Monthly Archives: May 2014

Why California Chrome Winning the Triple Crown is Bad for Horseracing


Please forgive me for not writing another fawning piece about how good this is for the sport, but I can’t do that in good conscience. I’m certainly in the minority, but just because you read that slobbering drivel in every single publication in the country doesn’t make it right. As a matter of fact, it’s that emotional fan-boy, short-term thinking that is permitting the continued decline of the sport in the US, but we’ll get to that later.

First off – it’s most likely he won’t win. The stats:

22 horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but lost (or didn’t start) the Belmont. 11 of those came before 1978 and the final successful 3-race effort of Affirmed. So we have 11 Triple Crown champs in history, 11 failed efforts after 2 wins prior to 1978, and 11 Derby/Preakness winners since 1978 who have failed on the third leg.

Put another way: prior to the last TC winner in 1978 – 22 horses won the first 2 legs, and 11 won the final prize. Since 1978, 11 have won the first two yet failed at Belmont Park. Granted the time before 1978 goes back a long ways, but to be 11/22 up until 1978 and 0/11 since cannot be a mere coincidence – the odds would be astronomical. You know my bias: the reason is because our conditioning practices have shriveled up to short, slow gallops and infrequent breezes.

That brings us to California Chrome. He would be the first TC winner since the legalization of Lasix in New York in 1995. That alone is the best reason to hope he fails. If he wins, you will never, ever get rid of that raceday diuretic. Many are just fine with that, I am not.

He would also be the first winner to not breeze at all between his Derby and Belmont wins. Again, many don’t care, but I do. I want horses to exercise and develop their way into the history books, not get there due to pharmaceutical interventions sandwiched around jogs/slow gallops.

EDIT: Perhaps a short work is in the plans: “I’ll play it by ear,” Sherman said of a timetable for California Chrome’s pre-race work. “He don’t need much, (just) a half a mile work. I kind of keep them fresh. It’s usually five to six weeks before I even run them. Now, I’m running two major races in five weeks. To me, it’s awful tough on a horse. He’ll get a nice rest after the Belmont.”

I’m no math whiz, but he’s actually running 3 big races in 5 weeks. Assault won the Dwyer 2 weeks after the Belmont, but I digress – I’m sure watching Chrome in his stall for 23 hours a day come late June will be just as thrilling for race-goers.

(As a side note: Chrome wears the FLAIR nasal strip, which is not allowed in New York racing. I’ll Have Another faced the same dilemma a few years back, before scratching the morning of the Belmont with a bad ligament. Amazing how NY legalizes drugs on raceday, but forbids a nasal strip or trip to the hyperbaric chamber. Don’t forget when NYRA legalized Lasix they promised us MORE starts per horse. We all now instead we got less, much less. Dolts.)

I was on the Chrome bandwagon a few weeks before the Derby as I read plenty of stories about strong 2 mile gallops over the track at Los Alamitos. I woke up at 5am for several days to get to the CD backside hoping to clock one of these sessions, but they never happened. Chrome shipped in late and merely jogged a few days with a single slow 1 mile gallop tossed in. He did much the same in the 2 weeks prior to his Preakness win. I don’t think that is good for horseracing, taking the foot of the gas during a Triple Crown campaign. Many trainers smarter than me agree, Carl Nafzger among them.

But there are some good reasons to hope Chrome wins. Number one is he made 10 starts prior to the Derby, spaced roughly a month apart. Good for him, perhaps others will attempt the same – racing them into shape rather than relying on genetic talent to find the winner’s circle. Much like Comma to the Top a few years ago, that type of schedule would never be undertaken with a six figure auction purchase.

Secondly, perhaps a TC champ would put to rest this garbage about spacing out the 3 races further. America’s new motto these days seems to be: ‘Lowering the bar for everyone!’ Don’t condition them like the champs of old, don’t breed for stamina (a crock), don’t eliminate raceday drug use, etc. – but give them more time in between races. Sickening.

Finally, his triumph would expose the relative lack of importance of pedigree. Sure you can go back several generations and find champs on both sides of the family, but you can do that for every $5k claimer as well. Give me 4 $30k athletes over a single $120k yearling purchase with ‘bloodlines’ any day of the week. The last 4 Derby/Preak winners were all purchased for $60k or much less: I’ll Have Another, Big Brown, Smarty Jones, and Funny Cide. Zenyatta? $60k.  Curlin? About the same.

