Which new entries pose the biggest threats?

California Chrome will face a field very different from the one he beat in Kentucky. Commanding Curve won't be in Baltimore, nor will Wicked Strong, who went off as the second choice and finished fourth.

The new challengers didn't qualify for the Derby, meaning they carry thinner resumes, by and large, than the horses California Chrome already beat. That said, there are a few intriguing possibilities.

Social Inclusion didn't race as a 2-year-old, but he had handicappers buzzing with his workout times and easy victories in his first two races. His Derby candidacy hinged entirely on his performance in the Wood Memorial, where he finished third. But he's still regarded as one of the bigger talents in this 3-year-old class.




Bayern was another touted Derby contender before he finished a disappointing third at the Arkansas Derby. He seemed to win the April 26 Derby Trial, only to be disqualified for drifting into another horse. Regardless of his mixed results, Bayern will garner support because he's trained by Bob Baffert, who has won five the Preakness five times, and ridden by leading female jockey Rosie Napravnik.

Dynamic Impact faced a new level of competition at the April 19 Illinois Derby and won, so he's another possibility for those seeking a late-blooming 3-year-old. Kid Cruz, the only contender with a stakes win on the track at Pimlico, could make an appealing long shot.

Can any also-ran from the Derby field do better this time around?

The line of repeat challengers to California Chrome is short, with many trainers planning to hold their contenders until the June 7 Belmont.

Seventh-place finisher Ride on Curlin will give it another go. He endured a strange race at Churchill Downs, with jockey Calvin Borel aggressively pushing him from an outside post position all the way to the rail. After that lateral move, Ride on Curlin simply couldn't maneuver through the great pack of horses ahead of him.

Trainer Billy Gowan signaled his displeasure with the ride, announcing that he'd replace Borel with Joel Rosario, who won the Kentucky Derby aboard Orb last year. Gowan said his horse came out of the Derby fresh and suggested he might do better at Pimlico, starting from a less punitive post position.

"He's one tough horse," Gowan said.

Are we missing out on the duels that could establish California Chrome as a superhorse?

Sunday Silence and Easy Goer had each other. Affirmed had Alydar. Even a horse as dominant as Secretariat had Sham.

Is there any rival capable of pushing California Chrome to a historically memorable race?

The depressing fact for racing fans is that California Chrome might never face the horses equipped to give him the best run at Pimlico. There would be far more excitement, for example, if Asmussen planned to run his talented filly, Untapable. She was perhaps more impressive in the Kentucky Oaks than California Chrome was in the Derby. And there were those who hoped she might follow the same path as 2009 Oaks and Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra. Alas, Asmussen will keep her running against other fillies for now.

Hoppertunity at least remained close to California Chrome at the Santa Anita Derby. He was the 6-1 second choice in Kentucky before Baffert scratched him because of a foot bruise. He originally seemed targeted for the Preakness, but health concerns will keep him out of the entire Triple Crown.

Constitution seemed another possible rival after winning the Florida Derby, but a fractured shin ended his Triple Crown hopes.

Injuries and scratches are facts of life in the fickle world of thoroughbred racing, but with so many talented peers out of the running, we might not find out how good California Chrome really is.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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