It’s Time for California Chrome – Maybe

May 19, 2014

To the pleasure of racing fans everywhere, we have gotten what we long for every spring, another chance at the ever elusive Triple Crown. I personally saw Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed do it but also saw twelve very talented horses that were unable to seal the deal. The late scratch of I’ll Have Another, who I thought had a very good chance to get it done, was one of the most disappointing moments in Triple Crown history. Now just two years later we are here once again.

There is a reason the Triple Crown remains so elusive, current breeding and racing practices aside, it has always been a daunting task reserved for the most talented and durable members of a fragile species. Three hard races in a seven week window at three different tracks, at three different distances are challenging to say the least. It is an athletic accomplishment that rivals the most difficult in sports.

California Chrome has raced himself into his fans’ hearts by outrunning his modest pedigree capturing the Kentucky Derby and Preakness over a bunch of seemingly over matched rivals. He has brought his “A” game every time and has yet to significantly regress, although I had previously opined that he had. If so, it was minor if anything. Maybe he still will, most do, but if and when remains to be seen.

This horse is certainly near the top of the popularity scale. Thanks in part to social media, he has developed a legion of fans who are quick to call anyone a hater who says anything but raves about him and his Triple Crown chances. They even started circulating a petition and letters imploring NYRA to allow California Chrome to wear his nasal strip, even though they have never been allowed in New York thoroughbred racing before. I recall no such petition or letter when I’ll Have Another’s camp was told no before they even asked on the nasal strip. There was no veiled threat about not running either, no whining, just if that’s the rule that’s the rule. Alysheba won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness running on Lasix when NY was one of the only jurisdictions not to allow it. Alysheba showed up regardless and was whipped by Bet Twice. But they were not California Chrome and deserving of mid game rule bending. As expected NYRA quickly folded and allowed the nasal strip it had banned others from using. At the end of the day, other than the inherent unfairness and slight to others who played by the current rules and guidelines, this is a good thing. Nasal strips are fine and banning them is silly. It also eliminates any excuse for California Chrome and his fans should he get beat and judging from their past performances you can safely bet a lot of social media bashing would have occurred.

There has also been a lot of misunderstanding on nasal strips and their role in racing and helping a horse. Many have emphasized they are not performing enhancing. That is not correct and displays a lack of understanding of the game or performance enhancing or both. No they are not a drug but some horses run much better and farther and recover faster with them then without. Thus by definition they are performance enhancing. Blinkers can be performance enhancing, gelding can be performance enhancing. All performance enhancing practices are neither bad nor illegal. To argue nasal strips are not performance enhancing is to argue they do not serve their intended purpose and use. That doesn’t make them bad. They open nasal passages and improve breathing and air flow and minimize bleeding, all naturally, this is good and should be allowed. Just not in the third quarter of the game when you didn’t allow others earlier. We have a lot of calls for fairness and transparency that seem to have silenced, at least temporarily, with the prospect of a Triple Crown and the popularity of California Chrome.

California Chrome seems to make a lot of his own luck when racing and that will help in The Test of Champions which lies in wait. His stalking style and quick acceleration burst are very good attributes to have facing the task ahead. Victor Espinoza delivers stellar ride after stellar ride on him, none better that Saturday in the Preakness and he will have to do that again in the tricky Belmont Stakes. The Belmont of late is a lot about timing and attrition and it helps to know the strip and race. The out of town riders who have tried to win it without coming in early and riding big sandy for a week or two prior to the big day have not fared so well, just ask Kent, Stewart, or Calvin.

There is no time more evident than the Belmont Stakes that there are many ways to lose a race but only one way to win. If we look at the history we see a list of them.

Spectacular Bid was by all accounts, let alone his resume, a great and special horse. He could not stop Coastal, who Tonalist reminds me a lot of, from coming up the rail and drawing off under Ruben Hernandez. Afterwards it was blamed on a poor ride from his young jockey and stepping on a safety pin race morning. Yes a safety pin in dirt on a shed row.