Trainer Art Sherman has repeatedly mentioned his lack of desire to run back off 2 weeks rest. Yet we saw arguably Chrome’s best effort against quality competition in the Preakness. As you celebrate these connections just remember that without the lure of the Triple Crown, Chrome would have spent this past Saturday walking the shedrow instead of racing, had Sherman his druthers. Derby horses coming back on 2 weeks rest ran 1-2-4 in the Preakness and none of them will ever run back on short rest again in their careers. Mind-numbing.

That is the kind of crap I am afraid of watching for the next 40+ years should California Chrome triumph at Belmont in 3 weeks. It’s nothing personal, but the performances of our thoroughbreds have been on the decline for decades with the proliferation of raceday drugs, fewer starts per year, and the elimination of stamina-building conditioning protocols; and a big Triple Crown triumph will only detract from fixing those problems.

P.S. I stumbled upon a FB post where a gentleman mentions that the Chrome camp thinks the champ showed some signs of wear and tear after the big Preakness win. That horse is all heart, and sometimes that becomes a champion’s undoing, especially in the face of a non-existent exercise regimen. Often this ‘I want a fresh horse’ B.S. is code for ‘I’m scared to do too much because he’s not been himself in the mornings.’ Another old timer told me I would be shocked at how many big, big races were won by horses who were less than 100% sound at the time.

P.P.S. Funny how the ‘time doesn’t matter’ zombies are all ga-ga over a fast winning time (and Beyer) at the Preakness. You can’t have it both ways. Cutting back in distance and racing off short rest is often a powerful angle with many good horses. And I’m still waiting on the answer to when time does matter? The 2023 Derby over a fast track being won in 2:09? I guess as long as that horse goes on to win his next 2 races then all is well?

P.P.P.S. When is it going to hit Mr. Sherman that his horse was actually stronger and fitter during the Preakness after winning the Derby 14 days earlier? Why already the talk of a nice, long break after the Belmont? At some point doesn’t the performance on the track have to count for something? That’s it, too many questions to ask that will never get answered.

I just can’t shake the feeling that if today’s thoroughbreds need 10 days after a race to get back to normal, that something is wrong with the conditioning behind them. That’s not just my opinion, as any Hall of Famer trainer prior to D. Wayne Lukas would tell you the same thing.

I leave you with a quote from Jimmy Jerkens: “You can’t get ready for a mile and a half keeping him in the barn.” – dammit why isn’t he on the verge of winning the Triple Crown? Keep this in mind should Wicked Strong stop California Chrome’s quest for history in a few weeks time, or any other new shooter for that matter.

If only Sherman would talk that way, even if he was faking it for crying out loud, I could get on board with this horse. Instead I may be the only one not excited for what the next few weeks will bring us.

Edit: Exhibit A-Z:


California Chrome is no Swaps


Above is the May 7th edition of the DRF, from the day Swaps won the Kentucky Derby. Click to enlarge.

Day before the Derby: light jog like Chrome?
Nope. 5 furlong work.

Leading up to the big race: a leisurely week of jogging and light galloping like Chrome?
Nope. 6F race 7 days prior to the First Saturday in May.

Before that race? Another light week of ‘freshening up’?
Nope. 4F blowout the day before AND a 5F breeze 3 days prior to that.

The final 10 days before the Derby summarized:
California Chrome – a single 4F work at Los Alamitos and perhaps 2 cumulative miles of galloping.
4 race speed furlongs total.
Swaps – a 6F race, 3 works totaling just shy of 2 miles, and undoubtedly 10+ miles of galloping.
20 race speed furlongs total, 6 of them in an actual race.

It’s well known that Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman was the exercise boy for Swaps during these times. I would love to ask him why he thinks trainer Mesh Tenney prepared Swaps in such a manner for a grueling Triple Crown season, and why today Mr. Sherman decides not to do the same?

Regardless of what happens over the next few weeks, California Chrome is no Swaps and horses today pale in comparison to those of yesteryear when looking at total volume of exercise. And when you limit exercise, you limit response to exercise – i.e. improving both durability and stamina. If you were to measure the bone density of both Swaps and Chrome during their respective 3yo campaigns you would see a marked difference.


If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I should feel pretty good about myself this morning. However, if the ‘imitator’ does such a better job of things, then perhaps he should get all the credit. Enter European racing analyst James Willoughby.

