Jennie Rees, USA TODAY Sports
We have gone from having no real favorite for the 140th Kentucky Derby to having a clear-cut choice: Santa Anita Derby winner California Chrome, who now has won four straight races by a combined 24 lengths.
Racing fans saw it with their own eyes, as California Chrome won by 5 ¼ lengths over a good horse in Hoppertunity, prevailing in fast time even with Victor Espinoza wrapping up on the colt late in the race.
But official validation comes from the man who has made Churchill Downs' morning line for 40 years, Mike Battaglia.
"I don't think there's any doubt," Battaglia said. "I know he's a California-bred and the breeding. But you've got to go by what this horse has done on the track. There's nothing that's been as impressive as California Chrome. And he's done it three, four times in a row now. All these other ones, it's going to be tough for (Florida Derby winner) Constitution, I think, with just three races. Cairo Prince kind of fell flat (fourth in Florida Derby). Where else would you go?"
Battaglia says even if horses such as 2-for-2 Bayern or Rebel runner-up Tapiture impressively win the Arkansas Derby, he can't see them replacing California Chrome as favorite. He notes he made him the 5-1 favorite in the last of four betting pools in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.
"This is the only horse I could pick," Battaglia said.
Only three Santa Anita Derbies have been faster than California Chrome's 1:47.52, with Lucky Debonair ('65), Sham ('73) and Indian Charlie ('98) prevailing in 1:47.