June 7, 2014

Anticipating a Triple Crown.

Photo credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I woke up today feeling like a kid on Christmas.  This could be the day I finally see another Triple Crown winner.  I have a soft spot for Affirmed, who last accomplished this feat in 1978, and whom I met once as a kid touring horse farms with my beloved aunt and granny.  He was retired at that point, and I was still just a kid but was well aware of the greatness that surrounded me, and I was in awe of him.  In a weird way, I want him to stay on top.  But I'm not getting any younger and it's been such a long dry spell that I have worried I might never seen another Triple Crown in my lifetime.  Yes, I worry about such things. 

I don't recall if I said it here when I posted around the time of the Derby (and I'm too lazy to look), but my friends can vouch that prior to the Derby I said that California Chrome might have what it takes to win this bitch.  I'm far from an expert, but I know a bit about racing and I am that geek that studies each horse's racing history, pedigree, training, jockey, etc. prior to the race.  After all that stuff is taken into consideration, my final tipping point is simply how the horse looks physically - his build, his size, his muscle mass.  Not very scientific, I know, but that deciding factor alone has won me a few bucks at the local racetrack in the past (or so I'd like to think).  My point is, based on a combination of factors (not including the back story) I felt good about California Chrome from the beginning.  I didn't think he was the second coming of Man O' War, but I thought he had solid potential.  That being said, I wasn't completely rooting for him during the Derby, because I rather like when a non-favorite comes out of nowhere and wins.  I prefer underdogs.  But when the Derby was over I was quietly pleased with his win because I knew he had potential to keep going.  There's nothing worse than when a horse wins the Derby, and you just know that horse has no Triple Crown potential.  It's a real bummer.

It feels like everything is in perfect place for this horse to win it.  The back story of the horse and the owners has sparked much more interest in this potential history-making feat than it might've otherwise.  Everyone is rooting for this horse.  Everyone loves the story.  Everyone wants to see the regular Joe owners and the 70-something trainer achieve the impossible.  The jockey, Victor Espinoza, is 6 for 6 on California Chrome.  All the stars seem to be aligned.  Maybe a little too aligned, which is my only concern at this point.  Is the set-up just a little too perfect? 

The beauty of the Belmont is that it's a wild card.  At 1.5 miles it's a long race, and for most, if not all, of the young participants it's the longest race of their career.  It's not like you can look at their history of long races and see if they are good distance horses.  California Chrome's longest race thus far was the Derby, and his time was considered on the slow side.  Still, he showed no signs of being tired at the end.  He had the 4th fastest time ever in the Santa Anita Derby, winning handily and with "minimal urging".  This horse just likes to run, you can see it, and in that sense he reminds me a bit of Secretariat.  I know that sounds obvious because all thoroughbreds are genetically wired to run, but this horse has something special.  He's said to be wicked smart.  A quick learner, who is also a bit of a showman.  He loves attention and has been witnessed stopping and striking a pose upon hearing the clicks of cameras.  He's been referred to as "chill" - commotion doesn't rattle him or throw him off his game at all.  He isn't feisty and does what the jockey asks him to do when he asks him to do it.  He doesn't come off as a show-off, but more so as a people-pleaser.

I was spoiled as a small child of the 70's, watching 3 Triple Crown winners.  Since then, 11 horses have won the first two races, only to lose at Belmont.  That's always crushing.  One potential winner ended up not making it to the start gate of the Belmont at all.  That sucked even worse than watching another loss.  Whatever happens, this year has been good for racing.  There is a renewed interest by the masses, and win or lose, I think the racing industry has gained some new fans.  But a Triple Crown win this year could do wonders for the sport, and if not for my own selfish self, I want to see a win for the sake of the sport.  For the last 36 years I have gotten my hopes up every time and have had them crushed every time, but I'm not going to let that stop me from torturing myself once more.  That's what racing is about.  So yes, once again, I truly believe this is the year.  And I've probably said this before too, but I feel better about this horse doing it than I have about other horses in the past.  Despite being a favorite in each of the three races, California Chrome is, in many ways, still an underdog.  And I love my underdogs.

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