First here are a few posts I did years ago detailing the ever slowing times of our 10F Kentucky Derby and our 12F Belmont Stakes:

From 2010:

From 2013:

As you can see, my data analysis and presentation resembles a Joe Biden speech: frighteningly simplistic smatterings from an old man who seemingly rides the fenceline bordering illiteracy. Thank goodness for Mr. Willoughby who in April of 2014 put these trends into a much cleaner presentation:


Read it. Please.

Things seemed to have taken a turn for the worse in the 1980’s. Right about then is when Lasix became pervasive (and legal), while at the same time quarter horse cowboys invaded the thoroughbred game with their ‘less is more’ philosophy on conditioning and their ‘more is more’ view of stable size. Now those very studs are failing to impart stamina to their offspring – perhaps because their stamina was derived from pharmaceutical means rather than through genetic responses to intense conditioning practices. I’m told the concept of environment affecting genetic change is termed Epigenetics.

Regarding California Chrome: splendid raw times and Beyer figures in California up to 9F when well-rested. No argument there. More from the author:

I really have nothing to add. It’s apparent that at 10 and 12 furlongs the American thoroughbred is in decline. The more we rest them and the less we test them in training; the slower they become over longer distances.

TRM Trainer of the Quarter – Rune Haugen


Now that’s an award – the winner gets a bottle of select Irish whiskey! Mr. Haugen is a leading Scandinavian trainer who recently took a $15k purchase to Dubai and won the Meydan Sobha Handicap. I don’t understand handicap ratings, but Avon Pearl was a 78 and beat some 100 class horses in Dubai. Must be quite a feat-

From the below linked article: “Haugen is a passionate believer in technology to help him train horses and has spent much time working with and developing strategies for the use of heart rate monitors as well as analyzing blood lactate.”

Mr. Haugen tells me his goal is to win both the trotting Derby as well as the galloping Derby in his home country of Norway. Can you imagine a US trainer winning both the Kentucky Derby AND The Hambletonian in the same year?

Also, fellow HR/GPS trainer Jeremy Gask won the race following Avon Pearl’s triumph with Medicean Man, the first of 2 triumphs in 7 days at the Dubai Carnival meet:


California Chrome Will NEVER Win the Triple Crown


I love the horse, and the connections, but a final quarter in 26+ off a slow pace does not bode well for the 12F Belmont in five weeks’ time. He would have lost every Derby on a fast track in the 1960’s by multiple lengths. Hell, the final HALF was :52!! That was not California Chrome accelerating down the Churchill stretch, that was him decelerating slightly less than the other slowpokes.

I think 12 have won the Derby and Preakness since the last Triple Crown champ, and all fell short over Big Sandy. Chrome will do the same, if he gets by a new shooter (Social Inclusion?) in 2 weeks’ time in Maryland. Or perhaps he meets a Derby competitor who skips the trip to Pimlico and goes home to NY to rest up (Wicked Strong?) before the Belmont.

I first liked him off of his ambitious racing schedule the past 12 months, but fell out of love with him this week at Churchill as he arrived mid-week and did next to nothing over the CD strip. Wisely so, it appears in retrospect I must admit. I suppose his first plane trip and race outside of CA was stress enough that Mr. Sherman laid off the aggressive 2 mile gallops that had taken place at Los Alamitos.

I am in the process of doing some work with a glycogen loading protocol, and I wonder if horses, like humans, need to taper back the daily exercise in the days leading up to a big race, while at the same time loading up on carbohydrates in an effort to top off glycogen energy stores? But then I love the pre-race 3F blowout a few days out, so who knows where I am going with this-

Again, the $10k horse from modest beginnings coming out of a low-end circuit is one of my favorite story lines, but if Chrome is sat on the next 5 weeks with nothing more than jogs and slow gallops (no works), I will hope for him to lose the Triple Crown decisively.

