WASHINGTON -- April showers bring May flowers. And May? May brings the start of the Triple Crown season -- horse racing's premier series of the entire year.
It's been a long time since America has witnessed the thrill of a Triple Crown Winner. To be exact -- 36 years.
The past 12 years have featured Smarty Jones, Big Brown, Funny Cide, War Emblem and I'll Have Another -- who all won two of the three coveted races just to fall short in Long Island at the Belmont Stakes.
The quest for the first winner since Affirmed in 1978 begins Saturday evening in the 140th running of the fastest two minutes in sports: The Kentucky Derby.
Will this be the year we can see a real run at glory?
Here's how I see it playing out at Churchill Downs:
Win: California Chrome
Nothing sexy about this pick, as he is the star of the Derby and as of Friday afternoon is the 2-1 favorite to emerge victorious.
The colt won his last four races handily. In fact, no horse has been within five lengths when California Chrome crossed the finish line in any of those races.
In the Santa Anita Derby on April 5, his final time of 1:47 2/5 was the fastest of all the derby prep times. He has excellent form on dirt and his jockey, Victor Espinoza, won the Derby and Preakness on War Emblem in 2002.
California Chrome convincingly dominated the competition in the past and has a real shot of making a run at the coveted Triple Crown.
Place: Intense Holiday
While the track record hasn't exactly been there for Intense Holiday (lost the Louisiana Derby by 3 ½ lengths to Vicar's in Trouble), Intense Holiday has always been regarded as a late closer, winning Grade 2 Risen Star in February.
Opponents have to fear the combination of trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez. Pletcher won the 2010 Derby with Super Saver and John Velazquez has ridden in 13 Kentucky Derbys, winning the 2011 aboard Animal Kingdom.
Intense Holiday has had some great workouts coming into the first leg of the Triple Crown, draws a great post with the 16th position. I expect him to push California Chrome until the final stretch, ultimately finishing second.
The New York bred brown colt won five of six starts throughout his career, the only loss coming to Wicked Strong in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 5. Even though Samraat is very good out of the gate, you probably won't see Jockey Jose Ortiz push him too hard early, he's a patient horse who likes to stalk his competition.
Samraat is one of the more battle tested contenders in this Derby field and I have him finishing 3rd on Saturday.
Dark Horse: General a Rod
Just as I mentioned with Samraat, General a Rod is another who likes to stalk pace.
He took second in the Fountain of Youth and finished third in the Florida Derby, and all reports are that his workouts have looked great as we inch towards Saturday. Jockey Joel Rosario is last year's Derby winner, and I expect Rosario to push the colt to a quicker pace which should work to his advantage.
If you're going to just pick one long shot who has a shot and at 27-1 odds as of Friday afternoon, General a Rod is your horse.
Big Chee's Card:
- $1 Superfecta Box: 5-6-16-8
- $4 Trifecta Box: 5-6-16
- $10 to win: #8
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