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California Chrome big favorite in Preakness

  • Victor Espinoza rides California Chrome to a victory during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Victor Espinoza rides California Chrome to a victory during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Victor Espinoza rides California Chrome to a victory during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)

    Victor Espinoza rides California Chrome to a victory during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Garry Jones) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Athol 5/16/14. Athols's No.24 Watt Doron-LaRue, rifles a kill shot past Belchertown's No.3 Jordon Vigneault in the 1st match.<br/>photo by J. Anthony Roberts

    Athol 5/16/14. Athols's No.24 Watt Doron-LaRue, rifles a kill shot past Belchertown's No.3 Jordon Vigneault in the 1st match.
    photo by J. Anthony Roberts Purchase photo reprints »

  • Athol 5/16/14. Athols's No.9 Brandon Thomas, fires a kill shot over the net past Belchertown's No.1 Chase Nelson & No.17 Micheal McKenzie in the 2nd match.<br/>photo by J. Anthony Roberts

    Athol 5/16/14. Athols's No.9 Brandon Thomas, fires a kill shot over the net past Belchertown's No.1 Chase Nelson & No.17 Micheal McKenzie in the 2nd match.
    photo by J. Anthony Roberts Purchase photo reprints »

  • Victor Espinoza rides California Chrome to a victory during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
  • Victor Espinoza rides California Chrome to a victory during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
  • Athol 5/16/14. Athols's No.24 Watt Doron-LaRue, rifles a kill shot past Belchertown's No.3 Jordon Vigneault in the 1st match.<br/>photo by J. Anthony Roberts
  • Athol 5/16/14. Athols's No.9 Brandon Thomas, fires a kill shot over the net past Belchertown's No.1 Chase Nelson & No.17 Micheal McKenzie in the 2nd match.<br/>photo by J. Anthony Roberts

The first person to know the name of this year’s Kentucky Derby winner was a waitress inside a diner south of Sacramento. A regular customer had asked her to draw a name from his cowboy hat, and by the luck of her draw the chestnut colt with the four white stockings got the name CALIFORNIA CHROME; not Lucky at Love, or Big Chapter, or thankfully, Sea Bisquick.

The movie about two railbirds beating the blue bloods at their own game has a cast that includes a septuagenarian trainer and a Mexico City bus driver-turned-jockey, but it will never premier unless the star of the show wins the Triple Crown, and the next step is winning today’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

CALIFORNIA CHROME has won five straight races and earned over $2.5 million. He’s today’s 3-to-5 morning line favorite in against nine horses that to most casual bettors are a bunch of no names.

And yet ....

“I don’t want to make it sound like I’m rooting against him. I just think you’re supposed to bet against a 3-to-5 shot,” says Paul Matties, a professional handicapper who lives near Saratoga Springs. “I don’t think it’ll be a scenario where he runs bad but this is not a cakewalk. This field is talented.”

Only two horses in the 10-horse Preakness field raced in the Kentucky Derby. RIDE ON CURLIN finished seventh at 17-to-1, and GENERAL A ROD finished 11th at 31-to-1. “Both those horses are better than what they showed (in the Kentucky Derby),” says Matties.

Among the “new shooters” as Matties calls them is RIA ANTONIA, the 6th place finisher in the Kentucky Oaks who’s bidding to become the first filly to win a Preakness since Rachel Alexandra in 2009.

KID CRUZ is a Maryland-stabled horse with three wins in five starts including back-to-back scores in minor stakes races, and DYNAMIC IMPACT won Hawthorne Park’s Illinois Derby by a nose with a 102 Beyer speed figure.

New York railbirds remember SOCIAL INCLUSION for being the 8-to-5 favorite that gave it up down the stretch to WICKED STRONG in the Wood Memorial on April 5. The lightly-raced brown colt with huge speed figures (92-110-98) is the 5-to-1 morning line second choice ahead of the 10-to-1 third choice BAYERN that will be ridden by every TV network’s favorite jockey Rosie Napravnik.

In Northampton, Joe’s Cafe will probably be packed with the backers of the 20-to-1 long shot RING WEEKEND that’s owned in part by resident Scott King, but only bridge jumpers will want a piece of the other 20-to-1 shot PABLO DEL MONTE, whose last win was seven months ago.

“The filly has no chance,” says Matties. “Wesley Ward’s horse (PABLO DEL MONTE) has no chance. No BAYERN, no RING WEEKEND.”

That leaves it up to five to play the role of California conquistador.

“DYNAMIC IMPACT is no slouch and SOCIAL INCLUSION is very talented,” says Matties. “He might not be able to run the mile-and-three-sixteenths, but he won’t just go away when CALIFORNIA CHROME comes to him in the stretch. The Pimlico horse (KID CRUZ) is better than a lot of the horses that ran in the Derby ...”

Matties’ hangup with CALIFORNIA CHROME was his pedantic pace at Churchill, where he won in the slowest Derby time in 40 years and with the lowest Beyer (97) of any winner since Andrew Beyer devised the formula in 1987.

“He’s durable. He hasn’t had a hard race, but he’s going to have to run better than he did in the Kentucky Derby. I might box four horses and throw out CALIFORNIA CHROME.”

Greenfield handicapper John Dobrydnio acknowledges that CALIFORNIA CHROME “could make it a complete blowout.”

That said, he’ll try to cash in with KID CRUZ. “He’s got two shots to win, if the track is deep or if it’s too fast up front. Plus he knows the track and (trainer) Linda Rice is very conservative on her workouts. I think I’ll use him with SOCIAL INCLUSION and our old friend GENERAL A ROD. Is he going to benefit down there on the rail? Probably.”

Last year’s Kentucky Derby winner ORB went off at 3-to-5 odds and lost. The winner, OXBOW paid $32.80 and front-ended a $301 exacta. That’s what it comes down to, easy money for chalk players or a windfall for riverboat gamblers. Pick your poison.

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