The following is the uncensored version of my post that originally appeared on the TimeformUS blog:
Here's the TimeformUS result chart for the Preakness.
The chart is missing last place finisher Ria Antonia here. Not making any comment....I simply ran out of room. I'll leave the editorializing to this rather hilarious tweet:
'You know, I don't think people think we're crazy enough. I know! We'll send our dead-closing filly to the lead.'~The owners of Ria Antonia.
— Alan Schneider (@DerbyWill) May 18, 2014
Figures here are pretty straightforward; not much esoteric stuff in the way of adjusting them for pace. Only significant upgrade was for Pablo Del Monte, who set the honest pace before fading to 6th.
It was a lifetime best TFUS speed figure of 116 for California Chrome....and career highs as well for the other two who came out of the Derby. I did question whether that made sense considering that they all were racing two weeks after Kentucky. The answer was a resounding "yes!" This was an easy race to make figures for, according to Craig, our figure guru. Ride on Curlin and General a Rod both had challenging trips in the Derby, and an easier time of it here. As 3yos in the spring, they are both eligible to be improving at this time of the year....particularly, I'd say, Ride on Curlin, who had been showing a general trend of moving forward despite the impossible trips to which he'd been subjected. And, of course, the Derby is run at a distance that doesn't really suit most any of these horses.
Of course, I had no questions about California Chrome's figure. Makes perfect sense that he ran his fastest race on Saturday. His Beyer of 105 however is not his fastest race on their scale. That's fine, not a big difference really, just a few points. I would however continue to question the low 97 that he got for the Derby. His Beyer pattern of two career tops (108 and 107), followed by the 97 and the Preakness 105 might be par for the course for Sheets guys. But I don't think that narrative really makes much common sense, considering how consistent the horse has been in terms of style and the ease of his victories. I think we have it right that the Churchill track was slower when the Derby went off, be it due to the fact that the track hadn't been watered for quite awhile, or whatever. Wouldn't at all be surprised if the Beyer boys adjust that number at some point down the road.
Social Inclusion was an absolute mess in the minutes leading up to the race. He was obviously agitated, with sweat pouring down his legs. I believe that his not going to the lead had more to do with that than with any pre-planned change in strategy. He was still, however, able to mount enough of a challenge on the final turn to prompt Victor Espinoza to move earlier on Cali Chrome than he said he wanted to. We can only hope that this apparently brilliant colt can endure going forward after being rushed into the Triple Crown races.
Here's the quote by Espinoza: “I had to start moving at the half-mile pole, which is tough for a horse to start moving early and keep going all the way to the end.” [AP]
This, in my opinion, does not at all bode well for this horse's chance of winning the Belmont and, thus, becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. (Wouldn't you miss saying that should he win?) I'm honestly not sure if Ride on Curlin would really have caught California Chrome even if they took the proverbial "another trip around the track." But the Belmont will be a different - and longer - race with a different cast of characters; and probably a lot of them....don't know if many will be scared away. Upon those horses will be a lot of anxious jockeys likely to have a quick trigger finger as they're approaching the final turn for home (if their horse is not already done by then).
It's one thing to move a bit early in the Preakness; another one entirely if Espinoza feels the need to do so in the Belmont. For all of his handiness, it seems as if the Derby/Preakness winner needs to be handled with some extreme care. He's reportedly skittish in the starting gate (though we've seen no evidence of that of late), needs to be kept close up and outside of horses in order to avoid too much dirt in the face; and his jockey obviously felt the need to move prematurely to prevent another from passing him turning for home. "I felt like I was under attack," Espinoza said, who added that he was more tired mentally than physically. Seems like odd statements for a win that looked so totally routine. If he thinks he was "under attack" in the Preakness, just wait until the Belmont.
Additionally, we've now learned that California Chrome also needs the use of a nasal strip. We hadn't read much about it before, but its use coincides with his six race winning streak. The NYS Gaming Commission announced today that it will permit him to wear one in the Belmont, even though it denied permission for I'll Have Another to use it two years ago (before he was scratched due to physical issues).
The Stewards immediately sought expert analysis from New York State Gaming Commission Equine Medical Director Scott E. Palmer, VDM, on their use.Yeah. I am SO sure that they would have reached the same decision if Art Sherman had a record like that of Doug O'Neill. Or if rejecting the request wouldn't potentially lead to 40,000 less people attending the Belmont Stakes. What a bunch of crap.
Dr. Palmer wrote: “I recommend that the stewards at State-based Thoroughbred racetracks discontinue their ban on equine nasal strips. Equine nasal strips do not enhance equine performance nor do they pose a risk to equine health or safety and as such do not need to be regulated." [NYS Gaming Commission press release]