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Bob Matthews' Column

California Chrome Doesn't Have Much To Beat

 

 

CALIFORNIA CHROME DOESN’T HAVE MUCH TO BEAT

 

The safest bet entering the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby is that California Chrome will be the post-time favorite.

 

Post time will be 6:24 p.m., Saturday, at Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Ky.

 

I have no idea where California Chrome might rank among previous favorites in the Run for the Roses, but I have a strong feeling that he’ll be facing lesser competition that many of them did.

 

The bottom line: With the possible exception of California Chrome, this looks like a relatively weak field for America’s most famous horse race. Several of last year’s most promising two-year-olds have been sidelined and will run later this year – if ever.

 

The most obvious threat to California Chrome in this race is the size of the field – 19 horses.  That’s lot of traffic for any horse to navigate through, particularly a horse without the speed to break loose early in the 1 1/4-mile race.

 

If California Chrome has a weakness – and his past performances outclass the rest of the field – it is his lack of raw speed out of the starting gate. He’ll need some racing luck (but considerably less than the other 18 animals).

 

Here’s my annual worst-to-first forecast for the Kentucky Derby:

 

19th – We Miss Artie. If you bet on him, you’ll probably miss your money more…Bred in Ontario, so he’ll get some backing in Canada…Two Canadian-breds have won the Kentucky Derby: Sunny’s Halo in 1983 and Northern Dancer in 1964. He won’t be the third.

 

18th – Harry’s Holiday. Lost a shoe in a 13th place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes. Will have shoes on Saturday but needs faster legs…Jockey Corey Lanerie, a Churchill Downs regular with nearly 3,600 career victories, gets his first Derby mount.

 

17th – Vinceremos. Means “to conquer” or “overcome” in Latin…What’s Latin for “overmatched”?...Disappointing 14th in the Blue Grass Stakes.

 

16th – General A Rod. Can’t get away from A Rod even in the Run for the Roses…Not likely to hit the board minus PEDs.

 

15th – Commanding Curve. Has late foot and could pass many of the stragglers in the stretch.

 

14th – Dance With Fate. This Florida-bred won the Blue Grass Stakes and can’t be completely ignored.

 

13th – Medal Count. Some late foot. Second to Dance With Fate in the Blue Grass…Has run better on turf and synthetic surfaces than on dirt.

 

12thh – Samraat. Battled fellow New York State-bred Uncle Sigh in prep races at Aqueduct…The first and only New York –bred to win the Kentucky Derby was Funny Cide in 2003.

 

11thth – Uncle Sigh. Bred in New York. Has hung tough with lesser…Addition of blinkers might help.

 

10th—Candy Boy. Third in the Santa Anita Derby at 2.60-to-1, beaten almost 9 lengths by California Chrome…Hall of Famer Gary Stevens gets the call.

 

9th – Ride On Curlin. Jockey Calvin Borel likes to hug the rail to save ground and fire in the stretch but the No. 18 post position will hurt and his colt hasn’t been a big closer yet.

 

8th – Wildcat Red. Florida-bred won the Fountain of Youth, then second in the Florida Derby…His eighth career start will be his first away from Gulfstream Park…Tough to fault but I like others more.

 

7th – Chitu. Trainer Bob Baffert’s lightly-raced Sunland Derby winner is my live long shot. He has only four career starts but has shown promise and could be ready for his best effort yet.

 

6th – Intense Holiday. He has a top jockey (John Velazquez) and a sharp trainer (Bob Baffert)…This colt’s sire (Harlan’s Holiday) and broodmare sire (Unbridled’s Song) both were beaten Kentucky Derby favorites. Intense Holiday won’t be favored and probably won’t win, either.

 

5th – Danza. Was 40-to-1 when he won the Arkansas Derby by 4 ¾ lengths in his second start of the year and first Grade I race. Was that a fluke performance?…Only four career races but he has taken to increased distances every time.

 

4th – Vicar’s In Trouble. The most impressive of trainer Mile Maker’s three starters in this race…Won the Louisiana Derby in late March…Will try to become the first Louisiana-bred to win the Kentucky Derby…Always gives his best but this will be his first Grade I star and he drew the dreaded rail…Rosie Napravnik will try to become the first female jockey to win the Derby.

 

Show– Tapiture. Ran two impressive juvenile races last fall at Churchill Downs…Second in the Rebel Stakes and fourth in the Arkansas City at odds of 2.10 to win…Figures to give a good effort Saturday but getting the distance is the big question.

