5 Reasons California Chrome Will NOT Win the Triple Crown

5 Reasons California Chrome Will NOT Win the Triple Crown

As a lifelong horse racing fan who has never witnessed a triple crown winner, I promise you that I want to see California Chrome win the Belmont Stakes as much as you do. However, as a lifelong horse racing fan, I know it’s nearly impossible to do so for several reasons. Here are a few.


1. At a mile and a half, the Belmont Stakes is freakishly long

The derby is 1 1/4 miles, and the Preakness is 1 3/16, but the the extra 1/4 mile at the Belmont makes a surprisingly big difference. These horses are just three years old and none of them have ever raced 1.5 miles.  In fact, at the time of the derby only a handful of the horses had even ran a 1 and 1/4 before.

Very, very few races are run over a mile and a half,  which  means that most horses never even run a race at 1.5 miles, which also means horses aren’t bred for that distance.

Such a great distance for such young horses has a very crap-shooty feel. Assuming of course, that crap-shooty is a word.


2. California Chrome will be the most tired horse in the Belmont  field

Over the past few decades much has been written about the increasing frailty of Thoroughbred horses.  Through generations of selective breeding for speed (not durability), today’s horses are much less durable than horses from Seabiscuit’s era.

Seabiscuit raced a whopping 89 times, whereas the last horse to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, I’ll Have Another in 2011, wasn’t even able to make it TO the Belmont. He scratched the day before the Belmont from an injury and never raced again.

Big Brown was the last horse before him to win the Derby and Preakness, and after finishing last in the Belmont Stakes, he never raced again either.

Horses today simply don’t race three times in five weeks anymore, even racing twice in that time frame is very rare nowadays. While winning twice in three weeks is feasible,  winning thrice in five weeks is downright Herculean. Especially considering it’s over three different tracks, and some horses just don’t like certain tracks and never run well over them.

Then on top of all that, talented horses like Danza, Wicked Strong and Commanding Curve will be markedly more rested than California Chrome for this freakish distance.


3. The other jockeys can kind of team up on California Chrome

Jockey’s like the great Jerry Bailey (retired) and Gary Stevens love taking out the favorite even if their own horse doesn’t win.

It’s likely in the Belmont that California Chrome will seek a position just behind the leader and against the rail to save ground. Another horse can ride up alongside California Chrome and  not let him out around the lead horse, which 1) will cause Chrome to get a little antsy and expel more energy than necessary, and 2) will cause California Chrome to get a lot of dirt kicked in his face that he wouldn’t be taking if he could just get out a few wider.

It’s also possible that the horse ahead of California Chrome, and alongside him will eventually get passed by California Chrome down the stretch, but not before they softened him up a little bit for the late running closer (like Commanding Curve in the Derby, or Ride on Curlin in the Preakness) to then benefit from the other two horses having tired out California Chrome and nip him at the wire.

It’s a little like a a sparing session where a champion boxer faces a new, fresh opponent each round. If, in the 8th round, the 8th sparring partner manages to put the champ on his back, that doesn’t mean the 8th partner is superior to the champ, even though it sure looks like he is.

Racing tactics like this happen all the time, especially with big favorites in big races. To make another sports analogy, it’s similar to how a baseball pitcher never wants to give up a record breaking home run to a hitter and be remembered forever in history as the pitcher who gave it up. No jockey wants to be on the losing end of a triple crown, so they’ll help each other out a little to make sure they aren’t.

It’s part of the game.


4. The Nasal Strip Issue  (Update: California Chrome is permitted to wear his nasal strips)

Taken from: http://www.freep.com/article/20140518/SPORTS18/305180143/california-chrome-nasal-strip-belmont-stakes

California Chrome wears the horse equivalent of Breathe Right nasal strips.  While they are legal in California, Kentucky and Maryland, the sites of his last 6 wins- they are only mostly legal in New York, the site of his next race. By “mostly legal” I mean that horseman have to formally ask permission to use them in New York state, and it’s up to the track to allow them or not.

If he’s not allowed to wear one, we have no idea how much it will affect his chances but it can’t help them, especially when we know he’s gonna be fatigued and in the longest race of his life.

You might be thinking,  “That sounds stupid. Isn’t there some kind of nationwide, centralized governing body in horse racing that establishes the same rules for every track in every state?”.

Well, no. No there isn’t.

And you’re right. It is extremely stupid.


5. Because if Smarty Jones couldn’t win the triple crown, nobody can.

In 2004 Smarty Jones was undefeated heading into the Derby, and I think he was the first favorite in about 11 years to win the Derby, and he won impressively. He went on to win the Preakness easily enough and was the overwhelming favorite (1/5!!) in the Belmont, in a particularly weak field.

