strong was wickedly good on recently as he powered home to win the Wood.


Wicked Strong was 2 lengths off the lead with a furlong to go but he quickened rapidly and drew off by 3 and a half-lengths in 1:49.31. That final time holds up very well. It was the fastest Wood since Bellamy Road freaked in the race in 2005 when he went 1:47.16. Wicked Strong earned a 104 Beyer Speed Figure.


Classy performers like Gallant Man, Count Fleet, Seattle Slew Bold Forbes, Fusaichi Pegasus and Congaree and I Want Revenge did the Wood/Ky. Derby tango.


The most famous loser of the Wood was the great Secretariat, who won the Triple Crown in 1973.


Other serious runners that could challenge for all the money in the Kentucky include Constitution. He was impressive winning the Florida Derby and if he makes the gate at Churchill he will be trying to be the first runner since 1882 to win the Derby without running as a 2-year-old.


He has impressed race watchers with his maturity and he is in the right hands of Todd Pletcher.


Bob Baffert’s Hoppertunity ran 2nd in the Santa Anita debut and he could very well improve off of that effort.


Intense Holiday comes off a second in the Louisiana Derby but he hooked a horse that had an easy lead that day. With a projected hot pace, he has every right to run better in Kentucky. And the winner is…….California Chrome.


I don’t think we have seen the best of this runner and his tactical speed will give him first run on the deep closer on Kentucky Derby Day.


Good luck.


Brian Mulligan was the Daily Racing Form’s main West Coast line-maker for nearly two decades writing under the non de plume of “SWEEP.” He continues to contribute to the Daily Racing Form writing “A Closer Look” analysis.


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