 

Place –Wicked Strong. Owned by a Boston-based group that has pledged to donate 5 percent of any money the colt wins in the Triple Crown races to the fund for Boston Marathon bombing victims…Was not in the Derby picture until he surprised in the Wood Memorial…The expected quick pace up front and distance should suit this colt’s stalking running style. One of the few starters in this race who is not completely outclassed by California Chrome.

 

Win – California Chrome.  He’ll try to become only the fourth California-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby, joining Morvich (1922), Swaps (1955) and Decidedly (1962)…Art Sherman was 18 years old when he was an exercise rider for Swaps. He’s 77 now and would become the oldest trainer to saddle a Kentucky Derby winner…California Chrome has modest breeding and owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin named their stable DAR Racing (short for Dumb Ass Partners) after they purchased the horse for $8,000…California Chrome has the most experience  (10 races) in the rest of the field and has won his last four races by a combined 24 ¼ lengths, including the Santa Anita Derby…This will be his first race outside California…His No. 5 post position is not ideal but it is better than breaking from the rail or the extreme outside…Assuming he gets a relatively clean trip in the bulky field, he figures to have the lead into the stretch. The only question is does he have the stamina to hold off Wicked Strong. I think he will. My only wager on this race will be a $10 exacta box on California Chrome/Wicked Strong.

 

Only four horses have won both the Santa Anita Derby and the Kentucky Derby – I’ll Have Another (2012), Sunday Silence (1989), Winning Colors (1988) and Affirmed (1978). Affirmed is the most recent winner of the Triple Crown. If California Chrome wins Saturday, a lot of people will be touting him as the next Triple Crown winner.

 

BUFFALO’S “STADIUM EXPERIENCE” RANKED 21ST IN THE NFL

 

Buffalo Bills have been dumped on (or ignored) for a long time, particularly by the national media, so it wasn’t shocking that when Paul Swaney of stadiumjourney .com this week ranked Ralph Wilson Stadium No. 21 in his “Ranking the NFL Stadium Experiences.”

 

The top 10: Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis for the third straight year :”best downtown sports scene in the NF”’)…Heinz Field (Pittsburgh)…Lambeau Field (Green Bay)…AT&T Stadium (Dallas)…Bank of America Stadium (Carolina)…NRG Stadium (Houston)…Century Link Field (Seattle)…Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)…Gillette Stadium (New England)…FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland).

 

Here’s what Swaney wrote about Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium: “(It) is now3 one of the deans of football venues and one of the oldest stadiums in existence. It opened its doors in 1973 with the franchise moving from the old and decrepit War Memorial Stadium in the inner city. When this place opened its doors, local fans were pinching themselves with delight –a clean and sparking new stadium, a real dot matrix scoreboard, lots of parking in a seemingly safe neighborhood in the upscale suburb of Orchard Park…Since those days just about every other NFL team has opened or refurbished their stadiums, but while “The Ralph” may not have all the bells, whistles and revenue generators of its peer venues, it still remai9ns an extremely functional and resilient football stadium even after 40 years of use.”

 

Maybe Swaney’s revised ratings with move Buffalo up a notch or two if he took in the $120 million renovations currently underway…I guess it is somewhat of a compliment that Buffalo ranked ahead of Arizona, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Detroit, New York Giants (“older, wiser, less obnoxious fans” than the Jets), Oakland, New York Jets , San Francisco (I’d prefer their team), San Diego (I’d prefer their weather) and Washington.

 

BUFFALO’S PER-DRAFT ROSTER RANKED NO. 27 DUE TO ??? AT QB

 

If you think Ralph Wilson Stadium was shortchanged (see item above), you won’t like Evan Silva’s rankings of “Pre-Draft NFL Rosters” for yahoo.com. He has the Buffalo Bills No 27.

 

In fairness to Silva, he notes that quarterbacks and defensive line (particularly the pass rush “weigh heavily” into the rankings. The Bills obviously are wishing and hoping at quarterback (with EJ Manuel, Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel), but did Silva shortchange Buffalo’s pass rush?

 

Here’s what Silva wrote about the Bills (not all bad):

 

Offensive overview: “If there seems to be a recurring theme toward the back end of these rankings, it’s because there is: These low-rated teams either don’t have a quarterback, are stuck in quarterback purgatory, or their quarterback in place has yet to establish himself as a quality starter. The Bills fall somewhere between the second and third categories. Buffalo returns an average to above-average offensive line, and more than enough talent at receiver and running back, yet this side of the ball will remain a huge question mark until Manuel demo0nstrates durability and comfort in control of Buffalo’s offense. I’m not particularly optimistic after Manuel’s rookie season, but at least he showed flashes. He deserves 16 more games to prove whether or not he’s the solution.”

