The state of California has some of the best horse racing in the world and several iconic tracks, yet that hasn’t often translated into much success in the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby. Only three California-bred horses have won the Run for the Roses, but California Chrome is a heavy 11-4 favorite to make it four at Saturday’s 140th running at Churchill Downs.
The three previous California-bred winners of the Derby were Morvich in 1922, Swaps in 1955 and Decidedly in 1962. Perhaps good karma will be on California Chrome’s side because the chestnut colt is trained by 77-year-old Art Sherman, who also was the exercise rider for Swaps as an 18-year-old and was at the 1955 Derby. Sherman would be the oldest trainer to win the Derby. California Chrome’s jockey is Victor Espinoza, who won the 2002 Derby on War Emblem.
It’s not hard to see why California Chrome has emerged as the big favorite. He has won four straight races, topped by the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in early April. He beat a strong field by 5 1/4 lengths. Second and third were fellow Derby contenders Hoppertunity (10-1 to win the Derby) and Candy Boy (25-1). The horse racing world has been without a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Last year’s Derby victor, Orb, didn’t win another race before being retired to stud.
Wicked Strong has the second-best odds at 7/1 to win on Saturday. That horse is owned by a 28-member partnership from Boston-based Centennial Farms, which has never had a Derby qualifier. The managing partner of that group, Don Little Jr., has said five percent of any of Wicked Strong’s Triple Crown earnings will be donated to the One Fund, established in the wake of last year’s Boston Marathon bombing. The horse was renamed from Moyne Spun after the bombing — Boston Strong was taken.
Wicked Strong last raced at the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 5, winning at odds of 9-1. It was the horse’s first stakes victory and he wasn’t likely to run in the Derby before the win. Wicked Strong’s trainer is Jimmy Jerkens, who has never had a Derby starter.
Danza is next on the odds after Wicked Strong, and is indeed named after actor Tony Danza, although he has no affiliation with the horse. Get ready for “Who’s the Boss?” headlines if Danza wins. He wasn’t part of Derby conversation until he won the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 12 by 4 3/4 lengths over another Kentucky Derby horse, Ride on Curlin (20-1). Danza went off as a 40-1 long shot in that race, his first at more than seven-eighths of a mile.
The odds will change some when the Derby post positions are unveiled Wednesday, and there is expected to be a full 20-horse field. Orb won from post No. 16 last year, the third straight year the winner has been at No. 16 or higher. The No. 10 post has had the most winners, nine, since the starting gate first was used in 1930.
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