Once more, I use Assault as the example of what a Triple Crown winner does in the mornings from May thru June:

3 – 4F in :48
4 – Won Kentucky Derby by 8 in 2:06 on sloppy track
5 – walked at CD
6 – shipped to Pimlico
8 – 3F in :40
9 – 8F in 1:45
11 – Won Preakness Stakes by a neck in 2:01 on fast track
12 – shipped to Belmont
16 – 4F in :52
18 – 3F in :40
20 – 4F in :48
22 – 8F in 1:44
24 – 3F in :35
25 – 1.25 miles in 2:05 (:50, 1:15, 1:40, 2:05)
28 – 4F in :50
29 – 1.5 miles in 2:32

1 – Won Belmont Stakes by 3 in 2:31 on fast track
5 – 4F in :52
7 – 4F in :51
9 – 8F in 1:43
11 – 3F in :36
13 – 8F in 1:43 at Aqueduct
15 – Won Dwyer Stakes by 5 lengths in 2:07 on fast track

To summarize:

-With all those works, did he ever simply gallop? Does he need to?
-16 breezes in that 45 day window, averaging nearly 6F per effort, in 12-13 sec/f paces.
-A Triple Crown AND Dwyer win within those very same 6 weeks.
-Note the Preakness was run 1 week after the Derby and he still worked TWICE.
-Also note he worked the entire race distance of 1.5 miles 2 days before the Belmont. You gotta be kidding me. I feel like I am making this up.

How about War Admiral in 1937?

”Between the Preakness and the June 5 Belmont Stakes, trainer George Conway poured it to the little Admiral. Working at three-day intervals, War Admiral breezed 11 furlongs in 2:22, 12 furlongs in 2:35.40, 12 furlongs in 2:34.60, and 12 furlongs again in 2:34.60, the last move coming just three days before the Belmont.”

So, what am I saying? Should every TC runner start to emulate these programs? No way, not even close. First off, those old timers galloped an honest 2+ miles daily for months before April of their 3yo season, and weren’t plied with Lasix as a ‘preventative’ measure everytime they went fast at age 2.

Secondly, you must first gauge the recovery of your horse after a 5F work before going 6F, etc. Of course, I do this with a HR/GPS monitor, they weren’t doing that in the 40’s I assure you. Back then every horse went through a meat grinder of a conditioning schedule; many got hurt, but those that survived were monsters – absolute iron horses.

Today, they all go through a threadbare regimen: 1.25 mile daily gallops and weekly 4-5F works, only galloping out strong during the weeks prior to Derby. Many still get hurt, and the best of the survivors run Derby times of 2:03 and Belmont times over 2:30; times akin to those of several decades ago – despite a million occurrences of breeding the ‘best to the best’. What a scam.

Now imagine the future path of California Chrome:
I can show you his worktab prior to the Preakness right now:


And I can show you his worktab the week before the Belmont:


All this considered and the winner of the 2014 Belmont, whoever he is, will run slower than 2:30 on a fast track, guaranteed. That will be the fourth consecutive 2:30+ time in the decade, which hasn’t happened since the 1930s.

Chrome is the best of yet another bad 3yo bunch and that’s fine, but it won’t earn him a place alongside the legends of the game as a TC champion, in my opinion. But if I’m wrong; I’d be glad to be proven wrong by this bunch of connections: at least we have 10 races going into the Derby and those long 2 mile gallops to fall back on as reasons for his success.

EDIT: The Beyer came it at 97, the Oaks winner carded a 107. If Chrome ran successive quarters of 24-24-24-24-25 I would love him, but he ran roughly two 26’s at the end. And please, gearing him down from 35mph to 33mph 60 yds from the wire is meaningless to the final time.

PS. Fresh horse? If anything he was the least fresh, with 10 races in the last 12 months. All of them were ‘fresh’: nothing but jogs, slow gallops Derby week, last work 6-7 days out, no races for 3-5 weeks, etc. – and 15 of 19 ran like shit.

PS2. Mr. Sherman is already talking about taking it easy the week before the Preakness in Maryland, remember these quotes from the conditioner when he comes up short in the Belmont. But in all fairness he really has no choice at this point. All those well-spaced out 4-5F works at Los Al have pretty much committed him to this path already.

PS3. I’m reminded of all those 9F preps where the winner ‘did it so easy’, was ‘well within himself’, and my personal favorite ‘galloped out so strongly, the extra furlong of the Derby is in his wheelhouse’? 90% of those prep stars came home on rubber legs yesterday through easier fractions than they found in their 9F efforts.

EDIT2. I’m not the only one with doubts, from today’s paper:

Jockey Victor Espinoza: ‘he just got a little tired. A mile and a quarter, coming off shipping and everything, but he is fine.’

Trainer Art Sherman: ‘he didn’t eat every oat, but he just left a handful.’

Trainer Mark Casse: ‘I couldn’t believe how slow the race was because the track was fairly fast all day. ‘

EDIT3. Criticisms aside, he’s one good looking horse the morning after arrival at PIM:

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