 

Defensive overview:  “The Bills are in a similar position to the Browns with regard to their QB dilemma, but they’re intriguing for the rest of the roster. Buffalo lost top safety Jairus Byrd in free agency, but still returns an impressive unit equipped with multiple edge rushers, two outstanding defensive tackles, plus starting linebackers, and a secondary long on talent. I expect a 2014 breakout from Stephon Gilmore. Corey Graham arguably gives the Bills more options than Byrd with an ability to cover slot receivers in sub-packages and man safety on early downs. Brandon Spikes won’t play in nickel and dime packages, but will thump against the run. Buffalo can afford to add another outside rusher and a defensive back, but ultimately new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz inherits a well-constructed group.”

 

For the record, Silva’s top 10 Pre-Draft NFL rosters: Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, New England, New Orleans, Green Bay, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Chicago.

 

His AFC East rankings: New England 4th…Miami 20th…New York Jets 26th…Buffalo 27th.

 

LOU SABAN’s WALL OF FAME WAIT PROBABLY NOT OVER

 

This will be the 50th anniversary of the Buffalo Bills’ first of two consecutive American Football League championships (1964 and 1965). The Bills are expected to honor the surviving members of that team during this season.

 

 Late coach Lou Saban’s daughter, Chris, contacted me this week regarding the possibility of her father being elected to the Wall of Fame at Ralph Wilson Stadium this season. It would be appropriate timing, of course, and we all recognize that the coach of those two title teams is long overdue for Wall of Fame recognition.

 

But owner Ralph Wilson blocked Saban’s election in the past, telling voters that Saban quit on him twice. Wilson never backed down. He’s gone now. The Wall of Fame voters figure to select Saban eventually, but – out of respect for Wilson – not right away.

 

SHORT SHOTS

 

NBA playoffs update (42 games) entering Friday night: home teams 19-23 record; Las Vegas favorites 11-28-3 against the point spread…NHL playoffs update (49 games) entering Friday night: home teams 31-18 record; 15 overtime games; 27 games decided by one goal.

 

2-ESPN.com’s John Clayton this week wrote that he thinks a favorable non-division road schedule could help the Buffalo Bills make the playoffs this season. Buffalo’s five non-division road opponents (Chicago, Houston, Detroit, Denver and Oakland) had a 34-46 combined record last season. The flaw in his hunch is that Detroit (7-9) and Houston (2-14) probably underachieved last season.

 

ESPN Insider’s Jeff Goodman this week – after the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2014 NBA draft – ranked his Top 50 College Basketball Teams for the 2014-15 season. Syracuse (lost freshman guard Tyler Ennis and sophomore forward Jerami Grant) ranks 23rd…His top 10: Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin, Duke, Florida, Kansas, 7 North Carolina, Texas, Villanova and Wichita State. Defending NCAA champion Connecticut is 20th.

 

Using first-round picks in the NFL draft on offensive linemen is not widely considered to be a wise move. There certainly are flashier or “sexier” positions, But the Jacksonville Jaguars reportedly are strongly considering selecting Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews No. 3 overall. Last year, the Jaguars picked tackle Luke Joeckel (also from Texas A&M)  No. 2 overall. Jacksonville fans and media might not like it if the Jags select Matthews, but the team would be set at both OT spots for a long time.

 

Mike Keenan’s Metallug Magnitogorsk team beat Lev Praha in Game 7 Wednesday to win the Gagarin Cup – the Kontinental Hockey League version of the NHL’s Stanley Cup. Keenen, 63, is the first coach to win the Calder Cup (1983 with the Rochester Americans), Stanley Cup (1994 with the New York Rangers) and the Gagarin Cup….He has one year left on his two-year contract, but if an NHL teams comes calling, he might listen. He has coached eight NHL teams and Bovada lists him at 10-to-1 odds to be the next coach of theWashington Capitals.

 

Floyd Mayweather Jr. reportedly will earn a guaranteed $32 million for his middleweight unification title fight against Marcos Maidana Saturday night in Las Vegas. Maidana will make a career-high $1.5 million in purse money plus more from TV rights in Argentina…Mayweather is a huge favorite: bet $1,200 to win $100; Maidana $100 to win $775 (Bovada odds)…Mayweather was the world’s highest-paid athlete in 2013: $73.5 million in minimum purses for two fights; estimated $90 million including pay-per-view revenues.

 

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