By Gene Menez

The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports -- more commonly known as the Kentucky Derby -- is always followed by the Most Exasperating Two Weeks in Sports. That's the time between the Derby and the Preakness Stakes in which people scrutinize everything about the Derby winner and ask, "Can this horse be beaten in Baltimore?"

Since impressively winning the Run for the Roses by almost two lengths on May 3, California Chrome has been under the microscope for everything from his final time in Louisville (2:03.66, the slowest on a track labeled "fast" since 1974) to a rumored sickness on Thursday morning. (Trainer Art Sherman says the colt coughed a little but is fine.) For all involved, the second leg of the Triple Crown cannot get here fast enough.

The Derby winner enters the race as a heavy, 3-to-5 morning-line favorite. He faces two foes whom he crushed in Kentucky and seven others who come to Baltimore without having been roughed up on the first Saturday in May.

Those who believe California Chrome is a cinch to win and get to the Belmont Stakes with a chance for the Triple Crown have a short memory. Just last year, Orb rolled out of the Pimlico starting gate as a heavy favorite and finished a distant fourth.

There are several factors that could derail the California Chrome train to the Triple Crown, including racing on just two weeks rest, an expected hot pace up front and the possibility, though slim, of a wet track (on which he has never raced). But in the end, California Chrome is the pick.


3 California Chrome

Morning-line odds: 3-5
Jockey: Victor Espinoza
Trainer: Art Sherman
Best Beyer: 108

There has been much debate the last two weeks over the Derby winner's slow time and low Beyer Speed Figure (97) in winning the Derby. Was he affected by a headwind or a slower surface? Or was he just slow? The debate will rage on, but what cannot be argued is that California Chrome was easily the best horse in the race, winning despite being pulled up in the final yards for his fifth straight victory. On paper, the pace of the Preakness sets up to be much hotter than the Derby's, with Social Inclusion, Bayern, Pablo Del Monte and Ring Weekend all expected to be forwardly placed. However, California Chrome does not seem to be a headstrong, need-the-lead type and should be able to rate just off -- and just outside -- the leaders. If racing with only two weeks rest is no problem, California Chrome will be going to New York with a Triple Crown on the line.


1 Dynamic Impact

Morning-line odds: 12-1
Jockey: Miguel Mena
Trainer: John Oxley
Best Beyer: 102

It took five starts for this son of Tiznow to break his maiden, but, like his sire who didn't show promise until the second half of his third year, he is improving at the right time, having won his last two. In his last race, the Illinois Derby, he came home fast once switched to the outside and nosed out the Bob Baffert-trained Midnight Hawk. Making his second start off a layoff, Dynamic Impact is likely to move forward off his last race. Though he faces a much tougher group in Pimlico, he is a major player if the Derby winner doesn't fire.


8 Social Inclusion

Morning-line odds: 5-1
Jockey: Luis Contreras
Trainer: Manny Azpurua
Best Beyer: 110

This blinkered speedball looked like a superhorse in March when setting a track record at Gulfstream Park while crushing the highly regarded Honor Code by 10 lengths. However, Social Inclusion was not able to duplicate that effort in the Wood Memorial, in which he set a solid pace and faded to third, giving ammunition to those who believe he's only a creation of Gulfstream's speed-favoring surface. (Consider: The 1-2 finishers in the Wood ran well in Louisville.) His connections say that the bruised foot that forced him to miss two days of training is a non-factor. He'll need to break well, not get caught up in a speed duel and return to his Gulfstream form to have a chance.


7 Kid Cruz                      

Morning-line odds: 20-1
Jockey: Julian Pimentel
Trainer: Linda Rice
Best Beyer: 91

Named after New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz, this late-running son of Lemon Drop Kid is stepping way up in class. In his last two races, both victories against much weaker fields, he dropped back after slow early fractions (49 and change and 50 and change after four furlongs), rallied and won by four lengths and three-plus lengths, respectively. The early fractions are expected to be much more demanding on Saturday, which would set up for an opportunistic closer like him, but the competition will be much tougher too. A son of the 1999 Belmont Stakes winner, Kid Cruz should thrive with the extra distance. He's the only horse with a race at Pimlico, which he won. A threat to hit the board.


