Anyone who grew up watching horse racing in the 1970s will recall the excitement of watching Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed win the Triple Crown. It was a true display of excellence and really helped that generation get excited about the sport of kings. It's no wonder that the 1970s saw the highest attendance at racetracks than any other decade. Since then, however, there hasn't been a Triple Crown winner and many racing experts suspect that could be a major reason for the sharp decline in interest and attendance at race tracks. There's no question that the media interest that would be sparked following a Triple Crown victory would be immense and that could convince many people who usually don't follow horse racing to take in a few races or at least watch them on TV for a while. And while the interest may be short lived at least it's better than no media interest at all. Horse racing managers are also hoping that a Triple Crown winner would help spark interest among the younger generation and also counteract the negativity that followed recent Triple Crown bids. When Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby in 2006 there was an unusual amount of interest and enthusiasm among children and teens that were following the horse so one can only imagine the devastation and the crushing defeat to the industry when Barbaro broke his leg in the Preakness and had to be destroyed. In fact there were suggestions that his breakdown actually turned a fair number in that generation away from the sport forever. Of course there have been many opportunities for a Triple Crown winner to emerge since Affirmed's win in 1978, with the exception of Real Quiet who lost the Belmont Stakes at the wire none of the horses were really all that close to capturing the elusive feat.
This year California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby in a fairly easy fashion and once again there is some buzz in the media about whether California Chrome could be the horse to break the 35 year Triple Crown drought. My hunch is that not only could he be the horse, but in fact he will be the horse that finally captures the Triple Crown. The following are the reasons.
First and foremost it's a weak year for racing among the 3 year olds. In the past many Preakness winners were horses that sat out the Kentucky Derby since their trainers preferred the shorter fields and more setup at the Pimlico race track and the result saw the fresher horse win. This year there's no contenders that pose much threat. Social Inclusion (6-1 at Bovada's early line), Bayern (12-1) and Kid Cruz (14-1) look the most likely to challenge on paper but none of them indicate they'll have anything for California Chrome. And Ride on Curlin is the best of the horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby but he showed little in that race so there's no reason to expect more from him in the Preakness. More importantly if California Chrome does win the Preakness there are no horses on the horizon that look to be a major threat to him in the Belmont Stakes. In the past with the grueling schedule of the Triple Crown it was almost inevitable that fresh horses like Touch Gold, Victory Gallop and Lemon Drop Kid would win the Belmont and foil the Triple Crown attempt but there are literally no horses at any barn that has pundits saying "watch for xxx in the Belmont."
Second, California Chrome was not hard used in the Kentucky Derby and likely won't be in the Preakness. California Chrome never saw the whip and won with such ease that jockey Victor Espinoza actually eased the horse at the end to save something for the next 2 races. California Chrome probably could have won by 10 lengths had he wanted to but Espinoza was smart enough to think of the future and it should benefit the horse in the end. When almost all the other horses lost in the Belmont such as Silver Charm, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones their trainers indicated that they were just used a little too hard in the first 2 legs but if California Chrome does win the Preakness as easily as is expected, it would almost turn into a long workout rather than a hard tiring race. That being the case, there's really no reason not to expect California Chrome to be 100% going into the last leg of the Triple Crown, something that is rarely said when a horse heads into the Belmont Stakes with the elusive feat on the line.
Third, California Chrome has the perfect running style to win the Belmont Stakes. Most people just assume that the Belmont Stakes is won by a fast closer since it's a 1 ½ mile marathon but looking back on past results it clear that just isn't the case. The winner of the Belmont Stakes is almost always a horse with tactical speed that can sit on or near the lead and then vault ahead when need be. It was the case with Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed and it will almost certainly be the case with the next Triple Crown winner. California Chrome likes to be at the front but he also demonstrated in the Derby that he can be near the front and simply pass the pace setters at the appropriate time. In fact when one looks at the past performances of Seattle Slew, Affirmed and California Chrome they are almost identical. California Chrome's pedigree suggests that he will not make 1 ½ miles since his sire Lucky Pulpit was predominantly a sprinter but the same was said about him running the mile and a quarter of the Kentucky Derby and as was witnessed by all, he had plenty in reserve at that distance. Besides if pedigree was the only determining factor then Seattle Slew would have just been a decent claimer instead of the superstar race horse and sire that he was.
The question some are pondering is whether California Chrome deserves to be the horse to break the long Triple Crown drought since his time in the Kentucky Derby was so slow and the crop of 3 year olds this year is so weak. In fact, California Chrome's Beyer Speed figure of 97 was the lowest on record in modern memory. But for all the naysayers, they forget that Smarty Jones' time in the Derby was slower than California Chrome and Alysheba, who is considered one of the best horses ever not to win the Triple Crown, had a comparable finishing time. As well, while his Derby Time may not have been spectacular, California Chrome's Beyer figures in the previous races were well over 100. And more importantly in the end the only thing that will be remembered is who actually won the Triple Crown. After all does anyone really remember how good the players were when teams have won the Super Bowl or World Series? Of course not, all they remember is who won. Besides as my grandfather used to say to me when a superstar beat a weaker opponent "it's not his fault the competition is so crappy."
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