Summing, under regular Belmont rider George Martens, upset Pleasant Colony’s Triple Crown bid winning it the way everyone says you can’t. He made a big early move to the lead on the backstretch right out of the don’ts book of Belmont Stakes riding. Highland Blade, one of my first $1000 win bets needed another jump or two. #Ouch, still hurts.

Alysheba played by the rules and didn’t veil threaten NYRA to allow Lasix and was literally smoked by Bet Twice. Right, Lasix isn’t performance enhancing either.

Sunday Silence learned home court advantage doesn’t only apply to the NFL.

Silver Charm learned,when you think you have the crown, there may be another horse who thinks otherwise, as he was run down by Touch Gold who was crying for the mile and a half.

Real Quiet, what can you say, moved too soon, maybe, a true heartbreaker, definitely, but if he were Mr. Ed and could talk I’d bet he’d say man that last sixteenth of a mile can be rough, all of a sudden you hit a wall and every prior furlong catches up with you as does the prior races and all you can say is WIRE!!!!!!!

Charismatic tried in vain and was injured, he was taken out of his game and ran closer to the pace then he was used to and broke down. That was indeed a sad day for racing.

War Emblem decided to have a gate blunder at the worst possible time under California Chrome’s rider Victor Espinoza. California Chrome has his own gate antics to worry about and so does his rider, who does not want to add deja vous to this list.

Funny Cide learned that even if you win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness there may be a better horse in the race like Empire Maker.

Smarty Jones, the one who was supposed to be the one. The one everyone but me loved and was sure would do it. I loved Birdstone and still feel he was best that day on that track at that distance which is what it takes. The Smarty lovers blame everyone but Smarty, Stewart Elliott moved too soon, tell that to George Martens, Jerry Bailey didn’t want to win himself or want Smarty Jones to win so he compromised his horse going after him; John Servis had him too on edge for the mile and a half. Whatever, “Birdstone wins the Belmont Stakes. “

Big Brown threw a real head scratcher. He looked great going in and seemed faster than any of his rivals, after a questionable trip into the first turn; he learned you still have to run the race to win it. They don’t just give it to you. He didn’t even finish.

I’ll Have Another also looked pretty good going in. After politely and professionally agreeing with the no nasal strip announcement he just couldn’t hold up any longer and had to scratch, yet a new way to lose the Triple Crown.

If the list California Chrome goes on was determined in social media he’d already be syndicated and rolling in carnations to go with his black eyed susan’s and roses. They don’t award the Crown on social media however and California Chrome will have to bring it and bring it big time and win it on the race track. History says there are more ways to lose than win so at 3-5, once again he is a bad wager. Some of the horses he had an edge on earlier may have caught up to him and could be sitting on their A race. There is always the bounce possibility. Tonalist may be as good, if not better, than any of them.

I’ve watched the replays, very objectively I might add, of California Chrome’s last three wins. It looked to me like he ran the hardest and longest in the Preakness. He was forced into an early move and had to run all the way to the wire and ran hard, Victor was after him the whole time. He did not look like he had much left at the wire but the race was over anyway. I am not sure that bodes well for the Belmont. I can’t wait to handicap that race as I have little doubt when I do I will know which list to put California Chrome on.

This is the stuff dreams are made of. We have an inexpensive horse out running his odds and getting to the pinnacle of racing. It will all unfold on one, if not the greatest cards, of racing. Life changing wagers abound. NYRA has created a mid-year Breeders’ Cup like event which is a huge credit to Martin Panza. I didn’t agree with moving the Met Mile to Belmont day at first but I see the vision now and it’s beautiful. Can’t wait!

High 5

Victor Espinoza, hands down, superb ride on California Chrome in the Preakness. When he knocked Social Inclusion out of the way into the first turn it was over. Masterful ride.

Low 5

NYRA for allowing the nasal strip. While they should be allowed, changing rules during the game and showing favoritism is never good long term and can come back to bite you. Stay fair to past and future participants.

Horses to Watch

Green Mask won turf debut and is still getting better and learning, will be a good one. Prudhoe Bay ran deceptively good on the Preakness undercard and should improve.

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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An amazing article. Well done @jonathanstettin #ruffian…

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