No matter what the reason for California Chrome coming up empty when it counted, I am convinced that had the Belmont been run a week earlier, two weeks after the Preakness instead of three, he would have won since he was full of energy then. I felt the same way with Funny Cide and Smarty Jones who also looked great the week before but came up short on the big day.
His groom reached over and patted the Count on the neck. “There has always been a living Triple Crown winner,” the groom said. “Ever since Sir Barton won. You could always go visit one, like you’re visiting this horse today.”
The groom asked me if I knew Secretariat’s people. “I saw the horse and his groom, Ed Sweat, just this morning,” I told him.
“Next time you see him, you tell him that there has always been a Triple Crown winner alive and he better win it this year or that string will be broken,” he said. “I don’t think this old horse is gonna make it to the end of the year.”
Next morning, I told Ed Sweat that story of Count Fleet. He whistled softly. “That horse is still alive?” Eddie said. “Don’t you worry. We got it covered.”
There are no living Triple Crown winners now. Affirmed died in 2001, Seattle Slew in 2002. Whoever wins the title next will be starting a new string.
If we were not all spooked by so many near misses and locks that were not locks, this Belmont would be about as complicated as this Derby and this Preakness. One horse stood out in both races on form. That horse, California Chrome, ran right to his form. Why, really, should the Belmont be different?
Just as a fan, I hope he’s right.
California Chrome drew post #2 for the Belmont Stakes. He’ll face 10 others:
KYD/PRK = finish position in the Kentucky Derby and/or Preakness.
“There were 120,000 people there that day, and I bet 119,000 of them were rooting for Smarty Jones,” [jockey Edgar] Prado said. “It was very loud, a lot of noise going down the stretch. I could hear everything, people screaming, but as I got closer and closer, and then when I went by Smarty Jones, it was totally silent. It was this strange feeling, this weird feeling, and I could tell the difference that one horse was making in people’s lives.”
What a lovely way to express how it feels to be a spoiler.
The 42-year-old Espinoza is a respected rider, but his business has slipped recently for no discernible reason except the whims of his clients. For several months Espinoza watched Chrome, at Del Mar and at the now shuttered Hollywood Park. He liked him. “I told my agent [Brian Beach], ‘There’s something about that horse, Art Sherman’s horse,’” says Espinoza. “I’m not even sure what it was. I thought I would just fit him.”
Beach remembers the conversation. “Certain riders just go together with certain horses,” he says. “Their styles or just physically, the way the rider sits on the horse. Victor thought he was a good match with this horse.”
Chrome is not only unbeaten in six races with Espinoza, but horse and rider have also been uncommonly synchronous. When Chrome tired at the top of the stretch in the Kentucky Derby, Espinoza reminded him to change leads. Even as Chrome habitually turns his head from side to side in the starting gate (his blinkers inhibit peripheral vision), Espinoza has taught him to break cleanly. Every small acceleration that Espinoza needs, Chrome provides. “Tremendous ability,” says Espinoza. “So much talent.” The colt rarely feels Espinoza’s whip (just twice in the furious Preakness homestretch), instead trusting the rider’s hands to guide most of his action.
With regular rider Victor Espinoza up, California Chrome went his first quarter in 24.14 seconds and his second quarter in 23.30, according to DRF clocker Mike Welsch. It only got better from there, as he galloped out five furlongs in 59.59 seconds, six furlongs in 1:12.61, seven furlongs in 1:26.34, and pulled up a mile in 1:40.92.
That’s a sharp move. His official time for the four-furlong breeze was :47.69.
“I’m not a clocker but California Chrome looked full of run and seemed to have plenty left in the tank,” tweeted Jerry Bossert.
Here’s video of the work:
More on California Chrome’s work, as well as the other Belmont starters’ workouts this morning, at the Blood-Horse.
6/1/14 Addendum: Welsch weighs in (DRF+). “The best part of the work came after the wire, as California Chrome galloped out with tremendous energy, even with Espinoza rising up in the saddle shortly past the finish line …”