Saturday, June 07, 2014

A Triple Crown at last?

Heart says yes, head says no.  The guru, Steve Beyer, from

Over the past three decades, as the public has cheered for horses to win the Belmont Stakes and complete a sweep of the Triple Crown, some racing purists have been reluctant to lend their voices to the chorus.

Those of us who remember the last three colts to accomplish the feat – Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and Affirmed (1978) – know that they were giants in the greatest era of Thoroughbred racing in America. It would have been almost sacrilegious to put the names of runners such as Charismatic, Real Quiet, War Emblem, and Funny Cide on a short list along with the sport’s immortals.

But as California Chrome tries to become the first horse since Affirmed to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont, the old worries about blemishing the list of Triple Crown winners hardly seem relevant. After 11 horses since 1979 have lost bids for the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes, any horse who accomplishes the sweep will deserve praise and respect – and a place in history.

If this happens Saturday, it couldn’t happen at a better time. The sport has been beset with so many problems that it needs a positive story. What better story could there be than one with a rags-to-riches hero like the ill-bred California Chrome?

The colt has generated excitement, superlatives, and high expectations, and it is hard for many fans to assess his Triple Crown bid dispassionately. But handicappers should not be swayed by sentiment. They are supposed to look at horses and races with cold-eyed objectivity. And an objective analysis would conclude that California Chrome is not the standout that the public thinks he is.

He's not.  In fact this crop of three-year-olds may be the weakest in all of horse racing's long history in terms of speed.  Chrome has still been good enough to beat all comers, but today's finale is longer by a furlong than the Derby.  And in both Derby and Preakness, he was losing ground to a hard-charging second place finisher.  Ominous.

...California Chrome’s edge is almost certain to shrink – or disappear – at the longer distance of the Belmont. California Chrome was tiring at the end of the 1 1/4-mile Derby and was hard-pressed to maintain his margin over Ride On Curlin in the Preakness. It is hard to imagine that he will be as good at 1 1/2 miles.

The four principal challengers Saturday all appear better suited to the distance than the favorite.

Those four are Commanding Curve (who came out of nowhere and blew up everybody's exacta picks in the Derby), Ride on Curlin (third and closing in Kentucky, second and closing in Maryland), Wicked Strong, and Tonalist.

History suggests that California Chrome will face another disadvantage besides the Belmont’s distance. Not only is winning the Triple Crown difficult, but merely running in all three races is tough for modern-day horses. In the last 12 years, only a single horse has won the Belmont after competing in both the Derby and the Preakness. During that period, six horses ran in the Derby, skipped the Preakness, and won the Belmont. The extra rest is clearly an important edge.

Wicked Strong has that extra rest, plus solid credentials. He was considered California Chrome’s main rival in the Derby, but he couldn’t overcome the outside post in the field of 19. Hung wide at the first turn, he never got into striking position and found himself in heavy traffic throughout the stretch run. Even so, he lost by less than six lengths. The Belmont figures to be very different race.

My Belmont Stakes picks: 1. Wicked Strong. 2. Tonalist. 3. Commanding Curve.

I think that order of finish is as crazy as a Texas Republican convention delegate, but we'll see.

I would be happy to be wrong. But in view of the difficulty of the Belmont’s distance, the possibility that he won’t have another easy trip as he did in his prior races, and the relative freshness of his challengers, California Chrome has too many obstacles to overcome. If he does surmount them, the sport will rightly hail a worthy champion.

Truly.  I cannot discount the favorite, so he'll be in my exotic mix.  I'll throw on the three Beyer likes above, and try to work in General A-Rod, who'll be going off at a long price and will pop if he hits the board.

A day at the races is better than any day at the office, win or lose.

1 comment:

Gadfly said...

It's been all downhill, overall, since the Affirmed-Alydar duels in all three races in 78.

There have been a few individual years that come close, but, as an overall? It will never get better than that.