BALTIMORE - Nothing is simple in racing, even when you have clearly the best horse and none of your opponents has done anything significant.
Only 12 hours after California Chrome was made the 3-5 favorite at Wednesday's Preakness draw, reports began to circulate that he was coughing Thursday after a morning gallop. Yes, "Chromie" did cough four times, his connections admitted, but they said to have no fear, he's been checked out and he's fine. In a statement, Alan Sherman, assistant trainer to his father, Art Sherman, said a blister in the colt's throat is the recurrence of a minor irritation he had going into the Kentucky Derby, where he was brilliant. So don't worry, chalk players.
Then there's Friday's weather forecast, which sounds perfect for a sequel to "Noah.'" It calls for as much as 3 inches of rain, which might be enough to keep Pimlico's main track muddy Saturday at 6:19 p.m., post time for the big race. California Chrome never has raced on a wet track.
Even when you think you have a sure thing, there's uncertainty. As the Wicked Witch of the West wailed while melting away in "The Wizard of Oz": "What a world, what a world."
Well, sometimes you have to have a little faith, a rare admission from a 63-year-old cynic who's ripped up pari-mutuel tickets at 86 tracks on four continents. Believe that a little sore throat won't bother a standout thoroughbred, and assume Pimlico's sand and loam will dry quickly, as it usually does. All things being equal -- of course they rarely, if ever, are -- it's hard to make a strong case for anybody else in the field.
I foolishly tried to be a hero on Derby Day, taking a wild stab with Intense Holiday (he finished up the track) instead of going with my gut feeling that California Chrome was by far the likeliest winner. I'm not doing that again.
If the leggy chestnut breaks well (never a given) from post 3, he should be able to sit behind the speeds -- Social Inclusion, Bayern, General a Rod and Pablo Del Monte. Victor Espinoza will read the break, try to get good position going into the crucial first turn and judge how close he should be to the lead. Social Inclusion, second favorite at 5-1, is the main danger to go wire to wire, as long shot Oxbow did last year, but Espinoza won't let him get away.
Most Preaknesses are won on the far turn, where California Chrome should repeat his winning move at Churchill Downs. He'll go past the front-runners in upper stretch, and as they fade I envision deep closer Kid Cruz (20-1 morning line) coming hard from the back of the pack. Kid Cruz is the only Preakness runner to have competed at Pimlico, winning easily last month in a minor stakes. Always respect the "horse for course" angle.
California Chrome will be clear by the eighth pole, and Kid Cruz won't get close enough to threaten him. General a Rod will be third, Social Inclusion fourth.
I'll be playing a $30 cold exacta, California Chrome on top of the colt named for Giants receiver Victor Cruz. If it comes in, I'll try to resist the urge to do a salsa dance in the press box.