California Chrome has thundered home in the $US1.5 million Preakness Stakes, leaving the champion just one race away from claiming the coveted Triple Crown.
The three-year-old crossed the line to add the Preakness, run at Maryland’s Pimlico Race Course, to the Kentucky Derby Crown he claimed two weeks ago.
California Chrome, in the 139th running of the race, was 1-2 favourite, covering the one and three sixteenth miles in 1:54.84 in front of a record crowd of 123,469.
His time was just under two seconds outside the 1:53.00 race record set by Secretariat.
Ride on Curlin finished second, one and a half lengths behind, while Social Inclusion was a distant third, eight lengths away.
Jockey Victor Espinoza rode a superb race, which mirrored the win in the Kentucky Derby.
California Chrome started well and stayed on the heels of the frontrunners Pablo Del Monte and Rio Antonia, the only filly in the race.
Social Inclusion, ridden by Luis Contreras, pushed to the front on the turn and California Chrome went with him.
The pair lined up for home, but California Chrome was simply too good, as the horse unleashed a seemingly unbeatable kick to win. Ride On Curlin surged down the straight to take second spot.
Now, all eyes are on the Belmont Stakes, to be decided in three weeks at Belmont Park, New York, where California Chrome will attempt to become the first horse since Affirmed, in 1978, to claim the Triple Crown.
Should be succeed, California Chrome will become racing’s 12th Triple Crown champion.
Trainer Art Sherman, 77, could not hide his delight at the performance of his charge.
“He broke great and had a perfect trip. I was so happy when I saw where he [Espinoza] was able to set him. Right now he’s really on his toes and doing good. He’s a remarkable horse to come back in two weeks and win.
“I know he’s not the only horse that ever did that, but it’s tough on a horse to come back in two weeks. I appreciate everyone involved in my team. They did a hell of a job. Both my sons are here. It’s very emotional.
“To me, this race was even a little tougher for me knowing that I’m coming back in a little shorter distance than I normally ever run them and the time I give them to rest between races. I was a little concerned about that, but he’s got a big heart this horse – big.
“Wow. I’ll tell you it’s quite a thrill. I know we had to run harder in this race. For me, just watching him perform, coming back in two weeks, I was a little concerned.
“But I’ll tell you one thing: he’s a real racehorse. I’m hoping that the mile and a half is up his alley, too, because he’s a very good horse.
“You’ve got to have a tear. I’ve got my whole family here. We worked hard all year and Victor (Espinoza) rode him perfect. It’s a dream for any trainer to do this.
“It was hard for me to get a good view because people were jumping up and down in front of me. But when I looked up at the board, I could see him starting to move away and I felt really good then.”
Espinoza said: “It was not easy, but we got it done. I’m excited and looking forward. I had to start early because the outside horse was pushing me. I thought I had the perfect position, but when the outside horse attacked me, I had to open it up at that point.
“It was tough today. This race was a little complicated. I saw another horse take the lead, I’m second, then (Ria Antonia) wants to go. I have to steady, steady and I have to hope and make the right decision and hope for the best. Then, I’m sitting third and I think it’s perfect.”
California Chrome is co-owned by Steve Coburn and Perry Martin.
Readers can watch the running of the race here.