10 Ride On Curlin                 

Morning-line odds: 10-1
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Trainer: Billy Gowan
Best Beyer: 98

This son of Curlin is on his fourth rider in four races -- Gowan kicked Calvin Borel off the mount after the jock dropped back to last in the Kentucky Derby to Gowan's dismay. The horse was forced to check hard behind a retreating Vicar's In Trouble and still managed to rally for seventh, beaten by six-plus lengths. If Rosario can give Gowan the ride he wants -- with Ride On Curlin saving ground, stalking the pace and not battling for the lead -- this horse, at his best, has the ability to be a factor in the stretch.

9 Pablo Del Monte           

Morning-line odds: 20-1
Jockey: Jeffrey Sanchez
Trainer: Wesley Ward
Best Beyer: 91

The pacesetter in the Blue Grass Stakes, this Ward runner figures to contribute to what should be a solid pace up front. In the Blue Grass, he led for the first six furlongs and hung on for third while the other speed horses finished 10th or worse. His only two wins have come sprinting on the Poly at Keeneland so the switch back to dirt and the Preakness distance remain major questions. But Ward says this chestnut colt has been "thriving" since the Blue Grass -- Ward kept the horse at Keeneland for two extra days of training because he was doing so well -- so a career best isn't out of the question.

5 Bayern            

Morning-line odds: 10-1
Jockey: Rosie Napravnik
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Best Beyer: 98

Bayern has been first under the wire three times at a mile or shorter, including the Derby Trial in which he was disqualified and placed second. But, two races back -- in the nine-furlong Arkansas Derby -- he faded to third after setting a moderate pace. How far this Baffert runner wants to go is a question, and that may be the reason why the connections decided to pass on the Kentucky Derby to run in the Trial instead. Though the blinkers come off for Saturday, Bayern enters the race after a sharp five-furlong workout in 58 seconds and change, so expect him to be prominent early.

2 General a Rod

Morning-line odds: 15-1
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Trainer: Mike Maker
Best Beyer: 101

After being shuffled back to 16th in the Kentucky Derby and eventually finishing 11th, Maker is taking another shot with this son of Roman Ruler, saying he never got a chance to show what he could do in Louisville. Castellano -- who was on board in General a Rod's best performance, a second in the Fountain of Youth in February -- returns to the saddle and should have the horse forwardly placed. He won't be on Gulfstream's speed-favoring track, but he should benefit in the slight cutback in distance. If you can excuse his Derby effort, he's much easier to like.

4 Ring Weekend

Morning-line odds: 20-1
Jockey: Alan Garcia
Trainer: Graham Motion
Best Beyer: 95

Back-to-back wins on dirt in February and March, the latter coming in the Tampa Bay Derby, suggested that this gelded son of Tapit was trending in the right direction. But then he finished a dull second by almost 10 lengths in a weak Calder Derby and was pulled out of the Kentucky Derby with a slight fever. His best performance came when loose on the lead in Tampa, but he's highly unlikely to get that same trip in Baltimore. Backers of Ring Weekend must trust on the skilled hand of Motion. This would still be a shocker.


6 Ria Antonia                 

Morning-line odds: 30-1
Jockey: Calvin Borel
Trainer: Tom Amoss
Best Beyer: 85

One has to dig deep to find any reason to think this filly, who faded to a well-beaten sixth two weeks ago in the Kentucky Oaks, has any chance in here. She has only crossed the line first once, and that was 10 months ago at six furlongs on the artificial surface at Woodbine. Her best speed figures fall far shy of the others in the field. After being moved from Bob Baffert's barn, she is on her fourth trainer since August. And even co-owner Ron Paolucci admits the Preakness distance is a question. She'll need a lifetime best performance and hope the others don't show up.

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Gene Menez is a writer and editor who spent almost 14 years at Sports Illustrated and has covered dozens of sublime performances (Tiger Woods in the 2000 U.S. Open; Steph Curry in the '08 NCAA Tournament) and fantastic finishes ('99 Ryder Cup; '04 Belmont Stakes). He lives with his beautiful wife and baby girl in Austin, Texas. You can follow him on Twitter @genemenez.