His triple crown coronation seemed inevitable until the last 1/16th of a mile when 35-1 Birdstone came skipping along with happy feet and ran down Smarty before the wire. I was at that race, with a recording setting attendance, and entire crowd reacted as though they just had the wind knocked out of him. It was unforgettable. I told myself that day to NEVER get excited for a triple crown winner because no horse will ever be more likely to win it than Smarty and even he didn’t win it.

And you know what? He never raced again either.

Listen to the emotion in the voice of track announcer, and my all-time favorite announcer for any sport, Tom Durkin call this race. It was a great call that totally summed up the collective ethos of all racing fans that day. The sadness in voice when he mustered, “Birdstone wins the Belmont Stakes” was the saddest sports call I’ve ever heard.





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    Even though I agree with your premise, your lack of fact checking makes the entire article/blog irrelevant! In fact, Big Brown did race after the Belmont in 2008. He won the grade 1 Haskell in August and a turf stake race at Monmouth Park. Here's five facts to help when reading this article/blog: 1. Perfect trip seconds in the Ky Derby, like commanding curve this year and last years second place horse , rarely race well in the Belmont. Throw out Commanding Curve completely in the Belmont. 2. Nasal strip has been allowed and not an issue any longer. 3. Without knowing who will/will not race in three weeks your article/blog is extremely premature. 4. The fact is that Smarty Jones, and California Crome, both ran much farther than their respective breeding suggested they could. This is a prime example of US breeders SPEED CRAZY , early winning, max profit business model. NO HORSES bred in the US are bred for 1.5 miles. 5. Smarty Jones was beat by a better horse that day in the Belmont. Birdstone was the only other Grade 1 winner facing him and caught him in the final1/8th of a mile. Birdstone also turned out to be better horse in the breeding shed too. His son, Summer Bird, won the Bemont too in 2009!

  • In reply to Nick Pavletic:

    You are right about Big Brown, thank you.

    My apologies for not rushing to update my blog immediately upon the nasal strip news. I must have had a life.

    That's very big of you to say Birdstone was better that day, ya know since he won and all. I'm familiar with his subsequent breeding success, but that's hindsight. He was still 35-1 on Belmont Day and no one gave him a chance.

    I'm eager for you to tell me all about how Volponi's Classic win wasn't really a surprise to you now that you look back and think about it.

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    In reply to TRSlyder:

    Someone, me, had Birdstone and Smarty Jones in an ice cold exacta box that day for the exact reason I illustrated earlier. Birdstone won the grade 1 Champange stakes as a 2 year old @ Belmont! Lost a shoe in the slop during the Ky derby and was 5 weeks fresh for the Belmont (his home track).
    Also thanks for bringing up another big score for me because Volponi was a must use, giant overlay in the BC Classic @ Arlington because he was comfortable racing @ 1 and 1/4 miles and the best older horse of 2002 (Pleasantly Perfect) wasn't allowed to race beause Illinois' bleeding rules prevented racing within 30 days of bleeding. I used him that day and hit the trifecta by keying Medaglia D' Oro first and second with Volponi, Milwaukee Brew, Evening Attire and the Euro, Hawk Wing. I got paid off very nicely again the next year (2003) BC Classic @ Santa Anita keying Medaglia D'Oro and the winner Pleasantly Perfect!

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    In reply to TRSlyder:

    Dude! Birdstone won the Travers too! See any Smarty Jones progeny racing anywhere in anything other than claiming races? Who's the better horse?

  • In reply to Nick Pavletic:

    I was at that Travers. It was a torrential downpour and Lion Heart broke down in front of me and the field was weak.

    Birdstone was a very nice horse but I wouldn't say he was as dominant a Smart, as Birdstone had everything his way in his two big wins.

    Do you think Birdstone was the better racehorse (not racehorse/sire)?

  • At least it is different than Secretariat's running at Belmont, where most of the other contenders pulled out.

  • In reply to jack:

    True. I can't blame Secretriat's foes. He set race and track records in the first two legs of the triple crown then did the same in the Belmont.

  • Big question is: Will he be showing off for the ladies like he did at the Derby and the Preakness?

  • In reply to Res Judicata:

    Stud service is the real payoff for the owners, if that's what you mean.

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    Triple Crowns are won when the Belmont has very few horses trying to beat the Derby/Preakness winner. Usually there is only three or four other horses running. I think the biggest field ever beaten by a triple crown winner was only 7 horses! Look it up!.

  • In reply to Nick Pavletic:

    After Secretariat, there was stuff like the "Chrysler Triple Crown Challenge" (whatever that meant) to try to keep horses in the field, but no horse since then has been as dominant as Secretariat was.

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    If you analyze smarty jones belmont it seems the only horse not running to beat smarty and tactically trying to win the race was birdstone. JMO. Chrome has a foundation in all of those races run. Hes training great. Most of your 11 TC winners have had 10-20 races before completing a triple crown. This horse seems to fit this model. Hes going to be tough to beat.

  • In retrospect, did #2 really cover the excuse the owner gave, that the other horses took the "coward's way out" by not running all 3 races?

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